- As a former road racer, one of the things that I love the most about mountain biking is that it isn’t too serious.
- Mountain-bike riding doesn’t place as much emphasis on aerodynamics, so you can wear looser-fitting clothing. Modern mountain-bike shorts combine the comfort of road shorts with a robust and good-looking outer short.
- Breathable fabrics and bike-friendly cuts make these T-shirts, shorts, and flannels fun to ride in as well as hang out in after. For an evening ride followed by a stop at the brewpub, Stio’s Hagen Trail Shirt ($59.50) is a comfortable, attractive option.
As a former road racer, one of the things that I love the most about mountain biking is that it isn’t too serious. I can finish a ride with a beer, punctuate trails with a donut stop, and even head out for a ride without having to dress in figure-hugging outfits that make me look like a NASCAR racer.
Recently, a lot of brands with a deep heritage on the Spandex side of cycling have taken their knowledge of fit, comfort, and protection and added a dose of the “I can be seen in public wearing this” style, which is sometimes lacking in road-cycling gear. The result is comfortable, safe, and totally brewpub-appropriate cycling gear.
However, you can’t just wear your regular cargo shorts on the trail. The weight will be a hindrance, the placement of the seams can be very uncomfortable, and the positioning of the pockets works well for walking, but not so well for pedaling. Instead, you’ll want a bike-specific pair of shorts that works with a Spandex liner and chamois (aka seat pad) to give you some padding and comfort for long days on the saddle, but still looks good enough for long evenings at the bar or around the campfire.
The same is true of shirts, although you could just wear a T-shirt, the cotton will quickly absorb sweat and become heavy, wet, and uncomfortable. It also doesn’t afford much protection if you fall. A good mountain-bike shirt will be breathable, robust enough to withstand a crash, slightly longer in the back to cover your lower back when you’re in that bent-over bike position, and might even have a tiny pocket to stash a snack or your keys.
I really like Velocio’s trail shorts and trail bib liners. They might not be the cheapest, but their chamois lasts considerably longer than others I have tried. The liner shorts also have thigh pockets, which are perfect for securely storing snacks.
The adjustable waistband on the outer short is also a huge plus as it means you don’t have to wear a belt that will dig into your stomach as you move around on the bike. Velocio uses their tried-and-tested ultralight chamois, which is comfortable and long-lasting, as well as their cyclist-friendly cut.
For most of my riding, my go-to is Velocio’s Radiator Trail Tee. It sheds heat quickly, looks great off the bike, and has thoughtful touches like a longer back panel and extended sleeves to help keep the sun off your body when you’re bent forward in the riding position. Despite the light weight of the jersey, I have yet to rip it even after several unscheduled dismounts!
This might look like a simple T-shirt, but once you hop on the bike you’ll understand the value of small changes in fit, cut, and fabric, which make your ride much more pleasant. Velocio also offers a fit guarantee, so if you order the wrong size, they’ll make sure you get the right one at no cost.
For more aggressive days when I know there’s a fair likelihood of taking a tumble, I turn to Assos’ Trail Cargo Shorts and Liner. The reason I pick these is that, in addition to having a comfy elasticated waist and weighing very little, they have pads which insert in the liner short and protect my hips. Often, off-road crashes are low-speed falls onto the greater trochanter, at the top of the femur, and these 8mm pads offer helpful impact protection. Like Velocio, Assos’ considerable road heritage shows through in its comfortable pad and a cut that doesn’t leave the shorts flapping in the wind and catching on your saddle as you lean back to send that huge drop.
The Backcountry Empire Shorts and Covert Liner offer great value. Unlike the Velocio and Assos offerings, the liner short isn’t a bib short and instead relies on a waistband to keep it up. If this is your first dedicated pair of cycling shorts, you won’t miss the bibs although you may wish to upgrade later.
The Empire Shorts are comfortable, robust, stretchy, and breathable. They aren’t quite as featherlight as the other options, but this means I often turn to them for hiking as well as cycling, so that’s not necessarily a negative. The zippered cargo pockets hold a lot of gear, but I advise against filling them up on a ride as you’d be better off carrying your tools and snacks in a hydration pack or even a secure hip pack like Backcountry’s Mid Mountain 2L.
For a casual ride in the evening that might lead to beer, I love a flannel shirt like the Stio Hagen. It allows me to blend in off the bike, but uses breathable fabrics that won’t leave me sweating through every climb on my ride. The stretchy fabric conceals a small stash pocket, perfect for an ID and some cash for that post-ride beer. This isn’t the lightest or the most aerodynamic shirt, but riding in a flannel is a great way to remind yourself that it’s all about fun. And you’ll have more fun if your shirt isn’t dripping with sweat.
When things are getting rowdy, and I’m more likely to drop into a rock garden than a brewpub, I go for POC’s Resistance Enduro ¾ Jersey. The mesh back and underarms, as well as the zippered front, help me climb without overheating. On the way down, I appreciate the elbow coverage and Cordura fabric in the sleeves. There’s space for elbow pads, which indicates the sort of rider this top is aimed at. If you like to ride down things you can’t walk up, it’s a hit.