When I first started mountain biking, I didn’t put much thought into what I wore. I’d just throw on whatever athletic clothes I had and hope for the best. However, I soon realized having the proper cycling apparel makes a huge difference in comfort, performance, and safety out on the trails. The right mountain biking outfit can transform your ride.
In this longer article, I’ll dig deeper into choosing quality mountain biking clothing for all conditions. We’ll cover everything from durable shorts and moisture-wicking jerseys to protective body armor and grippy shoes. I’ll offer more tips on layering properly, considering unpredictable weather, and finding clothes made specifically for mountain biking adventures.
The Need for Technical Mountain Biking Attire
You might wonder why you can’t just wear typical workout clothes from the mall when mountain biking. While usual gym clothes allow flexibility and absorb some sweat, they lack the specialized features that make riding off-road more enjoyable.
Mountain biking puts much more intense demands on clothing than casual fitness activities. Shirts and shorts need to withstand crashes, extend full mobility while pedaling, wick massive sweat output, and contain storage for ride essentials.
Purpose-built mountain biking apparel meets these unique performance requirements with technical fabrics and trail-tested resilience. So let’s explore what to look for across the various clothing categories…
Choosing High-Performance Mountain Biking Jerseys
Cycling jerseys might seem like simple athletic shirts, but they’re carefully engineered garments for riding. Quality mountain biking jerseys excel at:
- Wicking sweat off your torso rapidly to keep you drier and cooler
- Offering stretch and articulated shapes for dynamic riding positions
- Providing handy rear storage pockets to safely carry ride essentials
- Ventilating excess heat effectively through mesh panels and zippered air intakes
For the hottest weather, choose lightweight jerseys made entirely from quick-drying polyester or nylon. Mesh paneling under the arms and along side panels really aids airflow on grueling climbs.
Some jerseys feature two or three handy pockets on the lower back to hold energy gels, bars, spare tubes, tools, trail maps, phones and electronics, or point-and-shoot cameras securely while riding over rough terrain.
Look for full zip jerseys that offer added ventilation control by letting you unzip from the collar down to your sternum for increased frontal airflow. Choose bright colors and prints for visibility and to show off your biking passion.
Jersey sizing runs snug by design to avoid flapping fabric and to enable base layers and armor underneath, so check the brand’s specific fit measurement charts.
Selecting Sturdy, Technical Mountain Biking Shorts and Pants
On the mountain biking apparel front, it’s hard to overstate the importance of proper shorts and pants that can withstand crashes. Heavy falls, sharp saddles, grabbing brush and branches – there are so many things waiting to shred flimsy shorts out on the trail.
Purpose-made mountain bike shorts utilize rugged nylon or poly-canvas outer material with reinforcements along the inner thighs and back yoke. Quality shorts have numerous securely closing cargo pockets capable of carrying tools, food, phones, and spares during aggressive riding.
The best mountain biking shorts integrate a removable inner liner short made of a quick-drying performance woven fabric that prevents chafing and moisture buildup. These integrated liner shorts often have a multi-density foam chamois pad stitched into the crotch to cushion sensitive areas across long days in the saddle.
Higher end women’s mountain bike shorts have a similar overall design but with a more anatomical shape through the hips and waist. Female-specific chamois pads offer better comfort and support in areas prone to irritation during riding as well.
For cold conditions, choose solid mountain biking pants made of softshell fabric with a DWR (durable water repellent) coating or lightweight fleece lining. Quality cold weather biking pants have critical stretch zones and articulated shaping through the knees to enable excellent freedom of movement while pedaling.
Many winter pants offer zip-off lower legs to adapt to changing temperatures throughout the day. Leg zips allow quick access for removing mud as well.
Wicking Base Layers – A Mountain Biker’s Secret Weapon
Wearing a proper moisture wicking base layer beneath your outer mountain biking clothes might seem trivial. But trust me, having a quality base layer actively drawing sweat off your skin makes a tremendous difference in comfort across long days riding in variable temperatures.
Without a base layer, sweat gets trapped sitting against your bare skin. This causes rapid cooling as rides progress, sapping needed body heat once you stop pedaling. Soon you’ll be shivering and distracted instead of focusing on the incredible single track ahead.
