Review, June 1997
Stretchy synthetic shorts are still with us, but they now share rack space with designs made of wool and cotton. Sometimes they're not even black. They can be sewn into loose-fitting surf trunks or a skirt, adding a certain sense of street style without sacrificing functionality. Indeed, modern shorts offer the practicality of pockets, the versatility of cinch straps, and the convenience of machine-washable chamois; easy-care synthetics like Ultrasuede and CoolMax have replaced fussy natural pads. These new fashions are more comfortable too, especially for women, who no longer need settle for unisex (read men's) shorts. Jerseys have also seen improvements, such as fabrics with refined wicking ability, looser-fitting silhouettes, and zippered pockets for stowing valuables.
Mountain biking — specifically, crashing your mountain bike — can shred ordinary spandex. Which is why Dirt Designs places swatches of Spandura II, a combination of stretchy Lycra and abrasion-resistant Cordura, at the rear and sides of its CORE 8 Short ($70). The Core 8 is also comfortable, thanks to a unique, molded, synthetic chamois that places no irritating seams between you and the saddle.
If I had to choose one pair of shorts for all my riding — whether to Kinko's or on singletrack — it would be InMotion's Rock Short ($65). The synthetic chamois is lined with CoolMax and has InMotion's proprietary HFS liquid-bladder padding, which provides an extra modicum of cush. Cavernous cargo pockets stay shut with hook-and-loop flaps, while cinch straps keep the legs from scooping air when you're zooming downhill. There's even a zippered fly — a novelty for any bike shorts.
If you're sick of your tan telling folks that you're a cyclist well before you do, consider Pearl Izumi's women's Journey Short ($40), with its cropped, five-inch inseam. It combines cotton and polyester for a soft texture and easy care, and has a synthetic chamois.
Before Lycra, we had sheep, and cyclists were perfectly happy in their breathable, wicking wool shorts. They fell out of fashion in the late seventies, but Swobo's Merino Wool Deluxe 6-Panel Short ($75; men's and women's styles) updates this classic, blending in just enough Lycra to keep them from drooping. Although the smooth knit is said to be machine washable, we suggest laundering by hand. Either way, the merino wool won't get gamy like synthetics can.
The Skort from Zoic ($60) combines demure looks with bike-friendly function. What appears to be a midthigh-length skirt is in fact a flap that buttons across the front of brushed cotton twill shorts, which in turn have a CoolMax liner and Microsuede chamois. You'll also appreciate the gusseted, stretchy crotch that won't bind when you're pedaling. Who needs a girl's bike?
Koulius Zaard's Competition Sleek T-Back ($44) provides women with a flattering fit as well as comfort. Cut from a snazzy, ribbed polyester-Lycra fabric, it features an integral CoolMax bra with a velour-faced elastic band. A single rear pocket easily accommodates your sunscreen — you'll need it wearing this tank.
Louis Garneau's Retro Waffle jersey ($51) is equally hip to a cruise along the boardwalk or an off-road jaunt. The loose-fitting all-poly jersey, a fashionable redux of your old long johns, employs a drawstring at the waist to keep it from flapping and features a roomy, zippered rear pocket.
The wispy Nike MTB Short-Sleeve Jersey ($54) uses Nike's own DRI-F.I.T. microfiber polyester to manage moisture and features dirtworthy details. An oversize chest-zipper ring makes it easy to grasp when hurtling down a creekbed; the hemline, cropped in front, prevents annoying bunching when you're hunched over the handlebar; and a zippered minipocket in back (in addition to two open pockets) keeps your keys from ejecting.
The subtly sassy Sugoi Women's Go-Go Jersey ($50) has a relaxed shape, but it won't sag if you load the three rear pockets with a trailside picnic — the medium-weight Coretech polyester stretches horizontally but not vertically. You'll also appreciate the wide elastic hem that doesn't bind.
Disciples of Fausto Coppi and other European racing greats will coo over the Wild Woolies Classic ($60), which faithfully emulates the cycling jersey circa 1930 — right down to the soft merino wool. Featuring buttons fashioned after period Liberty-head dimes — no newfangled zippers here — and throwback chest pockets, the Classic does make one concession to modernity: A scabbard in back secures a minipump.
Nautica's Bike Vest ($95) is an essential for alpine riding: Wear it half-open on a long, sweaty climb, then zip it up to protect your chest from chilling wind on the way down. A well-designed large-tooth zipper makes it easy to work with one hand. Bonus: The polyester fabric is treated with a reflective coating that's visible several New York City blocks away.
Patagonia's trim-fitting Velocity Shell ($98; men's and women's styles) uses an Activent-like membrane that breathes easily and repels moderate rain, making it an ideal stowaway for riding in iffy weather. Best of all, weighing in at a compact seven ounces, it won't hog all the room in your lumbar pack — or even your jersey pocket.