By Nick Legan and Alex Strickland
Form meets function in these apparel picks from Kitsbow, Club Ride, Patagonia, and GORE to provide on- or off-bike style and performance that looks at home on the saddle or the porch swing.
I’d heard rumors for a year or more that outdoor apparel giant Patagonia was planning to introduce a cycling line, but there was still a certain shock when an edition of their (justly) famous catalog arrived with bikepackers on the cover. Not long after, I had a pair of the Dirt Craft baggy shorts en route, along with some awfully high expectations.
The Dirt Crafts are marketed as mountain biking shorts, but that’s more of a fashion commentary than function. With an 11.5” inseam, I found the outer shorts just a hair longer than ideal, but the light fabric was comfortable and the trim fit avoided getting hung on the nose of the saddle. A zippered thigh pocket was fine for a small can’t-lose item like a single key, but I found the jeans-style pockets deep enough to keep my iPhone safely stowed without fearing it would fly out. A simple hook-and-loop adjustment system on the waist allowed for fine-tuning fit and belt loops are included, should you feel a need for more support.
Spending $150 on shorts is a big ask, but Patagonia’s included liner with the Dirt Craft makes the price tag seem downright reasonable. The liner is fantastic. A three-layer chamois, large vented panels and a great-feeling fabric make for a cool and comfortable liner that I’ve found myself reaching for as often as possible to pair with a variety of outer shorts. Whereas other liner shorts I’ve used might’ve had a good pad, they often lack the structure and support of a standard pair of lycra bottoms in favor of too much mesh. The Dirt Craft seems to have found the perfect medium.
In tandem with the new shorts, Patagonia launched a Dirt Craft Jacket for cool weather riding, a relatively simple soft shell with DWR coating and adjustable cuffs. An ongoing issue I’ve had with Patagonia jackets in the past has been less-than-stellar zippers (down jackets seems to have this issue the most), so I was psyched to see simple, bomber zippers on the Dirt Craft that proved easy to operate with one hand while on the bike and have stayed very smooth.
The jacket packs up small and performed extremely well in light rain, shedding water while not creating the sauna-like effect of fully waterproof jackets. In the one harder shower I’ve been out in the Dirt Craft started to wet out in the shoulders, but as soon as the clouds passed it was quick to dry.
Even with my orangutan arms, the sleeves were just long enough, so for more typically proportioned people they’ll be plenty long. I’ve mostly left the adjustable cuffs alone, but the velcro closure could prove handy in colder conditions. Mostly dry conditions have prevented me from learning whether the jacket sheds (or stains with) mud, but the “Underwater Blue” color I’ve been testing is certainly handsome when clean. The fabric is a little light for loading up either of the zippered hip or chest pockets, but I prefer not to carry loose items in jacket pockets when riding anyway. Like the shorts, that fabric is bluesign approved, ensuring that the supply chain is sustainable.
Kitsbow produces some very fine pieces of cycling apparel and some of it uses wool, a material loved by touring cyclists. Made from merino wool in Vancouver, British Columbia, the Ride Tee has a nice casual look. With naturally antibacterial properties and excellent breathability, the Ride Tee is my new favorite mountain biking top. With a token pocket on both the chest and back of the shirt, I wear it mostly when using a hydration pack. Thankfully, Kitsbow thought of that and added double material on the shoulders to guard against wear from straps. Certainly not cheap but definitely built to last, Kitsbow’s Ride Tee gets two thumbs up from us.
Arm and knee warmers are vital bits of cycling kit. But a set that doesn’t fit will only detract from the fun of cycling. Thankfully, for my long, skinny arms, Kitbows’ small arm warmers fit wonderfully. Both the arm and knee warmers have an abrasion-resistant material over the knee and elbow for added warmth and to protect the wool from snagging. Silicone grippers at the top of the arm and knee warmers keep them comfortably in place. Note that Kitsbow also offers Road Arm and Knee Warmers that use a thinner, more Lycra-like material.
For those of us who have tired of looking like a rolling billboard, Club Ride’s Roadeo jersey is a welcome change. With a loose cut and comfortable fabric that breathes especially well, the Roadeo is great for all types of riding. The sizing is American. The size small tested is baggier than some size mediums. If you want a tight jersey, size down. If you’re looking for a casual jersey for warm rides, the Roadeo will serve you well.
While the price of this cutting-edge cycling jacket is impressive, so too is the performance. Unlike most waterproof, breathable jackets that use an applied coating that can degrade over time, Gore’s new ONE GORE-TEX material has a permanent beading surface.
