Flash or Function? The Kuat Piston Pro X Hitch Rack has Both [Review]

Kuat Piston Pro X bike rack, folded

Gimmicky? Maybe. Silly? Kinda. Cool/sophisticated/glamorous? For sure. Those were all the adjectives running through my head when I looked over the Kashima-coated Kuat Piston Pro X hitch rack at Outdoor Retailer last year.

“For when you want to get your bike off the rack REALLY fast,” I joked with my colleagues. Even though a few jokes were had at the Kuat Piston Pro X’s expense, the rack certainly got people talking. Tray style hitch racks have a way of doing that these days. Look through the Facebook comments on this review after it’s published and there won’t be any shortage of opinions. Yes, this design has grown more ubiquitous in recent years and the Piston Pro X is Kuat’s first crack at the hitch rack without its signature ratcheting arm that braces at the bridge of the bike’s fork.

Like the highly regarded 1UP USA racks, or the Saris MTR and Thule Helium, the Piston Pro X uses cradle arms that exclusively contact the tires and not the fork or the frame. Those cradle arms use ratcheting Kashima-coated, hydro-pnuematic struts to secure the bike, and Kuat’s new OneTap levers pop the arms open like a grandmother who hasn’t seen her children’s children in a year.

It was the Kashima-coated struts that garnered the most attention when Kuat launched their rack in 2021, but there are some other notable features like the LED tail lights which connect to the vehicle via a 4-pin connector. When your taillights blink upon locking the vehicle, using the turn signal, or braking, so do the laser-like strips along the base of the Piston Pro X.

Other features include a heavy, 12mm-thick security cable, a FlatLock hitch for a wiggle-free rack when it’s installed, and a lustrous powdercoat finish. The rack can hold 67lb on each tray (most vehicles), has a 5″ max tire width, and a 53″ max wheelbase. That number translates to 1,342mm, since that’s the unit most mountain bikers use to measure their wheelbase. The Piston Pro X also fits wheels sizes between 18″ and 29″ and this can be adjusted instantly, tool-free.

The rack is 98% metal, so there is minimal plastic. Aside from the adjustable wheel chocks in the cradle arms and the LED taillights, it’s hard find any plastic on this rack.

As anticipated, or by presumption after reading these features, one can expect the Piston Pro X to carry a top-shelf price tag. At $1,389, it may be the most expensive two-bike rack we’ve tested.

On the road with the Kuat Piston Pro X

Kuat Piston Pro X bike rack
Mounted up with the blinker turned on.

I had refrained from reading up on the Piston Pro X between when the rack launched last year and the time I received a test sample this summer. Installation was breezy. The instructions are easy and I was pleased to touch and feel all of the sturdy metal pieces and thick hex bolts that hold everything together.

When the rack was finished and installed in under an hour later, it sat tight as a wrestler’s uniform in my hitch receiver. It developed a slight amount of play over time, but with the hex key locked into the rack, I was quickly able to tighten it up again.

Operating the Piston Pro X is straightforward. There’s a foot pedal to drop the rack down level to load the bikes. It still requires the use of a hand to pull the rack down. Putting the rack back up, the pedal is in a somewhat odd position between both trays, again requiring two hands to stow away.

The Kashima struts are frictionless and the OneTap levers are a cool touch. When closed tight on a bike, they require a bit more force, but not more than the push of a palm to open the cradle arms. I’ve had some longer enduro bikes around this summer and there has been enough room, but I can tell I’m starting to get close to the limit with one bike that has a 1,250mm wheel base.

The taillights certainly catch attention and I have to admit, I dig them too. I told our editor-in-chief, Jeff, I thought they may be unnecessary, but he told me he’s had people run into the back of his rack more than once, and maybe the lights will help prevent that from happening.

Kuat Piston Pro X bike rack cable lock
Plenty of length on this cable lock.

Another feature I appreciated is the hefty, half-inch cable lock that appears to be an actual security measure, unlike some other integrated bike rack locks. Nothing is fool-proof, but these would call for some serious clippers if someone wanted what’s on the rack.

Lastly, the Piston Pro X has a lifetime warranty. On the card that came with the rack they say “If your rack isn’t keeping up with your life, or isn’t performing to your satisfaction, return it to the dealer you purchased it from or call us for a repair, replacement, or refund.”

Closing thoughts

Kuat Piston Pro X bike rack, side view

The Kuat Piston Pro X could have easily been a rack with premium features, lazily thrown together, but it’s not. The almost completely metal construction, the powdercoat finish, and high-quality components signal that this rack is in it for the long haul. My first impressions of the Piston Pro X may have been that some of the features are purely aesthetic, but even the Kashima coated struts seem to help the arms glide as easy as freshly serviced suspension.

But, the Piston Pro X also costs hundreds of dollars more than its competitors. Some may not care and others might think the features aren’t worth the money, which is fair. When it comes down to it, the taillights and Kashima are a hard sell for $400 more than a 1UP or Thule/Saris/Inno when they all transport bikes in nearly the same manner.

So, I think this comes down to whether the flashy features are a must for you and whether the Kuat Piston Pro X can weather many years on the back of a vehicle. For that, we’ll need to check in again, though it may be a while.

  • Price: $1,389
  • Buy from REI and other online retailers.

Party laps

  • High quality materials and construction
  • Integrated safety lights

Pros and cons of the Kuat Piston Pro X

Dirt naps

  • Expensive

Matt Miller
Matt is a staff writer and features editor at Singletracks and lives in the Front Range of Colorado. He served in the Marines and has a journalism degree from MSU-Denver. Want to talk MTB news? Send him a message: [email protected]

UCI World Cup Returns to West Virginia in 2023, EWS Shares Calendar with DH, XC Events

Aaron Gwin riding at the UCI DH World Cup in Snowshoe, USA on July 31, 2022 / Bartek Wolinski / Red Bull Content Pool

The UCI is putting the “World” in World Cup. For the third year in a row, the World Cup will return to the US and to Snowshoe, West Virginia for downhill, short track XC, and Olympic XC events on Sept. 28 through October 1.

The UCI also grouped the Enduro World Series’ (EWS) schedule for the first time with their long-awaited release of the 2023 schedule, so EWS events can be found alongside UCI-sanctioned cross-country and downhill events. The final portion of the calendar reflects all North American events, starting with the EWS in Whistler, Canada, followed by a World Cup round in Snowshoe, WV and another in Mont-Sainte-Anne, Canada.

“The Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) and Warner Bros. Discovery (WBD) have unveiled the new calendar for the 2023 UCI Mountain Bike World Cup and Enduro World Series, said the UCI in a news statement. “The plan unifies all major mountain bike formats under one combined calendar for the first time and will take riders to ten countries across three continents.” The changes “will reflect the growth of the sport” and help the sport “reach new audiences.”

The weight of the World Cup — and EWS — schedule still sits in Europe though in mainstay locations like the Czech Republic, Val di Sole, Andorra, and Finale Ligure. The third continent referenced is Australia with two back-to-back EWS events for the season opener.

The calendar shows that the EWS will share venues with downhill and XC in two locations next year: Leogang, Austria in June and a TBD location in France with a wide date range of September 7-17. There’s a running joke that EWS events are just downhill races on trail bikes, but maybe there’s a chance that enduro athletes will share a portion of a course with downhill athletes.

2023 marks a slew of changes for UCI mountain bike events, the largest being the end of a seven-year partnership with Red Bull which has broadcast the World Cup events for free on Red Bull TV. Long-time announcer and former World Cup athlete Rob Warner won’t be announcing at downhill races either.

Starting in 2023 the UCI will partner with Warner Bros. Discover, and though it subheads a section of the release with “a new vision for mountain bike” it’s still unclear how viewers will be able to watch events next year.

The UCI said they “will seek to utilise WBD’s global scale and media platforms” and is collaborating currently with ESO Sports (which owns/oversees the EWS) to deliver media production, broadcasting, and commercialization of the UCI MTB World Cup.

EWS and ESO leader Chris Ball said in a release in June, “For the first time, all mountain bike formats will have a central point of leadership that can amplify the sport 365 days a year, champion the athletes, support the growth of the teams and elevate the sport around the world.”

The Best Mountain Bike Shorts for Men and Women, 2022

Mountain bike shorts - 17 of the best mtb shorts tested
Specialized Trail Shorts; photo by Leah Barber

Behold, the humble mountain bike short. For such a simple item, riders demand a lot, and finding the best pair often involves trial and error. Singletracks has tested nearly 100 different pairs of mountain bike shorts over the past few years, and these are the ones that stand out in our experience.

So what makes for a great pair of mountain bike shorts? For us, it comes down to several criteria: comfort and fit, durability and security, features like pockets and ventilation, and style and value.

Read on to get more info about the 17 best MTB shorts we’ve tested or skip ahead to the FAQ where we address questions like whether MTB-specific shorts are even necessary.

The Best MTB Shorts We’ve Tested

  • Best budget MTB shorts: Five Ten Brand of the Brave Shorts
  • Most versatile: Fox Ranger MTB Shorts
  • Best fit for most bodies: Zoic Navaeh Women’s Mountain Bike Shorts
  • Premium fit and function: Velocio Trail Shorts
Short Price* Men Women Style Length
DHaRCO Gravity Shorts $107 x x Gravity 13″
Endura Singletrack Lite Shorts $99.99 x x Trail 12.5″
Five Ten Brand of the Brave Shorts $70 x x Trail 12″
Fox Ranger MTB Shorts $90 x x Trail 12″
Gore C5 All Mountain Shorts $130 x Gravity 14″
ilabb Traverse Shorts $150 x x Gravity 12″
ION Traze Vent Shorts $99.95 x x Gravity 12″
Norrønafjørå flex1 Shorts $139 x x Gravity 14.5″
Pactimo Apex Shorts $93 x x Trail 13″
Pearl Izumi Summit Pro Shorts $130 x x Trail 13.5″
POC Essential Shorts $100 x x Enduro 13″
Rapha Trail Shorts $150 x x Trail 14″
Showers Pass Apex Shorts $125 x x Trail 11-12″
Shredly MTB Shorts $105 x Trail 5″-12″
Specialized Trail Shorts $75 x x Trail 11.5″-13.5″
Velocio Trail Shorts $169 x x Trail 12″
Zoic Navaeh Shorts $75 x Trail 7″-11″
*Price at time of publication, August 2022

DHaRCO Gravity Shorts

⭐️ ShrEditor’s Choice 2021: MTB Gear of the Year

DHaRCO mountain bike shorts and pants are routinely among our testers’ favorites, and their Gravity shorts in particular do not disappoint. Chris notes these fit slim body types best and the 13″ inseam should fall just below the knees for most riders. Even the hardware — buttons, zippers, etc. — is designed to take abuse on the trail, and the brand offers men’s, women’s, and kids’ versions of the Gravity short. If you’re looking for plenty of pocket storage you may want to choose another pair on this list; the DHaRCO Gravity shorts feature just two pockets: one front and one rear. The DHaRCO Gravity shorts are a stand out product and among our favorite mtb gear.

  • Price: $107
  • Buy from Backcountry (men’s | women’s) and evo (women’s | youth)

Endura Singletrack Lite Shorts

We’ve tested various iterations of these shorts over the years and they never let us down. Endura offers regular and short fits to ensure the length falls right around the knee no matter your size. Zippered pockets — two front and one rear — provide plenty of secure storage and laser-cut holes keep these well ventilated. Our only complaint is the printed graphics on the latest Singletrack Lites start peeling off after a few washes. The Endura Singletrack Lite shorts are a well-constructed and durable pair of mountain bike shorts for just under $100. Men’s and women’s shorts available.

  • Price: $99.99
  • Buy from Competitive Cyclist and Wiggle.

