Kitsbow A/M Review
Cons: Expensive, short inseam
Our Analysis and Test Results
The $220 Kitsbow A/M Ventilated has earned our Editor's Choice Award and was a favorite amongst our testers. When pedaling efficiency and all-day comfort are priority number one, this is our go to short. We like to think of the Kitsbow A/M as the cross country racers baggy short. The slim fit and articulated cut ensure that we do not waste any energy on material flapping in the wind, and they are hands down the best short for pedaling we have tested.
The A/M short has a very fitted cut, with a shorter inseam than many other mountain bike shorts we tested. For being such a high-tech piece of gear, they have a casual look when worn off the bike and could easily be mistaken for a pair of hiking shorts. The slim cut and leg hem that sits just at the top of the knee stand in stark contrast to the more motocross inspired design of shorts like the 100% Airmatic and the Troy Lee Ruckus.
The popularity of Enduro racing has brought a moto-inspired look that has long been popular with the downhill segment of mountain biking into the trail riding clothing category. Kitsbow steers clear of that trend with tailored performance oriented clothing that the middle-aged business executive would be comfortable wearing. The A/M Ventilated short steers clear of flashy colors, (only offered in black and gray) for an understated look that does not draw attention. This award winner proved to be a favorite amongst our testers that fall in the ahem…masters category. However, the look is also appreciated by our younger testers who prefer a less flashy more subdued look when out on the trail.
The A/M is loaded with features that both enhance and define the riding experience. Its score here places it at the top of the heap, not for the quantity of pockets or thingamajigs, but for the well thought out design and attention to detail.
The first thing you will notice when inspecting the shorts is the minimal amount of pockets. One on each hip is all you get, and for many riders, probably all that you really need. The pockets are not of the traditional blue jean style like what you will find on the Zoic Ether short. Rather than being angled down and to the front of the short, the A/M pockets have a vertical zippered opening, with the pocket extending towards the rear of the short. The position of the pockets makes contents almost unnoticeable when riding because they are not placed in an area that is compressed with every pedal stroke. The pockets are just large enough to fit an iPhone 6, and the left hip pocket has an elastic band to help hold items in place. The downside to the design is less capacity when compared to shorts like the 100% Airmatic or the Zoic Ether.
Closure design is important, for obvious reasons and the A/M Ventilated short has a unique slider style button that quickly became a favorite amongst our testers. The Italian RiRi slider is made of durable alloy and is more secure than a standard snap like you find on the 100% Airmatic or a traditional button used on shorts like the Fox Sergeant. The male end of the button fits into the female portion (visible on the waistband when wearing the short) and then slides into a spring load slot. The connection is secure and nearly immune to accidental or unwanted release. It does take a minute to get used to but it quickly becomes a one-handed operation. The fly is secured by a zipper.
All of the shorts we tested have some sort of waist adjustment. The A/M use an alloy slip hook system, with a 1" range of adjustment on each side of the short for a total of 2" of adjustment. The slip hooks are located on the outside of the waistband so the shorts can easily be adjusted without disconnecting the button. The Patagonia Dirt Craft have a similar system, but our testers found the Kitsbow design to be easier to manipulate. While the slip hook design is durable, the Velcro strap style closure of the 100% Airmatic is easier to adjust and has a wider range of adjustability because the Velcro can be positioned anywhere. With the slip hook design, you are limited to the three positions available on the waistband.
The lightweight Schoeller fabric used on the A/M showed no signs of wear or damage during testing. The 3XDRY treatment proved adept at preventing water absorption and the shorts always cleaned up nicely, even after a muddy ride.
In our experience, lighter weight fabrics tend to not fair as well as a heavier fabric when a substantial crash occurs. The Troy Lee Ruckus shorts have a much more burly fabric than these shorts and would likely survive a crash. Stretch mesh fabric on the legs provides great ventilation but is also more prone to damage from abrasion than the material found on the rest of the shorts. While the fabric of the A/M is not the most durable in the test, the waist retention hardware is robust and amongst the best in the test. The alloy slip hooks used for size adjustment and the accompanying nylon webbing tabs are also highly durable and unlikely to fail.
There are more durable shorts than the A/M, but the lower score of the shorts is more a reflection of their intended use than of the quality of construction. A highly ventilated lightweight short inherently lacks the durability of a short like the burly Troy Lee Ruckus.
