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.
For the women’s shorts, the big differences were in how the shorts fit around the hips and in accommodating kneepads. The shorts with the most impressive knee-pad compatibility were the Shredly Jana and the Pearl Izumi Elevate. But what made the Pearl Izumi Elevate stand out over the Shredly Jana was a slightly tapered leg that still worked great with a kneepad and a longer inseam that provided outstanding leg coverage. The Elevate fabric was also heavier and tougher.
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.
The highest-scoring shorts in this category were the Shredly Jana. With a score of nine and the best fit among all the womens’ shorts, their tailored fit and straight cut through the hips were neither restrictive nor baggy, thanks to the stretchy fabric that is equal parts tailored and relaxed. Despite the more tailored fit of the Shredly Jana, the leg openings are wide enough to accommodate kneepads. The Pearl Izumi Elevate and the Zoic Naveah each scored a seven in this category. Marketed as a relaxed fit, our testers found Pearl Izumi Elevates to be on the baggy size. The Zoic Naveah shorts run true to size with a very relaxed style through the hips that is tapered and fitted in the legs. However, this tapered and fitted cut in the legs made it more challenging for one of our testers to wear kneepads with the shorts.
Scoring the highest in this category was the Shredly Jana, which earned nine points. Durability and construction is outstanding. As they are made in the USA, this is to be expected. The double stitching is very meticulous, straight and precise with a heavier thread. With a score of eight points, the Pearl Izumi Elevate are constructed with a medium-weight four-way stretch ripstop fabric. The one pair of shorts that one of our testers crashed in and skidded into a mud bog during the testing period were the Pearl Izumi Elevate shorts. Structurally, the Pearl Izumi Elevate shorts were unfazed after the crash with no rips or tears and cleaned surprisingly well in the washing machine. However it has single stitching versus the double stitching of the Shredly’s. The Zoic Naveah’s, which scored five, also uses single-stitching. Although it is moderately straight with a medium-weight thread, the SuperLight Stretch fabric is not as abrasion-resistant as other mountain bike shorts.
In the women’s shorts, the Pearl Izumi Elevate scored the highest in this category with eight points. The long, protective 12.5-inch inseam easily accommodates knee pads and does not leave any leg skin exposed. The Shredly Jana and the Zoic Naveah both finished with five points in this category. The mid-weight stretchy fabric of the Shredly Jana shorts lends itself to good protection during low-impact crashes. However the shorter inseam of 10.5 inches, even when paired with kneepads, left some of our tester’s leg skin exposed. A tad longer is the Zoic Naveah, with an 11.5-inch inseam. It had the same length as the Pearl Izumi Elevate, but our testing team couldn’t justify a higher score due to the very lightweight fabric and the narrow leg openings that cause the fabric to bunch up above kneepads.
For the women’s shorts, the Zoic Naveah unquestionably scored the highest in the Comfort category with eight points. The ergonomic cut, SuperLight Stretch fabric that is breathable and dries quickly and the combination of the relaxed fit through the rear and hips all contributed to the most comfortable riding experience. The Shredly Jana also scored well in this category with a seven. Comfort was enhanced by the very wide and soft waistband and a nice low rise in the front to accommodate the natural position of the tester’s abdomen in aggressive riding positions. Zippered thigh vents promoted decent breathability on warmer days and the stretchy fabric is relatively breathable and did not bunch up or restrict range of motion. The Pearl Izumi Elevate scored one point lower with a six in this category. Although best suited for all-mountain and enduro riding, and our testers did not experience restricted mobility in the Pearl Izumi Elevate shorts, however lesser breathability was noticed on hot and humid days due to the heavier fabric.
For the women’s shorts, the Pearl Izumi Elevate scored the highest with a seven. The comfortable waistband is one of the reasons for the high score. The wide-panel construction of provides a comfortable low-rise in the front to reduce volume and a higher rise in the back for excellent low back coverage. Soft foam is added to the waistband for additional structure to prevent the back from sliding down. A Lycra stretch panel runs across the upper back, through the crotch and to the leg openings to allow for good stretch, breathability and range of motion.
Pockets, though few, are highly functional, well-placed and secured with sturdy zippers. They have two hip pockets that are moderately deep for carrying lightweight cargo such as a car key and a conveniently-placed small rear pocket at the waistband that can hold a key or MP3 player.
Scoring five points each were the Shredly Jana and the Zoic Naveah. With one side-leg snap pocket and two mesh-lined front hip pockets, pockets are few and lack any real functionality on the Shredly Jana. The snap pocket, while moderately secure, was not large enough to hold a Motorola smartphone. Comfort, however, is enhanced with zippered mesh thigh vents that offer additional ventilation on warm and humid days. On the Zoic Naveah’s, the number of pockets, placement and functionality are outstanding with five zippered security pockets. However, the zipper pulls are small and not the most glove-friendly. A small fabric loop above the right rear pocket keeps the headphone cord out of the way when riding. An integrated chamois comes with the ZOIC Naveah.
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.