Five Ten Brand of the Brave Shorts

⭐️ Best Budget MTB Shorts

The Adidas/Five Ten Brand of the Brave shorts were a surprise hit with our reviewers thanks to a straightforward, technical design at a reasonable price. These are lightweight, dry quickly, and offer four different pockets, including a secure, zippered side pocket. An inner drawstring and silicon waist grippers keep the shorts in place; for an even more secure fit there are belt loops as well. Falling just above the knee, these shorts are best suited for trail riding. Men’s and women’s styles available. We tested the Five Ten Brand of the Brave shorts alongside many men’s and women’s budget mtb shorts.

  • Price: $70
  • Buy from Adidas: men’s and women’s

Fox Ranger Mountain Bike Shorts

⭐️ Most Versatile MTB Shorts

The Fox Ranger is perhaps the most popular baggy mountain bike short of all time, and for many of us it was the first pair we purchased on the advice of friends. It’s still a great choice, and Fox has expanded the line with women’s mountain bike shorts, lite, and utility versions for any type of adventure. The adjustable waist is super secure and two front, zippered pockets keep hands warm and gear secure. The nylon fabric dries quickly and is incredibly durable, while the shape is optimized for riding comfortably. See what Jamieelee has to say about the entire Fox Ranger women’s mountain bike kit.

  • Price: $89.95
  • Buy from Fox and other retailers

Gore C5 All Mountain Shorts

Gore C5 All Mountain short for mountain biking

The Gore C5 All Mountain shorts are a rare breed that’s designed for more aggressive riding, yet are also incredibly lightweight and well vented for summer riding. The generous 14-inch inseam falls at the knees, and a zipper on the legs can be opened to reveal thin mesh venting. There are two zippered pockets in the front plus slightly thicker mesh panels at the front and rear for continuous air flow. Read our full review of the Gore C5 All Mountain shorts.

  • Price: $130
  • Buy from Aventuron and Backcountry

ilabb Traverse Shorts

ilabb Traverse shorts upside-down chris

ilabb is one of the new-ish mtb apparel brands we have tested. The ilabb Traverse MTB shorts are made from a DRI-RYDE material blend that feels luxurious on the trail. Laser-cut ventilation keeps these shorts feeling cool, as does the above-the-knee length. We found these offer a slim fit and sleek look so if you want a truly baggy short, we recommend choosing a different pair from this list. Men’s and women’s sizes and styles are available.

  • Price: $121.89
  • Buy from ilabb

ION Traze Vent Shorts

ION Traze Vent mountain bike shorts

There are a number of versions of the popular ION Traze mountain bike shorts. One of our favorites for enduro riding is the ION Traze Vent with its longish, 12-inch inseam and four-way stretch material. These should fit most body types and vent well enough to feel comfortable even on hot and humid days. Catch up on Chris’ experience racing enduro in these shorts. Mens’ and women’s styles available.

  • Price: $99.95
  • Buy from Amazon and Backcountry

Norrøna Fjørå Flex1 Shorts

The Norrøna Fjørå Flex1 shorts are made from recycled material and feature a long, 14.5-inch inseam for nearly below the knee coverage. Rear waist coverage is good too, and there are three pockets. Two large, zippered vents open up on hot days, and there are multiple weights to choose form (light, mid, and heavy). Read more about the Norrøna Fjørå Flex1 shorts in our 2022 summer mtb apparel preview. Men’s and women’s styles available.

  • Price: $139
  • Buy from Moosejaw and Backcountry

Pactimo Apex Shorts

Pactimo Apex mountain bike shorts

Pactimo Apex mountain bike shorts are as simple as they are durable. There are two front pockets for hands plus a zippered rear and zippered side pocket for stashing valuables. These fall just above the knees (13-inch inseam) and utilize a dual snap and zippered fly. One of the snaps finally pulled out of a pair of shorts one of our testers has been wearing continuously for three years, which is a pretty good run in our book. Men’s and women’s sizes and styles available. Read a complete review of the Pactimo Apex shorts.

  • Price: $93
  • Buy from Pactimo (women’s | men’s)

Pearl Izumi Summit Pro Shell Shorts

The Pearl Izumi Summit Pro Shell is a no-nonsense trail short designed for comfort and performance. Laser perforations ventilate the legs which are designed to fall just above the knee. The nylon material is coated to shed water and the two front pockets are zippered for keeping items secure. Read more about the Pearl Izumi Summit Pro Shell shorts in our last summer mtb clothing preview.

  • Price: $130. Summit Shell (not Pro) shorts are available for $100.
  • Buy from Pearl Izumi and evo

POC Essential Shorts

POC essential mountain bike shorts

The POC Essential mountain bike shorts are designed to cover all the bases, from trail riding to gravity with men’s and women’s versions available. These offer a sleek look and feel with a length that falls right at the knees and velcro waist adjusters for a secure, yet comfortable fit. There are two hand pockets in the front and one centered pocket in the rear, all secured with zippers. A slightly tapered leg means these baggies aren’t caught flapping in the wind while you bomb down the trail. Get more info on the POC Essential shorts and other pieces, too.

  • Price: $100
  • Buy from Amazon (men’s | women’s)

Rapha Trail Shorts

Rapha Trail shorts

The Rapha Trail bike shorts are premium baggies designed for both comfort and performance on the bike. The men’s Trail shorts feature external waist cinchers while the women’s version comes with a stretchy waist band. And while the men’s version includes two front hand pockets and two zippered side pockets, the women’s Trail shorts get just the side pockets. A repair kit is included for simple repairs. Read our complete review of the Rapha Trail shorts.

  • Price: $150
  • Buy from REI (men’s | women’s)

Showers Pass Apex DWR Shorts

Showers Pass Apex DWR shorts

Not to be confused with the Pactimo shorts of the same name, the Showers Pass Apex DWR shorts are made from a four-way stretch, nylon/elastic blend that moves well on the bike and dries quickly on sweaty days. The 12-inch inseam on the men’s shorts falls at or just above the knees and we found these generally fit true to size. Zippered thigh vents double as storage, and reflective accents make both ends of dawn-to-dusk rides safer. Read more about the Showers Pass Apex DWR shorts.

  • Price: $125
  • Buy from Showers Pass (men’s| women’s)

Shredly MTB Shorts

Shredly womens MTB curvy shorts hannah

Shredly offers more than a dozen styles and various lengths of their women’s mountain bike shorts which means there’s a look and fit for pretty much every rider. Our testers are particularly fond of the yoga-style waistband on the MTB Curvy short, and the fact that Shredly shorts actually include usable front and side pockets. Zippered thigh vents on select styles keep these feeling cool on hot summer rides. Read more about Shredly’s unique styles for any body.

  • Price: $105 – $110
  • Buy from Shredly

Specialized Trail Shorts

The Specialized Trail Shorts are as simple as it gets for MTB shorts with a button fly, two front hand pockets (one with a zipper), and external waist adjusters for a dialed fit. There’s no venting to speak of, but the above-the-knee length and loose fit keeps things reasonably cool on hot days. These Specialized mountain bike shorts are another great option under $100 for men and women.

  • Price: $80 ($100-$120 with liner)
  • Buy from JensonUSA (men’s | women’s)

Velocio Trail Shorts

⭐️ Premium Fit and Function

velocio trail shorts premium fit and function for mtb

The Velocio Trail shorts are the priciest baggy MTB shorts on our list, and they’re also among the most comfortable and fully featured. These shorts are designed to be fast and light on the trail and feature well placed zippered pockets, reflective accents, and a DWR coating for quick drying. External waist adjusters make for an easy fit to keep the shorts securely in place all day long. We reviewed both men’s Velocio Trail shorts and women’s Velocio Trail shorts.

  • Price: $169
  • Buy from Velocio (men’s | women’s)

Zoic Navaeh Shorts

⭐️ Best Fitting Mountain Bike Shorts for Most Bodies

Zoic Navaeh shorts feature a lightweight, thin material which makes them a good choice for summer trail rides. For most riders the standard 11-inch length falls right at the knee, and Zoic also offers a version with a shorter, 7-inch inseam. Our product testers note these fit most body shapes and sizes, and they’re offered in many colors and fun prints. Priced at $75, these are also some of the most affordable women’s mountain bike shorts we like. Read Hillary’s review of the Zoic Navaeh shorts. For men, check out the comparable Zoic Ether mountain bike shorts.

  • Price: $75 ($95 with liner)
  • Buy from Backcountry and other retailers

How to choose the best mountain bike shorts

For such a seemingly simple item, there’s actually a lot that goes into making a great pair of mountain bike shorts.


Troy lee designs luxe mtb shorts with stretchy waistband
Stretchy waistband on Troy Lee Designs Luxe Shorts; Photo by Jamieelee Garcia

Every pair of mountain bike shorts seeks to balance comfort and security at the waist, and your own preferences will determine the best choice. Choose a pair of shorts with a yoga-style or simple elastic waist for maximum comfort.

If security is more important, or you find that a lot of shorts ride down during the ride, look for a waist with a built-in nylon belt, or a pair with belt loops. We’ve even seen shorts with ratchet-style, cable dial waist systems, though in our opinion this is overkill. More secure waist systems tend to be less comfortable, while comfortable waists tend to be less secure. For buyers, finding the right balance is the key.

evo mountain bike shorts waistband
Buttons, zipper, belt loop and velcro waist adjustment on evo Mountain Bike Shorts; photo by Carolyn Baldwin

There’s also a wide variety of waist closure styles available from zippers to snaps, and buttons to Velcro. All tend to work fairly well, but keep in mind every zipper and button adds to the cost of the garment. A single button and a zippered fly is tried and true without inflating the price of the shorts.

Inside the waist, most bike shorts will include a silicon or rubberized coating to prevent slipping when worn in conjunction with liner shorts.

Padded Liner / Chamois

Some mountain bike shorts are sold with a padded liner included. Included liners tend to be fairly basic chamois liners, and our preference is to purchase a liner, like the Club Ride 1-3 hour chamois, separately. Liners may be sewn in to mountain bike shorts, or they may use an attachment system that makes it easy to remove for washing. We’ve cut the liners out of plenty of shorts over the years to know they’re generally not worth the added cost, let alone the ill fit and discomfort.

Find a pair of mtb shorts you like, and do likewise for a separate padded liner, or even a pair of bib shorts. See our FAQ below about the advantages and disadvantages of wearing a short liner.


club ride hifi shorts pockets with phone
Pockets on pockets, Club Ride HiFi Shorts with 8(!) pockets; Photo by Matt Miller

Pockets are convenient for warming hands and stashing small items, but full pockets are often annoying when it’s time to pedal. Pocket placement along the top and sides of mountain bike shorts can minimize jangling keys, and it’s nice to have at least one zippered or Velcro-sealed pocket to ensure valuables don’t fall out along the trail. Big, deep pockets are sorta worthless, unless you just don’t plan on pedaling. Some MTB shorts include rear pockets, though these aren’t usually a good stash spot when you’re in the saddle.

Mesh pockets double as venting in some shorts, and true warm-weather shorts skip pockets altogether for a lightweight, maximally-vented design. Women’s MTB shorts are more likely to skimp on pockets or omit them entirely (boo!), though there are plenty of women’s shorts that do include pockets. So whether you like having all of the pockets, or none of them, there are plenty of choices available.

Like fancy waist systems and closures, each pocket adds to the cost of a pair of shorts so if you don’t need them, choose a pair with fewer.


pearl izumi elevate shorts and elevate knee guards
Pearl Izumi Elevate Shorts with Elevate Knee Guards ; Photo by Leah Barber

Will these mountain bike shorts cover knee pads? That tends to be a common question among mountain bikers shopping for shorts, and most brands offer at least one pair in their line that is designed to fall just above or below the knee.

