MTB Shorts Roundup

With their drop handlebars and narrow(er) tires, gravel and adventure bikes share plenty of DNA with conventional road bikes. In recent years, however, a great deal of mountain bike tech has crossed over into the gravel and adventure space. Thanks to our knobby-tired brethren, gravel bikes now sport disc brakes, tubeless tires, and even 1x gearing. The best crossover, however, may be something you wear instead of ride. I’m talking about MTB shorts.

Traditional lycra shorts are great for logging big mileage, but many riders prefer something less conspicuous (and more durable) for off-road and adventure riding. While you certainly could wear casual or generic athletic shorts over bibs, MTB-style shorts have cycling-specific cuts that are designed to cover what needs covering, while still providing freedom of movement for efficient pedaling.

Mountain–or baggy–shorts vary in length, cut, and materials. Shorts designed for hardcore technical riding are typically longer and have wider leg openings to accommodate kneepads or body armor. Trail-oriented shorts often have a slimmer profile and shorter inseams. While many of the shorts include padded liners, some manufacturers eschew liners altogether, leaving the rider provide their own.

I tested each of the following shorts with the included liners (when applicable), as well as with my own road-style (bib) shorts. Sizing can vary somewhat between brands (and sometimes even between a single brand’s styles), so it’s best to try on a particular model before purchasing. For reference, I weigh 195 pounds, am 5’10” tall, and wear 36W x 32L jeans. Inseam and leg opening measurements are listed in inches, and correspond to the actual garment (and size) tested.

Patagonia Dirt Craft Shorts
If you didn’t know better, you might mistake Patagonia’s Dirt Craft shorts ($149) for just another pair of of the company’s casual or hiking shorts. Don’t fret, though, because the Dirt Craft shorts are packed with a host of cycling-specific features. Starting with its trim cut, the outer short’s nylon/spandex blend features a DWR (durable water repellent) finish and refreshingly subtle reflective logos. The Dirt Craft’s external hook-and-webbing waist adjustment system won’t snag your other clothes like some shorts’ Velcro closures. The liner’s breathable 80% nylon/20% spandex mesh panels help keep you cool in warm weather, and the 3-layer pad isn’t overly bulky or stiff. The end result is a short that is comfortable, stays out of the way when the terrain gets technical, and looks good on and off the bike.

Size Tested Inseam Length Leg Opening Closure Pockets
Large 11.5 22 Zipper, Button 3
(2 front, 1 side)

Pearl Izumi Launch Shorts
In the quest for more coverage and protection, some MTB shorts have become so long and baggy that they resemble rodeo clown pants more than cycling shorts. Despite having the longest inseam of all the shorts tested (15″), Pearl Izumi’s Launch model ($125) successfully balances coverage and pedaling efficiency. Constructed from ripstop nylon, the outer short features 10″ front thigh zippers for additional ventilation. When paired with the Launch’s lightweight mesh (detachable) liner, the result is airflow that you can actually feel. Pearl Izumi’s years of experience manufacturing road shorts really shows, as the Launch’s liner and 3D Tour Chamois® delivered outstanding comfort and support.

Size Tested Inseam Length Leg Opening Closure Pockets
Large 15 22 Zipper, Button 3
(2 front, 1 side)

Showers Pass Gravel Shorts
ShowersPass (front)-min

It was only a matter of time before gravel bikes spawned gravel-specific shorts. Don’t let the gravel moniker fool you, though, because these Showers Pass shorts ($89) are equally at home on pavement and rugged singletrack. The shorts’ tight weave fabric breathes well and is complemented nicely by the two zippered thigh vents. Fit-wise, the cut is roomy, but definitely not baggy. To help eliminate plumber’s crack, the Showers Pass feature adjustable waist cinches and stretch articulation panels on the hips and below the waistband. The shorter 10″ inseam is perfect for smaller riders or those that prefer an alternative to manpris. Showers Pass doesn’t include a liner with the Gravel shorts, but the Oregon-based company does offer a separate liner short for $45.

Size Tested Inseam Length Leg Opening Closure Pockets
X-Large 10 23 Zipper, Snaps (2) 3
(2 front, 1 back)

Zoic Ether Shorts

With its a la carte approach, Zoic’s popular line of Ether shorts offers something for nearly every rider. The plaid Ether model ($90) that I tested features the company’s Essential liner with multi-thickness foam pad. These feature-rich shorts boast six pockets, locking zippers, integrated Air Flow mesh ventilation panels, and a Fusion inseam gusset that helps eliminate saddle hangups. And unlike the other shorts that I tested, the 100% polyester Ether outers have a decidedly smooth–almost slick–finish which resists dirt and mud better than matte or textured fabrics. Recommended for rides of 1-2 hours, Zoic’s Essential linear offers excellent ventilation, but the pad’s center section felt unnecessarily wide.

Size Tested Inseam Length Leg Opening Closure Pockets
X-Large 11 23 Zipper, Snap, Velcro 6
(2 front, 2 side, 1 media, 1 back)

All of the shorts tested offer more protection (and modesty) than traditional lycra cyclng shorts or bibs. As a longtime wearer of road-style shorts, I was initially skeptical that baggies could provide the comfort and performance that I was used to. It turns out that my concerns were unwarranted, because each pair worked exceptionally well for gravel, off-road, and commuting duty. If you favor a slimmer cut or shorter length, you’ll want to check out the Patagonia Dirt Craft or Showers Pass Gravel shorts. Riders who want a more relaxed fit (or additional length/coverage) will be well served by Pearl Izumi’s Launch or the Zoic Ether.

Disclosure: Patagonia, Pearl Izumi, Showers Pass, and Zoic provided review samples for this article, but offered no other form of compensation in exchange for editorial coverage.

One thought on “MTB Shorts Roundup

  1. I’ve been wearing MTB shorts for all of my gravel (in addition to mtb riding) for a while now. I see no downside whatsoever and find them way more comfortable with a minimal liner rather than a full-on lycra undershort. The Zoic ‘Ether’ has become my favorite “everywhere, everything” short – great fit and lots of smart function built into it.

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