My road to jorts started at my local trailhead, with what I call “the parking lot scan.” The scan is quick, but assesses a wide range of variables and emotions — Full lot? Half empty? Is there a group ride today? Why are those bozos showing off so hard over there? Did I remember my helmet? Am I gonna send that rock drop today? Oh, cute dog! — the internal ticker tape encompasses all topics, except for one: what I’m wearing.
And that’s because it’s always the same. Paw through my bike wardrobe and you’ll find nothing but knee-length baggies (all black or gray) and loose-fitting synthetic tees. Yet it still takes me forever to get ready for a ride because I have to dump all of my clothes on the closet floor to find the exact pair of black knee-length baggies and tee to wear that day.
Enter the jorts intervention. Sick of my same-old, same-old approach, I decided to shake things up a little by riding in the very last item of clothing I’d ever choose for a bike ride: a pair of jean shorts. Except the ones I test-drove — from Handup and Ripton & Co. — were, quite literally, made for singletrack.
A history of high hemlines and destroyed denim
Jorts first gained notoriety during the ’60s; scroll through old Woodstock photos to get your fill of men rocking cut-offs with a barely-there inseam (or, you know, don’t), but the term “jorts” didn’t appear in the Oxford English Dictionary until 2013, more than 20 years after cut-off dungarees came roaring back to life in the ’90s.
Both men and women rocked the longer, slimmer, and yes — often acid-washed — denim shorts of the ’90s, and while those jorts have a lot in common with the two brands of jorts I tested, there’s one key difference: the ones from Handup and Ripton stretch. A lot. And that’s crucial if you want to be able to ride a bike in denim, as many a bike messenger can likely attest.
Flexin’ the stretch
Handup doesn’t beat around the bush with empty promises about flex. Though perhaps best known for making gloves, the Chattanooga-based company now makes jorts that it says are “no rigid, raw denim leg traps.” Instead, Handup went with four-way stretch denim that claims “enough flexibility to carelessly throw your leg over the saddle or even somersault into a full split.” As someone who spent a lot of time riding horses as a kid/teen (back before Wranglers had any give), I can appreciate that premise.
And Ripton & Co., the Glenwood Springs, Colorado-based brand that hooked me up with the V4 jorts I tested (plus some funky overalls), even went so far as work with ISKO Denim to create a proprietary 8-ounce fabric called Ripton Steelknit 38%. (The 38% refers to how much the denim stretches from side to side.) And while Ripton founder Elliot Wilkinson-Ray is even more excited about the recent debut of the new Smoke Jorts, featuring a whopping 58% stretch, I found the 38% version refreshingly relaxed in the saddle.
Fit & Finish
First things first: Jorts are SHORT, for both men (Handups are an 8-inch inseam; Riptons are 9-9.5-inch) and women (5.5-6 inches). They’re also a lot tighter than your average baggies, which takes some getting used to. Because the Handups are unisex sizing, I took an XS instead of my normal women’s medium — but a size small might have been better. I tested a size 27 in Riptons, but might have preferred a 28, mostly because I like a little airspace between my chamois liner and my shorts.
And that brings us to another important topic: What to wear under your jorts. Both Handup and Ripton jorts have a buttery feel to them, despite being made of denim. They’re constructed the same as my cut-off Levi’s, but the ultra-lightweight denim used in both streamlines the seams, making it possible — though not universally advised — to skip the chamois. If you care about chamois lines peeking out from under your intentionally frayed cuffs though, you’ll probably need to go commando or look for ultra-short chamois liners.
Because the whole point of this test was to switch up my stuck-in-a-rut style, it was also time to ditch the oversized tees. I loved pairing jorts of any color with the short, boxy Technical Tee from Machines for Freedom. With its high-low split hem, swing style, and mesh sleeves (you get those on the black color only), the tech tee adds a bit of sass and a different silhouette to your ride. Plus, the bright cobalt really pops in the woods.
Bottom line: Performance=as expected. Fun=off the charts.
Will jorts blow your mind with their technical features? No, probably not. They don’t wick like synthetics, and you’re not going to find any clever internal cinches or hidden pockets for stashing gear anywhere. They’re denim, which means cotton… which means sweat. (Though both are made of such lightweight denim that they do dry quicker than you’d think.)
Ripton’s V4 Women’s Jorts have mesh-lined pockets and a cute hang loop to help mitigate the perspiration post-ride, as it’s recommended that you favor hanging over washing to help them break in with an appropriate dose of weathered cool. Handup’s Jorts are a bit more basic, but, at $45 (available at Handup) vs. $79, they are a better deal. Plus, they’re unisex, which means even bigger pockets. And that’s important, if you want to bring a phone or a snack.
So don’t expect lots of bells and whistles here, but every time I wore a pair of jorts it was like tapping into this other — far more fun — rider. I was that girl on the pump track looping the jump line over and over, trying to find the fastest run-in and sweetest launch spot. I actually used the full 160mm suspension on my Canyon Strive because I was hitting bigger things. I went first on the descent instead of bringing up the rear as per usual. I texted my favorite hard-hitting guy friends — affectionately known as “Dad Pack” — and suggested a jumps-and-flow-style ride. I dunked in the river and swapped my usual recovery drink for a post-ride beer. And when I wanted to hit the grocery store or join friends for post-ride tacos, no prob. I was dressed and ready to go. In jorts, I’m up for anything.
While I might keep a few of those black and grey baggies in the rotation for longer days when I want a plush chamois liner and lots of pockets, jorts are 100% staying in my ride rotation. And I hope that someone else’s pre-ride parking lot scan makes them wonder, “just what is that lady wearing?” Because if it’s me, I’ll be rocking the jorts and a crop tee and probably sessioning the pump track, looking for the best flow — and the most fun.