Inseam measurements, the distance from your crotch to the end of the leg opening, can be extremely helpful (but sometimes hard to find) when shopping for mountain bike shorts online, so be sure to compare your own measurements to get an idea of the shorts’ length and coverage.

Knee pad coverage is actually a difficult thing to quantify since mtb shorts legs tend to move up and down while pedaling, let alone in a crash situation. If you’re looking for continuous coverage from the end of your shorts to below the knee for protective purposes then consider a pair of knickers or lightweight trail pants just to be safe.

And yes, it’s also fine to wear mountain bike shorts that don’t fully extend past the top of your knee pads, especially when it’s hot outside. If anyone makes fun of you, just wheelie past them.

machines for freedom key short with 5.5" inseam
Machines for Freedom Key Short comes in 5.5″ (above) or 11″ inseam; Photo by Jeff Barber

For some of the more petite riders, there are a few mtb apparel brands that offer shorter inseam lengths on their women’s mountain bike shorts in particular — Machines for Freedom, Club Ride, Shredly, and Zoic. Just because your legs might be shorter doesn’t mean you have to settle for wearing potato-sack style shorts.


mons royal virage short made with recycled materials
Mons Royale Virage shortsare made with recycled PET and 14% merino wool; Photo by Hannah Morvay

Most mountain bike shorts are made from synthetic blended materials like nylon and elastane. These types of materials tend to be durable and dry more quickly than natural materials, and can be selected and tuned to offer specific characteristics. It is possible to find cotton shorts designed for mountain biking but we generally do not recommend them.

Check the label for care instructions. Most mountain bike shorts can be machine washed and dried, but not all are easy to maintain.

velocio shorts with dwr water droplet
Velocio Trail shorts with DWR water repellant treatment; Photo by Matt Miller

Protection: Ripstop material prevents small tears from expanding. Gravity shorts tend to also use thicker materials for additional abrasion protection.

Some mountain bike shorts feature waterproof materials for wet and potentially cooler rides, though these are often more expensive and of questionable utility since the rider’s calves and feet will still get wet. Waterproof, DWR coatings are fairly common on mountain bike shorts to help shed mud and rain spray.

gore c5 womens trail light shorts ultralight mtb shorts
Gore C5 Women Trail Light Shorts weigh just 4.2oz (medium) and have multiple mesh panels for ventilation; Photo by Jamieelee Garcia

Temperature regulation and venting: Lightweight, thin materials are used for summer shorts and thicker, insulated materials can be found in shoulder-season pairs. Some shorts stitch panels of varying materials together to offer ventilation in some places while keeping other areas more protected.

mountain biking jorts by handup and ripton
These performance jorts by Handup (left) and Ripton (right) are made of ultra-stretchy denim; Photo by Lindsay Warner

Comfort: Riders tend to move around a lot on the trail, and four-way stretch materials can be very accommodating. We’ve tested many mountain bike shorts with materials that are best described as rough and crinkly, and needless to say we’re not fans.

shredly dinosaur mtb shorts
Shredly mountain bike shorts are well known for their energetic and colorful designs; Photo by Jeff Barber

Colors: Neutral black and grey shorts are generally a safe choice, though it’s possible to find mountain bike shorts in pretty much any color. Unusual colors tend to be discounted first for those looking to save money.


7mesh slab mtb shorts
7mesh Slab shorts look strange off the bike with no excess fabric to get caught on your seat; Photo by Sam James

Finding the right fit with a pair of mountain bike shorts is very important. The shorts should stay in place AND stay out of the way of saddle snags. A loose, baggy fit may look good but it can also get annoying if your shorts are flapping in the breeze.

Speaking of looks, some baggy mountain bike shorts are designed to fit great and perform well while riding the bike, but are not necessarily the most flattering walking around town. It’s best if you can try on a pair of shorts before buying, and even better if you can hop on a bike with them.

Tight or Loose?

matt wearing assos xc bib short
Assos XC Bib Short with a ripstop and abrasion-resistant materialon the sides; Photo by Hannah Morvay

Wearing spandex and close-fitting bike shorts isn’t just a trend from the 90s. A lot of cross-country and gravel riders find this tighter style of mountain bike shorts more comfortable and aerodynamic for endurance riding.

Wearing spandex bike shorts also has other advantages like less restricted movement, no having to guess if you’re in between sizes, and depending how tight-fitting the shorts are, compression can aid in your muscles’ blood circulation. Of course, some disadvantages might include lack of pockets and limited protection from nature and the elements.


stio opr shorts with laser cut holes
Laser-cut holes on inner thighs of Stio’s OPR Shorts; Photo by Jeff Barber

Good mountain bike shorts will have some form of venting built in, though it’s often hidden. Laser-cut holes may look like part of the overall short design, but actually are strategically placed for discrete ventilation.

Additionally, mesh panels can be placed on the upper thighs, at the rear just below the waist band, and even inside the pockets. Some shorts may offer zippered legs that can be opened up for extra airflow on the hottest days.

Other considerations

Screen-printed graphics tend to rub off and fade over time, though reflective accents are a nice safety feature. Reflective materials and piping are the most durable and visible.

recycled polyester clothing tag
Cycling Apparel Brands are Trying to Make Clothing More Sustainable Than Ever. What Does That Mean? Photo by Matt Miller

If you’re still reading and didn’t fire up a browser window to Walmart.com after seeing the prices of our mountain bike shorts recommendations, one thing that is easily overlooked in mountain bike apparel is the clothing brand’s commitment to the environment.

Many cycling or mountain bike specific brands are mountain bikers, too, and care about the trails and nature just as much as you do. More brands are making mountain bike shorts out of recycled materials, incorporating Merino wool, and implementing sustainable manufacturing practices. Here are just a few environmentally-conscious mountain bike apparel brands worth considering:

  • Kitsbow: Made-to-order apparel reduces waste
  • Patagonia: Many environmental and social responsibility programs and gives back 1% for the planet
  • Pearl Izumi: Eliminated hangtags and printed catalogs and uses sustainable fabrics
  • Velocio: Facilities use sustainable renewable energy; recycled and natural fabrics are used; and products are packaged in biodegradable bags and compostable mailers

Finally, if you’re looking for a particular type of mountain bike short, the following review collections may be helpful.

  • Women’s mountain bike shorts priced under $100
  • Men’s mountain bike shorts priced under $100
  • Women’s enduro bike shorts
  • Summer MTB shorts
  • Lightweight mountain bike shorts
  • 4 jersey kits for gravel riding and XC mountain biking

Frequently asked questions (FAQ) about mountain bike shorts

We get asked a lot of questions about mountain bike shorts; these are some of the most common.

Do I need mountain bike specific shorts?

No. However, mountain bike shorts tend to work best for riding since they are shaped and designed with mountain biking in mind. Baggy athletic shorts, and basketball shorts in particular, will snag on the saddle which is not only annoying, but it’s also dangerous. Mountain bike shorts are not cheap but keep in mind that if you only ride once or twice a week, a single pair should serve you well with frequent washing.

Baggy mountain bike shorts can be worn over tights or with knee/leg warmers on cold-weather rides, and many feature a casual style that works for days off the bike too. More and more riders are choosing this style of short for road and gravel rides as well.

Have you found a pair of shorts that work great for mountain biking, but aren’t MTB-specific? Tell us about them in the comments!

Should I wear a chamois for mountain biking?

That’s up to you! Many riders find a chamois liner is comfortable and effective at preventing saddle sores. Liners can also reduce chaffing. On the other hand, it’s perfectly acceptable to ride without one. Some riders prefer thinner, lighter wool or bike-specific undergarments under their baggies. Experiment to find what works best for you.

If you find that a chamois is uncomfortable, or feels bulky and diaper-like, a thinner chamois might be a better choice, or you may prefer to ride with no chamois at all.

Do mountain bikers need chamois cream? How do I apply chamois cream?

Chamois cream can help prevent chaffing and soreness on longer and sweaty rides, but not everyone uses it. It’s OK to wear a chamois without ever using chamois cream.

You can apply chamois cream directly to your chamois or liner, spreading it onto the fabric evenly before putting your shorts on. Or, apply it directly to your skin where you need it. Chamois cream is basically like lotion or diaper ointment. In fact you may find that baby diaper ointment works in a pinch if you’re out for a ride and your local drug store has a limited selection.

Do baggy mountain bike shorts come with padding or chamois?

Some baggy mountain bike shorts are sold with a padded liner, while others are not, so it’s important to read the product description carefully. For example, Fox sells two versions of their popular Ranger short, one with a liner, and one without. The version with the liner is only priced $10 more so if you want one, it can be worth purchasing together. However, keep in mind that a $10 padded liner generally isn’t going to perform as well as one that is priced closer to the typical cost of around $100 for a mid-grade liner.

Of the mountain bike shorts that do include a liner, some are removable for washing, while others are sewn in. We prefer a liner that is detachable for easy cleaning, and also for the option of riding with or without a liner, depending on the ride.

Why are mountain bike shorts more expensive than regular shorts?

There are a few reasons why mountain bike shorts are generally priced higher than basic athletic shorts. In an interview with Ryan from Pactimo, we learned that features like pockets, zippers, and snaps quickly add up in terms of cost. Not only that, mountain bike shorts are specialized apparel so they aren’t produced in the huge quantities that tend to result in cost savings. Highly technical materials also add to the cost, and these materials offer a significant upgrade in performance over basic technical materials.

We get it: $70 to over $100 is a lot to pay for a pair of shorts, and unfortunately none that we can recommend cost less than that. If you’re on a tight budget, look for sales and discounts especially off season and for discontinued styles.

Jeff Barber
Jeff co-founded Singletracks.com with his wife Leah (mudhunny) in 1999. Today he works out of Singletracks World HQ in Decatur, GA as the Editor in Chief.

Do You Ride Gravel?

Photo: Leah Barber

Gravel is like, so hot right now. Of course cyclists have been riding bikes on gravel since before pavement even existed, but no matter. Given the choice between riding on a paved road or gravel, we’ll take the gravel every time. Oh, and if the trails are wet, gravel is usually a go.

Yet there are only so many hours in the day, and the singletrack siren calls…

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Tell us what you really think about riding gravel in the comments below.

Why the Humble Hardtail isn’t Going Anywhere Anytime Soon

This week we’re re-sharing one of our favorite podcast episodes, and we’ll be back next week with an all-new show.

Pat White is a longtime product manager for Kona Bicycles and Doug Lafavor aka Dr. Dew has been designing bikes at Kona for decades.

In this episode we ask:

  • Which factors make a hardtail ‘hardcore’ or more aggressive compared to say an XC or entry-level hardtail?
  • What are aggressive hardtails good for in terms of riding style or trails? What are the limits?
  • How important is frame material when it comes to designing a hardtail? Is there one material that’s generally superior to the others?
  • Are there higher costs involved in building hardtails from steel than aluminum?
  • Where does the compliance in a hardtail frame come from?
  • Do you look at component selection differently for a hardtail vs. a full suspension bike? If so, what are the key areas where the builds differ?
  • Is there any lingering debate about wheel size when it comes to hardtails?
  • Are sliding dropouts an important selling point?
  • What do you think about Internal cable routing on hardtails?
  • There seems to be a focus on making seat angles steeper lately. How do you approach seat tube angles for hardtails compared to FS bikes?
  • Are there things you’re able to do with hardtail geometry that just aren’t feasible with a FS design?
  • How is the balance between chainstays and reach considered on a hardtail?
  • For a lot of riders cost can be a factor in deciding to go with a hardtail. What does the typical hardtail rider look like?
  • Do you own a hardtail mountain bike? How often do you ride it?
  • What are some tips for riders to get the most out of a hardtail mountain bike? Do we need to modify our riding style, or reconsider preferences for things like tire and fork pressure?

