For the year-round cyclist sometimes it’s the small things that make life more enjoyable. Fenders are great if you live where the wet stuff falls. Good gloves a key for frigid temps. Same goes for a solid pair of insulated bib shorts, or perhaps a few pairs.
While these accessories are well publicized for both road riders and mountain bikers, a pair of rain shorts (yes, shorts) can add an incredible amount of comfort on cold and wet days. They act as a breathable wind block layer on frigid days, keeping your glutes, hamstrings, quads, and nether regions noticeably warmer when the mercury plummets.
And on days with snowmelt occurring (something I deal with frequently on the Front Range in Colorado) pairing clip-on fenders with rain shorts keeps me smiling and happy for hours of pedaling.
Rain shorts also strike a happy medium between rain pants and going without a waterproof/windproof layer. When fat biking, it can be remarkably easy to overheat. I often wear rain pants to stay dry, but on warmer days unwanted “humidity” sometimes develops. Rain shorts offer better ventilation, keeping you warm and dry.
Mid-summer rain showers, especially if you live at altitude, can turn a great ride into a potential hypothermia situation. Rain shorts and a good rain jacket will do a lot to maintain warmth. While shorts certainly won’t keep you as dry as pants, they will do a good job of keeping you warm.
All of this potential year-round comfort comes in a very compact package too, making it easy to carry a pair in your hydration pack (next to you first aid kit, spare derailleur hanger and pack beer). Rain shorts are also easy to strap to your road or gravel bike with a toe strap or length of Velcro.
You can always cut up a pair of old rain pants if you have those around, but thankfully several manufacturers are making rain shorts with cycling in mind. Both have a semi-fitted cut, appropriate for mountain biking or road cycling. I tested two of these wearing bib shorts and leg warmers or bib tights. They will also work with a mountain bike short liner, but may not fit a pair of baggies under them. Of course, you could always size up.
Gore Power Trail Gore-Tex Active Shorts
Gore’s Power Trail Active shorts are superbly constructed using Gore-Tex waterproof, breathable material. As expected everything is seam-sealed using waterproof seam tape. They have a 14” inseam and are cut longer on the front of the leg/knee. This helps prevent bunching behind the knee. The waist has rubberized grippers and a drawcord to keep everything in place. Nice reflective accents dot the shorts, with a large reflective Gore-Tex logo on the left leg and a smaller one on the right. On the bottom edge of each leg is another, more subtle reflective highlight.
They run a tad small so I suggest sizing up. I’m a size medium all day long at 5’10” and 150 pounds. Gore’s medium is a tad tight but certainly workable. The elastic waistband is quite strong. Fully stretched the waist measures 33 inches, but without tension the waist measures a spindly 26 inches. I’m a 32” waist and that makes for a snug fit. They are also slimmer than the Pearl Izumi’s which may appeal to road riders. Gore’s rain shorts are not cheap, but the quality is exceptionally high so they should last for years. Price: $160 | Weight: 131 grams | More info at www.goreapparel.com
Pearl Izumi MTB WxB Shorts
Pearl Izumi’s take on a rain short is very well executed. The MTB WxB short uses a multi-layer waterproof, breathable material. It differs from Gore’s material in that it has a shiny, slick inside surface. This makes pulling them on and off a bit easier. The WxB shorts also have a greater level of stretch than the Gore short. The inseam is also right around 14 inches on a size medium. Five segments of reflective piping and two reflective logos help keep you visible.
A much-appreciated feature on the Pearl short is the adjustable waistband. Using a light, elastic, internal belt secured using Velcro tabs lets Pearl Izumi use an oversized waist. The size medium sample that I tested has a 36” waist when the Velcro is undone. This makes putting them on a cinch and mid-ride adjustments easy. Price: $100 | Weight: 137 grams | More info at www.pearlizumi.com
Which to Buy?
Both shorts will add comfort to your cycling, but the nod goes to Pearl Izumi, as I like the small refinements that make life with their WxB shorts a bit nicer. They are also less expensive. In either case, I encourage you to buy a pair of rain shorts and get out and ride on days that you might otherwise skip. Just remember to stay away from trails on days when you could damage them!