Hot Picks for Cool Summer Kits – by Greg Gentle

Now that we’re deep into the hot summer days, I thought I’d take a moment to share some of my favorite pieces for the 2021 season. My inbox was stuffed this spring with shorts and jerseys from GORE Wear, Showers Pass, and a new brand for many of our readers–Donkey Label.

If you’ve been paying attention to the bike industry this year you know the global pandemic has wreaked havoc on supply chains across the board. The soft-goods side of the industry is no exception. I consider myself very lucky to have any samples to ride and review this season. Fortunately, was graced with some fine products to check out. Here are a few of my favorites so far.

GORE WEAR Explore Short ($130)

This season GORE Wear sent over a pair their Explore Shorts. New to the GORE lineup, the Explore Shorts hit the sweet spot for comfort, fit and style. At 7.1 oz, these shorts are super lightweight and pack down very tightly making them ideal for bike packing and off-road adventure. Whether you’re ripping laps at your local mountain bike trail or disappearing into the wilds chasing gravel, you will appreciate the freedom of movement in the 4-way stretch fabric and the materials high breathability when the temperatures rise.

I appreciate cycling wear that looks good and feels right off the bike as well. The Explore Short has a tapered leg opening and sleek profile. I would describe the fit as slim, but not a racing cut. Other features include a lateral adjusting waistband buckle, a zipper and snap closure combo, two front pockets, one zip pocket on the right thigh, and reflective piping.

One hidden, but well appreciated feature is a water-resistant back panel to keep the spray at bay if you find yourself out in the wet.  If I have any complaint about these shorts is a missing “gripper” waistline feature to hold onto to pair of bib shorts or chamois. While the adjustable waist buckles help, having a little silicone strip on the inside waistband would only improve on a great product.

I have taken these shorts with me to tromp the jungles of Costa Rica, paddle the St Croix River, bike pack through the Chequamegon National Forest, and smash hundreds of gravel miles this season. So far, the Explore Short has lived up to its name and earned a top slot on my list of must have clothing products for 2021.

Showers Pass Apex DWR Shorts ($105)

Showers Pass is the king of the foul weather game. No other brand has committed its product line to protect us from soggy days on the bike like Showers Pass. This year they expanded their impressive MTB shorts lineup with the Apex DWR short. As the name implies, the Apex DWR features a DWR coating to shed water like a duck while maintaining a no-nonsense off-road style.

Available in black and fatigue green, the Apex DWR features a 12-inch inseam, 4-way stretch fabric for free-flowing action on the bike, reflective accents for after-hours visibility, a two-snap closure with a hook and bar keeps the shorts where their supposed to be.

There are some thoughtful accents on the Apex DWR shorts worth noting. First, is a heavier gage fabric on the seat for durability. While this may add a few more ounces to the overall weight, I think it is worth it. I also appreciate having a zippered pocket on the rear to ensure safety and security.

Showers Pass includes a silicone strip across the waistband in all their baggies to make sure they don’t slide around if you’re wearing bibs or a chamois underneath. Two thigh vents allow for some cooling effects on a hot day while also doubling as a spare pocket.

The Apex DWR shorts comes in a regular fit. Sizing is available in even increments from 30-38. The shorts feature an adjustable Velcro waistband which I call a plus and a minus. I like having the adjustability offered by the Velcro straps, but I’m not a fan of Velcro on clothing because it can ruin other fabrics upon contact and adds weight to the product. Velcro aside, I’ve really liked the comfort and fit of the Apex DWR shorts from Showers Pass.

Showers Pass Apex Merino Tech T-Shirt ($75)

Showers Pass is adding to their casual riding lineup with the Apex Merino Tech T-shirt. This loose-fitting Tech-T has been one of my regular go-to jerseys all summer. This shirt checks all the boxes. From gravel rides to single track to an evening paddle on the SUP, you can’t beat the comfort and style of this understated shirt.

Like all merino products, you can wear this top for days without picking up the usual orders associated with active lifestyles making this a great travel companion, as well.

Available in four colors, the supple fabric was comfortable right out of the package. I’ve picked up other merino products over the years that require a few washings before they match the soft touch of the Apex Tech-T. Some may chafe at a $75 t-shirt. But you simply can’t beat the features of merino to keep you cool when it is hot out and warm when temperatures cool off. The Apex Merino Tech-T features an 87% merino 13% nylon blend to allow freedom of movement and to maintain its shape use after use. The sustainable, antimicrobial fabric is quick to dry, as well–flatlock stitching holds it all together.

I usually add a comment or two about possible improvements to a product, but I have to say this has been a perfect match for me this season. From trailhead to taproom, the Apex Merino Tech-T gets the job done in style.

Donkey Label Tech-T ($70)

Hailing from the great city of Minneapolis, Donkey Label has been quietly cranking out boutique-quality cycling wear for nearly ten years. Starting out with race kits for road and cyclocross races, Donkey Label has applied their “Hard working and humble” ethos to further expand their product lineup to cater to a broader rider base. Not into tight-fitting race kits? The DL Merino Tech-T has got you covered.

To be clear, unlike the Showers Pass Apex, the DL Merino Tech-T is still a fitted cut. My 6’ frame is comfortable in a medium, but a large would have been a better choice to keep the style more flexible for off-bike adventures. The DL Merino Tech-T shares all the great attributes of merino—moisture-wicking, quick-drying, and stink-free.

What is often overlooked in merino shirts is their bulletproof durability. Last week I was up in Crosby/Ironton, Minnesota riding some of the amazing new Cuyuna trails. Famous for its iron-rich, red soil, I decided to truly “shred the red”. A tabletop landing ended poorly leaving me in a heap on the trail. After examining the damage (bike first, of course) I discovered several layers of my flesh missing. Dry, hard trails will rival any blacktop crash as far as “road rash” goes. Cuyuna offers the added benefit of red earth ground into the mix. I landed hard on my right shoulder.  I was amazed to find the DL Merino Tech-T completely intact. The fabric showed no evidence of impact. Not so much for my shoulder, elbow, and knee. I expected that red Cuyuna soil ground into the fabric to be a permanent reminder of my mishap. However, after two washings the DL Merino shirt looks as good as new.

Like most merino tech-t-shirts, the DL shirt is a blend featuring 51% polyester/41% merino wool/8% elastane. Another added feature is a drop tail to keep your back end covered. Put it all together and you have a do-anything companion. 

Complaints? None. Comfort, durability, sustainability, and the opportunity to support a small local brand are hard to beat. I’m looking forward to more adventures with the Donkey Label Merino Tech-T Shirt making it a top choice for my Hot Picks for 2021.

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Order by August 7th, 2021 – Visit the Store to Order


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