Extending our riding season beyond summer is all that most of us have in mind when searching for winter gear. Sure, there are people out there who want gear suitable for hunting the abominable snowman on his home turf - in January. But, that’s kind of an extreme. While some of the gear here will work fine for pursuing the elusive yeti, this review is about finding that sweet spot that makes winter mountain biking a fine and pleasant misery when temperatures range from 28 to 42F (-2 to 7C), and there is a healthy dose of the wet stuff coming down. After all, those are the conditions most of us are willing to venture out into during the dark months. About the Reviewers
Nikki Hollatz and Colin Meagher reside in Hood River, Oregon, in the heart of the Columbia River Gorge - a mecca for mountain biking, as well as kiteboarding and windsurfing. During the summer months, it’s warm with winds that can rifle through the gorge with serious velocity - gusts topping out at 50mph (80K) are common. We don’t often get winds like that in the cooler months, but the winds we do get can bring temperatures down to the single digits in a hurry.
Typically, from November through March, the temperatures and conditions are pleasant misery. It’s an extreme, but we can receive up to two inches of rain in a single day. Snow isn’t unusual, although it’s unlikely to stay on the ground for long - and there’s always at least one freezing rain storm to spice things up. Translation? This is the right place to test fall and winter gear. From October through April, we experience nearly everything Mother Nature can throw at you.What You Need to Know
This year, Nikki and Colin (along with Justin Fernandes, who stepped in for the photo sessions), reviewed a range of gear, from hard shells to soft shells, to provide riders the greatest flexibility to build clothing systems for staying warm and dry in cold and dry weather, as well as in conditions that might register a yeti sighting or two. We primarily focused on outer layers for this review; but we want to emphasize that getting rowdy in the wet and nasty should be approached from the skin out, with a base layer, mid layer, and an outer layer - and we also touched on some specialty gear for those who are truly dedicated to riding 365. Base layer:
The foundation of staying warm and dry (even if it’s just autumn chill outside) begins with a decent base layer to wick sweat from your skin to the mid layer. Once your core gets wet, if you stop moving, you’ll start freezing. Typical base layers are thin, are worn next to skin, and are made from either a polyester blend of some kind, Merino wool, or a blend of the two. Merino wool or wool blends rule, as they don’t get body odor funk very easily, but polyester tends to have a slightly superior wicking capacity. Mid layer:
We reviewed shell jackets and shorts because you can wear whatever the weather and temperatures dictate as an insulating layer underneath them. It's an outer layer, so you can shed excess clothing or add more as needed to stay warm. For cooler temps, that may mean a long sleeve jersey over that base layer, but as it gets colder, it could mean a fleece mid-layer or a vest, or both.Outer Layer:
If you plan on riding in cooler, but not really wet conditions, think about a soft shell. Surprisingly, a soft shell is also a good option for venturing out in temperatures well below freezing. In that kind of weather, the snow is dry and generally won’t stick to your clothing - even if you crash a few times. Make certain that the cut of the clothing allows for layering up. If you plan on riding in temps hovering around freezing and don't care whether it’s raining or sleeting, then a hard shell is definitely the way to go. Basically, it's all about keeping in that Goldilocks zone of not too hot and not too cold, so you can focus on enjoying the ride, instead of being miserable.
About Technical Fabrics
Extremities and feet: There are a number of good gloves out there for riding in chilly to downright frigid conditions. Go to your local shop - they should have a selection available, based on your local riding conditions. For feet, it’s a bit trickier. You’ve got to keep enough room in your shoes so that blood will circulate readily and keep your feet from turning into ice blocks. And, you’ve got to keep your feet dry. Options for that include waterproof socks of some kind, an over-boot, or a dedicated waterproof, insulated shoe for winter riding.
