Kitsbow Mescal Ventilated Review
Cons: Expensive, short inseam
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Our Analysis and Test Results
The Mescal Ventilated is a compelling upgrade of our previous Editors' Choice Award winner, the Kitsbow A/M Ventilated, and has yet again emerged as our top rated model. Kitsbow has also managed to bring the price of the shorts down by $65 to a much easier to swallow $155. Other than the dramatic reduction in price, the primary changes in their design are to the waist adjustments and closures; the shorts still boast the same breathable and quick-drying material, tailored performance fit, quality craftsmanship, and pedal friendliness as the previous version.
It is important to note that the Mescal Ventilated short does not come stock with a chamois liner. Kitsbow does make liners, including their Ventilated Cycling liner which is optimized to work with the Mescal Ventilated shorts. These liner shorts are $155, which is very pricey, but considering the quality of their outer shorts, we can only assume they are a great product, although we haven't tested them.
The 4-way stretch soft-shell fabric of these shorts feels good on the skin, and all of the seams have been designed to lay flat and go virtually unnoticed. The hem of the shorts has a welded seam that sits exceptionally flat above the knee to avoid any chafing while pedaling. Testers liked the feel of the fabric and thought it was an excellent middle ground between the super soft and burlier materials. This fabric also proved to be quick-drying, treated with a DWR to prevent water absorption in the first place, and drying fast enough never to feel soaked and heavy.
The waist adjustment system has been designed to reduce bulk and pressure on the abdomen, and they have done an excellent job of it. The zipper and seam of the fly sit very flat, and the alloy slip hook that secures the belt across the front is offset to the left and generally goes unnoticed, even with a pack strap on top of it. Kitsbow has integrated numerous vents into the design of these shorts in the form of stretch mesh panels located on the back of each leg by the knee and the lower back below the waistline. The placement of these vents isn't incredibly effective, in our opinion, but it certainly helps to circulate some air around these shorts. The pockets are also lined with mesh and can be used for ventilation, assuming you aren't using them to hold anything.
Fit and Pedal Friendliness
The fit of the Mescal shorts is designed with pedaling efficiency in mind. The shorts have a shorter inseam and a slimmer, more performance-oriented fit than most of the competition. If you are a cross-country, trail, or all-mountain rider who enjoys the climbs just as much as the descents, then the Mescal has the fit and pedal friendliness you're looking for.
The Mescal is a serious performance oriented piece of mountain bike apparel. Every aspect of their design seems to be intended to improve your riding experience, and the fit is no exception.
The waistband of the shorts has been designed to contour ergonomically to the rider in the seated pedaling position. The slim fit also helps to reduce drag or catching on trailside obstacles as there is little excess material. The shorter inseam puts the hem just at the top of the knee when standing and a bit above when pedaling, providing a friction-free and unrestricted pedal stroke. The back of the hem of the shorts is even contoured up slightly to reduce the likelihood of the shorts making contact with the back of your knee while pedaling.
The 4-way stretch fabric also provides adequate give for virtually unrestricted freedom of movement. They come in sizes XS through XXL, and they fit true to size. They have a pretty slim fit, and Kitsbow recommends sizing up if you are interested in a looser fit.
Kitsbow has put a lot of thought into the design of the Mescal shorts, and that is evident in the wealth of user-friendly features. Clearly, they have paid attention to detail and created features that are truly functional and enhance the riding experience.
The Mescal shorts have two zippered pockets, one on each side by the hip. These aren't your typical hand pockets. Instead, these have zippers that are oriented vertically, and the pockets are reverse loaded, towards the back of the shorts. The inside of the pockets is mesh lined and can hold items up to about the size of an iPhone 6. These pockets hold items securely against the hip in a position that doesn't conflict with your pedal stroke in any way. If you are prone to crashing and landing on your hip, then you probably won't want to use these pockets to hold much of anything. The pockets can also be used to vent the shorts when not being used to carry anything. While the pocket design is functional and pedal friendly, carrying capacity is limited compared to shorts with more pockets.
