A decent pair of black baggies are the mountain biker’s equivalent of a two-button suit – an essential wardrobe item that’ll do the job for almost any occasion. Black goes with anything, it doesn’t show greasy oil marks, and it doesn’t make any implied statements about your bike skills that may not be borne out by cack-footed reality. To be honest, I suspect that the main driver for the current wave of colourful clothing is mountain bike photographers who want their models to stand out against the monochrome UK countryside. Full factory kit looks cool in videos, but there’s no reason for us flabby mortals to dress like we’re manning the Stabilo Boss stand at a highlighter pen trade show.
The peeps at Sombrio are no strangers to the lairy, snowboard-inspired end of mountain bike clothing, so it’s good to see them offering their flagship Highline shorts in a sensible colour. The cut of the shorts is fairly trim, and they didn’t flap about in the wind like Count Dracula’s cape, but the waistband of my medium pair is on the generous side, which is perhaps a good thing as I head towards my fourth decade, and my millionth sausage roll. There are two velcro adjusters which allow for an inch of leeway on each side. The length isn’t ridiculous, just ample enough to reach the top of your kneepads, and thus avoid your fellow uplift passengers from deeming you a nincompoop.
The shorts eschew the usual front pocket positioning for a pair of zipped enclosures mid way down your thigh, somewhere between conventional trouser pockets and side cargo pockets. For me, this is a mild annoyance. I’m a conventional guy, and I like conventional pockets. I don’t tend to ride with things in my shorts pockets, but I do use them as a temporary storage facility, for example when I’m rounding up my wallet, keys and phone ready to leave the house. Having to reach down a little bit further to get my stuff doesn’t exactly disturb the balance of the universe, but it does make things a bit less intuitive, and positioning them at the looser part of the short means that anything you carry in them will repeatedly tap you in the thigh as you walk or pedal.
There is method to the madness though. The pockets are mesh lined and double up as leg vents, for those draggy climbs on hot days. The left side pocket also features a handy loop that you might be tempted to keep your keys on. I carry more keys than a medieval gaoler, and there’s no way that I’d do an entire ride with them next to my plump tender leg, but if you’re a one-key person, this could be a useful feature – although you’d be advised against it if you’re remotely likely to fall off. I suspect that it’s aimed more at bike park shredders who need a handy place to keep their chairlift pass.
The fabric weight is from the light and summery end of the shelf, with additional laser cut vent holes at the rear of the legs. The holes are very unobtrusive, avoiding a “string vest” effect. I’m honestly not sure how effective they are, but they give the shorts an understated technical look. The minimalist theme of the shorts continues with the liner, or more specifically the complete absence thereof. I’m finding that I use padded inner shorts less and less, but if that’s not you, you can still team these up with your favourite pair of bib shorts, or your lucky pants.
In use I found them comfy but a bit reluctant to stay up. I’m normally smack in the middle of medium sizing, but these didn’t quite have enough adjustment and the elastic on the adjusters isn’t particularly strong, so I would consider sizing down if you’re a 32” waist or less.
The shorts are described by Sombrio as “the ultimate in lightweight comfort for any adventure”. However, these are not a short for wet, miserable, horizontal rain kind of days. The fabric has precious little water resistance to speak of, and riding through puddles results in a damp arse, although they do dry out quickly. They’re much better for dry shoulder season days and warm summer rides.
In terms of longevity, I would bet against them lasting as long as a heavier pair of shorts, and after three months of regular use, the material is starting to go a bit tired and shiny across the obvious wear points. Keep them for summer riding, resign yourself to the lack of conventional pockets, and be aware of the generous sizing, and you’ll be a happy customer.
|Tested:||by Antony for 3 months|