Mountain bikers tend to get short shrift when it comes to high-quality apparel, especially shorts. While many companies make solid outers, the accompanying chamois is often thin and insufficient. We used to lament baggies that don't ship with pads but have recently changed our tune: Not only are they cheaper this way, but we always end up subbing our favorite bib or chamois underneath anyway. And while we've yet to find a combination set as good as the Mavic Stratos, we have come across a handful of solid performers. If you need a good pad, look no further than the Mavic Under Short ($80).
DYNAFIT SHORE U SHORTS ($130)
These baggies would be our outright favorites except for one thing: Ours came in a bright white colorway, which quickly became stained and muddy brown. Dynafit has wisely discontinued the white, and while the green they've replaced it with is more durable, you have to be a Kermit fanatic to pull it off (we're not). Fashion aside, these shorts are brilliant. The stretch ripstop material is both comfy and bombproof, with baggy-but-tailored patterning that's flattering and smooth to ride in. The zip hip pockets aren't super useful since anything in them hops around with every pedal stroke, but the ample Velcro thigh pockets more than make up for it. Fit is dialed thanks to the elastic and Velcro band tucked in the rear of the waist, and our favorite feature is the venting, with the entire rear section of the short open and mesh-lined for air flow. Thankfully, along with the White Shore Us, Dynafit also discontinued the X4 Chamois Knicks, which were far too minimal for serious riding—don't get suckered into buying them on closeout.
BOTTOM LINE: Killer baggies. Now how about those colors...?
CLUB RIDE HALF RACK ($115)
We realize that lots of guys scoff (or shudder) at manpris, but sometimes—when it's muddy and wet or you're riding in the mountains with highly variable temperatures—a good pair of knickers can't be beat. And the Half Racks are some of the best we've found. The poly fabric is light enough even for hot days, and the subtle herringbone pattern adds a touch of class. Knees are nicely articulated so the legs don't chafe when you pedal and also well fitted to prevent up-the-leg spatter. Best of all, there's a webbing micro-fit adjustment at the waist in addition to belt loops, which made for zero sag even without a belt.
BOTTOM LINE: Perfect for shoulder season and those secure with their masculinity, these knickers offer burly coverage in a lightweight package.
CAPO PADRONE BIB SHORT ($250)
Though not marketed as an MTB-specific bib (like the Gore Alp-X Bibtights Short+), we've grown to really love these Capo bibs for endurance days in the mountains. The rugged fabric from which they're cut (HG Lycra, stitched in key spots with carbon thread) is some of the toughest and most compressive shorts material we've tried, and it stood up to months of bashing through the trees and a few tumbles in the dirt without even the slightest sign of wear. The long leg cuffs mean there's no gripper to rub or aggravate your quads, and the seamless bibs have some of the best shaping we've seen: The suspenders snap into place, lie perfectly flat, and don't rub or irritate. Best of all, not only are these plenty sturdy for mountain riding, they're also light and sleek enough for the road, meaning they pull double duty just fine. And while the sculpted chamois isn't our favorite design (we prefer the smoother variety), it's been comfy enough for rides up to six hours.
BOTTOM LINE: A meticulously crafted bib that's as at home on dirt as on pavement.
GORE BIKE WEAR ALP X GT SHORTS ($150)
We were at first skeptical of a these Gore-Tex Paclite baggies, which seemed simultaneously inadequate (wet calves) and overkill (steamy butt). But after a handful of days out riding in them in the monsoon slog, we're convinced: Any mountain biker in a wet clime should have a pair of these. Layered over a chamois, the lightweight fabric kept our nether parts warm and dry even when afternoon storms doused us and turned the trails to slop. Credit the Paclite, which was totally impervious but breathed well enough to prevent claminess. Seams are strategically placed to avoid rubbing with a chamois, and the quick-action drawstrings on the legs kept out the spray. While friends in standard bibs soldiered away with moist loins, we smugly sat warm and dry all day long. Thank you Gore.
BOTTOM LINE: A boon for adventure racers and Pacific Northwesterners.