Ever heard the phrase, "Well, why don't you do it yourself?" Conation Collective is the product of wanting something that wasn't offered.
Long-time bike industry employee Matt Hayes loves riding bikes, loves high-end component technology, but often wondered why mountain bike apparel didn't keep up. After searching high and low to no avail, he decided to make his own.
"I wanted to create a line of clothing that married the technical functionality of a Lycra kit with the looks of casual clothing," he tells BikeRadar.
Crazy light and US-made
Conation's Pinstriped Baggy shorts are unlike any other bike-specific apparel I've seen or worn. They're crazy lightweight, and super breathable, but enable you to navigate the cafe, sandwich shop or bar without looking like an oddly sponsored alien.
Unusually, they're also made in the US. "American manufacturing is important to me," Hayes says. "Mountain bikers drink local craft beer and drool over beautifully constructed custom frames, but there isn't American-made clothing available. Conation Collective makes everything in America – from a set of stickers to our top-of-the-line jersey."
To achieve the low weight and ethereal feel, the shorts are distinctively minimalist with no snap or button, and no fly zipper, though there is a faux fly. The shorts come in waist sizes 30-36in, and feature belt loops if more adjustment is needed.
They make an excellent gateway for the Lycra warrior who's a bit hesitant to move on to baggies. Riding in them is as close to riding in just Lycra as I've ever experienced. As I mentioned, they're incredibly light, weighing a mere 163g. The four-way stretch is fantastic, adding to the 'nothing there' feel. In fact, these baggies are so gossamer, they've changed my opinion of light, thin material in any shorts I wear, whether on bike or off.
Even with their waif-like qualities, they're tough though. The shorts held fast as I took a high-speed, rag-doll crash into the ground. I was happily surprised, once I'd nursed my ripped-up forearm and bruised shoulder and ego, that the shorts looked no worse for wear.
Despite the lack of weight, it's welcome to see pockets on such seemingly minimalistic shorts. Two front hand pockets always make me smile for their off-bike usefulness, and a rear pocket that lays perfectly flat are included.
The styling and colors have also grown on me. (A lot of effort went into developing and making sure the plaid accents were just as Hayes envisioned – Conation went through three sample runs and multiple fabric partners before achieving its ready-for-production vision.)
Bibs like no other
Following suit, Conation's mountain bike specific bibs are like no other. Whether this is a good thing, or a bad thing is highly subjective. To start with, they're made to be worn under outer shorts, not solo.
Next, they are made from merino wool. Yes, the same stuff often associated with cold weather gear. However these wool bibs work well in the heat; they're made of mesh merino for all the breathability you've come to expect in bibs. And like the baggy shorts, they're lightweight, weighing in at 175g.
The bib's inseam is short, designed to stay hidden underneath the outer baggy shorts. The front, between the straps, sits very low for a couple reasons. First, these bibs are designed to be worn under other clothes; second, it makes nature calls a lot easier, and finally, it's just less material over your stomach for more comfort and less weight.
The chamois is an Italian-sourced product that's perforated to allow a bit more cooling. I found it to be neither poor or exceptional, but as I'll always mention on such personal-preference items, your mileage can and will likely differ.
The Conation bib straps are set wide. This worked very well for me, placing the straps outside of my nipples, thus negating the necessity of a chafe-preventing undershirt. It's worth noting that I have broad shoulders, and I could see how different body types could struggle with the straps' wide set nature.
Two pockets with angled openings are on the back. They're a nice place for gear that you don't have to access while pedaling, such as a tube, tire levers, multi-tool or a bite of nutrition.
Small loops are present to snap the bibs to the shorts. Conation holds that hanging the garments from your shoulders makes more sense than cinching them down to your waist. I've found that it keeps the baggy shorts from twisting, and sagging down or catching on your saddle.
Unusual kit that's a real grower
The more I've worn this baggy short and bib combo, the more I like it. I'll admit I didn't quite understand the concepts at first, simply because most of them were foreign in MTB gear to me, but I'm glad I invested the time to make a proper call.
A few minor nitpicks have surfaced. The snaps that attach the outer shorts to the liners could be stronger, for instance. I've found some on-bike moves are enough to un-snap the miniature buttons. Sitting down in chairs or in car seats also caused the rear button to unsnap – taking some major finger dexterity, or a very kind friend or spouse, to reattach while wearing.
The bibs' low central cut, while nice for the reasons mentioned above, also falls a bit low for my personal preferences.
Finally, this setup wouldn't be first choice for seriously bushy, overgrown trails, or lift-accessed trail smashing, as a stronger fabric, or one with a heavier denier, would likely snag less and likely shrug off the inevitable hits and scrapes better in the long term.
All in all though, the baggy shorts and bib liners that Conation has come up with go well beyond what any of the standard MTB clothing brands such as Fox, Dakine, Pearl Izumi and so on are doing. Conation has crafted some unique gear, and its uniqueness makes it great.
Conation Collective pricing
- Merino wool bib shorts: $119.99 / UK and Aus pricing not available
- Pinstriped baggy shorts: $139.99 / UK and Aus pricing not available