Mountain bikers who remember the 1980s remember that mountain bike shorts came in one color (black) and for one gender (men). Women-specific gear and different colors weren’t on anyone’s design board. Thank goodness that has changed.
When we set out looking for mountain bike shorts to test and compare, we wanted examples of innovation and evolution. Along with that came colors and patterns that popped from brands like US-made Shredly, a small company started from a successful Kickstarter campaign. We also looked to the tried-and-true designs of Pearl Izumi who created the Pearl Izumi Elevate (women) and Launch (men), a true Enduro short. We also found emerging brands and styles such as the Zoic Naveah for women and the Club Ride Commander for men.
After testing a pile of mountain bike shorts for men and women, the coveted Best in Class award went to the Pearl Izumi Elevate and the Specialized Enduro Pro, designs that hit the sweet spot for comfort, durability, protection and fit for aggressive trail riding.
The highest-scoring shorts were the Specialized Enduro Pro with score of seven. Not so loose that they’ll snag on a seat and not too tight that they feel constricting. While the Enduro Pro comes in a full range of sizes (30-42”) to fit most size riders, one tester found that the shoulder straps on the mediums were a bit short for his not-particularly long torso. Scoring a six, the Club Ride Commander shorts feature a generous and comfortable fit, however its noticeably lower cut in the back make it prone to plumber’s crack unless worn with a bib, such as the Club Ride Airliner Mesh bib (available separately) which was tested with them. A bit more on the roomy side were the Pearl Izumi Launch shorts, which also scored a six. Although they easily accommodated hip padded shorts, for cross country riding when the cyclist is moving around, they risk getting caught on the seat. For enhanced fit, they do offer a grippy elastic strip at the back of the higher waistline to prevent plumber’s crack/slippage.
The top scorers were the Pearl Izumi Launch and the Specialized Enduro Pro, each of which scored eight points. Durability in the Specialized Enduro Pro was most noticeable with the laser perforations in the inner thighs, which are much more durable overall than zippers. Though the fabric is stretchy and breathable, it is burly enough to hold up against rocks, sticks, or even cactus spines. The conservative and well-built Pearl Izumi Launch’s fabric, on the other hand, is very heavy, making it a great short for longevity in washing machines and other types of abuse. With a score of seven, the Club Ride Commanders offer a medium weight, stretchy fabric that should hold up well to most crashes.
The Specialized Enduro Pro and the Pearl Izumi launch were the highest scorers with a score of eight. With an inseam of 13.5 inches, the Specialized Enduro Pro is a long short that offers good protection against rocks, sticks, or even cactus spines. The fabric has enough stretch, though, that the cyclist won’t feel impeded. The Pearl Izumi Launch, however, is a short that is meant to protect, without being too heavy or burly. The fifteen-inch inseam is long and the shorts are cut from a very stretchy and durable fabric that should keep trail rash to a minimum during a crash. Additionally, the looser fit will interface well with all manner of pads. With a score of seven, the Club Ride Commander is also a very protective short. With a 12.5-inch inseam, it is short enough to allow for a full range of motion when riding and have plenty of room in the legs for kneepads. The medium weight, stretchy fabric should hold up well to most crashes.
The bib-style Specialized Enduro Pro and the Club Ride Commander were the most comfortable, scoring a seven. The stretchy fabric of the Specialized Enduro Pro never felt constricted, especially in more descent-oriented riding. The pad is substantial, which is fine as it’s not meant for cross-country all-day pedaling. However, its heavier fabric makes it a warmer short when riding in temperatures in the eighties. Also scoring seven was the Club Ride Commander. Constructed with a medium weight fabric that offers plenty of stretch, cyclists will experience little constriction, even pedaling cross country. The more generous cut helps there, too. The fabric is also lighter and more breathable than it looks. Even riding in temperatures in the eighties, our tester never overheated. With a score of six, the Pearl Izumi Launch provides a loose fit and stretchy fabric, making it comfortable to wear on an all-day expedition. Although reasonably breathable, it was not the top choice for a hot day due to its heavier fabric.
The Specialized Enduro Pro earned a solid ten points for its storage options. In addition to two zippered front pockets, there are elastic pouches on the outer thighs of the chamois that can secure bars, goo, or a phone/camera to the cyclist’s thighs without any bouncing around. In addition, there are three elastic pouches on the back of the bib that can hold snacks, extra tubes, and tools in a more secure fashion than jersey pockets. If heavily loaded, they’ll overlap the waistband of the shorts in a non-intrusive way. Zipper pulls are also big enough to operate easily with gloves on, but still tuck away under the zipper flaps. The Pearl Izumi Launch and the Club Ride Commander both scored seven points each. The Pearl Izumi Launch offers three large zippered pockets with rubber-tabbed zipper pulls that are easy to operate, even with gloves on. While there is no waist-tightening system, apart from the belt loops, there is an elastic strip on the back waistline that makes up for that, even when the pockets are weighed down with snacks and a phone. The Club Ride Commander’s features are a bit scaled down with two front hand pockets, two Velcroed cargo pockets, and a zippered hip pocket that is perfect for a smartphone or snack. However, if the pocket is overloaded, a cyclist will definitely want to thread a belt into the loops to help out the internal waistband-tightening system.
Indeed, mountain bike shorts have evolved since their humble single-gender and single-color days. Now it’s all about the stretchy fabrics that make a short snug enough to not get caught on the seat post, yet unrestrictive while pedaling or moving around on the bike. Thicker, stretchy fabric goes a long way in protecting skin in a crash too, absorbing some of the force skin would normally take. And savvy styles include kneepad compatibility. Most companies have clued in to the hip pocket designed to secure a smartphone while not effecting movement and they have certainly clued in to a growing women’s market that demands high-performance, protection and comfort.
The major differences in the men’s shorts are the way companies choose to tighten up the waistband—something that’s necessary as the fabric gradually stretches out during a ride. Some systems definitely work better than others. Most companies add belt loops as a fail-safe, which is a good call.
In both men’s and women’s, the Shredly Jana, Zoic Naveah, Specialized Enduro Pro and the Pearl Izumi Launch came with a chamois liner included, which certainly affects their value. The ones that did not come with a chamois liner worked well with any liners that our tester’s had in their chamois wardrobe.
Fans of indie companies may be disappointed to see the Specialized Enduro Pro and the Pearl Izumi Elevate emerge the Best in Class, but being bigger companies certainly has its advantages in terms of pricing and hiring quality design teams. Simply put, the Specialized Enduro Pro and the Pearl Izumi Elevate are incredible products with some real innovations in the storage and protection department.
Our testing team tested the shorts in and around Minneapolis and Duluth, Minnesota; Sedona and Tucson, Arizona and Moab, Utah over a period of two months on asphalt, gravel, singletrack in temperatures ranging from the low 40’s to the mid-90’s and on distances that ranged from six miles to 56. Our testing team did not intentionally set out to test the durability of each pair of shorts in a crash. Instead, to judge the shorts’ ability to withstand impact, they scrutinized their construction materials, the weight of the fabric and the stitching. Though, there may have been some crashes anyway.