Suit Up: Mountain Biking
Suit Up: Mountain Bikingby Adam Riser
Just as each type of mountain biking requires a different type of rig, each discipline also calls for a different batch of gear. The right gear adds comfort, maximizes protection, and keeps you looking downright prestigious while you rip the trail a new one. As you check out our list of recommended gear, keep in mind that these are only suggestions. Tweak the lists to fit your personal requirements, and you’ll have the right kit every time you hit the trail.
Cross-Country / Race
If you… live for long hill climbs, can’t wait for your next cardio fix, ride the lightest bike you can get, or ride for the exercise… then look for a cross-country/race kit.
You dropped thousands of dollars on your frame and components, all with the goal of trimming weight to a minimum. Don’t lose your advantage by wearing heavy, bulky gear. Whether you’re pinning a number on your jersey for raceday or leaving the trailhead for a 30+ mile loop, keep it light and simple.
The two most important features of a cross-country helmet: lots of vents, and minimal weight. Some riders choose a road biking helmet to get the job done, but a true mountain bike helmet provides a little more protection for rough crashes.
Your jersey should breathe well, vent easily, and hug your body without constricting your movement. Look for long zippers and fast-wicking polyester fabrics. A few pockets on the back come in handy if you prefer to ride without a pack.
- Pearl Izumi P.R.O. Jersey
- Castelli Prologo Jersey
- Castelli Devolution Jersey
- Pearl Izumi Original Jersey
- Pearl Izumi Pro Argyle Original Jersey
Two schools of thought exist when it comes to cross-country bike shorts. You can either stick with a relatively traditional mountain bike short or go with full-on road tights. The difference comes down to style, so the choice is yours.
- Gore Bike Wear Alp X Pro Shorts
- Pearl Izumi Attack Shorts
- Descente Prologue Shorts
- Descente Prologue Shorts – Women’s
- Pearl Izumi Sugar Bike Shorts – Women’s
Don’t be afraid to sacrifice padding in favor for thin fabrics and excellent ventilation. Fingerless gloves feel nice in hot weather, but full fingers provide better grip on your brake levers and provide extra protection if you wreck.
- Pearl Izumi PRO Glove
- Fox Racing Mojave Glove
- Descente XC Glove
- Pearl Izumi Symphony Full-Finger Glove – Women’s
- Pearl Izumi Symphony Half-Finger Glove – Women’s
Much like a quality race frame, good shoes provide performance through low weight and stiffness. The stiffer the shoes, the more energy they transfer to your pedals. Hook-and-loop closures provide a quick, secure fit, and a ratcheting strap really locks your heel in place.
- Sidi Dominator 5 Bike Shoe
- Sidi Dragon 2 Carbon SRS Bike Shoe
- Sidi Dominator 6 Carbon SRS Bike Shoe
- Sidi Dominator 5 Bike Shoe - Women’s
You want a pack that will just barely hold two liters of water and the minimum of tools needed to fix a flat or other trail-side problem. Keep size to a minimum. Basically, you want a pack so compact that you forget you’re wearing it.
- DAKINE Session Bike Pack
- DAKINE Drafter Bike Pack
- CamelBak Dream Hydration Pack –Women’s
- DAKINE Session Bike Pack – Women’s
If you… like the uphill as much as the downhill, enjoy rock gardens as much as smooth singletrack, prefer a technical ride as much as a mellow pedal, and ride both shuttles and loops … then look for an all-mountain setup.
Versatility is the name of the game for all-mountain riding. You want gear that’s lightweight and vented enough for a brutal climb but also tough enough for ripping downhill and the occasional crash. All-mountain gear blends the best qualities of cross-country/race and freeride kits.
You need a helmet with plenty of ventilation and enough protection to save your arse if you take a really bad digger. While an ultralight cross-country helmet works, most go for something with a little more beef.
No more body-hugging jersey. You want something just a little loose, very well vented, quick drying, and extremely breathable. Outside these recommendations, you have plenty of room to bring your own personal style into the mix.
- Oakley Endurance Full-Zip Jersey
- ZOIC Emphatic Jersey
- Fox Racing Base Jersey
- Descente Spirit Jersey
- Fox Racing Sierra Bike Jersey
While you don’t want to go with the road-worthy Lycra anymore, you should still keep your all-mountain shorts nice and light. Adjustable vents help you stay cool on scorching days, and a couple pockets really come in handy for holding your Chapstick or energy gel.
