< Go to Mountain Bike Shorts - Men's
Hands-on Gear Review
Zoic Ether Stretch Review
Cons: Poor quality chamois
Bottom line: The Ether shorts are a solid well performing pair of shorts with the added bonus of being the cheapest shorts we tested.
If you are on a budget but are not willing to settle for an inferior quality pair of shorts, then look no further. The Zoic Ether Stretch is the winner of our Best Buy Award. The Ether short was a favorite amongst our testers, with solid scores in all of our tests, and best of all it retails for around half the price of many shorts included in our review. The Ether shorts truly hit the sweet spot when it comes to performance at a reasonable price.
RELATED REVIEW: The Best Mountain Bike Shorts for Men
Our Analysis and Hands-on Test Results
The previous version of the Ether short was also a Best Buy Award winner, the most recent version sees some solid improvements. We loved the old version and Zoic has managed to improve upon the original with Duraflex fabric higher quality zippers and a revamped waist adjustment system. The best part is that they have managed to keep the price competitively low. The Ether Stretch retails for less than half the price of the most expensive shorts we tested, and it outperforms many shorts in the review with a higher price tag. These are excellent shorts for a killer price.
When comparing the price to performance, it is easy to see why the Ether Stretch (shown in blue below) is the winner of our Best Buy Award.
Style is the most subjective category in which we rated our test shorts. We think most will agree that the Zoic Ether sits in the middle of the road between athletic shorts and casual shorts. The non-zip hand pockets and faux front belt loops give the short a casual feel, while the mesh vent panels and elastic waist back look more technical. We think that the Ether is casual enough to wear off the bike with the separating liner left at home.
The shorts used in our test were teal in color, and while the cut appears relatively casual, the color and the mesh vent panels make these shorts look like a mountain bike short. They are certainly less flashy than the 100% Airmatic but the bright teal color stands out. The fit is baggier than the ultra-fitted Kitsbow A/M but the cut is slightly articulated and designed for the pedaling position. One thing we can say with confidence is that the shorts do not look cheap, and most people we asked guessed they were in the $100 plus price range.
If you thought that the most affordable pair of shorts we tested would be short on features, you would be incorrect. The Ether shorts tied with the Fox Sergeant for the greatest number of pockets, and also include an incredible and functional waist adjustment system.
A total of six pockets is found on the Ether. If loads of pocket storage space is high on your priority list, these may be the shorts for you. There are two unsecured jean style pockets on the front of the shorts that are ideal for food or other items you need quick access to. In addition, there is a zippered pocket on the lower leg on each side of the shorts that Zoic refers to as Active Access cargo pockets. There is also a zippered pocket on the right leg with a headphone port that fits an iPhone 6; it is a bit snug for any of the plus-sized phones we tried. You also get a zippered wallet style pocket on the back of the shorts and there's plenty of room for almost anything we can imagine the need to carry in our shorts.
The waist adjustment system uses Velcro laminated rubber tabs on the exterior of the waistband, similar to the Troy Lee Ruckus design. The rear portion of the waistband is stretchy elastic which when combined with the waist adjustment system makes for one of the most adjustable shorts in the review. The front closure is a single snap with a Velcro patch. These are the only shorts we tested that use this setup. We like the extra security of two closure methods, and it likely takes some of the stress off of the snap. A zipper rounds things out below for easy nature break access.
The Ether shorts held up well during testing, but they definitely fall within the more lightweight end of the spectrum, like the Kitsbow A/M. They do not have the burly fabric of more downhill oriented products like the Ruckus, but they are well made.
The lightweight stretch fabric on these shorts makes them perfect for pedaling, but they lack the ruggedness of shorts with heavier fabric like the Pearl Izumi Elevate. The mesh panels on the lower legs and hips are also more prone to damage and abrasion than shorts that omit this feature.
The stitching and zippers do not appear as robust as the hardware on the Troy Lee Ruckus, but everything held up well during testing. The interior of the pockets is mesh, so they can serve double duty as vents on a hot day if your pockets are not full. This design is not as durable as a solid fabric pocket, but it has its advantages.
The Ether has a 12-inch inseam, which means that the short falls just over the knee when standing, and provides a good amount of leg coverage in a crash. The leg openings are large enough to be worn with knee pads, which is a plus. For the best protection consider our Top Pick Award winner the Troy Lee Ruckus or the Pearl Izumi Elevate, which has a 3 inch longer inseam and is crafted from a burlier material.
The fabric on these shorts is similar in thickness to the 100% Airmatic and is not nearly as burly as the ripstop material found on the Troy Lee Ruckus. Abrasion protection, while not an afterthought in the design, certainly takes a back seat to pedaling performance and ventilation.
Fit and Pedal Friendliness
The fit of the Ether is slightly baggier and roomier than the 100% Airmatic, but the shorts do have a slightly articulated cut which improves pedaling performance.
The Ether is a solid short for long days in the saddle. The four-way stretch fabric does a good job of limiting resistance to the pedal stroke. The fabric slides easily over the skin and the seams in the shorts are not noticeable. There is certainly more material flapping around than you have with a short such as the Kitsbow A/M, but unless you are racing cross country, this is probably not a deal breaker.
Overall, the fit is a bit less performance oriented than our highest rated shorts, but Zoic has done an excellent job creating a short that balances a looser cut with good all day pedaling performance.
The Ether ranks amongst the most comfortable shorts that we tested, only being outscored by the 100% Airmatic. For an $80 pair of shorts, this is quite an achievement and goes to show that affordability and reliable performance are not mutually exclusive.
The Ether is most comparable to the 100% Airmatic in its cut, and the slightly baggy design seems to lend itself well to good passive ventilation. As one of the cooler shorts in our test the Ether along with the Airmatic were go to shorts for our testers on hot days. Mesh panels on the legs and below the rear portion of the waistband further enhance ventilation. The Ether shorts do not wick sweat as well as the Airmatic or the Kitsbow A/M, but they are a solid warm weather performer.
Zoic sells the Ether short with their IPL Essential Liner. The liner is decent, but not nearly as well made or comfortable as the Airmatic liner short. The chamois is more rigid and does not conform to the body as well. Walking in the IPL liner is not nearly as comfortable as the Airmatic either. The liner is not likely to blow your mind, but getting a liner short at all in this price range is unbelievable. Even if you plan to replace the liner with something a bit nicer, having a spare pair of liner shorts is nice.
The Ether is a great all arounder. It is well suited to trail and enduro riding but is also a solid choice for the entry level rider who wants a solid pair of shorts and does not want to spend a lot.
The Ether is by far the best value of any pair of shorts we have tested. These shorts score well in all of our performance tests, and retail for around half the price of many comparable shorts. The liner short is a bit of a let down if you are used to high-end chamois pads, but at this price, we are amazed that the shorts even come with a liner. If you need a high-performance pair of shorts and don't want to spend a fortune then these are the shorts for you.
The Ether shorts are the cheapest shorts we tested, and the winner of our Best Buy Award. For an $80 pair of shorts, they perform way above their price, with an overall score that puts them in the top four shorts we tested. There are higher quality shorts available, but at this price, there is simply not another short that even comes close.
— Curtis Smith
You Might Also Like
The Best Mountain Bike Shorts for MenWhat is the best short for mountain biking? We tested a selection of 10 of the best and most popular mountain bike...
OutdoorGearLab Member Reviews
Most recent review: June 16, 2017
Where's the Best Price?
*You help support OutdoorGearLab's product testing and reviews by purchasing from our retail partners.
Table of Contents
Other Gear by Zoic