Riding pants. How did I not think of it before? After a few winters of riding clad in the exact same shorts I was rocking in June, I was struck by a bolt of inspiration. It came in the form of one of Gerow’s reviews of a pair of riding pants. You see, “pants” are these innovative garments that extend below the knee. Some of them are designed for chillier weather, and they offer all sorts of benefits over shorts. Like warmth.
It turns out that the cold leg problem that had vexed me in years past had a pretty obvious solution, and I’m thrilled to report (for the benefit of the two other people who still don’t know) that mountain biking pants are a stunning success. Let’s take a look at a few pairs, with the heavyweights listed first.
Fox Defend Fire
Reviewer: Michael Welch
The Fox Defend Fire pants are a choice piece of kit for two main reasons. First, the luxurious fleece lining will keep you warm on even the coldest rides. If I’m planning on pedaling, I would easily rate these things down into the teens. For shuttle runs, they’ll be just fine down to 20°F or colder with some layering. The second advantage? The camo is absolutely awesome, and it’s proven to improve your riding skills by at least 20%.
While those two selling points were enough for me to fall head over heels in love, there are some other nice details that show the designers might actually ride bikes. A tapered leg keeps the pants out of your chainring, and the knees are pre-curved for uninhibited pedaling. The pants fit easily over the company’s low-profile Enduro Pro knee pads, and there’s an easily-accessible pocket on the left thigh for a phone or snack. If you decided to forgo insurance on your new cellphone, there’s another pocket on the back of the right leg that might offer a little more protection in the event of a crash.
If most of your riding buddies are middle schoolers, the ratcheting waistband will keep you from getting pants’ed in the parking lot, and it’s also secure while riding. I’m still not sure if a ratchet is necessary to do a job that snap buttons have been doing for decades, but lots of other pants on the market use the same closure. I guess I’ve just never shredded my pants off. Someday, perhaps.
In my opinion, the only downside to the Defend Fire is the cost. Retailing for $200, these things ain’t cheap. Fortunately, if you do decide to send that purchase, the durable softshell fabric and strategically located Cordura gives the impression you’ll be able to hand these down to your kids some day.
Bottom Line: As long as I have these pants, I’ll be eagerly anticipating the days when it’s cold enough to reach for them.
- Cordura™ seat and knee panels offer durability
- DWR finish sheds water and mud
- Fleece lining for comfort, warmth, and mobility
- Ratcheting closure
- Tapered leg with elastic cuff
- Inseam: 31.25″
- Price $199.95. Available from FoxRacing.com.
“Waterproof and breathable” is a phrase I often roll my eyes at. There are varying degrees of breathability to well-made waterproof gear, but rarely can a piece of kit make both of those claims with a measure of honesty. Alpinestars Tahoe pants do a decent job of moving air through the legs, but they are waterproof riding pants first.
We’re short on rain this winter, and I wore the Tahoe trousers while washing my bike a number of times to test their wet weather capabilities. With a solid and consistent stream of water directed at the articulated knee seams, my legs remained dry. I bet that after 4-5 hours of pedaling in a hard rain your legs would eventually become damp, but your kneepads would remain clean and your skin far warmer than if you had worn non-waterproof pants of similar weight.
On warmer rides above 15°C (59°F) the Tahoe pants felt like overkill, and I was sweating pretty consistently during climbing efforts. For any cooler ride, or park days where you don’t plan to climb for extended periods, these pants offer a solid layer of protection and added security for any unannounced storms.
The overall fit of the Tahoe pants is spot on with the Alpinestars measurement charts. I wear size 30×30 jeans and the small Tahoe fits perfectly. The waist could fit someone a fair bit smaller and a little bit larger than me, thanks to the handy velcro adjustment straps. The inner waterproof material is somewhat slippery, and you’ll want to cinch the waist tightly around your hips to prevent the pants from slipping down.
In summation, the Alpinestars Tahoe pants are a fantastic piece of gear for rainy and cooler rides and for the unpredictable nature of high alpine riding. Their tough exterior will last through any dirt nap you want to throw them into.
- “Seam-sealed waterproof main shell with 8k waterproofness and 3k breathability”
- Two pockets with waterproof zippers
- Tape welded seams to ensure waterproofing
- Snap system compatible with Alpinestars liner shorts
- Seamless crotch construction for better saddle comfort
- Colorways: Petrol black (shown), black
- Price $159.95. Available from Jenson USA
Ion Shelter Softshell
We reviewed the Select Scrub pants from Ion last season, and their 2020 Shelter Softshell pants are every bit as sturdy and comfortable. The Shelter trousers are likely the most versatile riding pants I have worn, with a weight that works in almost any weather. Their large vent zips allow loads of airflow where it counts while the fabric is heavy enough to keep you warm on frostier rides. Thanks to their DWR coating, I was able to wear the Shelter pants during a day of skiing in the Alps, with a t-shirt thin layer of wool beneath. I’ve since worn them on several 16 °C (61°F) adventures and appreciated their breathability and overall comfort.
The Shelter pants fit slightly larger than some riding pants, with more room in the legs for thicker kneepads and ankle zips that could fit over some high-top boots. The velcro adjusters at the waist offer a broad range of adjustability, and the size small would easily fit someone who is larger or smaller than me by a full jeans-size.
The DWR coating isn’t quite waterproof, but it does keep the dampness out for a few hours. The Shelters use a 4-way stretch fabric around the lumbar, knees, and the front side of the hips and crotch. In the wear and tear areas near the ankles, inner thighs, and the seat a heavier triple stitched duct-like material adds strength where you need it.
The two hip pockets are cut to the size of a modern cellphone, and the right side pouch has a neoprene cell phone sleeve to add some safety for your tiny computer.
The Ion Shelter Softshell pants are a cozy option, right up to the point when it’s time to put shorts on. Their clean look opens them up to uses outside of mountain biking, which for some folks is a sweet bonus.
- DWR water repellent coating
- Two zippered pockets and two air vent openings
- Zipper adjustable ankle openings
- Colorways: Root brown (shown) and black
- Price: €159.95. Available at ION.com
Reviewer: Michael Welch
Alpinestars is probably better known as a motorsports apparel company, but it turns out they also cater to pedal pushers. The Techstar pants are a well-designed pair of biking pants that have a moto look but a fit and finish that reflects their intended use.
They’re thinner and lighter than the fleece-lined Defend Fire above, making them better suited to warmer temperatures or a more physically demanding ride. While they offer quite a bit more insulation than shorts, vents on the inner thighs and knees help keep air moving. I found these comfortable in the low 40s down to the 30s, although lift-accessed riding would raise the temperature range significantly.
The tapered cuff keeps them out of the drivetrain, and they fit comfortably over my iXS Flow Evo+ knee pads. Another nice detail is the silicon strip around the inside of the waistband and, like Fox, Alpinestars opted for the ratcheting closure system that will keep these pants on no matter how hard you’re ripping.
I’m a big fan of the pants, and my single gripe would have to be the shortage of pockets. The Techstar has a single zipper pocket on the left hand side, and I found myself regularly reaching for another one on the right that isn’t there. Not a deal breaker by any means, but I thought it was worth mentioning.
Bottom line: The Techstar pants are a no-brainer for mild winters or the shoulder seasons, and they’ll be seeing a lot of mileage in the coming year.
- Reinforced knees and seat
- Tapered leg
- Ratcheting closure
- Front and side vents
- Silicon-lined waistband
- Zippered pocket
- MSRP: $159.95. Available from Competitive Cyclist | Compare prices
Thanks to the respective companies for providing these pants for testing and review.