A full, automatically-generated transcript of this podcast conversation is available to Singletracks supporters.

Please log in to your account to access this content.


Jeff 0:00
Hey everybody, welcome to the Singletracks podcast. My name is Jeff and today my guests are Pat White and Doug Lafavor. Pat is a longtime Product Manager for Kona bicycles. And Doug, aka Dr. Du has been designing bikes for Kona for decades. Thanks for joining me, guys.

Thank you. Thanks, Jeff.

Jeff 0:23
So Pat, whenever people talk about hardcore hard tails, that Kona Hanzo is invariably mentioned, tell us a bit about the history of this bike?

Pat 0:33
Well, I guess first off the term Hardcore is not one of my favorite terms. But I think for the sake of getting through this, I’m just gonna have to deal with it. But I do I do understand where you’re coming from with that term hardcore.

Jeff 0:47
I was told that you didn’t like that term. That’s funny, actually. So yes, I confirmed it. But it’s a term everybody uses people love it, for whatever reason. So yeah, yes, we’re gonna have to deal with it. For sake of conversation, we’ll stick to it. And I’ll just have to, I’ll just have to put up with it. But yeah, you know,

Pat 1:05
I think the best way to kind of talk about that would be to start with the beginning, start at the beginning with the hard tails. I mean, we started out in 88, with what four models and we didn’t even I don’t think we even called those cross country. But no, if you had to categorize those hard tails at that time, you would, you know, by today’s standards, call those cross country, they were just mountain bikes. And then I think right around the mid 1990s, we saw a need for a change in hard tails to better suit what people were doing. I mean, there was the shore riding was going off. If you went to the races, the saw like the Dual Slalom events, or even people riding stock trials, and just the way people were mountain biking on just about everywhere, there was just that we saw a need for a change and making a hardtail that was a bit different than what was being offered. And, and of course, that led to stronger tubes, geometry that catered more to riding steep, aggressive terrain. And what are some other things Oh, fork, I think another thing that drove that, too, is that we saw a fork manufacturer starting to make longer forks, and people were just throwing these on bikes. So they could ride this more aggressive do this more aggressive riding and, and I mean, that was good in a way that it slack in the front end. But it also if you just put that on a bike that was designed for a shorter travel fork or a bike with a design for shorter axle to crown it slacking out the head too. But it also raised the bottom bracket height, which really wasn’t doing any favors for what the intent was. And then also that put those longer forks put in that more aggressive riding put a lot more strain on the frame. So that’s where we always see those old videos of head tubes getting ripped off. So we saw a need to adjust geometry, use a more robust tubing no matter what the material was. And especially get that head to bury and other areas reinforced. That’s where you start seeing gusseting on early models like the shoot. So you know that was a big step in the mid 90s, we started offering those models like the shoot, and I think it was about 2012 we did the first Hanzo model. And again, that was another another big step in addressing or creating hard tails for more aggressive writing or hardcore if you want to call it the and that was that first Hanzo. So obviously that whole low lower slacker longer thing that should really short chainstays we got into what the 417 or maybe even shorter chainstays and longer rates. We’ll talk about that more.

Jeff 3:43
Well, I’m curious now to know what’s what’s wrong with the term hardcore hardtail? What what do you think mean? Sounds like you feel like they’re aggressive. Like what’s what’s maybe a better term for us to use when we’re talking about these types of bikes.

Pat 3:58
I think it’s just a personal thing. Hardcore can be defined, defined, you know, different ways, so aggressive, but, you know, hardcore spine. I was just being difficult.

Jeff 4:09
Yeah, yeah, we all have our terms like that, like, yeah, enduro and down country, and it is, is really hard to classify bikes and like, sum it all up in one word, and use it to describe, like, all these different bikes that different people are making different brands, and everybody’s got a slightly different take on it. And yeah, it can be tough.

Pat 4:29
Yeah. And that those using those words like hardcore aggressive are a big part of marketing to how do you attract those those customers? But yeah, like I said, as I said earlier, that for the sake of conversation, the hardcore works fine for for what we’re talking about today. Yeah. So I would say to finish off the history of the Hanzo you know, from 2012, that first Hanzo we definitely that is obviously further diversified because now we have like a Hanzo ESD. We have Hanzo al Hanzo DL. We have aluminum steel, we have the big Hans O’s with the plus tires still. So it’s become more than just one model.

Jeff 5:07
Well, yeah, my next question kind of speaks to this idea of, of how do you categorize these bikes? And what do you call them? And so I’m curious to know, like, what’s your personal opinion? Like? Where is the cut off? Between just a regular hardtail? You know, one that’s meant for maybe cross country riding or like light duty trail? versus one that’s more hardcore? Is it? Something about the geometry? The construction of it? What is it that makes it an aggressive hardtail?

Pat 5:37
Oh, for sure you hit it, Jeff, it’s a again, it depends on how you define hardcore. I mean, who is that rider? And what exactly do they intend to do with the bike? And, you know, we’re heading to that aggressive, hardcore rotting, steeper, rougher terrain, and what, what normally would have been before or relative to what other people are doing. So it’s, it’s kind of a hard one to define. But you did hit it, right? I mean, geometry, when I say frame design, not necessarily material, because we’ll talk about that more. But specification, you know, we’re not with a hardcore hardtail. You know, weights, not that much of a consideration. It’s more like the durability, and the power in the case of stuff, like the brakes, the amount of travel in the fork, that kind of thing. So for sure, frame design, Part Specification. And I guess geometry is part of that frame design.

Jeff 6:31
Yeah. And it seems like it’s kind of shifted as well, I guess, with a lot of things in mountain biking. Whereas, you know, a few years ago, when people first started using the term hardcore hardtail, people would talk about bikes with like, 120 millimeters of suspension. And then today, that’s kind of like the XC trail territory. And so yeah, we’ve kind of had to shift our expectations even about, like, what, what is aggressive, and it’s all kind of relative, which was seems interesting.

Doug 7:03
You brought up a good point there. Your last point, and that is, you know, when, how do you define the hardcore rider and, you know, Pat, is responsible for a lot of bikes that come under the Kona umbrella. But the one thing that’s interesting is, you know, the XC race bike now is nothing like the old XC race bike, you know, they’re all pushing towards a more extreme geometry slackening out the front end. So I think if you look at the Hanzo, like, it really takes it a little bit further, you know, and, and even if you look at cross country, hard tails, they’re slacker, and more durable than they used to be. So it’s all sort of trending in that direction. And you’ll look at the hands, it was kind of being the extreme part of that hard tail range.

Jeff 7:52
Yeah, for sure. Well, so are hardcore hard tails, or aggressive, hard tails, good for a certain type of riding? I mean, where would you place that? Is it like the trail all mountain? And are there limits? Like, you know, we see some brands have like, what they would call enduro, or like, long travel hard tails? Like, does that make sense in your mind? Or is there like more of a sweet spot for these more aggressive hardtails

Pat 8:17
you know, if you look at bikes, like the Hanzo, and then other bikes, like, you know, a Kahuna or something like that, you know, that, as I mentioned before, the geometry, the focus more on lightweight for climbing and all around riding where the concern is, you know, power and durability, just ability to tackle that more aggressive terrain. So, obviously, you wouldn’t want or you would prefer to have a blank, like a Hanzo, if you are doing some steep, Rudy, aggressive, challenging technical terrain, where they’re going downhill where, you know, if you were going to be doing a long climb, and maybe not so much, you’re going to be more comfortable and better off on a bike like a Kahuna, or a more cross country designed bike in terms of the weight of the bike, the components and the geometry. You know, obviously, taking a bike with a 63 degree head angle, and climbing on on all day is not going to be as fun as something with the more you know, in the area of 6869 degree head angle. And, you know, vice versa. Obviously, if you’re going to be doing aggressive shuttle runs, that Hanzo is going to be a better tool for the job, you’re gonna have a better experience with a bike that’s designed to ride that kind of terrain. Yeah. So

Jeff 9:30
I mean, is there a limit though, like, would you if someone said, Hey, is racing a hardtail? And an enduro race, like, is that a good idea? You think like, there’s, there’s a limit where you say this, that’s just too much and you need to go full suspension? Or do you think that the hardtail really is versatile enough that you can make it a bike for the most aggressive type of riding?

Pat 9:53
That’s a great question in it. You know what comes to mind when someone asks a question like that, like Yeah, especially especially you say a race, you know, if your intent in a enduro race, you know, granted that the race course is technical enough, if your intent is to do and have the best time or placing possible, then probably a full suspension bike is going to get you from point A to point B faster. However, some people will want to go to events and have a different kind of experience. And I think riding a hardtail aggressively versus a full suspension bike, you know, there’s, there’s just a different connection with how you’re riding the terrain on a hardtail. Obviously, most people can’t slam through obstacles as easily or as quickly as they could on a full suspension bike. But there’s a you know, there’s there’s definitely a pleasure and experience a feeling that you get with running a hardtail there’s a kind of a reward to like, you know, man, I just did that really gnarly section on hard tail, and I looked awesome doing it. And maybe it wasn’t as fast as I would have been on a full suspension bike minutes is a different experience. So as far as a limitation, I think that just depends on the person. And what the what they’re looking for on the ride experience.

Jeff 11:08
For sure. Yeah. And that that connection with the bike and with the trail, I think, yeah, that a lot of people can really identify with that. Doug, I’m curious to know how important frame material is when it comes to designing a hardtail? You know, it seems like compared to a full suspension bike, that maybe frame material is more important, but maybe not. So fill us in on that, like, how do you go about thinking about the frame materials used when you’re designing a hardtail?

Doug 11:38
Certainly, if we look back at some of the older bikes, frame material is really important, especially when we were riding back in the early 80s, free suspension. You know, aluminum was very unforgiving. And Steel and Titanium were kind of the materials of choice back then. As far as, like an extreme bike like the Honza goes, we’ve basically built them out of steel, aluminum, carbon fiber, and even titanium. You know, if you were to really look at that and say, like, you know, which materials the best? That’s a pretty open question. I think I’ve spent time on Ty hardtails. Road, the carbon Hanzo for several years up here, you Okanagan, I think really, you know, as far as designing the bikes go, most of the challenges that we’ve had with different materials over the years have have all been overcome, mostly from trial and error. And so I think as far as like looking at it, from a manufacturing point of view, we’re pretty much capable to do anything with all of those four materials we talked about there. If you were to say, which is the best for a particular rider, I think that all depends on you know, what they’re looking for in the bike. You know, tie bikes are always cool, because they’re super durable, they don’t scratch, right? Carbon bikes are pretty neat because of the opportunity to to move material around and get a little bit more out of it. You know, it’s easy to put a little more material down around the BB if that’s the the issue, but really for these bikes, because they’re so burly by compared to like a cross country bike, they’re all built relatively stiff. And compliancy. You know, I think one of the greatest things about mountain biking is the continuous tinkering, and evolution of all the components. So if you just look at tires, there’s so many tire options out there, like you can take any one of those bikes and depending on the tire you put on it, it alters the ride so much. Yeah, you know, and the suspension is a big part of it. You know, how the kind of suspension how you set up your suspension? grips, saddle. So yeah, I think you know, materials, you know, you can make a good case for any one of the above. But really, at the end of the day, they’re all really good. Now, it is

Jeff 14:14
interesting. Well, it sounds like correct me if I’m wrong, it sounds like you’re saying that, because designers and manufacturers have been working for these materials now for a while, that it’s almost possible to get any sort of ride quality that you want out of any of these materials. Or put another way you could design say a carbon bike to feel a bike frame to feel like a steel one. Is that the case?

