Outdoor clothing brand The North Face have launched a new mountain bike range, which includes waterproofs, softshells and shorts. We headed to the suitably mountainous surrounds of the Lake District for the official launch.
There’s nothing revolutionary in the line-up, which will be available in February, but we like what we’ve seen of their ‘basic essentials done well’ range so far. As well as specific logo and trim details, the new off-road line mixes headline Gore-Tex fabrics with proprietary North Face brands like Hyvent.
The gear has been designed by a specific Northern European bike range team, and will be totally separate to any cycling-specific clothing produced for the US market, which North Face perceive as significantly different.
The company made it very clear that they’re not expecting to explode onto the scene, but hope to gain a long-term position in the mountain biking market for more lifestyle-brand-aware buyers. Or, as key account manager Anthony Emmet put it: “Protecting the technical element and brand heritage is crucial; successful sales will follow that.”
They’re also unapologetic about targeting current technical clothing leaders Gore Bike Wear in both performance and pricing terms, but aiming for a more versatile style and appeal. That’s seen them split their offerings into two broad themes: ‘Freeride’ and ‘Fitness’. So, what does the opening line-up actually consist of?
The £160 Xenon jacket (we said they were influenced by Gore!) is their flagship waterproof. It uses Gore-Tex Paclite Ripstop material in an articulated sleeve, dropped rear and high collar cycling-specific cut.
Neat details include magnetic top closure on the zip garage, lock-down zips so they don’t open accidentally and low-abrasion Velcro on the cuffs to stop snagging in the wash. It’s designed to be packably light at 380g for a size medium and there’s a women’s version too.
The £110 Muddy Tracks jacket is very similar but uses North Face’s own HyVent fully waterproof fabric. Soft seam tape and Elastane in the face fabric give useful stretch while a nylon print is used to wick away sweat and keeps it from wetting out inside on climbs.
This is the jacket we spent most time riding in, and the fabric coped well with some long grinds up the fells without feeling too cold and clammy on the descents. While there’s no venting, the wide opening sleeves mean easy blood cooling at the wrists and the cut works well on the bike or wandering about with the dog. There’s a back pocket that lets it swallow itself too.
The £125 Dirt Track jacket is probably the most versatile piece in the range for hard riders. The main body is Gore-Tex Windstopper Active softshell, with sides and some of the back panelling made from North Face’s Apex Aerobic stretch microfibre fabric for faster wicking.
The sleeves are removable to create a wind/weatherproof gilet, with small hip stash pockets for the amputated limbs. Again there’s a ‘feminised’ version too, with different cut, different reflective print, teardrop zip pullers and pink contrast zips.
If a full softshell body is too hot or expensive the £90 Puddle jacket (and Puddle vest £65) gets the same detailing and cut as the Dirt Track, but with fixed sleeves and just a Windstopper Active front panel.
There are also a range of technical shirts. The £50 Muddy Tracks shirt mixes a poly pro inside layer for wicking with a polyester outer face for fast drying and durability. There’s even more breathable contrast fabric inside the arms while seamless shoulders and flatlocked seams keep it comfy under packs.
Reflective details and a small zipped pocket above the logo’d silicon hem gripper complete the long sleeve version. The £45 short sleeve equivalent gets more mesh on the back and a more traditional three-pocket rear.
For faster, sweatier riders the £40 VTT 1/2 zip Tee is an altogether closer fit and uses blended polyester/minerale fabric for an anti-odour effect that’s designed to make multi day use easier on the nose.
There’s an outwardly less bikey looking Crew shirt in the same funk-fighting fabric for £35 too. Obviously ladies just glow rather than perspire, but they still get a full range of shirts based on the same basic line-up, but with different detailing, asymmetric cuts and a sleeveless tank top option too.
Given the fact it had dropped to freezing on the way over the Pennines for the first time this autumn we also got the chance to test some of North Face’s new base layers. These come in three weights – light, hybrid and warm – and use extra long continuous polypropylene yarns for minimal bacteria build up.
As you’d hope for your most intimate insulation, they’re designed for maximum comfort, minimal moisture hold, very quick drying plus an easy-to-wash life. Cue very few seams, coiled construction for a close fit and printed wash instructions to stop label itch.
The Light base we tried was certainly very comfortable on, with long back and sleeves stopping gaps, and very quick to clear damp patches. The Hybrid is a poly and elastane, body mapped and contoured design, while the Warm is simply a double layer version of the Light which is more thermo efficient than using thicker fabric.
North Face aren’t afraid to punch below the belt either. The £110 Dirt Track pant is a soft, almost tracksuit-feeling Windstopper Active fabric with DWR treatment for splashproofing plus waist tabs and articulated knee cut for fit.
The Muddy short (£55) is a full HyVent shell short in a relaxed fit that’s just longer than the knee. The completely clean front and high rear should give great weatherproofing over a liner or bib.
The Lavada stretch short (£75) is their all-round trail short. The peached nylon stretch fabric sounds a bit fruity, but dries fast and doesn’t rustle or blow about too much. We were particularly impressed with the totally unobtrusive yet lumbar warming, fleece lined high back cut as well.
It comes complete with a removable pop-in/out liner short with a Coolmax, anti bacterial, fast wicking pre-moulded synthetic chamois which was equally unnoticed on our two-hour roll-out.
Deep belt loops, plus thigh and hand pockets, and rear vents, make it look totally acceptable off the bike and there’s a women’s version too. The £70 Muddy Tracks short is essentially the same as the Lavada but with heavier duty ‘peached’ nylon right through.
The £40 VTT short is a shorter leg, shell short with one thigh pocket and two hand pockets, in the same fabric as the Muddy Tracks. There’s no liner short included though.
As well as baggy shorts North Face have produced what they consider the two skin short essentials. The £65 Spoke 3/4-length bib short is made of a stretch Coolmax nylon fabric, with mesh braces and back, and a denser, broader coverage Essegi pad than in the baggy liners.
There’s an un-bibbed Spoke short with the same pad for £50 in both men’s and women's versions too. There’s no 3/4 length bib for lasses though, just a strapless Capri cut.
North Face are also making full-finger Dirt Merchant (£30) and Propel short finger (£20) gloves in a unisex XS- XL range, and they do socks too. No plans for SPD versions of any of the shoes in their extensive footwear range though.
Last but not least are these totally non-technical but great looking North Face T-shirts, complete with a neat chainring tweak of the North Face double dome logo. The full range will be available in February, but we’ll have some exclusive preview tests in Mountain Biking UK, What Mountain Bike and here on BikeRadar soon.