We get it. Not everyone wants to fork out $150 for a pair of mountain bike shorts, nor do they need to. That could be a monthly payment on a new bike, a car payment, or a set of new tires.
Considering that it makes sense to have a few pairs of bike shorts and a few jerseys lying around, few people want to shell out hundreds or thousands of dollars for a comprehensive mountain bike wardrobe. So here are a few options and alternatives to expensive mountain bike apparel that you’re likely already aware of, and some that might be new.
What’s the difference?
If the prices of a mountain bike didn’t outright shock me when I first started riding, then the clothing prices did. Whenever you’re getting into a new hobby, the amount of gear you need and the price tags can be shocking, especially all at once.
After spending over a thousand dollars on my first full-suspension bike, I realized I also needed a helmet, a pair of shoes that would work well with flat pedals, glasses, and gloves. Somehow, I’d need to fund my trips to Moab and the bike park as well.
Having BMXed for years as a kid, wearing skate shoes from the mall, because flat pedal bike shoes weren’t really a thing then, I knew that a pair of $40 Vans would suffice. I could cover my torso and legs in Under Armour gym shirts and cargo shorts and still kind of look like a mountain biker, because Lycra certainly wasn’t an option at that point.
Over time, I realized the value (being less sweaty) that bike-specific gear presented over my budget-minded alternatives, I slowly bought more bike-specific jerseys, shorts, shoes, gloves, and glasses. Spreading out the cost over time, like buying a few new shirts every year before the first day of school, was more realistic than buying a bunch of nice gear at once.
The main difference I’ve discovered is comfort, fit, breathability, and durability. I know some of my credibility is torn here, since apparel brands regularly send us their nicest kits, but without a doubt, there is a notable difference between a $125 merino jersey and an old cotton tee. A nice piece of cycling kit will breathe better, fit better, and hold up better year over year, although we all have a limit on what we’re comfortable spending. That’s not to say you should or need to spend that much money; just that there is a noticeable difference.
In the podcast Everything You Need to Know About Mountain Bike Clothing, Singletracks editor-in-chief Jeff Barber interviewed Ryan White from Pactimo about mountain bike apparel and some of the associated costs. Yes, apparel is generally more expensive because it’s from a mountain bike brand. That’s not because these CEOs are scheming to rip us off, but because the clothes are made on a smaller scale. They are using more complicated fabrics and taking more time to make a better fit. Outdoor brands, by and large, have been committing to more recycled fibers and earth-friendly approaches which box store brands might not offer.
For those just getting started or anyone not interested in buying into mountain bike specific apparel, here are some low-cost alternatives.
Cheap Mountain Bike Shoes
Seemingly, hiking or running shoes are a good option for mountain biking. They are made to breathe well, withstand the rigors of the trail, and made with athletic movement in mind. The best bike shoes that I’ve found that aren’t made by a bike brand like Five Ten or Ride Concepts are a pair of Vans with the waffle pattern sole, and they have a pretty short lifespan.
There’s a lot to think about in a bike shoe, but I’d say the most important thing is grip, which is what Vans or another mass-market skate shoe will do relatively well. The gummy, flat sole is a much better option for a flat pedal than a hiking or running shoe, which is made to grip uneven terrain with large, spaced knobs.
Where Vans and other alternatives fall short of an actual mountain bike shoe is durability, toe protection, and sole stiffness. Shoes that aren’t made for extreme sports usually don’t have a (non-steel) reinforced toe, and stubbing your toe on a stump at 12MPH hurts a lot more than the bed frame in the middle of the night. Sole stiffness is usually not a first thought either. Mountain bike shoes are made to transfer power into the pedals and add stability.
Singletracks contributor Chris Schieffer says that her son has done well with these Chaco Torrent Pro Water Shoes. The sole is mostly flat with good grip and has toe protection.
While something like a pair of Vans or running shoes will do the trick for a while, consider looking at online retailers like JensonUSA or Competitive Cyclist to find discounts on shoes made the previous year that haven’t sold. The Five Ten Freerider, Giro Riddance, Ride Concepts Vice or Livewire are mountain bike specific shoes that sell for around $100, and after some time you might be able to find a discount on them.
Cheap Mountain Bike Shorts
What’s your go-to mountain bike short that isn’t a mountain bike short? In the beginning, mine was hot, baggy cargo shorts. Gym shorts are obviously a popular choice. All of these options have their pros and cons compared to a pair of well-made mountain bike shorts. A pair of mountain bike shorts still offers a lot compared to the convenient options mentioned, but obviously come with a higher price tag.