Doug 14:41
That’s pretty much, I think, an accurate statement. And in fact, I remember when some years ago we did a lot of development with Easton building scandium bikes, which is essentially just aerospace grade aluminum, but that’s what they did. They used to Uh, you know, work on the aluminum tubes, the scandium tubes to get the same ride quality as a steel frame. So you’re right. In that respect, you can pretty much do anything with materials. And there’s, you know, so many, so much opportunity to open up molds now. And, and it has been a real trial and error and a long process. But that’s basically where we’re at, you know, I think you could probably do out of bamboo. Right, right. If you wanted to people, aren’t they?

Jeff 15:27
Yeah. Well, so one of the things I’ve noticed the lately is that seems like steel hardtails cost more than aluminum ones. And it feels like that’s kind of flip flop. Like, back in maybe it was the 90s that aluminum was kind of a newer material, it was said to be lighter. And so back then aluminum bikes cost more, but it seems like now, that’s kind of flipped. Is that the case? And why? Why would that have happened.

Pat 15:54
Being a product manager, I’m always looking at costs of things and where materials are coming from and where frames are being built. But a lot of that is the raw material, what is steel going for what is aluminum going for a probably an even bigger driving factor with that, I mean, everything’s so crazy with material costs these days, but it’s just, it’s it’s economies of scale, it’s just like there was, as you mentioned, in the early days, this the aluminum frames war more expensive. And it’s, I think it’s just more of a thing, like, there wasn’t that many being built, it was just kind of getting going. And then all of a sudden, all these bikes are being built out of aluminum. So you’ve just got all this aluminum being used, and not as much steel and factories, changing their Well, not necessarily assembly line, but their manufacturing space. So now, we want to build 80%, you know, just as an example, 80% of our bikes are gonna be built out of aluminum, and only so many out of steel, obviously, when carbon came to be more of a thing, then then that changed again. But it’s just that there’s just fewer and fewer workers doing it, you know, not custom bikes, but mass production, fewer and fewer workstations, fewer and fewer people building quality steel frames versus aluminum frames.

Doug 17:09
Yeah, I don’t think steel frames have ever been cheap to build, you know, they’ve always been pretty expensive. That brings up a good point, the economy of scale there and, and also the price of materials. So I think he’s right, you know, you we do see a little bit of shifting in product line, depending on the cost to build the bikes. But I mean, if you look, it seems nowadays, there’s always someone out there willing to pay for whatever exotic material is available,

Jeff 17:40
right. And a lot of the steel bikes, you know, those are being in a lot of cases, they’re like boutique bike brands, too. So those are being built in smaller batches, maybe they’re being made in the US versus overseas. And so that seems like could be part of what’s driving the sort of average price of those types of bikes.

Doug 18:01
Yeah, the aluminum bikes are a little more, you know, you have to heat treat the frame and stuff. So it’s always been the case that smaller builders have found steel a little bit easier to work with. So that’s maybe part of it. I think the other really interesting point is, you know, when we first started making bikes, how US made bikes were coveted as being like sort of the top of the mark, you know, and, you know, we’ve built bikes all over America and all over the world. And wow, when you go over to Asia and see what they have going on, it’s a real eye opener, I mean, a point in case we have one factory that has their own foundry, their own extrusion plant, they make their own cloth for the carbon fiber, they make suspension. And it’s pretty hard for a small frame maker to compete on that level. That said, you know, the good thing about being a small maker, or whatever you call that, you know, kind of a cottage like makers that those guys are able to change up and custom make custom things. And that’s got a lot of appeal. So

Jeff 19:08
well. Getting back to sort of what we were talking about. In terms of ride field and ride quality. You know, a lot of what people are talking about really, when they’re talking about that is like compliance like how, how well does the frame absorb the bumps in the trail, and you mentioned how things like tires and saddle make as much of a difference or maybe even more on our bikes. But when we do talk about frame compliance, how much of that is due to the material that is used versus the design, like how the angles are laid out and how the tubes are sized and shaped? Which Which one of those is the bigger factor?

Doug 19:51
Yeah, I think they all contribute to the final outcome but you’re you’re right it correct again, like for me, I really enjoy Driving steel bikes. And I know if gonna we’ve got a reputation over the years for having produced steel bikes for a long time. In fact, when when steel became a lot more expensive to build than the aluminum bikes, we stuck with the steel part of the program, titanium, it’s even more compliant than steel, and maybe not the best material for certain applications. And like, if you were looking at certain bikes, titanium makes a great frame for a lot of people. You know, it’s the perfect bike, it has a lot of really great applications. And I don’t know that we’ve had the most success as far as making a Hanzo like an extreme bike out of titanium right? Durability, probably, and aluminum made bikes a little bit more durable than a steel bike, I’ve dented a few steel bikes, it’s not that hard. But you know, sort of getting back to more of the design aspect of it, it has a lot to do with the shape of the tubing. And you see now that, you know, we invest a lot more money in custom butted tubing custom shaped things just for that purpose. So it all becomes sort of a big part of the balance. Yeah, you know, you if you shorten it up and make it a little thinner. But at the end of the day, I think really we’re able to skirt a lot of the frame characteristics with component selection. You know, I think it’s a bigger part of the the the end product, Pat may feel a little bit differently. But you know, I think geometry has more effect on the of the compliance of the ride than the tubing and the just because they’re built so bomb now. You know, they’re, they’re really overbuilt.

Jeff 21:40
Well, yeah, Pat, let’s talk about components selection. So when you’re specking, a bike, do you look at the component selection differently for a hardtail versus a full suspension bike? And if so, like, what are the key areas where this is built are going to differ?

Pat 21:54
So good question. I love this one. Yes, and no, no, because, you know, when we spec out a bike as a product manager, we don’t really look at it so much as this is a hardtail This is a full suspension bike, we’re always looking at it as the application. So when I say applications like like what discipline again, you know, cross country downhill, and everything in between, you know, light trail, we need a bike that’s has the ability to to ride some more aggressive stuff, but at the same time, it’s going to climb great and be weight conscious. So you know, a good example is like the process X and the Hanzo, ESD. I mean, the Hanzo. ESD is kind of like the hardtail version, even though it’s steel, it’s hard tail. And there’s some spec differences. But it’s it’s kind of the same application, but one’s a hardtail. One’s a full suspension bike, and it’s that this bike is going to go downhill, it’s going to handle rough terrain, aggressive riding, hardcore, as you say. So, to answer your question, more specifically, we don’t spec there other than okay, we don’t put a rear shock on it. There you go. Right. So there’s no rear shock. But the component selection is is is not because it’s a hardtail versus full spit. It’s the application whereas this bike can be written, what kind of writing is this this rider going to do? So yeah, I would, I would say no, other than not expecting a real shock.

Jeff 23:19
Yeah. So you’re not saying, Well, this is a hardtail. So let’s like put fatter tires on it, you know, to to make it ride a little more comfortably, or

Pat 23:27
yeah, there’s one other thing I did forget to mention, though, on that that did, it does, there is a difference in the spec. And that’s if there’s something on the frame design, like a seat tube size, or something that drives the need to change to change that component. So if there’s something Yeah, that we need to we need to this frame will only accommodate such and such a spec where the full suspension version has to accommodate something different. So there, there’s a good case of where we would spec different but it’s, it’s not for that differences in for, you know, changing the rider or trying to make up some sort of deficit for it being a hardtail versus a full suspension bike,

Jeff 24:03
right? Yeah, that makes sense. Like dropper posts, you probably have straighter seat tubes on a lot of hard tails. And so you’re able to do a, perhaps a longer drop dropper post. I don’t know if this is the case at Kona, but it seems like for a lot of brands to the spec, the components spec tops out more quickly on the hard tails than it does on full suspension. So you’re seeing full suspension bikes with you know, the the Kashima coated components and you know, the top of the line stuff, where’s the hard tails? A lot of times they kind of top out in that mid range. Does that have anything to do with the fact that it’s a hard tail versus full suspension? Or is that more of just you’re looking at the buyer and like a hardtail buyers going to be more perhaps budget conscious than that full suspension buyer?

Pat 24:50
Sadly, you are correct. You know, I’d like to say that there are people out there that would appreciate a really high spec built hardtail the same that they What a full suspension bike generally that’s the case it’s just within the price points top out. So we’ll have a full suspension bike that goes up to $10,000, retail, whatever it is, and then we’ll have a hard tails like well, how many people are buying $10,000? Hard tails? Not many. So right sometimes we do that we you know, we’ve we’ve we’ve definitely done some some dream builds, I think some of the like the carbon Hanzo has just some really well SPECT out and I SPECT out expensive, hard tail. So it does happen, but not too often.

Jeff 25:30
Yeah. And I guess for people who really do want that, like you said, there’s not a lot of them, but the people who do can buy a frame and then build it up to their heart’s desire. So I’m curious about hard tails and wheel sizes, it seems like that’s another area where maybe there’s a little different components spec where hard tails tend to most of the ones that we see are 20 Niners. Whereas for full suspensions, a lot of brands are doing like 27, five on smaller sizes, just to work with, you know, the suspension and everything that they need to fit in there and even mixed wheel. But again, 20 Niners tend to dominate for hardtails. Is that, is that the case? Is there a reason for that?

Pat 26:11
Yeah. You know, I don’t like to use that, you know, you say a debate, I don’t think it’s really a debate. It’s just it’s, it’s, again, that preference, and there’s going to be give and take, and to support what you said about the 29. I think the big thing that’s driving the 29 inch wheel is the ability to rollover, we talked about that technical terrain, and not having that rear suspension to soak that up. With a 29 inch wheel, you’re gonna get a better rollover, you’re gonna get a longer tire contact patch, given the same tires and tire pressures. But at the same time, I see, I see guys really liking 27, five and even 26. I mean, just depends on the application, right? You know, we do sell Shawn keys, frame sets still, and I see friends that really liked the smaller wheel sizes just for the way that it handles, you know, a couple out with, you know, certain geometry, and that wheel size and it, it just, you get a different ride characteristic, you get a different feel. Maybe you know, the quicker handling with the smaller wheels. So I wouldn’t call it a debate but to in the case, you know, the 29 inch wheel does rollover stuff more smoothly. So it’s, it’s a more popular size.

Jeff 27:21
Yeah. Yeah. Another thing that you’re able to do with the hardtails is sliding dropouts for people who want to run single speed and it looks like the Hanzo at least one or two of the models, frames have those sliding dropouts. Is that an important selling point to people? Or is that more of a like? Well, because we can, it just makes it a more versatile bike?

Pat 27:44
Well, the main thing driving the sliding dropouts and why we put them on. I mean, there’s, there’s obviously benefits, there’s a few benefits to it. But the main reason is on the single speed bikes or the bikes that were, you know, positioning to be built up as single speeds or, you know, in the case, like a bike like the unit comes as a single spot. And that’s the just that shape. It’s quick, easy way to adjust that, that change slack for a single speed. But obviously, it allows the consumer to experiment with chainstay length. And, you know, if they’re gonna use a bigger tire and they need a little bit more room, you’ve got that opportunity to slide those dropouts back, you know, and then if you want to go back to a smaller tire a little bit tighter rear triangle, the ability is there. Also, heaven forbid you crash hard enough to damage one of these dropouts. It’s obviously easily replaceable, but there those are pretty robust. I would not want to I think that’d be probably the smallest of your issues a crash that hard to break when I was one of those. Those modular dropouts?

