My first reaction to the Kitsbow A/M Shorts was, “wow,” which was immediately followed by a much louder, and more expletive-laden version of, “wow,” upon hearing the cost. There’s no two ways about it — they’re expensive. Over the years here at Competitive, I’ve become increasingly well accustomed to ever-more expensive bikes, clothing, and parts, but something about a pair of baggies breaking the $250 mark was different. That said, after a full year in these shorts, I’m able to say with confidence that, not only would I buy them again (if they wore out, but more on that later), but that I’ve also become the most unlikely evangelist for bank-breaking mountain bike clothing.
The Softshell A/M Shorts are made from the Schoeller fabric, Dryskin. To be clear, this Swiss manufacturer doesn’t produce any subpar fabrics, and Dryskin is certainly no exception to this rule. I’ve worn these shorts in just about every version of weather that we encounter in the Intermountain West — blazing-hot sunshine, hail, rain, snow, and the ever interesting, “winter mix,” and I’ve never once been uncomfortable on account of the shorts. The one type of weather that I don’t feel I can speak to is hot and humid, as we just don’t have any summer moisture here in Utah. But in everything else, the softshell material seems to disappear when necessary and protect when needed.
Above all else, the feeling of “just disappearing” is what I keep coming back to when trying to describe nearly everything about the A/M shorts. It’s a sentiment generally reserved for saddles, but the combination of fabric, fit, and performance rivals the fit of a perfect saddle, and accordingly, is deserving of equal praise.
Now, to address the most common reaction that I’ve had while wearing the shorts, “they’re simply too expensive for mountain biking.” I understand that we crash, and that we ride through forests and deserts full of flora waiting to tear any fabric to shreds. And I appreciate that there are rocks and roots rising up to throw us into adjacent rocks and roots. In short, it’s true that we exist far outside the relatively controlled road riding paradigm, in which expensive clothing is valued for its performance and comfort, with durability (in the event of a crash) existing as a tertiary concern.
But as a mountain biker, I’ve spent an entire year wearing nothing but these shorts when I ride. I’ve crashed. I’ve hiked through thickets of pointy shit that have destroyed both jersey and skin. I’ve hit dirt, gravel, stumps, and slickrock with some frequency and have more scar tissue because of it. Yet, oddly enough, the A/M shorts remain unscathed. What’s more, I’ve washed them all of three times — once with a hose. It’s amazing that one pair of shorts has rendered an entire closet’s worth of shorts obsolete.
Granted, I know that’s one hell of a statement to make about something so expensive, but the laundry-list of details that Kitsbow got absolutely right adds up to the best shorts that you can purchase, at least as it pertains to riding bikes. The slide-snap closure, the rear-facing hip pockets, and the scalloped hem are my three favorite details: the slide-snap is super-secure, but also simple to undo for nature breaks — no messing with three layers of Velcro with gloves on. Meanwhile, the rear-facing hip pockets aren’t revolutionary, but it makes carrying keys and a phone far more comfortable than traditional pockets. And lastly, the scalloped hem sends these into the “perfect” territory. Somehow, the bottom of the shorts disappear when pedaling, meaning that there’s no irritation on the back of the knee, or anywhere, actually.
There has to be a quibble, after all this is a review, as unlikely as it seems given the overwhelming positivity of the preceding 600 words. My only quibble is also one of the A/M short’s greatest assets — the lack of adjustment. I’m a person who’s weight fluctuates according to how often I’m riding, how much beer I’m enjoying, and whether or not there’s snow on the ground. I chose the size based on a pretty decent level of early-spring fitness last year, and that worked well throughout the year — looser some months, tighter during others. But with some extra motivation and goals (not to mention a fairly mild January and February), I find the shorts falling down more than I can tolerate; catching on the saddle and showing far too much bib-covered ass at the top of the hill.
So, while the shorts fit, to lift Kitsbow’s word, “impeccably,” now that my size has changed, there’s no recourse — the shorts will be relegated to the shelf in the closet. Fortunately, though, Kitsbow added a pair of shorts to the line a few months ago that allow for two inches of adjustment. Perfect for those of us who like a beer at the top.
Though mentioned briefly above, the most compelling piece of this review bears repeating: I haven’t worn any other baggies in the past year. This wasn’t in the interest of torture testing the Kitsbow shorts, or to show off the latest gear, it’s because, relative to the A/M shorts, the pile of neatly folded baggies on the shelf in my closet just aren’t worth wearing. In other words, these are worth every penny. Granted, it’s admittedly a whole lot of pennies.