MTB on a Budget: Where to Spend & Where to Save on Mountain Bike Clothing – Part 1

by | June 25, 2020

The MTB industry is seeing a major uptick in new riders right now. Whether it’s ‘rona related or just a general trend, the bottom line is that nobody can keep bikes in stock right now. That’s great for the industry, and we’re excited to see so many new riders out enjoying the trails.

If you’re new to the sport, we’re concerned that you’re coming to Pinkbike and only seeing $8K bikes and $450 jackets being reviewed. Mountain biking is expensive, but it doesn’t need to be that expensive. So we’re starting a new series called MTB on a Budget. This first installment will cover riding gear and accessories. We’ll look at where to spend and where to save when speccing your bike as well as tools and maintenance in future articles. Let us know if there are specific areas you’d like us to address.

First though, a note on why we do test expensive stuff. It’s partly because we are gear dorks who love the latest and greatest, and partly because new technologies usually make their debuts on high end stuff—which means the tech we review on the $10K bike will be available on $3K bikes in a few years. But our testing of high end product is also because the cycling media’s access to review products is dependant on companies taking a high-risk-high-reward approach to their marketing. When we get sent bikes and parts for testing, the brands are gambling that they’ll get a positive verdict. I’ve been on the other side of it when I was in marketing, and a bad review can take the wind out of their errrr, sales. (sorry, I’m a new dad, can’t help myself) So in order to increase the chances of a good review, brands are often reluctant to send lower priced products.

But just because we show you fancy stuff all day long doesn’t mean that those things are required to have a great time on your bike (or perform on the race track). If you’re on a budget, there are places it makes sense to spend money on, and places it doesn’t. So whether you’re new to the sport or you’re an experienced trail rider saving for next year’s summer road trip, here’s where we think you should spend and where you should save on mountain bike clothing.

Save on a Jersey

Typical Price: $60+ USD
Recommendation: $15 USD
Used: Sure why not

For most riding, a regular t-shirt does just fine. Despite the hyperbole that cotton kills, bro, you won’t spontaneously combust if you wear cotton on most rides. That said, if you can find an inexpensive poly/cotton blend, that will keep your temperature a little more regulated on bigger rides and at higher pace.

We’re not even going to give an actual recommendation here, literally any poly/cotton t-shirt is probably fine. Run what ya brung, relegate a shirt you spilled some BBQ sauce onto to riding shirt. Or get a 3 pack from a department store. And for cooler weather, a cheap merino from Stanfields or Costco is going to be great. If you’ve already got one of those fancy Lululemon tech t-shirts, those make very good riding jerseys too.

Plus, a t-shirt and long pants is the unofficial uniform of ultra fast riders saying “I’m just cruising today guys, not in race mode” before they absolutely crush you.

Spend on Shorts and Pants

Recommendation: $80+ USD
Used: Not if they’ve got a chamois…

While the Denim Destroyer is out there making us look stupid, we think shorts and pants aren’t a place to skimp.

There are hardcores who say “I only ride in Dickies,” but they’re just not that comfortable in our experience. We’re also not fans of basketball shorts or running shorts. They’re just not tough enough, and the fits can snag your saddle, etc. Even jeans with lots of stretch are sweaty and prone to chafing, especially if you’re going for a pedal instead of a few park laps. They look sick mid run though.

So our advice is to pony up for a tough pair of shorts that should last a long time. A rugged pair of shorts should last for years, and be loads better than the alternatives. I’m a fan of the fit and feel of Fox’s Defend shorts, but haven’t used them enough to comment on durability. We’ve also tested lots of DH pants before.

Save on Hip Packs

Typical Price: $100+ USD
Recommendation: ~$20 USD
Used: Yes

We’re fans of hip packs, especially versus backpacks. They hold your stuff nice and low, and they flop around a lot less because they’re attached to your hips instead of your shoulders.

But regardless of all the fancy padding, straps, fabrics, and buckles, most of them fit well and stay put decently—even some that would be more at home in the mall around the front of a Champion hoodie.

We don’t recommend getting the cheapest fast-fashion options out there (see above), but there are tons of excellent non-bike-specific hip packs out there. Generalist hip packs from Dakine, Deuter, and lots more have excellent features and cost less than $20 USD. Look for bags with a little bit of structure to prevent flopping, and if you must have that Mickey Mouse print one from the thrift store just spend $5 on a new buckles.

Spend on Pads

Recommendation: $80+ USD
Used: No, just no

Another place not to skimp. We think you should wear appropriate pads for any kind of aggressive mountain biking. Pads that fit well and have the right level of protection for your terrain and riding style can cost a lot, but it’s worth spending the money instead of being off the bike for months recovering from an injury. And, if they’re comfortable, you’re way more likely to be wearing then when you do crash.