Jeff 28:43
Yeah. And yeah, like you said, I mean, it’s it’s kind of the flip chip of a hard tail is being able to slide the dropouts, change that chainstay length, customize it to your writing style, and what you want to do, which is, which is a cool option. So one other product spec I’m curious about is internal cable routing. And again, for whatever reason, it seems like a lot of hard tails, they don’t they don’t do as much internal cable routing. Is there a reason for that? Or is it like a budget thing? Or what’s what’s the thinking there? Oh,

Pat 29:19
sadly, no, not sadly, I’ll admit it. A number of us in the product group at COVID don’t like internal cable routing, for a number of reasons, but the market does drive it and you know, obviously people within the company really do like the visual and just the tidiness of internal cable routing. I could probably speak for Doug and some of the other product guys is that it’s just not something that feels good to punch holes in perfectly good frames to allow cables to go in there. And it also makes it a pain in the ass to service them you know, it’s pretty obviously so, you know, my my personal thing on that is I really don’t like internal saber rattling, but I do I do get the visual and just the tidiness of internal cables. Yeah, interesting.

Jeff 30:05
Well, this may be a question for Doug. But I’m curious about seattube angles, it seems like seat angles are getting steeper lately, kind of across the board in mountain biking. So how do you approach c tube angles for hardtails? Compared to full suspension bikes? Do we need them as deep on a hardtail? Or, or not?

Doug 30:29
Yeah, you know that one of the big reasons that seat tube angle started getting so steep was, especially in suspension bikes, you know, we wanted to shorten up the rear chains days increase the travel and wheel path becomes an issue, you know, a lot of the reasons they get pushed forward is that they want to get the room in behind the seat post for the wheel to travel up and down, that’s that started driving it. But that said, when you look at the bikes, like, again, the Hanzo, you know, where you’re slackening out the front end, lengthening out the front end, it makes a lot of sense to have a steeper seat too, because when you climb, you’re able to move your weight forward and get on top of that wheel a little bit more. And that certainly as a benefit. And again, the same thing, you know, bigger tires, short chain stays, everything kind of has been pushing it forward. I don’t think it’s detrimental in any way. And, you know, again, if you look back at the early days of biking, there weren’t a lot of components out there, you were dealing with seat posts were probably 120 millimeters long. So nowadays, you know, you can get offset posts. And you know, the saddles got a lot of adjustment, there’s so many components really riding demands, or you know, whatever is the most comfortable for the rider, there’s so much opportunity to find doing your bike by adjusting the setup on it. Last thing, maybe worth, that’s kind of interesting is that, you know, you look at some of these numbers, and they look really steep. But like you had mentioned earlier, you know, you see bent seat tubes, trying to get the seat tube thrown out of the way a bit. And if you look at a lot of geometries, they’re giving you a seat tube angle, but the actual angle of the seat tube is different than the seat tube angle, like some of them. I know on some of our geometry, we call it sta C tube, actual and CQ angle, what you have except for example, 76 degrees, that might be 76 degrees, if your saddles exactly in line with the top of the head tube. But if you know you look at a lot of bikes, people have their seat post up higher, that seat tube ends up slacking out a bit, because the actual seat tubes, maybe, you know, 74 degrees. And the other thing that at night sort of talked about when we talk about bike design is that as well as moving your weight forward and helping you with some climbing on these bikes, Pat says that, you know, he likes to have that steeper seat to descending, because it kind of allows you to get your body out of the way of what’s going on in the back end of the bike. So interesting. I think people really think get hung up on geometry. But in the end of the day, you know, with components selection set up, and just riding style people adapt, you know, it may mean that you just have a little bit more bending your knee or a little bit more bending your arm or a little bit shorter stem or a little bit higher stem, but we all kind of work around.

Jeff 33:36
Yeah, that’s that’s saying a lot, you know, saying that people get too hung up on geometry and your your bike designer. I mean, if anybody’s hung up on it, it would be you and you’re saying those numbers. They’re interesting, and they’re important, but they’re not the most important thing?

Doug 33:52
Well, I think I know that, you know, we’re gonna maybe talk a little bit more about it. But yeah, I think one of the things that’s kind of interesting is back, back when we first started putting front suspension on bikes, I think for a while there, we actually used to list the bikes geometry under sag. And nowadays the the trend is to give people static geometry numbers. And it’s certainly the case with hard tails. That if you know you, depending on how you set the bike up, I mean, someone might go for 25% sag on the fork someone you know, maybe 15% But that makes a big difference in to BB height, geometry, front and back reach all those numbers like the numbers are really dynamics depending on setup of the bike, right. So a lot of times another thing that’s interesting is I like to bring this up. A lot of people think I get hung up on it, but people really like to talk about reach. And the one funny thing about reach is that it’s referencing a floating point. It generally is take going from the bottom bracket to the top of the head tube. Now if you’ve got a relatively slack head tube angle, and that head tubes 20 millimeters longer, one size to the next, that reference point has changed quite a bit, you know, you might, you might be looking at a front center that’s lengthening out by an inch, and your reach number looks like it’s a quarter of an inch. So, you know, when you look at numbers like reach, I think he sort of got to look at them sort of as a broad reference, maybe like a model to model a look, this Hanzo is a half inch longer than the cross country bike. You can’t really say to yourself, Okay, I gotta get this size bike. It’s five millimeters longer than that bike. Right. And, and I know that you had mentioned, talking about the balance between reach here and, and like rear center chainstay length? Yeah, well, I have seen reviews before where they talk about that. And specific brands that talk about balancing reach to chainstay length, but chainstay length, like, for example, on a suspension bike, it’s not a static number. So is that reach balance to the chainstay? At what amount of sag? At what point of travel? You know, it’s it’s kind of like nitpicking, to the enth degree, in my opinion. Yeah, I don’t want to take anything away from people that you know, enjoy talking about that stuff. But you know, I’ve been doing this a long time. And I don’t really understand that part of the, the equation,

Jeff 36:34
right? Well, yeah, we’re the media, we have to talk about that stuff. Because otherwise we just say, hey, it’s really cool. That’s all we can say it was a cool bike was good. So yeah, no, you’re you’re absolutely right. And I’m curious to know, too, like, you know, it seems like with full suspension bikes these days, especially, there’s so many constraints to like what you can do, because you got to have the shock placement. And oh, by the way, now, everybody wants at least one water bottle, this is gonna fit in the front triangle. So are you able to do more have more freedom to do different things with geometry on a hardtail? Because it is, has fewer constraints in terms of your design? And specifically, I’m thinking about like, what extreme sort of things have you tried? Or could you do with a hardtail? That maybe you couldn’t do with a full suspension? In terms of the geometry?

Doug 37:29
Wow, that’s, that’s quite a question. Obviously, there’s fewer constraints. But the challenge, certainly, as far as putting the bike together is people always want a narrower Q factor, a bigger back tire, or shorter chains day, no one ever comes to the table with a worksheet that’s like, oh, open it up, make it longer, something that’s easier to do. So you’re always trying to fit as much as you can into the smallest possible space, you know, but I don’t, I don’t really think there’s a huge differentiation between one or the other. Obviously, the shock is a problem with a dual suspension bike, you don’t have to deal with that with a hard tail. But the challenges are always seemed to be the same. And like I said, I think, you know, through manufacturing, and materials and stuff, there’s just so much potential to do so much more now than they used to be back in the old days. I can’t really think of anything about as far as when it comes to putting a hardtail together that really is super challenging. And, you know, I think you make a lot of good points there. As a design team, a group of guys, you know, certainly now you’re, you know, we have a lot larger product group, a lot more engineers and stuff doing the job. But on top of that, you know, when you’re, when we’re a smaller company are really sort of North Shore, Bellingham focused, things were pretty easy as the company gets bigger, and you have more and more customers around the world, everyone’s got input and everyone’s looking for something a little different. And that starts become challenging, you know, how many people are you going to make happy and oh, yeah, and that’s, that’s the hardest part of the job trying to appeal to a lot of people.

Jeff 39:20
Well, yeah, I want to get back to you and talk about like, what is the typical hard tail rider look like? We talked about how cost is a factor when you’re thinking about hard tails keeping it under a certain price point. And also just the cool factor some people like hard tails because it’s says something about them or their writing style what Who do you what is the typical hardtail writer look like to you? Who do you imagine when you’re putting one of these together?

Pat 39:49
Yeah, again, it’s that you know, if you just try to be objective about it, you go Yeah, cost. That’s the first thing that comes to mind. While can’t afford a full suspension bike, I want to go mountain biking. You get that experience and hard tails, given the same spec and materials are cost less. But, you know, I wish that wasn’t the case. But to touch on what makes a hardtail writer or why are people drawn to hard tails, less complicated for sure, as I mentioned before, like that, that it’s just you feel more in touch with what you’re doing, what was I thinking of earlier? Oh, for one thing, like when you’re writing a hardtail, or at least when I’m writing a hardtail, versus a full suspension bike, you kind of go into it, or you’re at least rudely awakened, that you can go through the same section of trail as quickly as you could on rock trail as quickly as you could on a full suspension bike that has a lot of bumps and roots and rocks and steepness to it. But what it does do, at least to me is, it kind of keeps me in check. Okay, so maybe I can’t go as fast through this section, maybe I need to spend more time putting more effort into how I how I managed to get the bike through a section, different line selection, for sure you start looking at smoother lines, lines, where you can, you know, just transition easier, you know, hit a smooth section, bounce over across technical section, where normally on a full suspension bike, you would just plow through it. So I would say that that should be thought of as well, as far as defining a heart. Someone who really wants to ride hard tails is that they’re looking for that connectivity with with ride experience, and how it differs, have to be more cognizant about what you’re doing and how you’re writing it and where you’re writing.

Jeff 41:35
Yeah, I was just thinking, you know, maybe a similar example is like, flip phones and smartphones, right? Like flip phones, everybody had one, and then the smartphone came out. And it was like, you know, added a bunch of features and like, everybody buy smartphones now. But the hard tail has stuck around. Like, despite all these advances and full suspension bikes, and there’s still a lot of people, they’re not just trying to be weird. They’re not that weird guy that has the flip phone that’s trying to be ironic, like a lot of people, they choose a hardtail because they either like how it rides or like you said it’s lower maintenance or easier to, to maintain or, you know, it’s cheaper. I mean, there’s so many reasons that people choose hardtails. And it’s awesome to see that that’s still an option for people and that, you know, brands like Kona are pushing the envelope and, and seeing progressive geometry in hardtails, as well as the, you know, more feature rich, full suspension bikes.

Doug 42:35
Yeah, there’s a lot of truth to that, you know, I moved out of Vancouver up to the interior of BC, about seven years ago now. And I have a lot of really smooth Sandy pine needle like single track up here. And I can do a lot of, you know, epic 100 mile rides, 80 mile rides up here, on smooth single track and the hardtail was a is a really great bike to ride on. You don’t really have to have suspension for a lot of the rides we do up here, which is nice. And you know, if you don’t need the suspension, boy, what a treat to get on a bike that’s that much lighter and that much easier to climb on. But I think Pat really nailed it too, you know, a lot like cross training. When you ride bikes, you find a lot of people that now they gravel ride, they got a dual suspension bike, a single speed, they have a hard tail. And when you spend more time on all those bikes, it seems to make all your disciplines you know better you become better at writing a dual suspension bike, if you spend some time on your hardtail

Jeff 43:51
Yeah, so yeah, it sounds like Doug, you’re still riding your hard tail. What about you, Pat, you have a hard tail and how much do you ride it if you have

Pat 43:59
one? Absolutely, I probably I was just thinking about that. Actually, the mountain bikes I have in my stable they’re kind of rotating in and out because we’re obviously always testing components and developing frames and whatnot but my go to is a unit x of all things it’s it’s basically the frame set because we’ve I’ve had to change the components on it so much because I’m testing different drive trains and brakes and wheels. But the thing I really love about that unit X is or just a unit frame is its versatility. It’s really even more than a dual sport. It’s a it’s a 10 times sport because you can do so many different things with it, you know, I can road ride with it. I can mountain bike as you would a hardtail I can put a full suspension fork on it. I can ride it as a single speed and it’s just kind of always there and it’s a comfortable bike to ride and you know I can I can change out wheels and tires and it can accept all those things. So really the reason I like that you It’s just the versatility. So I’ve

Jeff 45:01
got a question for you, Dr. do if you were able to design a bike that you didn’t have to worry about whether anybody would buy it or anything, and it was a hardtail, what would you do? What would be the like thing that you want to try? Or the thing that would be like just for you, that would make a really cool bike?