Modern athletic base layers utilize advanced moisture wicking fabrics like merino wool, polyester, silk blends and more that actively draw perspiration away from your skin to disperse across a larger surface area. From there excess sweat can evaporate more rapidly to cool your overheating body.
Quality base layers come in various weights to match temperatures. For colder mountain bike rides, choose midweight or expedition weight base layers. Warmer weather calls for ultra lightweight moisture wicking tees.
Protecting Yourself With Body Armor and Pads
Unless all your rides are mellow rambles along wide dirt roads, consider investing in some key pieces of flexible armor when mountain biking. Even fairly smooth looking trails can hide tree roots, loose rocks, and tasty crashes waiting to batter unprotected limbs and vital areas.
Lightweight, low profile knee pads offer protection for this easily injured and complex joint. Quality knee pads conform tightly with flexible materials that allow free movement while covering the knee cap and upper shin completely. They slip on over shoes and secure just under the knee with an adjustable velcro strap system.
Flexible, padded mountain biking gloves likewise support your hands against injury out on the trails. Full-finger models allow shifting and braking control while absorbing crashes and brush strikes across the palms and knuckles. For more technical riding, choose padded gloves with molded plastic outer shells offering additional protection.
When it comes to safety gear, protecting your brain case should be every mountain biker’s top priority. But so many styles and safety certifications makes selecting the right mountain bike helmet confusing. Generally, you want an adjustable, lightweight helmet with lots of cooling vents and ample rear head coverage.
Add-on peaks help shield eyes from sun, rain and mud. Higher end “smart” helmets have integrated crash sensors that can notify emergency contacts if you go down hard!
The Right Mountain Bike Footwear Dials In Performance
Stiff, ultra grippy shoes transform each pedal stroke into forward motion instead of flex and slip wasted. Shoes specifically engineered for mountain biking have lugged, recessed cleat compatible soles. The upturned front profile ensures clearance over trail obstacles without hanging up terrain and causing problems.
Casual riders may prefer flat pedal shoes that grip pins securely with their sticky rubber soles for added confidence on rough descents. But clipless pedal systems offer major efficiency gains by mechanically linking your feet to the cranks for full power transfer.
Each brand of clipless mountain biking shoe and pedal has its own engineered cleat mounting pattern, so make sure specific shoes and pedals match during setup. Also factor enough stability, forefoot protection and cushion into shoe selection for the type of trails you’ll be riding when upgrading footwear.
Dialing in the Right Layering Strategy
Dressing properly for changing mountain bike ride temperatures and trail conditions comes down to smart layering strategies. Bringing arm warmers, leg warmers, lightweight vest layers and wind shells enables real-time adaptation without having to cut rides short or suffer needlessly.
The master key to comfortable tempo regulation lies in keeping your core body warmth as steady as possible amid fluctuating ride intensity and outside weather swings. Sweating excessively under too many layers inevitably backfires into a frigid, clammy downhill run once you stop spinning. Staying dry inside and out remains mission critical for comfort.
I’ve learned to begin rides slightly under-dressed, then validate and modify clothing choices in the opening minutes until dialing in just right. It takes some trial and error to perfectly balance generating riding heat versus the cooling effects of temperature, moisture and pace. But soon gaugeing the formula becomes second nature almost without conscious thought.
Just be sure to stow shedded layers securely in jersey pockets or a hydration pack, not scattered along the trail to be lost! Carefully considering additional clothing to carry prevents being forced to cut epic days short.
Find Mountain Bike-Specific Technical Apparel
Major athletic brands like Pearl Izumi, Fox Racing, Zoic and Royal Racing offer technical lines designed specifically for mountain biking. But smaller companies headquartered right in legendary mountain biking zones often understand the unique performance demands better than anyone through direct testing.
For example, TLD (Troy Lee Designs) and Club Ride apparel have been handcrafting premium cycling kits dialed expressly for trail riding out of California since the early days of the sport. Brands like Yeti Cycles and POC Sports based in legendary mountain biking zones likewise produce garments and protection that speak to decades of real world testing and innovation specifically for technical trail use.
No matter your budget or exact needs, seeking out mountain bike-specific apparel brands that live and breathe the sport almost always guarantees better performance. Their cutting edge fabrics, customized features, articulated patterns, and trail-ready durability clearly show intimate focus perfecting clothes solely for off-road riding. Often smaller companies offer the pinnacle of specialization.