Breathability is the key for cold and wet-weather gear. If waterproof was all we needed, then we’d all be wearing designer garbage bags. Trash bags are definitely waterproof, but five minutes into your ride, you will be stewing in your own juices. Consequently, most of the gear reviewed here comes with a breathable waterproof barrier of some kind that is incorporated into the fabric. Typically, this barrier is created by using an ePTFE (expanded Polytetrafluoroethylene) membrane, sandwiched between the face fabric (the outer fabric of your garment) and an inner lining. The ePTFE membrane is littered with micro pores that won’t allow water droplets to penetrate, but will allow water vapor - your sweat - to move through it.
A waterproof - breathable rating
of 10,000mm/10,000g/m2 of vapor movement in 24-hours is considered the benchmark for a waterproof - breathable fabric. The first number is the waterproof rating. The second is the breathability rating. Fabrics with a higher rating will resist more abusive environments and keep breathing under heavy exercise better. You generally get what you pay for when it comes to waterproof-breathable materials. A jacket with a Gore-Tex type of membrane, for example, is definitely going to function better than a no-name jacket with a cheap laminate or a simple DWR coating, and it should give years of service.
Care and Feeding of Winter Gear
The ePTFE membrane used in most waterproof fabrics is delicate. The face fabric keeps it protected from outside hazards, like dirt, and the inner liner protects it from oils from your skin - both of which can clog the pores in the membrane. The face fabric is also coated with a DWR (Durable Waterproof Repellency) treatment to prevent it from getting saturated with water. If the face fabric wets out, or if the pores get clogged with dirt or oils from your skin, even though your garment is still waterproof, it won’t feel like it because the breathability will be gone. As a result, you’ll start getting wet from the inside out.
Winter riding generally involves mud at some point, which can coat your clothing and reduce breathability,
or eliminate it entirely if it's a particularly epic day. So, just give it a good wash when it gets dirty, right? Um, not that simple. Ordinary detergents leave residues that will attract both dirt and water. They’ll also eventually strip off the DWR coating. Also not good.
Use a non-detergent cleaner like Nikwax, Tech Wash, or McNett’s Revivex Pro to keep your waterproof, breathable anything clean and functioning properly. Just keep in mind that the DWR on the face fabric is a coating. It will wear off at some point, even with proper cleaning. When that happens, you can refresh the DWR with Nikwax TX-Direct, or McNett’s Revivex Water Repellant. One simple treatment will renew the waterproofing for a decent amount of time, although the length of time will vary with how much you abuse it.
We threw four European brands into the fall testing mix this year. POC is a Swedish company that got its start in the ski racing industry and, somewhere around 2014, started making cycling gear. They have a reputation for well-designed functional gear and I have been a loyal fan of the Joint VPD 2.0 knee guards for years. We were looking forward to seeing what POC had to offer on the apparel side of their range. POC Resistance Mid WO Jacket: $150“Made from DWR treated ripstop nylon fabric, the women’s specific Resistance Mid WO jacket is a lightweight MTB jacket developed for use in changing conditions."
Wind resistant, yet breathable, this jacket has many technical features that will make those of us searching for the ultimate take anywhere and everywhere jacket happy. Aside from the DWR-treated ripstop nylon fabric, the jacket has abrasion-resistant reinforced elbows for durability and protection, articulated sleeves, mesh inserts under the arms for ventilation, and a helmet-compatible hood with adjustments that provide a close fit. The jacket is available in Lactose Blue or Uranium Black. Sizing is X-small to large.
I tested a size-small Resistance Mid WO jacket in Lactose Blue. The jacket had a loose cut and easily fit over the long-sleeve base layer and vest that I wore during testing. The jacket is designed to fit with body armor underneath, so no need to size up. In fact, take a close look at the sizing chart and note that the POC apparel runs a little large. I typically fall squarely between a medium and small, and with this jacket, the small was perfect.
This is the style of jacket I pack in my riding bag most of the year. The Resistance jacket is very similar to my go-to everyday jacket - a Patagonia Houdini - but with some cycling-specific design features. It is extremely lightweight and easily packs down into its own pocket. The reinforced elbows provide a little extra rip protection and the hood fits over a helmet. What the jacket is not designed for, is riding in torrential downpours and sub-freezing temperatures. Although it is somewhat water repellent, it is not water resistant and eventually, I would be soaked through if I spent enough time in direct rain.
