Before you click away from a boring review about ‘spandex’, let me just say one thing: A pair of knickers is the most useful piece of mountain bike apparel you can possibly buy. More specifically, these ones are. Also in this review, I’ll be making fun of road cyclists.
I don’t know why knickers aren’t more widely used and made, because like I said, they’re incredibly useful. They’re by far the most underrated piece of gear in the world of mountain bike apparel. They keep your knees warm and running smooth, but they’re not hot and cumbersome. Unlike knee warmers and pads, knickers never need repositioning. Roadies get it—they wear the shit out of knickers. If there’s one thing roadies are better at than mountain bikers, it’s understanding the importance of proper apparel.
Say what you will about the these nut-jobs, constantly risking their lives riding down the same roads that distracted, Instagram story-making drivers swerve around on in 6,000-pound death machines, just to graph their heart rate and power output and share their stats with the world on Strava—at least they know not to ride in cotton t-shirts. The roadie’s fashion doesn’t exactly say, ‘this is a sport for cool people,’ but at least they’re keeping cool. And warm. At the same time. Because they know to wear knickers.
I’ve been trying to spread the word to my fellow mountain bikers since 2009, when I discovered a wool knicker made by a company named Ibex. Two weeks after getting my first pair, I ordered the second so that I’d always have a clean set in the rotation. If it was below 60 degrees out, there was a 100-percent chance I’d have them on under my baggies. They actually look pretty good with a pair of baggies, too. Tights don’t.
Those two pairs of Ibex knickers were my go-to for a decade. Even when they were new, the chamois in them was not very good, but if there was even the slightest chill in the air, or if my knees were bothering me, I’d reach for the knickers every time. After collecting a dresser drawer full of $250 Assos chamois (chamoises?) that make it feel like I’m sitting on a Lay-Z-Boy, I’d opt for knee coverage over ass padding. Gloves, helmet, jersey, baggies—I had plenty of options. But when it was chilly, I absolutely needed those knickers.
It wasn’t just the fact that they covered my knee that had me hooked, it was that they were spun from Merino wool. I’m a huge fan of Merino—I rarely wear jerseys made with anything else. Wool undershorts are rare, to say the least, and these things were awesome. They were warm when I needed them to be, but were breathable and kept me cool as well. And they didn’t itch at all. Merino is the perfect material for a side-season garment like the knicker, and it’s partly why I grew especially fond of those Ibex ones.
I still have both pairs, but like the entire company of Ibex, they’re not in the rotation anymore. That’s because Kitsbow went and made an arguably better pair of wool knickers to take their place—the ones you’ve been looking at pictures of.
The first time I pulled the Kitsbow Power Wool Knickers on was the morning I’d begin a 10-day bikepacking trip in the Arizona desert. In December. The intention was to pack light, so it was the only pair I’d have until our resupply 5 days in. Chancing an unfamiliar chamois for 5 days of all-day riding, with a fully loaded pack, was a risky move.
I know what you’re thinking: “This is a man who lives life on the ragged edge. A true risk-taker”
You know, sometimes jeopardizing life and limb to try a brand new chamois on a bikepacking trip pays off, as it did in my case with the Kitsbow Power Wool Knickers.
During those first five days, we rode in temperatures ranging from as low as 25, all the way up to 70 degrees, and my legs were comfortable the entire time. The Schoeller 3XDRY patches on the knees kept wind off my finicky joints, and protected them from hundreds of encounters with every desert thing that wanted to dig into my flesh.
The fit wasn’t ideal at first. They don’t have a ton of stretch, and I wanted the waist to be higher, particularly in the back, but after a couple days the new material began to relax a bit and they broke in nicely. At first I had a hard time keeping them in place, but now they fit like a glove and don’t move around at all.
After they broke in, I didn’t want to take them off. By the time we got to our resupply box, where I had a fresh pair of shorts and Kitsbow wool knee warmers, I was loving them so much I wasn’t about to risk messing around with warmers. Even a man who lives on the edge has his limits.
Unlike Ibex, Kitsbow put significant thought into padding, and went with a premium Cytech Italian chamois. I have to say that it’s not quite as perfect as Assos’s top-level chamois, but it’s damn close. And Assos doesn’t make wool knickers.
Speaking of wool, the Merino content on the Kitsbow product is just 21 percent, while the Ibex ones I have are 92-percent Merino. The Ibex were wool inside and out, whereas the Kitsbows have wool fibers against the skin, with a more durable synthetic weave facing out.
They’re also a bit thinner than the Ibex knickers, which make them comfortable in temperatures all the way into the 70s. I sure hope that after seeing this glowing review, Kitsbow sends me a second pair, because out of all the chamois shorts I own, these are all I want to wear from September through May.