Yes, gym shorts are breathable and comfy, but they’ll likely shift out of place after a trip over the bars, and they might not do as good of a job repelling rain, stopping tears, or clearing the tip of your saddle. Loose open pockets probably aren’t the most secure stash point for keys or a phone either.
Singletracks tech editor Gerow says that a pair of Dickies shorts work well, since they are tough and cheap. He rides sans-chamois as well to save a few more bucks, though that might take some time to adjust.
Co-founder and EIC Jeff says that to get more mileage out of his dedicated bike shorts and spread out the cost, he’ll wear bike shorts off the bike as well, with so many casual options these days. I’ve done the same with my Club Ride or Flylow shorts, and they make the $100 price tag more bearable.
Then, there are always jorts. Singletracks contributor Chris says “go to Goodwill, find stretchy jeans, cut them off – TADA! $7.99, tops.”
Brands like Zoic, Fox, and Pearl Izumi are usually made on a massive scale and are easy brands to find discounts on near the end of the year. Online retailers like evo Backcountry have started to make their own mountain bike apparel too at a reasonable cost.
Cheap Mountain Bike Jerseys
Jerseys might be the best piece of kit to save money on. While a cotton pair of shorts is going to be less than ideal due to the amount of movement happening at the legs and hips, there is a lot more opportunity for airflow and breathability up top.
A cotton tee shirt may not be very breathable and will perform awfully expelling moisture, but it’ll work just fine for a short lunch ride. Singletracks co-founder and EIC Jeff says he often cuts the sleeves off an old cotton t-shirt for more airflow and to keep the sweat down.
Under Armour and Nike athletic shirts probably offer the most bang for the buck. For example, this Nike performance t-shirt made from polyester is $25 on Dick’s Sporting Goods, and for the wearer, there isn’t much different compared to a lot of MTB jerseys out there. They might not manage stink as well as a dedicated MTB jersey, but it’s probably not a big deal if it’s only getting worn once before a wash. Of course, there are similar and even more affordable options at Target and other department stores.
Cheap Mountain Biking Glasses
A good pair of glasses can be hard to find as well. Often, people will run to the hardware store or gas station for a cheap pair of eyewear and as a shield from trail fodder, that will do just fine in most cases.
Where they might pale in comparison, is in reducing UV rays or enhancing contrast on forest floor features.
Bike-specific glasses also often have adjustable nose pieces and temples, or even sizes to get the right fit, not to mention venting. If you’ve ever ridden with a pair of glasses that doesn’t have a single vent on it, you’ll understand just how warm things can get under the lenses and how bad salty eyes can feel. Gerow interviewed a bike optics engineer, so for a lot more information on the topic, check out the article.
There are a few athletic brands out there that make great glasses that aren’t an arm and a leg. Optic Nerve is a good option, as is Tifosi and Ryders Eyewear.
Cheap Mountain Biking Gloves
Gloves are also an easy place to avoid spending too much money. Who hasn’t worn a pair of Mechanix gloves or had a friend that wore them on a ride? Likely, no one needs to spend $50 on a pair of riding gloves, and it’s very easy not to do that these days.
Handup and Dirt Gloves make mountain bike specific gloves that sell for $25-30 and offer the perfect amount of fabric and grip, compared to something like a construction glove which could be a little too thick or loose.
Cheap Mountain Bike Socks
Yes, there are sock companies that put your favorite design or state flag right there on the top of the sock for all to see. At $15-20 a pair, this is another place where you can easily save money.
Mountain bikers usually prefer a mid or high-top sock to fend off pebbles between the toes, and you can track down a pack of Nike athletic socks for less than $20. A pair of socks like these have no noticeable disadvantage compared to any other bike sock out there.
There you have it. What did we miss and where is your favorite place to save money on mountain bike apparel?
Arsuxeo are a very good choice for mtb shorts for about 28-30 dollars.
Shirts – I’ve pretty much exclusively been buying Eddie’s Resolution (lightweight) and Adventurer (heavyweight) shirts. Polygiene, moisture wicking, tall sizes, unobtrusive logo, excellent construction and longevity. Look great on and off the bike. With their 40-50% off sales multiple times a month can be had for $20-25 and under. Can’t see any reason to spend more.
Men’s Resolution Short-sleeve T-shirt | Eddie Bauer
Men’s Adventurer® Short-sleeve T-shirt | Eddie Bauer
For shorts; I’ve found the Arsuxeo shorts sold on “that site named after the big river in South America” to be really good period and outstanding for the price. I’ve only done the un-lined ones and use a pair of normal bike shorts as liners. I’ve had three pairs for two seasons and zero complaints.