With a competitive price tag, props to POC for creating a women’s jacket that is visually indistinguishable in quality and features from the men’s version. This is one I to plan keep around for spring, summer and fall adventures and can’t wait to see how it holds up in the long run. POC Resistance Mid WO Shorts: $110“Designed for all-day riding, the women's specific Resistance Mid WO shorts are constructed from durable, lightweight and comfortable stretch nylon fabrics with a quick-drying front and a water-repellent back.”
The shorts feature an ergonomic design, with an articulated fit that allows for full flexibility, added inseam length to cover the top of your knee guards, a Velcro waist adjustment, two front zip pockets, and a raised back yoke to guard your chamois from exposure to the elements. It comes in Uranium Black and Amine Grey, and Sizes X-small to large
I tested the size small Resistance Mid WO Short in Uranium Black. The shorts were snug in the waist and a barely there loose in the hips – spot on with the POC sizing chart. The Velcro waist adjusters allow easy adjustment to tighten if you do size up and need to cinch down and for those of you with a little extra junk in the trunk and a smaller waist, these shorts will suit you well.
These were surprisingly one of my favorite shorts of this review. A simple sleek design, the shorts were comfortable when pedaling in all types of terrain, fit over my knee guards, had minimal branding, and didn’t play the gender game with shades of pink and teal. Like the jacket, the shorts are not necessarily designed for torrential rain but they do have a water repellent rear panel that will keep the bum dry. I think POC hit the nail on the head with a solid design and a reasonable price tag. POC Index Flow Gloves: $55
Motocross brands bring years of design and technology into play for their mountain bike clothing, and that’s a good thing. TLD has been making clothing for demanding riders for several years now, and their Ruckus gear continues that reputation. TLD Ruckus Jacket: $155
The Ruckus Jacket is a well-designed nylon shell with a TPU (thermoplastic polyurethane, a waterproof laminate) on the interior for water resistance. Technically, it is not considered a waterproof jacket, so there is no waterproof - breathability rating for it. It has a simple back vent across the shoulders (inside there’s some mesh to prevent a potentially clammy interior). It’s got a somewhat roomy rear cargo pocket on the small of the back and two medium-sized cargo pockets at the waist. The hood is both removable and helmet compatible. There are hook-and-loop type adjusters on the cuffs, and a shock-cord adjuster at the waist. A media port for riding with tunes rounds out the features. It comes in black and sizes small through X-large.
This is a very workman like jacket. During the review process it impressed with its “get the job done” functionality. It fit well. As in really, really well. Sleeve length, shoulder, and torso were all just right. The drawstring adjuster on the waist was functional, as were the Velcro tabs on the cuffs. I tested this jacket during on again/off again rain in temperatures hovering around 40 degrees F. It kept me dry and it repelled water just fine. It also breathed reasonably well with the shoulder vents. Helmet compatibility was the best of the lot. I’m typically not a hood wearer, though, so I was stoked that removing the hood via a simple zipper was an option. Accessibility of the stash pocket across the small of the back was OK - I didn’t have one on any other jacket for comparison, but it was easy to access when stopped. TLD Ruckus Ripstop Shorts: $135
The Ruckus ripstop shorts are a premium offering and the price reflects this. It is ergonomically designed and comprised of a two-way stretch polyester fabric with a touch of Spandex for stretch. It comes with a removable (via scissors) chamois-lined short of decent quality, although the liner itself was a bit roomier than I like. From there it’s loaded with all the bells and whistles you’d expect at this price point: waist-height adjusters for dialing in a perfect fit, zippered thigh vents on the inseam, one zipped hip pocket for extra security, one open access hip pocket with a “content security panel,”a cell-phone friendly pocket on the side of the right leg, and a rear pocket with mesh padding. There is a single, button-type waist closure, and you can choose from red, green, or black, in size 30, 32, 34, and 38.
