The mountain bike market continues to segment and specialize, encompassing everything from drop-bar rigid rides for events like the Tour Divide to bikes with 200-millimeters-plus of travel for hurling down cliffs at the Red Bull Rampage. Likewise, apparel is becoming more varied. The three kits listed below all feature smart, innovative details, which is why they’ve found their way to the top of my kit drawer.
Troy Lee Designs Ace Jersey and Ace Short Elite ($68 and $165)
Troy Lee Designs built its reputation on gravity and motocross, but it launched into the XC market this year. That’s a bold move given the general disconnect between the gram-counting crowd and the loose-cut, bold-patterned downhill market.
TLD assures us it won’t be going full Lycra anytime soon, but the well-tailored cut of the Ace line shows they did their homework. The silky-feeling half-zip jersey is trim and built from a moisture-wicking synthetic that kept me cool even on searing New Mexico afternoons. The fabric is UPF 50 for ultraviolet protection, too. The trio of pockets on the back is big enough for the necessary sundries and there’s even some reflective details for nighttime safety.
The shorts are figure-hugging, but the 10-percent Spandex blend kept them comfy and free-moving. The padded waist adjusts via two Velcro tabs, and there’s a small zip pocket out back for a key and credit card. The only real failing is the “premium” chamois, which is thin and more comparable to a mid- or even budget-level liner in other brands. I generally used my favorite bibs underneath instead.
Bottom Line: High-quality fabrics and fun designs for people who want a bit of flair.
Acre Linear jersey and Traverse short ($62 and $165)
Acre is an offshoot of the urban commuter brand Mission Workshop, and it pairs the mother company’s plain, black hipster aesthetic with looser-cut clothing for the off-road crowd. The Traverse has quickly become my hands-down favorite trail short, thanks to the fist-width, full-wrap belt design, which is comfy and doesn’t rub or chafe with a pack. I love the high-quality aluminum buckle, too. The unassuming-looking fabric is light, water-repellant, fast-drying, and still gauzy soft. Pockets are large and sit behind the thighs so as not to interfere with pedaling, and the to-the-knees cut is baggy and works with kneepads. The only downfall? The Traverse doesn’t come with a chamois, which makes it relatively pricey.
The Linear jersey keeps with the simple theme: it’s a super-breathable, wicking short-sleeve T-shirt that works great, but doesn’t broadcast its cycling cred. And while I love the look and feel, the material has a tendency to snag on branches and brush.
Bottom Line: Technical apparel for the days you don’t want to look the part.
Assos SS.rallytrekkingJersey_evo7 and T.rallyShorts_s7 ($400 and $450)
Yep, you can buy complete bicycles for a lot less than the full Rally kit. And yes, that will probably strike a lot of people as absurd. But what you get for that large chunk of change is the most highly engineered cycling apparel available, with all the fabrics developed in-house at Assos (and therefore proprietary), plus tailoring and fit that make a custom suit look dumpy.
The bibs are outrageously comfortable, with an oversize, free-floating, seamless, multi-density pad that I’ve worn for 48 hours in the saddle with zero chafing. There are two primary fabrics in the rest of the piece: a highly compressive wrap in the legs and back that doesn’t require any seams, and a tougher, abrasion-resistant swathe in the crotch. The bibs straps are wide, soft, and elastic, crisscrossing suspender-style out back, which staved off sweat even under a pack. There are also removable hip pads that prevented bruising and tearing when I crashed.
The jersey is even wilder, with a super-trim, racer fit and a back panel constructed of a springy, elastic mesh that, when paired with the bibs, provided the best ventilation under a pack of any kit I’ve ever ridden. It comes with its own base layer ($80 if you purchase it separately) to help with wicking and protect your back from the sun. There are three large pockets out back with reflective stripes, which I feared would rub beneath a pack but somehow did not. All together, the Rally kit doesn’t feel like apparel so much as a gossamer, perfectly equipped piece of equipment—like a specialized mountaineering jacket or a dry suit.
Bottom Line: The ultimate endurance racing kit—full stop. But here’s the thing: unless you spend days or weeks at a time in the same kit, the money is better spent on a wheel upgrade.