I’m a big fan of the POC Joint VPD System knee pad. They’re spendy and there are good cheaper pads out there, but these are the right balance of protection, flexibility, and fit for me. Find what works for you and then use them!

Spend on a Helmet (Kind of…)

Typical Price: $200+ USD
Recommendation: $100 USD
Used: No

When it comes to the health of your brain, protection is not a place to be thrifty, within reason. While some high end helmets offer more comfort, lighter weight, and better looks than cheaper options, it’s not yet clear that they’re much safer. In fact, buying several cheaper helmets that get replaced after each minor knock is probably safer than buying a $300 helmet and keeping it when you shouldn’t.

Giro’s Chronicle MIPS costs $100 USD and recently received a 5/5 star safety rating from Virginia Tech. Yes, the debates about the efficacy of MIPS and other slip-plane systems continue to rage, and yes testing methodology isn’t as good as we’d like, but we have no hesitations recommending it against helmets that cost three times as much.

There are excellent options under $100 as well. See our round up of helmets under $100 USD here.

bigquotes I found the Fixture was the most comfortable of all the helmets we tested despite being a universal fit. The straps around your ears are not adjustable, but they were in a good position for the range of heads we tried. It not only looks much more expensive than its price point, but it also includes MIPS.Aidan Oliver, Pinkbike Social Media Coordinator

On the flip side, do consider how much time you’ll spend in a helmet. If you’re riding a lot, a helmet that’s comfortable and doesn’t stink is more important than say, a jersey. I’m a huge fan of my Specialized Ambush, and would buy a new one tomorrow if I lost it. For me it’s worth it. But for twice the price it’s not likely to be twice as safe as the Chronicle.

This article is focused on trail bikes, but we should say that we don’t think you should try to save money by getting non-DH-certified full face. If you’re riding stuff that needs a full face, get a properly certified one.

Save on Eyewear

Typical Price: $200 USD
Recommendation: $30 USD
Used: Yes

This one isn’t that intuitive. Seeing is important, and we’ve gotten enough debris in the face that we consider eyewear to be safety equipment. But holy hell is it expensive.

The quality of Oakleys, Smiths, and other players in the very saturated high-end eyewear market is undeniably incredible. In fact, one of our favourite pairs of glasses are currently the fairly expensive Ryders Eyewear Roam, which have all the technology and cost a hefty $239 USD.

That said, we’ve had good luck with lots of glasses in the $30-50 range, especially in good conditions. One exception: if you live in a wet place like the Pacific Northwest and you ride year round, anti-fog technology is the best. I’ve had some luck with $20 glasses with a $10 anti-fog spray, but it’s definitely not as good as my Roams.

You’ll also want to avoid cheap gas-station safety glasses unless you’re in a pinch. They distort what you’re seeing to the point that it’s a safety concern.

Save on Gloves

Typical Price: $50+ USD
Recommendation: ~$20 USD
Used: Gross

Yes controls are important, but I don’t think I’d spend more than $20 on gloves if I wasn’t in the industry. While hand protection is important (especially in some locations), the difference between $20 and $60 gloves has never been a dealbreaker for me. If you’re a concert pianist and really concerned about your hands, you should look into hand-guards rather than relying on just gloves for protection.

Dakine is a good value option for gloves, but lots of brands have fairly inexpensive options. Heck, even Mechanix Originals work just fine.

Actually I’d probably just do without gloves if I was being properly frugal—callouses are free and with good push-on grips I don’t miss gloves much anyway.

Spend on Shoes

Recommendation: ~$100 USD
Used: If you can find them in decent shape

It’s how you stay attached to your pedals. The wrong shoes can absolutely ruin a ride. Check our coverage of shoes here, try a bunch on, and get the right thing for your riding style.

If you’re new to the sport, flat pedals are a good place to start—specifically good resin ones. And yes, skate shoes will work fine until you can afford to drop a C-note. But getting the right shoe setup is worth it.

EDIT: Socks, I forgot socks. Save your money. Why are socks THE industry thing? You don’t need MTB socks to ride MTB. Personally I think regular Darn Tough wool socks are perfect (black, crew length, medium weight, no padding). They work great for riding, hiking, town, etc., they breathe well, don’t slide around, and they seem to last a long time. But honestly, literally any tall-ish socks you already have will do.

Agree? Disagree? What did we miss? When it comes to clothing where do you think thrifty riders should be investing their dollars?

And what do you want us to cover next? We’ve got “where to spend and where to save on bike parts” and “where to spend and where to save on tools and accessories” in the works.