Out of the gate, the fit is incredibly comfortable. When pedaling, the Ruckus short is almost unnoticeable: it rides on the hips, just the way it should, and moves with you when you’re riding. There’s just enough stretch to be comfortable and no excess fabric to hook on your saddle. I’ve always claimed that the best gear is the gear that you don’t notice because it’s working so well. This short fits that bill to a tee. But, this is not a waterproof short, or even a water resistant short. A ride in the rain will soak right into your under layers pretty much instantly. That’s not a cut on the quality of the short or its design at all: it’s a great short for cool to cold, dry to damp riding conditions in the fall and winter. It is not, however, the short to pack for Squamish, BC, in December - unless you have no other option. TLD Speed Knee Sleeve: $54TLD Ace Cold Weather Glove: $40
Bontrager clothing is quality stuff, and the designers there obviously know cycling. Rather than offering a jacket or some shorts as an afterthought, their people have crafted a comprehensive clothing system for foul-weather riding that includes base layers, winter riding shoes, skull caps, and gloves. Bontrager Lithos Softshell Jacket: $174.95
The Lithos soft shell sits right in the midst of this winter clothing system. It’s a piece that’s perfect for cool to downright cold riding, although with a 5000k/5000k water proof-breathability rating, it’s maybe not the jacket for mucking about in a hurricane. There are two zippered pockets on either side of the waist, and one chest pocket that doubles as a vent. There’s also a vent that runs diagonally from the waist to the bottom of the chest pocket. There are elastic cuffs to keep the sleeves from riding up, a semi-fitted torso, and a three-way adjustable, helmet-compatible hood. It also has a drop tail to help ward off trail debris. It comes in blue and black. Sizes X-small through XX-large.
For a semi-fitted torso, the fit was surprisingly roomy - similar to the Alpinestars All Mountain 2 jacket. The Lithos jacket breathed well - better I’d say, than the 5k breathability rating on the Trek website. But, it is a soft shell and, while it repelled a couple rain squalls well enough, it definitely didn’t offer the reassurance of a hard shell jacket when the weather really took a turn. But, it moved well and kept me toasty warm when I wasn’t exercising. The drop tail did as it should, too, keeping trail debris from easily penetrating into my dry layers, but also staying out of the way when I was moving around on the bike. The fit over a helmet was excellent, and the adjustability made customizing the fit very easy to do. This may not be an ideal item for monsoon weather or December in Squamish, BC, but it is perfect for mostly dry, cool to cold-weather riding. Pinkbike's Mike Levy did a more in-depth review
if you'd like the full story.Bontrager Evoke Stormshell Short: $149.95
Evoke Stormshell short is Bontrager’s under-the-radar foul-weather short. It’s constructed of Bontrager’s Profila 3L Stormshell fabric - a waterproof, breathable fabric with a 20k/20k rating. It features three generous pockets, waist tab adjusters, and adjusters on the knees of the short to help keep spray from going up your legs. It comes in black only and is available in sizes X-small through XX-large.
What’s not to like about this short? It’s semi-fitted, so it moves well with the body, and there was never a fear of hooking a saddle or snagging the short anywhere. The waterproof-breathability is excellent. It’s not an overshort, either; this is a daily driver. The opening at the knee is generous enough to accommodate knee guards, but can easily be cinched down with the adjusters to minimize the gap there. During my test period, it breathed well despite the heavier than summer weight of the short, and it also worked well to shed water. Last year’s version of this short saw long term testing (and a recent review
) from Vernon Felton.
Overall, it’s a great piece from Bontrager that integrates well into their foul weather gear system. It won’t keep you as dry as a pair of their Stormshell pants, as your legs will still be exposed, but for anything short of winter fat biking, they’re perfect. Bontrager Stormshell Oversock: $49
If your riding plans are going to include wet days, but not so gnarly that you need a specialty winter shoe, then consider a pair of Bontrager Stormshell oversocks. These thin socks are made from Bontrager’s Stormshell fabric and have a bit of elastic on the cuff to keep them in place above the ankle. The concept is that you wear them over your own socks, but inside your shoes, keeping your feet warm and dry. Available in size X-small through XX-large, and retailing for a fraction of the cost of a winter shoe, these will see you pedaling in fairly miserable weather with a grin on.