- Oakley Endurance Compression Shorts
- Pearl Izumi P.R.O. Versa Shorts
- Oakley Trail MTB Shorts
- Oakley Trail MTB Shorts – Women’s
- Descente Nebula Shorts – Women’s
Crashes happen, so a durable full-fingered glove should be considered the minimum on any ride. A little extra knuckle protection can’t hurt, but make sure you get something vented enough to keep you cool in the summer.
- Fox Racing Dirtpaw Glove
- Fox Racing Attack Bike Glove
- Oakley Hand Ratchet Glove
- DAKINE Cross X Glove – Women’s
Stiffness remains a key performance point, but you’ll probably want to go with a looser, more comfortable fit than cross-country footwear. You also want shoes with plenty of traction for hike-a-bike sections.
- Shimano SH-M182 Bike Shoe
- Northwave Bike Raptor SBS Bike Shoe
- Shimano MT70 Bike Shoe
- SH-WM80 Bike Shoe –Women’s
- Northwave Bike Shiver SBS Bike Shoe – Women’s
All-mountain packs need to hold enough food, water, clothing, and tools for an all-day ride without being too bulky. A two-liter water bladder should be considered minimum, and three certainly can’t hurt. Other features like tons of pockets or extra straps come down to personal preference.
- DAKINE Nomad Bike Pack
- CamelBak Havoc Bike Pack
- CamelBak Chaos Hydration Pack
- CamelBak Day Star Hydration Pack
Freeride / Downhill
If you… ride ladder bridges, send gap hits, spend your afternoon dirt-jumping, despise climbs and love the downhill, and generally ride trails that make cross-country people wet themselves in fear … then get a freeride/downhill kit.
Your freeride and DH setup varies drastically depending on the type of trail (or race course) you’re riding, the type of pedals you’re using, and how agro you feel like being on any given day. Either way, the time for spandex has now passed. Look for the toughest gear you can get your hands on. Anything without a moto influence shouldn’t be trusted.
A lot of riders actually have three helmets in their quiver for this category—a burly all-mountain helmet for most trail riding, a skate-style helmet for dirt jumping, and a full-face helmet for DH racing and really nasty freeride trails. Vents are still nice, but make sure you have something tough enough to get the job done.
- Giro Xen Helmet
- Giro Flak Helmet
- Fox Racing Transition Helmet
- Giro Remedy CF Helmet
- Six Six One Evolution Distressed Helmet
- Dainese D-Raptor Fiber LE Helmet
You want a jersey with excellent ventilation and a comfortable cut. Long or short sleeves remain a matter of preference, but make sure your jersey fits over your body armor.
- Fox Racing Commando Jersey
- Fox Racing Attack Long-Sleeve Jersey
- Fox Racing Blitz Jersey
- Fox Racing Sierra Bike Jersey
When choosing shorts for freeride and downhill look for three things: durability, durability, and bad-ass moto style. Freeride shorts generally have a longer cut than their cross-country brethren, and they’re often twice as thick so you don’t destroy them in a single crash.
- Fox Racing Sergeant Shorts
- Oakley Compression Shorts
- Dainese Airflux Shorts
- Descente Nova Shorts – Women’s
Much like the rest of your freeride outfit, gloves should be padded to the gills and durable enough to live through some serious abuse. Full-knuckle protection is a definite plus when you’re running wide bars and racing through tight trees.
If you like riding with clipless pedals, your all-mountain shoes will probably get the job done. For flats, most riders tend to prefer sticky sole bike specific shoes that stick to the pedals like glue and still throw no-footers on the doubles or bail quickly when you need to.
- Five Ten Sam Hill Mountain Bike Shoe
- Five Ten Impact 2 Mountain Bike Shoe
- Five Ten Nathan Rennie Mountain Bike Shoe
You want a pack that can hold enough water for the day, a spare DH tube, and all the tools and food you need—not to mention a full-face helmet, goggles, and body armor on the shuttle ride back up. Basically, you need a big pack with a serious hydration system, tons of pockets, and a seriously tough fabric.
Picking the right armor can be tough. Usually, you only know you made the correct choice when you check for injuries after a crash. Knee or shin guards can be considered the minimum for dirt jumping or riding woodwork. Add some elbow pads if you plan on riding tight trees or a really chundery trail. If you’re racing downhill or hitting a massive gap, don’t trust anything less than full upper-body armor with a spine protector.