Unlike with road jerseys, where trim and minimal is ideal, mountain biking tops are generally looser and burlier, for coping with errant branches and the occasional trip over the bars. There's a lot more variety in styles and applications as well, so gear up according to your locale, needs, and riding style. Here are a few favorites we've been riding lately.
TWIN SIX THE GRAND PRIX ($75)
We've recommended Twin Six jerseys before, and though they change little from season to season—except the styles—we will continue to advocate for them. That's because this Minneapolis-based company gets the equation between tech, style, and simplicity just right. The polyester microfiber is weighty enough for shoulder season but breathes plenty on the hottest days, and, unlike many tech materials, it's soft and comfy. The fit is roomy but not dumpy, the three rear pockets are low enough to reach into and ample for carrying big loads, and the front zip opens to belly button height for super venting. Best of all is the style and attitude of each jersey, with lots of great looks added each year (like this Grand Prix). Our only quibble: the fabric has a tendency to pull, which makes for the occasional snag. Also, we were happy to see a dark version of the Grand Prix added to the collection because, though we love the white, it's gotten a bit dingy and mud spattered.
BOTTOM LINE: If you own just one mountain jersey, make it a Twin Six. They are virtually all we ride in.
ZOIC MEN'S CYCLE TEE ($40)
For group rides and quick after-work hits, you don't always want the overkill and dork factor of a full-on jersey. Enter this Zoic design, which looks as easy-going as your favorite cotton tee but has just enough tech to make it trail-worthy. The polyester fabric wicks sweat and dries quickly, though we wished it breathed a little easier as it seemed stuffy on hot days. The only other concession to performance is a small zip pocket on back, which is big enough for keys and a wallet and angled out of the way of a hydration pack. And we dig the graphics and the five color choices.
BOTTOM LINE: The perfect choice for a fun ride with friends, and the price is just right.
DYNAFIT GRAVEL S/S FULL-ZIP TEE ($190)
Best known for it's ski gear, Dynafit launched a full apparel line last year that it says is intended for "alpine biking and running." The decidedly Euro styling won't be for everyone, but if you're into the Tron-like look (we are in the right circumstances) this smartly designed, high-tech gear is worth considering. The waist, sleeves, back, and neck of the Gravel S/S are cut from an extremely lightweight Lycra that ensured the jersey stayed tucked and smooth beneath our pack, while the front is a highly breathable mesh that kept us cool even on 100-degree days. An even lighter weight mesh under the arms wicked perspiration like a desert wind. And we really appreciated the fine attention to details, including the zipper garages on the full-length zip and the rubberized texture on the shoulders for keeping a pack in place.
BOTTOM LINE: An ideal summer-weight race jersey or layering piece for long days in the mountains—if you can afford it.
MAVIC STRATOS JERSEY ($100)
Another high-tech Euro entry, the Mavic Stratos Jersey has become our go-to choice for blazing, sunny days. Long sleeves might seem toasty for full sun, but the dual-weight polyester mesh breathes so well that we found having it over our arms actually kept us cooler than a short-sleeve that let the sun beat down on our skin. The dark mesh in especially steamy spots (under the arms and on the back) is even lighter than the gossamer main body material and really pushed out the heat. We liked the scuff guards on the elbows and shoulders, and Mavic's stylie M-shaped zipper-pull is the easiest one we've ever grabbed. A couple of the welded seams came unglued on the first Stratos we tried, but Mavic was quick to replace the damaged goods and we haven't had any issues since.
BOTTOM LINE: The ultimate desert jersey.
CLUB RIDE NEW WEST ($95)
Like all of Club Ride's gear, the New West looks more Aspen bar scene than blazing trails. And that's just the point. Here's a jersey you can wear while beating around in the woods and then comfortably hit the restaurant or taproom on the way home without every changing clothes. The quick-dry material shrugs off sweat and rain in a matter of minutes in the sun, and the unobtrusive mesh under the arms and upper back keeps things cooler than you'd expect. The pearl snaps hide a full-length zip, and two inconspicuous zip pockets out back are big enough for wallet, keys, and a few bars. And while we're happy with the Western look from time to time, we're also psyched to hear that Club Ride is launching some trimmer sillhouettes and more urban looks for 2013.
BOTTOM LINE: Jersey, schmerzy! This is fine riding linen.