The size large oversocks I tested pulled on easily over my own socks, and the elastic cuff kept them in place without exposing them. They were thin enough that my feet still fit into size-44 shoes without creating any hot spots (I was wearing thin socks). The Stormshell fabric breathed reasonably well and, although my shoes were dripping after roosting some deep puddles, my feet stayed dry. These are a great choice when a full-blown winter shoe isn’t an option for you. Bontrager Stormshell Glove: $99.99Bontrager B2 Short Sleeve Base Layer: $69.99
This is a Polyester/Merino wool blend jersey with a semi-fitted cut. It moves well next to the skin, wicks well, and has just enough wool to ward off body funk - I’ve worn it for three rides without developing a noticeable odor. It’s also has a three-inch drop tail for warding off crack attack. It works well enough and fits well enough that I now consider it a staple base layer for me. It’s available in a long-sleeve version for $84.99. Black only, in sizes X-small through XX-large.
Fox Racing (AKA Fox Head) was one of the first Motocross companies to delve into mountain bike clothing. Initially, their cycling designs seemed to be afterthoughts from their MX division, but the gear they’ve put out the past few years has been a big step up in fit and function. Take the time to look over some of their MX gear, and you will definitely see the MX DNA in their mountain bike gear, but the cycling division has definitely come into its own. In fact, MTB clothing and gear now make up 30-percent of Fox Racing's sales. Fox Racing Women’s Lynx Short: $129.95“The Lynx short fuses the extreme comfort and performance qualities from our new Trumotion four-way-stretch fabric with an athletic look and fit that is decidedly feminine. The high-quality chamois is cut specifically for women and provides comfort that keeps you in the saddle all day every day.”
The short has an interior-adjustable waistband, a 21-inch outseam, and a detachable, lightweight mesh liner with a women's specific pro chamois. Lynx shorts have no side pockets, but do have one mid back zippered stash pocket that is big enough to put a small bar or set of keys in. The Lynx is available in Flo Yellow, Blue/Grey, Black/White and Heather/Black, in sizes small through x-large.
I tested the size medium Lynx short in Flo Yellow. With the adjustable Velcro waistband cinched, the shorts were a bit big in the waist on me. Technically, with a 27.5-inch waist, I should have asked for size small, but I'm a "between sizer," and they fit decently enough to stay put during my rides. The 21-inch outseam length was on the longer end of all the shorts I have tested and, as such, they easily fit over my knee guards.
Lynx shorts are not described as waterproof or water resistant and there is no DWR coating, but the Trudri fabric is designed to wick sweat away from the body to keep you dry and comfortable.. So, while you might want to avoid epic all day adventures in the rain in these shorts, they are a super comfortable, good looking, and an extremely lightweight basic riding short. The one complaint I have is that I find the small back zippered stash pocket fairly useless due to its size, and I would love to see Fox add side pockets to these shorts for those of us who feel naked without them.
Fox offers the Lynx in four different color patterns and it is the only short that came with a detachable, lightweight chamois. The included chamois is super comfortable to pedal in, and a very nice addition that makes the short a more-affordable option when you take into consideration the stand-alone cost of a liner chamois. I'd be stoked to unwrap a pair of these shorts in Heather Black this holiday season (wink wink)! Fox Racing Women's Diffuse Jacket: $129.95“At Fox we know that women ride every bit as hard as men do and our Spring '16 Women's MTB apparel offering is designed by women who ride for women who ride.”
The Diffuse jacket features a DWR treated wind-resistant upper body, an adjustable hood, reflective details, and two side pockets.The Diffuse comes in Black and Blue and in sizes small, through large.