The A/M is designed around the light and fast ethos, and thus makes compromises when it comes to rider protection. The fabric is very lightweight, and the stretch mesh fabric found on the outside of the legs offers very little if any protection from abrasion.
A short inseam enhances the pedaling performance of these shorts, but the trade off is less coverage and more exposed skin in the event of a fall or contact with trailside obstacles. The shorter length of the shorts and smaller leg openings do not mix well with most knee pads. Shorts with a wider opening at the leg and longer inseams like the 100% Airmatic or the Pearl Izumi Elevate provide a better interface with most knee pad designs. That is not to say that you can not wear knee pads with these shorts, but we found that the leg cuff tends to hang up and bunch at the top of the pads.
The A/M is not a short for the bike park, and offers a limited amount of coverage and protection. It scores lower than shorts designed with descending in mind like the Troy Lee Ruckus.
Fit and Pedal Friendliness
If you are looking for the ultimate in pedaling performance from a baggy short than the A/M should be at the top of your list. When the day's menu includes copious amounts of climbing or endless cross-country pedaling, these are our go to shorts.
The fit of the A/M is designed for performance while on the pedals. The fabric is cut to fit perfectly when the rider is in the pedaling position. With no excess material to flap in the wind or get in the way of a smooth pedal stroke, these shorts are made for putting the power down. The 100% Airmatic shorts are a close contender but have a lot more room in them compared to the A/M and the fabric sloshes around a bit more when pedaling. The 4-way stretch fabric ensures that you never feel like the shorts are working against your pedaling effort. Shorts such as the lower scoring POC Resistance have a more standard cut; less stretch to the fabric can sometimes feel as if you are putting energy into the movement of the short.
The 11" inseam of these shorts is the shortest of any short in the test. The leg cuff sits right at the top of the knee, so there is no restriction to pedaling. The longest shorts we tested were the Pearl Izumi Elevate with a 15" inseam. A longer inseam provides better coverage and protection, but it does not allow for as smooth of a pedal stroke. In addition to the short inseam, the cuff on the leg opening is cut longer in front and shorter in the back to ensure that the there is no friction at the back of the knee. The A/M are the best pedaling shorts we tested, but competitors like the 100% Airmatic are not far off.
We should start with the disclaimer that the A/M shorts do not come stock with a chamois liner. Kitsbow does offer one, but it is not cheap. The Origin Base Short is their most affordable model, and it will set you back $125. We did not test any of the Kitsbow liner shorts, but if the quality of their shorts is an indicator, then we would expect that the liner shorts to be a solid product.
The fabric of these shorts feels smooth up aginst the skin, and the seams are all situated in such a manner as to not cause chafing. While our testers liked the feel of the A/M fabric, they preferred the 100% Airmatic shorts that felt a bit smoother and have a more light and airy feel to them. One advantage that the A/Ms have over the other shorts we tested is the 3XDRY treatment, which has been applied to the fabric. No matter how hot and humid the conditions, these shorts never feel wet against your skin. This is a huge advantage, and if you have been riding in shorts with a cotton base fabric like the Fox Sergeant, you will immediately notice the difference.
Ventilation is excellent mainly due to the abundance of stretch mesh panels on the front and sides of the short. We would stop short of calling them airy, but the ventilation is amongst the best in the test, only outdone by the 100% Airmatic. In addition to the stretch mesh ventilation, the back of the short features micro perforations below the waistband for increased ventilation.
The overall comfort score is amongst the best in our review, if you are looking for a short to rival the comfort of your favorite bib shorts when it comes to ventilation and comfort while pedaling, then the A/M is a winner.
The AMis best suited to long trail or cross country rides. Protection and coverage are minimal, so we shy away from these shorts for the rowdiest of rides, or when we feel that knee pads are necessary. If you had to pick a pair of baggy shorts for a cross country race, these would be the ones.
We never thought we would call a $220 pair of mountain bike shorts a good value, but here we are. These shorts are over twice the price of the Zoic Ether Shorts + Liner, winner of our Best Buy Award, but if you are looking for the pinnacle of fit and pedaling performance from a baggy short then the Kitsbow A/M Ventilated short is worth the money. There is also something to be said for products produced in a responsible sustainable way, and Kitsbow is at the forefront of this effort within the bike industry.
If you are looking for the best fitting most efficient baggy shorts on the market then look no further. Smart design and impeccable attention to detail result in a short that is simply a level above most of the competition. The only drawback is the price, but shorts this nice are hard to come by and justify a higher price.
— Curtis Smith