Doug 45:21
Well, not to say that we haven’t made bikes before in the past that have had no commercial appeal. Yes, I would definitely have, I would make a hard tail. And personally, I think I would pick steel is my number one choice. And I think, you know, the Hanzo ESDs, probably a bit more bike than my riding style. You know, I’m, I’m not a young buckaroo. I don’t do tabletops and tail whips. But certainly, it would probably fall right into the Hanzo category. I would go for adjustable dropouts. Not necessarily because I wanted to run it as a single speed. But I like to have the option of the adjustable chainstay length. And again, for my style of riding, I wouldn’t push them back all the way. But I would probably be sitting somewhere in the middle like I like a 425 or something in that neighborhood for my my kind of riding. Yeah, I would have water bottle mounts on it. Although I’m, you know, more likely to have a Camelback on my, my body because I like to carry tools and, and food and a little saw with me when I ride.

Jeff 46:45
Yeah, I mean, that says a lot. It says a lot that you have kind of the leeway and the freedom to build the bikes that you want. Kona and also the Hanzo. I mean, again, like that’s a bike that anytime this conversation about aggressive, hard, hardcore, whatever you want to call them, hard tails comes up. People bring up the Hanzo as like, that’s kind of the that’s the standard. And so yeah, it seems like you’ve really nailed it there. And there’s not a lot necessarily that that would need to be changed or that you would want to change. So that’s, that’s really cool. Well, Pat, I want to ask one final question. For folks who have hardtails who ride them regularly? or folks who are considering them now, to buy one going from full suspension? Are there things that you recommend people might want to do in terms of modifying their writing style? Or? Or their settings for things like tires and forks, that maybe are a little different for hard tails? Or is it? Is it pretty similar to a regular full suspension bike?

Pat 47:53
Good question, I’m going to go back and relate again to experience and the first thing that comes to mind because I do have many friends who, you know, started out on full suspension bikes, or that became their main mountain bike, and then they wanted a hardtail either for pumptrack riding or just looking for that alternative feeling, you know, skiing versus snowboarding, just a different different way of riding and, you know, also just the the hardtail is going to climb better, or if they’re going to go down a like a Rails to Trails thing. But the first thing that I see is that they have a really expensive full suspension bike, they buy a hardtail. And what do they do, they take care of the full suspension bike, keep it in the garage, keep it clean, keep it maintained, and the hard tail goes out in the shed something that effect and gets a rusty chain. So my first thing is take care of it, it’s still a bicycle, it’s still a machine,

Jeff 48:44
not indestructible.

Pat 48:45
If you love it, it will love you. So take care of your Yeah, take care of your hard tails, not indestructible. I think as far as modifying your writing style, I pretty much touched on that you just need to realize that you’re not going to be able to bash through technical steep terrain, terrain the same way you would with a full suspension bike that is of the same application. So pick your lines. Enjoy that enjoy that challenge, that it brings being you know, more careful or more cognizant of where you’re going with it and how to negotiate that terrain. Things like tire pressure and fork spring rates. That is, I don’t know that I would tell someone to change anything, because when you make changes in tire pressure, let’s say that you think that you’re going to get you want a little bit more compliance. So you’re going to reduce the tire pressure, and you’re going to reduce that tire pressure more than what you would in your full suspension bike. So by doing that, you’re not going to get as better you’re not going to get as good of performance out of that tire. If you lower the pressure too much. It’s going to start rolling over and and not gripping and not being predictable. And you’re also going to, you know, possibly damage your rim, your will foot pressure. Same thing if you start messing with that, I mean, you start changing the way a bike will behave, you know, when you hit the brakes hard and go into a corner. And if you’ve got a different spring rate than what you do on your other bike, then it’s going to, you know, it’s going to have negative impact on how the bike handles in those situations. So I wouldn’t try and mess with things like tire pressure in Forks spring rate to accommodate going from a full suspension to a hardtail.

Jeff 50:25
Yeah, well, that’s, that’s good that it’s, it’s not that different for a lot of people and that what we learn and what we enjoy about any bike is transferable. Well, thank you both so much for taking the time to talk. I learned a ton about hard tails and more stoked to ride them than ever before. And I think our listeners are as well. So thank you both.

Doug 50:49
Thank you for having us. That

Pat 50:50
was fun. Yeah. Thanks, Jeff. That was fun.

Jeff 50:54
That’s how we got this week or next week.

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Jeff Barber
Jeff co-founded Singletracks.com with his wife Leah (mudhunny) in 1999. Today he works out of Singletracks World HQ in Decatur, GA as the Editor in Chief.

Bikepacking and Previewing the Sierra Valley’s Connected Communities Project

Photos: Tom Boss

When Chris Ruedy asked me what I was up to the third weekend in June, I knew something good was brewing. Chris had just released “Lost on Purpose,” a short film featuring the amazing dirt road biking in the Lost Sierra region of Northern California. The film highlights the Connected Communities initiative under development by the Sierra Buttes Trail Stewardship, which will link 15 former logging and mining towns together in a 600-mile network of multi-use trails. However, you can start exploring the area now on some of the best gravel roads this side of the Rockies. Chris, the Graeagle-based videographer, was arranging a multi-day bikepacking adventure featuring the picturesque roads and trails in the film, along with overnights at some special places. “I’m in!” I told him.

Our two-wheeled adventure would circumnavigate the Sierra Valley, the largest alpine valley in the Western United States and a major stop for migratory birds. It is surrounded by rugged Sierra mountain ranges, which support some of the most diverse and challenging mountain bike singletrack in the country. There are the awesome trails at the Lakes Basin, including Mount Elwell and Mills Peak, sweet flowy singletrack on Mount Hough above the mill town of Quincy, and the famous Downieville trails are just over the ridge.

Day 1 Mohawk Gap

I arrived in town the night before our adventure began and had a nice dinner with hosts Chris Ruedy and Sarah Starbird at their Graeagle, California lair. The next morning the corps of discovery coalesced shortly before our scheduled noon departure time. Dave Griffis and Joss Hanna drove up from Mill Valley, and Greg Raddue, drove over from the Palisades (formerly Squaw Valley) where he had just completed another multi-day bikepacking journey along the Henness Pass Road to celebrate his birthday. I was a bit surprised that everyone arrived with gravel bikes, as this was a mountain bike crew. I guess these bikes are pulling as many mountain bikers to drop bars as they are bringing roadies to the dirt. After some introductions, tire pressure check, and chain lube application, we were ready to roll.

We headed out of Graeagle, got on to Mohawk-Chapman Road, and rolled by the terminus of the popular Mills Peak Trail, our journey was underway. We started ascending toward Mohawk Gap and stopped at a viewpoint with panoramic views of the Mohawk Valley and our compass rose of our journey, Beckwourth Peak. We got our bearings and saw locations we’d visit in the coming days. Following lunch we popped over Mohawk Gap and found our way onto Haskell Peak Road (aka Road 09).

There we found our support crew at a bluff next to the road. Bjorn and Hiedi greeted us with snacks and home brewed banana wheat beer. Our camping gear was laid out for us, we all cleaned up and got ready for dinner. Humongous servings of chicken schnitzel covered in hollandaise sauce were consumed as the sun began to set. Our outdoor dining room had views of the Sierra Buttes and Packers Saddle, which is the startpoint of the Downieville Downhill race. The wind grew strong and we bundled up as we started evaluating where to lay out our sleeping bags. A minivan rolled by, stopped and backed up into our camp. A half dozen kids and two counselors got out, grabbed their gear, and set up camp right where we planned to sleep.

The wind picked up considerably creating a windchill factor that had me regretting my choice of a lightweight down jacket. We scouted out an area just below the impromptu campers, made sure we were out of range of dead snags, and prepared for a long, windy night. Ominous clouds on the horizon added a bit of dread, but while the wind carried on through the night, we had no rain thank goodness.

Day 2 Haskell Peak to Loyalton

The next morning we quickly broke down camp and got on the trail. We had a 10:30am rendezvous at Yuba Pass with mechanic Wayne Smith aka “Big Tall Wayne.” He was preparing for his wedding, so he could only join the adventure for one day. He too arrived on a gravel bike, his first we would learn. Guess it’s contagious! Given Wayne’s upcoming wedding, the day’s ride doubled as his rolling bachelor party. With Wayne in tow (or doing the towing…) it was onto Webber Lake along some flowy scenic gravel roads.

We stopped at the lake to take in the views and grab some water. I leaned my bike against an old red cabin with the lake as a backdrop and right as I snapped a photo, the wind blew my bike over onto a concrete slab. I started to hyperventilate as I saw my derailleur jammed in the spokes of my rear wheel. I walked over to Wayne with my tail between my legs to see if there was anything he could do. At first he was optimistic, then upon inspection he noted that I had really done a number. He used a multi-tool to slowly bend it into alignment, noting that we were getting into the critical zone, where a snap of the hanger was a high probability. Wayne’s Midas touch did the trick and I was back in action.

Upon leaving Webber Lake, Greg encouraged us to take a parallel route along Henness Pass Road, which he had just ridden in the opposite direction. The road is a major dirt artery through the Tahoe National Forest. This segment meandered through beautiful meadows with views of Mt. Lola. I learned that an out-and-back up Mt. Lola is a local’s favorite mountain bike ride and added it to my list of future rides.

We stopped for lunch above the Little Truckee River, continued East on Henness Pass Road, crossed Highway 89, and made our way to Bear Valley Road (where we saw a bear). Beautiful flowing dirt roads culminated with a descent into Loyalton, with amazing views of the bluffs above town and Mount Ina Coolbrith in the distance.

We arrived at the Gilded Drifter Inn for our one evening sleeping indoors. The century-old mansion has been restored as an inn and turned into a fantastic living museum, with a shared kitchen, a library, and a summerhouse out back. We chose our rooms, cleaned up and headed to The Drifter’s Table, where chef/owner Jeanne Whited greeted us.

We started with beer, wine and roasted cabbage caesar salads. Steak, chicken, pork and lamb were the entree choices and all were delicious. Any visit to the Sierra Valley should include reservations at this little diamond in the rough, and they have a great wine selection for those accustomed to the finer things in life. Dave and Chris went straight to bed after dinner, and Wayne departed for Truckee. Greg, Joss, and myself headed down the street for a nightcap at the local watering hole. Upon walking into the Golden West Saloon, the woman behind the bar playfully inquired about our matching puffy jackets. We were in the right place for a round of bourbon shots before bed.

Day 3 Loyalton to Beckwourth by way of Lake Davis

I was excited for Day 3, as it included Lake Davis and the Red Clover Valley, segments on the Lost and Found race that happened just a few weeks earlier. Following a righteous breakfast prepared by Bjorn and Heidi we zigzagged our way across the Sierra Valley on smooth gravel roads flanked by cattle and migratory birds. Storm clouds hovered above and in every direction we saw visible signs of rain.

We stopped for water in the small town of Beckwourth and climbed north to a pass called Dotta Neck, eventually dropping into Dotta Canyon, occasionally getting peppered with a burst of hail or light rain. Dotta Canyon opened up into the Clover Valley. Here we got a glimpse of the destruction of the Dixie Fire, which came through this area the previous fall. We stopped for lunch at the Clover Ranch and had a serendipitous rendezvous with Chris’s wife, Sarah and Dave’s wife, Erin. They were riding a loop in the opposite direction. Following some picture taking, we were off to Lake Davis, via Bagley Pass, where we enjoyed a few miles of singletrack before descending to Diamond S Ranch. The ranch is home to the Lost Sierra Convergence festival organized by Ride SFO, among other events. Proprietor Ken Smith greeted us and literally rolled up the barn doors, with tri tip and barn slumber awaiting us.