I tested the size medium Diffuse jacket in blue and it had a near-perfect fit. I would describe the design as a lightweight, form-fitted puffy style coat. It kept me warm during the colder test rides and held up in the drizzle surprisingly well for a jacket with only a DWR treated fabric on the main upper body panel. The material on the lower arms did get a little damp in the rain, at which point, I put a waterproof shell on over the jacket in an attempt to stay warm and dry, which turned out to be the perfect layering for those wet damp conditions we all love so much.
The Diffuse has an attractive look, with two color panels and minimal branding by Fox apparel standards. I really liked that the hood stashes away in the neck collar with a simple Velcro tab. Having a hood flap around while riding can be obnoxious here in the windy Columbia River Gorge. Overall, I was super happy with this jacket and, in my humble opinion, it is a superb mid-layer option for riding in the cold that easily fits under a shell when the weather takes a turn for the worse. For a price tag that is comparable to a fancy date night, Fox hit the mark with this unique jacket - most definitely designed by women for women.Fox Racing Sidewinder Polar Gloves $44.95"Some of the best days on the trail are those chilly rides, just days after a storm. The Sidewinder Polar glove will ensure you’re ready to shred with fingers that stay nice and warm. We took all of the leading features of the Sidewinder glove and added polar fleece insulation and wind resistant TPU finger gussets to make it work on all but the most frigid of days.” Fox Racing Downpour Pro Jacket: $249.95
Fox has been designing MX gear for 42 years, and they’ve been happy to apply a lot of what they’ve learned behind a twist throttle to their mountain bike apparel line. This, the Downpour Pro jacket, is the flagship offering of that line. It’s a waterproof/windproof shell jacket constructed with a four-way-stretch 3L fabric called Trumotion that utilizes Truseal, a 10k/10k rated membrane, layered inside the polyester/spandex weave. The exterior of the jacket has a DWR treatment. There are two torso vents high on the chest, adjustable cuffs, two waist pockets, and a nice drop seat to help keep crud from the rear tire out. There are also Cordura abrasion resistant patches on the outside of the elbow and forearms. There is no hood. All pocket zippers are water resistant. It comes in red and blue, in sizes small through X-large.
This is another tough as nails jacket. My first impression was that it was a bit snug in the shoulders, but that vanished once I was riding. The breathability was good, too, although on one particularly sustained climb, I wished it offered just a wee bit more venting on the torso without needing to open the main zipper. I was unable to test it in heavy rain, but what rain I did get was sneered at by the DWR on the fabric. Fox obviously sweated the details on this one: the fit is spot on - not too tight, and not too loose. All the seams are welded and taped, the cuff adjusters are easy to use, and the reflective bits offer welcome visibility if you’re pedaling about after dark. The drop tail was the Goldilocks length, too - just enough to keep mud at bay, but not so much as to be noticeable when seated.
Overall, the thing that impressed me the most was how well the jacket moved with me, despite the burly construction. It’s not so light that you could stuff it into a pack, as a just-in-case item, but you can definitely pedal in it all day if need be. It is a solidly constructed jacket. So, while it’s pedal friendly, it’s also a good choice for shuttle days in the rain. Fox Racing Downpour Short: $149.95
Just like the Downpour jacket, the matching short is also constructed of Trumotion 3L fabric with a Truseal 10k/10k membrane sandwiched inside the polyester/Spandex weave. It has the same contoured and semi-adjustable waist as the Attack Pro short we reviewed last spring (there are three snaps, allowing a modicum of adjustment at the waist, but no waist tabs or belt loops), a half fly, and water-resistant zippered pockets on either side of the waist. As with the Downpour Pro jacket, all seams are welded and taped, and the face fabric has a DWR treatment to repel monsoons. A slight rise in the back works to help keep debris off the rear tire from dropping into places where it doesn’t really belong. There is no chamois liner short included, and the Downpour short It comes in red and blue, in sizes 30, 32, 34, 36, and 38.