It packs down incredibly small, easily fitting in a jersey pocket. One note is that this jacket isn’t intended for mountain biking or use with a hydration pack. A tree could snag and tear this lightweight jacket and over time, shoulder straps could put holes in the thin material. I went with a size medium for my 5’10” 150-pound frame and the fit is excellent, allowing room for thin insulation layers underneath without being baggy. Reflective accents are always a great idea for rain gear and Gore has them on all sides and the sleeves of the Active Jacket. A small zip pocket on the front of the jacket also serves as a stow-away pouch for the entire jacket.
My days of wearing “traditional” bike jerseys might be over. The tight fitting, quarter-zip, loud-graphic’d tops might look great in the peloton, but they leave me feeling a bit silly on a barstool or café chair. Thankfully, brands like Club Ride (and Kitsbow, see above) have stepped in over the past few years to make technical tops that look like anything but. Club Ride, of course, is well known for its western-style plaid shirts, which I’ve enjoyed wearing over the years but have always had trouble getting just the right fit. Now their line includes a number of other shirts ranging from polo-style collared shirts to the Buxton, a casual striped top that could pass for a henley but cleverly hides a quarter-zip. The brand’s RideXDry fabric is a little heavier feeling than a poly-blend jersey, but feels more like a mid-weight cotton against the skin. Despite the slight extra heft versus a lightweight jersey, I found the Buxton comfortable on a 50-mile dirt road day in North Carolina’s Pisgah National Forest where temperatures and the humidity were crushing. Impressively, the top wasn’t a complete biohazard after the fact, either (smelly, yes, but better than expected).
All that on-the-bike performance doesn’t come at much of a style cost, though, as the Buxton gets high marks on the bar stool scale. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if I found myself reaching for the Buxton for a non-riding shirt — a rare thing indeed.
What does “baggy” mean anyway? The term is typically associated with mountain bike shorts that might be bright red, knee length, and generously cut (I own and like such shorts, so that’s not a judgement). But lately a few brands have put out something between full-on Lycra and the stereotypical billowing baggy. Consider them slim-fit baggies. Or loose-fit Lycra. Or — how about this? — consider them shorts.
The Phantoms are slim but not tight, loose but not baggy, and stretchy but not too stretchy. They have two small pockets (an iPhone 6 just fits) easy-to-use waist adjustments, and an 11” inseam that hits me above the knees and looks like something I could wear to the office (hey, we’re a casual crew here). Slimmer fitting than the Patagonia shorts, I was initially worried that the Phantoms might be a bit restrictive when pedaling, but the DurX four-way stretch and the gusset combined for a fit that managed to move with ease and avoid any binding. So far they’ve worn extremely well, not showing signs of thinning in the seat and doing an admirable job of shedding dirt.
Bottom line: the trim fit helps avoid the bane of all baggies — catching on the saddle — and add an element of style that’s sometimes hard to find on the bike. I’ve been wearing these with the Patagonia liner short and the combo is currently the best I’ve ever used.
Coming from a mostly mountain bike background, I’ve never been much of a bibs guy. I see the appeal — no plumber’s crack showing, a little more core support, less shifting around — but I just couldn’t get used to the straps. Well, those advantages have steadily worn me down and these days I ride pretty regularly in both, though full-on road bibs with baggies over top can be pretty warm come summer. Club Ride’s Air Line Mesh Bib looks to solve that problem by providing a super-breathable mesh liner in bib configuration.
I’m normally a lock-down medium size for cycling apparel, but when I pulled these on the first time my immediate reaction was that they were too big. And not that they were too big here or there, but just big all over. I decided to give them a whirl anyway and hop on the bike and, whadya know, they were just right. I was expecting the super-tight feel of a standalone set of bibs, but these were much more along the lines of a liner short — just as they’re supposed to be. Club Ride says they’re good for four-plus–hour rides, and I’ll buy that thanks to a very comfortable perforated chamois that took a little breaking in (it’s thick and a little stiff out of the gate) but proved very comfortable and not too hot.
The shoulder straps were comfortable, though I haven’t tested them in conjunction with a backpack, which has always been one of my gripes about bibs before. But as I’ve been making an effort to ride without a pack whenever possible these days, that interface is a non-issue.
Once temperatures start to drop, I’ll probably be reaching for full-blown bibs for the compression, but when it’s simply too hot to wear bibs and baggies, the Air Liners are a perfect solution for the core of cycling season.