Day 4 Beckwourth to Graeagle

I woke early for our final day of riding and brewed some cowboy coffee for the crew. Sarah and Erin arrived with breakfast and picked up our camping gear. We took Ken’s advice and followed a route that led out the back of his ranch to Ross Meadows, another singletrack riding area. From there we rode the tracks, crossed a train trestle, and rode asphalt to Portola. We followed A-15 out of town and took a right turn onto dirt. That led us to singletrack, which took us down a steep descent and back onto the rails.

We got lost in a moto trail network and made our way to a bluff across the canyon from Nakoma Resort. A short mixed-surface ride got us back to Graeagle for pleasantries, charcuterie board, beer, and bon voyage.

The Lost Sierra economy has been hit hard, first from the pandemic, and then followed by the Dixie Fire, which burned 963,309 acres last summer. Now more than ever, the communities of the Lost Sierra need and welcome our patronage.

To ride some or all of the route we took, check out these Strava tracks: Day 1, Day 2, Day 3, Day 4.

Go Further with a Polar Bottle Breakaway® Insulated Muck Bottle

Made for cyclists by cyclists. Whether you’re into riding on dirt or road, Polar Bottle’s innovative bike bottles give you the freedom to go further. Plus, they’re made in the USA.

LE Breakaway Insulated Muck Bottle – Attack Series


Featuring sharp lines and aggressive pops of color, this limited-edition bottle is designed to make an impact.

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Breakaway Session Muck Bottle


Small, but mighty, the lightweight Session Muck™ bottle is the ideal companion for dusty singletrack and muddy rides.

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Breakaway Insulated Bottle

$16.00 – $17.00

The Breakaway Insulated keeps water cool 2x longer using Tri-Layer™ Insulation. Designed for performance, it features a high-flow, self-sealing Surge Cap™ and fits most bike cages.

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Breakaway Muck Insulated Bottle


Built for the all-terrain rider, the Breakaway™ Muck Insulated bottle keeps you hydrated when you’re going hard.

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Breakaway Bottle


The lightweight Breakaway’s sleek form fits most bike cages and features a high-flow, self-sealing Surge™ Valve.

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Sport Insulated Bottle


Polar’s original insulated bottle keeps liquids cool using Tri-Layer™ Insulation and features a handle for easy carrying and accessibility.

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Kids Insulated Bottle


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Our Bottle, Your Canvas

Price varies

You design, Polar delivers. Polar Bottles come in a variety of shapes and sizes and can be personalized to your organization, team or event with one of pre-designed or fully customized graphics.

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12 MTB Shorts on Sale for Less Than $60

End of the season sales? Ok, we’ll bite.

You don’t want to pay $100+ for a pair of mountain bike shorts. We hear you, so we scoured all the sales and found these shorts on sale for under $60!

There’s a ton of jerseys and other apparel items on sale right now, too, if summer has trashed your riding wardrobe. After all, does mountain bike season really end? Here are all the best MTB clothing deals right now:

  • Competitive Cyclist Semiannual Sale – Up to 50% off gear, components, apparel
  • Gorewear End of Season Sale – Up to 50% off
  • Handup Treat Yo Self Sale – Gloves, shirts and more from $20
  • Patagonia Summer Sale – Up to 40% Off
  • Pactimo Annual Summer Clothes-Out Sale – Up to 70% off
  • Shredly New Totes and Tanks – 10% off your order (discount in cart)
  • Troy Lee Designs – 25% off Skyline Collection

Oakley Men’s Drop In MTB Short

$90.00 | $49.50 sale

These no-fuss Oakley shorts come with a detachable liner for under $50. Now that’s a deal! Three color options available.

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Zoic Men’s Ether Bike Shorts

$75.00 | $59.73 sale

As one of the original mountain bike shorts, the 12″ inseam Zoic Ether remains popular for its function and value. Six color options are 20% off, most have full size range (S – XXL) available.

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Pactimo Terrain Shorts

$109.00 | $59.00 sale

The Pactimo Terrain collection is designed for enduro and aggressive trail riding. These shorts have a unique side zipper that opens for ventilation or to accommodate knee pads. Save $50 on both men’s and women’s styles during Pactimo’s annual summer clothes-out sale.

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Backcountry Women’s Pull On Ride Short

$68.00 | $47.60 sale

Stretchy waistbands are uber-comfortable and take the guesswork out of being in between sizes. Minimal, lightweight, and on sale for 30% off.

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Pearl Izumi Men’s Launch Shell Shorts

$130.00 | $46.99 sale

If you’re one of these three sizes (30, 32, 36), then you’ll be saving 64% on these MTB shorts with 4-way stretch, 2 pockets, an adjustable waist, and 15-inch inseam.

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Zoic Navaeh

$74.95 | $55.99 sale

One of the best mountain bike shorts for women, the Zoic Navaeh comes in several lengths, color options, and with the option of a liner. Sale prices starting at $55.99.

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dhb Trail Shorts

$85.00 | $34.00 sale

These straight-forward and versatile trail shorts are only $34. Men’s and women’s styles available.

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Nukeproof Women’s Outland Shorts

$65.00 | $45.50 sale

Another versatile pair of mountain bike shorts for trail or gravity riding. At this low price, consider getting both color options (blue is on sale for $39).

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Gorewear C5 Women Trail Light Shorts

$100.00 | $50.00 sale

The lightest weight short we’ve ever tested (just 4.2 oz, size medium), these stretchy, breathable shorts are ideal for hot summer rides.

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TLD Youth Skyline Short

$69.00 | $51.75 sale

These performance-minded shorts for mini-shredders are similar to the grown-up version (on sale for $66.75. Now 25% off along with the rest of the Skyline MTB collection.

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Patagonia Men’s Landfarer Bike Short

$79.00 | $59.25 sale

These lightweight shorts are made of recycled polyester with DWR treatment. Save 25% on the blue color.

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Handup AT Plus Shorts

$64.00 | $40.00 sale

These 9″ inseam shorts from Handup are affordable and ideal for an active outdoor lifestyle, be it at the bike, bar, baseball game, or golf course.

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Want to find the best price on your next mountain bike? Try our comparison shopping tool and don’t miss our Weekly MTB Deals for the biggest savings on mountain bikes, gear and more.

2 New Lift-served Bike Parks Opening and Vandals Strike Canada Summer Games Trail

Trail Flow is a roundup of all the mountain bike trail related news of the week including new trail builds, advocacy, and planning. Do you have trail news? Email [email protected] for possible inclusion.

Lee Canyon opens lift-served bike park

Photo: Southern Nevada Mountain Bike Association Facebook post.

Gravity Logic is putting finishing touches on new trails at Lee Canyon resort outside of Las Vegas, Nevada. A soft opening is planned for late August or September, with full operations scheduled to begin with the 2023 season.

Summit at Snoqualmie opens lift-served bike trails this month

Summit at Snoqualmie is opening new trails and summer lift service at the Washington resort this month. The Evergreen MTB Alliance says, “Our trail builders have been slinging dirt for two years to get these trails prepped and are thrilled to share in your joy of riding them.” The bike park will be open weekends in September, with the October schedule TBD.

Swanky pump track opens in Brisbane

World Trail recently completed a beautiful pump track facility at DM Henderson Park in Brisbane, Queensland. In addition to the track, there are also numerous skills features to practice on like rocks, skinnies, and even a wall ride.

Trails opening soon at Marshview Park in Virginia Beach

The Eastern Virginia Mountain Bike Association worked with Virginia Beach Parks and Recreation to build and improve the trails at Marshview Park. The signed and directional multi-use trails will officially open to riders soon.

NFSTS awards grants to 12 MTB projects in National Forests

The National Forest System Trail Stewardship (NFSTS) Funding Program has awarded nearly $300,000 to 33 trail projects in different Forest Service regions around the U.S. Twelve of the projects are for trails open to mountain bikes and these projects were awarded $139,400 for maintenance on about 430 miles of trails which are facing maintenance backlogs. The NFSTS partnership grant is a a collaboration between the National Wilderness Stewardship Alliance, the U.S. Forest Service, the International Mountain Bicycling Association, and others.

The recipients include the Routt County Riders of Steamboat Springs, Colorado, the Lowelifes Respectable Citizens’ Club in California for wildfire impacts and trail restoration, the Tuolumne River Trust who is working with Groveland Trailheads, and others. See the post on IMBA for a full list and project descriptions.

Trail vandals strike Canada Summer Games trail

Trail vandalism isn’t anything new. There are usually a few stories across the globe every year where mountain bikers find some sort of modification to the trail designed to injure cyclists. This time, it’s happening on a trail in St. Catharines, Canada where young mountain bikers have been training and competing at the Canada Summer Games, according to The Voice of Pelham, a Canadian news site. Reportedly in July, between 20 and 25 trees were cut down, a tree stump was placed in the landing of a jump, and branches were bent across the trail in a supposed attempt to injure riders. Later in July, broken glass and rusty nails were strewn across the trail. Niagra Regional Police are investigating.

Here’s how the Inflation Reduction Act Could Help Mountain Bike Trails

File photo / Jackson W Moody

The Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) was signed into law on August 16. While the bill intends to reduce the current financial burden of inflation and health care on families and reduce the national deficit, there are measures targeting climate change too, and there is significant money being allocated for public land stewardship and resource protection.

“The IRA makes investments in public lands through funding for land conservation and resilience, increased staffing for federal lands, and more efficient public engagement processes,” wrote IMBA in a blog post.

IMBA says the bill could improve outdoor infrastructure and access in a number of ways. First, the IRA sets aside $5 billion for community protection from wildfires and creates jobs in forestry. The plan invests in forest health projects on public and private land and should equip firefighters and communities along the urban-wildland interface.

Let’s hope the reality of this is more fire-resilient or less fire-prone forests. More fires typically means more forest closures to fight fires, thus limiting access to trails or even damaging trails during the firefighting process.

“Mitigating natural disasters such as wildfires and floods means trails stay open longer and require less repair and maintenance,” says IMBA.

The IRA also invests in urban parks with competitive grants for land acquisition and aims to enhance access to parks and outdoor recreation in urban areas, according to IMBA.

“More people riding means more potential trail stewards and mountain bike advocates.”

This might look like more urban trails, pump tracks, and bike parks, but hopefully it means greater mountain bike trail access for more people. Historically, mountain bike access has been afforded to people who live near natural parks in rural areas, but the growth of urban bike parks has proved that mountain bike trails can exist in unassuming places.

The IRA directs money to better park infrastructure. The National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management, and other land agencies are notoriously understaffed. Often, their trail maintenance projects and trail crews are affected. Trails accumulate backlogs of tasks which often hinder an agency’s ability to review plans for new trails.

IMBA says that the money from the IRA should help federal land agencies operate more efficiently.

Lastly, the IRA puts money toward more efficient National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) reviews. NEPAs are the comprehensive environmental reviews that happen when land management agencies are reviewing opportunities for new trails. They allow public scoping and resource review to determine if a trail in a give area is feasible or sensible. NEPAs are notorious for slowing the process of approving a trail though.

In the IRA, $100 million will be available for more efficient and effective reviews by the U.S. Forest Service and $150 million will go to the Department of Interior and the NPS, BLM, and other Dept. of Interior agencies.

IMBA notes the potential for more efficient review processes could mean trail approval happens more quickly and save time and money for mountain bike advocacy organizations.

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