The waist adjustment and closure design of the Mescal shorts is unique and thoughtfully designed. The closure consists of a zipper fly with a flip locking zipper for added security, as well as a tiny low-profile button that is offset to the left. This closure design is low profile, and there are no bulky buttons or snaps to add pressure or discomfort to the waist. The waist adjustment of the shorts is also pretty unique, with a length of webbing that extends across the front of the shorts attached to a cam-locking alloy slip hook that fits into a small webbing loop on the left side of the waistband. This system offers three full inches of adjustment, is located on the outside of the waistband, is easy to adjust on the fly — it just plain works well.
The shorts are impeccably finished with excellent quality control. In fact, the first test pair we received was recalled for a suspected manufacturing defect in one of the seams. That's right, our mountain bike shorts were recalled. That's some serious customer service and commitment to quality that you don't expect from any company that produces mountain bike clothing. We sent our test pair back and were sent another brand new pair.
The shorts are constructed from a lightweight 4-way stretch softshell fabric that is treated with a DWR (durable water repellent) finish that helps to shed water and prevent absorption. This fabric is soft but sturdy and has held up well to the hundreds of miles of abuse we've given them. The material also cleans up well, with no signs of staining in the seat or elsewhere, even after muddy spring rides.
The other elements of the shorts, like the zippers and waist adjustment, are top quality, with industry standard YKK zippers on the pockets and fly and a strong alloy slip hook. Kitsbow also backs their products with a Lifecycle Guarantee, and they will repair or replace your gear if it doesn't stand up to your abuse. They also have a 30-day free return policy in the event you aren't happy with your purchase.
Like the previous version, the Mescal Ventilated has a slimmer and more tailored fit and a shorter inseam that hangs just to the top of the knee. They've got relatively subtle styling and a nondescript look that doesn't give away the fact they are a high-end mountain bike short. There are two small embroidered logos, one on each thigh, and mesh ventilation panels on the back of each leg by the knee. These shorts are stylish enough to wear around town for post ride refreshments or errands.
Recent trends in mountain biking, notably enduro racing, has helped the moto-inspired styles from the downhill side of the sport infiltrate into everyday trail riding style. Kitsbow's design aesthetic steers clear of that throughout their entire line, with subdued colors and contoured fits that favor function over fashion, while still looking good. If you prefer a more understated look as opposed to a flashy style, then Kitsbow has got you covered. The Mescal is available in two colors as of now, Black, and Gunmetal Grey (tested).
Form follows function for the design of the Mescal shorts, and their function is pedaling efficiency and all-day comfort. These shorts are not designed for downhilling, and therefore they don't offer the coverage and protection that riders might be looking for for that purpose. Their lightweight, slim fit, and short inseam works especially well for their intended purpose but may leave some riders wanting.
They have a shorter inseam, which makes them great for pedaling efficiency and comfort but leaves more of the leg exposed in the event of a crash or encounters with trailside hazards. The combination of the shorter inseam and the slim fit and smaller leg openings also makes these shorts less compatible with knee pads. They will work with some of the lower profile styles, but thick or bulky models are a no-go as they tend to hang up on top of them in an uncomfortable and awkward kind of way.
The Mescal shorts are the most expensive in our test selection, yet they cost $65 less than the A/M version we tested previously with no apparent sacrifices in design or quality. We feel that these shorts are a good value, simply because they are the best shorts we tested, with a thoughtful design, quality materials and construction, a great comfortable fit, and incredible pedaling efficiency. If you want the best mountain bike shorts on the market, you'll pay a premium to get them, but we feel these shorts are worth the price.
The Kitsbow Mescal Ventilated shorts are the winner of our Editors' Choice award because they are the best shorts in our test, hands down. The incredible design, fit, comfort, performance, pedaling efficiency, and quality craftsmanship come together to create the total package, and dare we say the perfect baggy short for trail and cross country style riding. They aren't the best choice for gravity oriented riders, and the fit probably won't be for everyone, but if you're looking for a high performance short in a casual-looking package, then look no further.
— Jeremy Benson