Either the fit is a bit better on these shorts, compared to the Pro Attack short we reviewed last spring, or I’ve been drinking too much beer. This time, the size-32 waist was pretty much spot on (with the Pro Attacks I needed to size down to a 30 to get the right fit). The short is semi-fitted in the hips, so it contours to your body pretty well. Consequently, it was extremely comfortable, had zero excess bulk or fabric to hook the saddle, but still moved well. The half fly on the short is still kind of an oddity, but it works well for trail-side relief, so I’m not complaining. As important as the fit, though, was how waterproof this short was. I’m happy to state that I had no water penetrate the short during testing. On the breathability side, too, I had no complaints. The fabric feels impermeable, but the Downpour seemed to breathe just as well as the Pro Attack short that we tested last summer. And, despite the semi-fitted nature, it also played well with knee guards. Overall, these are a premium offering, well worth considering as a daily-driver foul-weather short, for anything from shuttle days to protracted death marches in sleeting conditions. Fox Racing Sidewinder Polar Glove: $44.95Fox Racing Launch Enduro Knee Pads: $59.95
Race Face has been killing it with leading edge, rider-inspired gear since back in the day - and they’ve never let up. Given their location at the bottom of the North Shore of Vancouver, BC, it’s safe to say that they know a thing or two about designing gear for both challenging weather and terrain.Race Face Scout Soft Shell Jacket: $149.99“The Scout soft shell blurs the lines between technical and casual; keeping you dry on the trails and stylish on the street, with 8,000mm;3,000g/m, 2.3-ply, soft hand Polyester fabric DWR treated on the outer face and laminated to a waterproof breathable membrane.”
The Scout jacket features a full front zip hidden by placket, laser perforated underarms, back bar-tacked venting, a welded stash pocket, Lycra sleeve cuffs with thumb holes, and two front hand-warmer pockets. It comes in black and grape, in sizes X-small, through X-large.
I tested a size small Scout soft shell in grape. The jacket was true to Race Face sizing, with a slim style fit on my frame, and good torso and arm length. The soft shell fabric offered a heavier, yet stretchy feel that allowed unrestricted movement of my upper body despite the slim fit. My favorite added feature to this jacket was the Lycra sleeve cuffs with thumb holes, as they let me show off my famous whimsical thumbs at the local pub..
I tested the Scout in cold, drizzly weather - riding and mushroom hunting - and I was surprised at how water resistant the jacket was. At 8K, it is right about where rain-proof categorized jackets begin, and although you will eventually get wet in torrential rain, it held up pretty dang well. That said, it is a bit more affordable than truly waterproof jackets, and while the breathability rating of the fabric is on the lower range, the jacket makes up for that with its vented underarms and back bar. On prolonged climbs I never felt any overheating or excessive sweating and I stayed dry through the duration of my rides.
While I would avoid full squalls in this stylish jacket, it is an affordable option and designed to hold up to the majority of the fall riding weather that we encounter here in the Pacific Northwest. I am also happy to see that, after last year's review, where I had to wear a men's winter jacket, that Race Face stepped up their game and came out with a competitive and functional women's specific riding jacket. Race Face DIY Shorts: $89.99
Hard-wearing and great looking, DIY short's woven stretch fabric has a heathered outer face similar to the Tweedster fabric used on the Khyber short. Unlike the Khyber, though, the DIY short is lighter weight and uses two-way stretch for added mobility. The DIY shrugs off water, thanks to the DWR treatment. The DIY is a new pattern offered by Race Face - one that offers a wide Lycra waistband, which they state is designed to eliminate "muffin top" and to accommodate curvier body shapes. The short has a 14-inch (36cm) inseam, and is designed to fit over knee guards. It is available in black, Flame Red, and Navy Blue, in sizes X-small, through X-large.
I tested the size-small DIY short in black. I normally would wear a medium in Race Face's Khyber short, but based on feedback and their design philosophy, I felt a small was the better testing option. The Lycra waistband made up for any snugness I might have felt on a traditional button short in the waist, and the hips and leg openings fit me comfortably. I did use the lower hem buttons to pull my knee guards on and they are a nice added feature. The shorts come to the top of my knee and even thought they narrow up a bit, they fit comfortably over the Race Face Charge Subzero guards I wore during testing.