For jerseys; I do the generic athletic shirts from WalMart or Target. They’re cheap, comfortable, and come in a variety of colors (I’m partial to bright colors that stand-out in a wooded environment.
For socks; I really like the novely socks they normally have at Target for $1 a pair. There are countless goofy designs and they amuse me.
Shoes, gloves, helmet and glasses are where I spend the money:
For shoes I really like my 5.10 Freeriders, there’s a reason they’re the benchmark…
For gloves; I like Tasco gloves for lighter duty and Fox Rangers for heavier duty (luckily, neither are exactly expensive).
For helmet; I really like the Giro Fixture for a budget-friendly MIPS equipped half-shell, I’m on my second one. I splurged on a TLD Stage for my full-face, it’s as good as the reviews.
For glasses; I really like my Tifosi Sledge glasses. $79 gets you 3 lenses with a hard case and they typically have 20%off sales on major holidays. I’m yet to find a daytime MTB condition the AC red lense isn’t great in and they absolutely don’t slide around on your face. They aren’t exactly “cheap” but you can spend a lot more for less.
One comment on the Freeriders; Vans are very good for gravity riding, but aggressive pedals will likely chew-up the soles fast enough to make dropping the coin on 5.10s the “cheap” option…
The Vans soles definitely get chewed up pretty quickly.
I really don’t get vans if doing downhill.. well I guess depends on the length maybe. 15 minute downhill ride with jumps and drops, the Vans soles are so soft my feet were killing me by the bottom. I found sombrio loam shoes dirt cheap on Backcountry
I’m frugal when it comes to riding clothes.
I buy active wear clothes from Old Navy and usually buy hiking shorts from online sales corners.
Clothing Ive found over my past 10 years, no matter the brand or price get torn. so makes no sense spending hundreds of dollars on them. Yes the more expensive last longer but the cheaper ones can be refreshed quicker to keep you looking smart on the trails.
When it comes to shoes, if you are riding clipless, Shimano has the most affordable range of selection.
Hunt deals on Ebay and check the sale section of the online retailers. You might just find your size is on sale.
Bargains for mtb gear can be found om EBAY. Bicycling underwear start at $10, shorts under $20. Lighting, too.
Realizing that this is a single tracks site I dare to mention that I wear my roadie apparel when I ride my MTB to include riding my Gravel. I find that road bike apparel (triathlon shorts) is the most comfortable not to mention that padding is not that important on MTB with all the suspension and proper pedal riding I do not need a padded undie with baggy shorts. As for a top I do not understand baggy unless it is above 85 degrees than I choose a loose tank top. Now for shoes that is an important item I will splurge $150 on flats I truly believe that power transfer is a real thing. Shoes Adidas apparel Pearl. Now if one is strapped for cash which I have been even a cut pair of pants and a pair of sneakers will do as long as the bike is rideable it’s all fun.
P.S. don’t forget the brain bucket…
For glasses, cheap hunting glasses work very well and still have UV protection. But I’m also only riding 7-12 miles at a time.
For jersey’s, several department store brands make racer-back tanks with elastic at the bottom to prevent them from riding up during a ride. These have worked very well for me.
I’ve had good luck finding used clothing on ThreadUp and Poshmark.
I’m happy to see this article and look forward to checking some of these suggestions out.
For sunglasses, I have a pair of Shady Rays that I like. They’re inexpensive, lightweight, and don’t slip on my nose. They’re polarized, if you want that, and they offer a nice replacement policy (pay for shipping up to two pairs for the lifetime of the sunglasses if you lose or break them, which I took advantage of about a year ago). However, the lens is pretty dark on the pair I have, so if it’s early enough in the morning, you might want a pair with a lighter lens.
For shorts, I have a pair of Cycorld mtb shorts on Amazon. They’ve inexpensive and they’ve been good. They’re the first mtb-specific pair I’ve ever had, so I can’t compare them to anything but the gym shorts I was wearing before. That being said, gym shorts aren’t bad in that they’re nice and light and it’s easy to find an inexpensive pair (though you could spend a lot on these as well), but they won’t protect you much if you crash or scrape into something. For colder weather, I’ve put a pair of 32 Degree tights (from Costco) on under my shorts (either the Cycorld or gym shorts depending on what I was wearing at the time and that has worked well. Flexible and plenty warm. But again, not offering protection against an impact or branch reaching across the trail.
Club Ride Fuze shorts are really good, and I don’t think I’ve spent more than $80 on a pair – maybe less? Get on their mailing list for news about sales, and you can get a pair for something like $65(?) to your door.