The short offers some protection from the rain with the DWR coating, but it doesn’t have an ePTF membrane to make it true waterproof/breathable garment. Knowing what conditions you like, or are forced to ride in, will guide you to determine what material and technology will work best for you. While we didn’t execute long-term testing during these reviews, I did stay dry in the drizzle and puddles I encountered during the five-plus hours I spent in this kit.
To sum it up: this is a rad short. It is stylish, affordable, and it beats almost any other short in the comfort category - primarily due to the Lycra waistband. For those of you looking for a short that adapts to curvier body shapes, this is it. Race Face Agent Jacket: $169.99
The Agent jacket features a 2.5 layer fabric with a 10k/10k water proof-breathability rating. The body of the jacket features two intake vents on the front of the torso, as well as a vented strip across the shoulders to boost the breathability. There are two mesh-lined hand pockets that double as extra vents for stashing essentials. The Agent also has a three-point-adjustable hood that remains anchored in place with magnetic fasteners when not in use, and it features a high, fleece-lined collar for comfort when the jacket is zipped all the way up. There are shock cords at the waist, and hook-and-loop adjusters at the wrists. It comes in black, blue, and red, and is available in sizes small, through XX-large.
The Agent is a great alternative to the Race Face Team Chute jacket reviewed last year. Like the Team Chute, the Agent jacket is capable of all-day shuttle adventures, but unlike the Team Chute, it’s made of a much lighter weight fabric, making it something you can readily stash in your pack as a “just in case” item. It’s touted as a soft shell, but given the 10k/10k waterproof/breathability rating, it’s just the thing for long rides in the fall with threatening weather on the horizon, as well as lunch rides when it’s cats and dogs outside.
I tested this jacket on a steep, 45-minute climb, followed by a 15-minute descent on a rainy, late-October day. It was cold and wet - pretty much the definition of misery, although not quite hell. Despite that, I stayed dry (although I definitely needed to open the vents wide to blow off steam near the end of the climb). During the descent down a flow trail, I remained warm and dry. Overall, the Agent is not as breathable as some jackets tested here, but under the circumstances, I’ve no complaints about its waterproofness or breathability. The fit was not too tight, and not too loose, however, I do have a bone to pick about the hood design. It’s almost impossible to zip up when worn over the helmet and, consequently, it makes head movements a bit restricted. Placing it under the helmet doesn't help, either; there's too much fabric for it to fit easily under a helmet. Despite that failing, overall, this is a solid choice for anyone mixing it up between pedaling and shuttling in the kind of weather that will keep most riders indoors. Race Face Stage Short: $99.99
The mid-length Stage short may not be as winter riding specific as the Agent Winter short we reviewed last season (the Agent Winter short is a daily driver for days when it's absolutely miserable out) , but it’s just the ticket for riding in the high country late into the fall and early winter. It’s made from a DWR-coated nylon/polyester blend, with a touch of Lycra for better movement while riding. Other details include a seamless Cordura crotch gusset for mobility and durability, a 15-inch inseam, an adjustable waist via internal hook-and-loop tabs, bar-tacked belt loops, double-reinforced seams, and three YKK zippered pockets - one on either hip, and one in the back. There’s a raised back panel in the that doubles as a hanger hook to help keep out trail debris when you’re out loam hunting.
In Race Face’s semi-crowded line-up of shorts, the Stage is perfect for long missions on those cool, potentially wet autumn days, where some water resistance is key, but it’s not getting so nasty out that you need full-blown winter shorts. The Stage short ticks all the boxes: it’s lightweight, fits well, doesn’t bind at all when riding, and breathes well, too. The addition of a DWR coating ensures some water resistance, too. the lighter weight of the Stage Short makes for a much more pedal friendly garment as it moves better with the body on extended backcountry missions. Will it keep you dry in the gnar? Not so much as a true waterproof breathable short, but it will keep the elements at bay at an acceptable level. If your ride plans regularly involve monsoon weather, then I’d either consider the Agent Winter shorts or another pair of shorts from this review.
Visit the review gallery for full-size images and come back for part two