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Outdoor Research Goes Mountain Biking: 40 Years of Experience in Freewheel MTB Collection

Outdoor Research (OR) gear has graced hiking trails and mountain tops since it was first crafted in 1981. And while OR products have certainly traversed mountain biking trails, the brand had not ever officially made mountain biking gear.

Review Outdoor Research’s Upcoming 8-Piece Freewheel MTB Collection(Photo/TIm Newcomb)
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That all changes in spring 2024 with the March 2024 release of the Outdoor Research Freewheel MTB Collection, an eight-piece mix of shorts, tops, and accessories that takes the brand’s trail know-how and spins it mountain bike style.

Led by a new mountain biking short, the collection also features a short-sleeve and long-sleeve top, a half-zip hoodie, two differing pairs of gloves, and two hip packs. The design team leans heavily on proven fabrics and materials already in the OR stable, but certainly added twists and tweaks that are new to the brand and industry.

I tested the Outdoor Research Freewheel MTB Collection over multiple rides on the mountain biking trails in the far reaches of the Pacific Northwest (Galbraith Mountain was a key proving ground) to put the gear through its paces.

In short: The Freewheel MTB Collection from Outdoor Research is an impressive entry into the mountain biking space for a brand already proven on the trails. The apparel line, which comes in both men’s and women’s versions, debuts top-notch materials, fit, and functionality. While the accessories may still need some fine-tuning, the new collection may already be a winner.

Outdoor Research Freewheel MTB Collection Basics

Freewheel MTB Collection Hip Pack review
The Outdoor Research Freewheel Collection includes a 5L Pack; (photo/Outdoor Research)

From the get-go, fans of Outdoor Research will be excited to touch and feel the new Freewheel MTB Collection. The shorts borrow from the brand’s impressive fabrics, but come tailored for mountain biking and possess the durability needed for the high-speed trail. Popular pieces in the OR catalog offered reliable inspiration for the mix of gear in the collection.

The brand says it knew customers were already wearing its gear for trail riding but that the industry needed better-fitting, more technical gear. That’s clear in the OR approach, especially with the fabric on the shorts. This couples with the brand’s new DuraPrint 3D overlay for additional abrasion resistance without adding weight or impeding flexibility.

While we appreciated the approach to the accessories, we feel more excited about the apparel.

It’s hard to break completely new ground in mountain biking apparel. What I appreciated the most are the OR-proven fabrics and technical chops combined with true mountain bike fit. And the Seattle-based brand threw in a few fun features specific to the sport.

Freewheel Ride Shorts

Testing the Outdoor Research Freewheel MTB Collection
OR’s Freewheel Ride Shorts and Short-Sleeve T; (photo/Tim Newcomb)

Easily one of the stars of the collection, the Freewheel Ride Shorts ($115) layers over a liner. And the super-lightweight, stretchy fabric (88% nylon and 12% spandex) produces one of the best-feeling bike shorts I’ve ever put on.

They had an excellent fit, while the movement and stretch made them incredibly comfortable. The 3D overlay is designed for increased durability in high-abrasion areas. And the fabric boasts water and wind resistance, breathability, quick drying, and UPF 50+ protection.

The OR Freewheel Ride Shorts has a contoured waistband with a tall back for coverage and a unique slide-lock snap at the front of the shorts. This closure is new to the brand and ensured they don’t pop open when riding.

Laser-perforated holes on the back panel enhanced breathability, and a gusseted crotch that avoids seams in critical areas improved comfort. I especially appreciated the pull tabs on the waistband sides that allowed for small tweaks to the fit.

For pockets, the left side features a low side-loaded pocket, and the right side has a low top-loaded pocket. While I would have loved to see another traditional pocket for carrying a cellphone and keys when not on the mountain, the pair of zippered pockets were perfect for rides.

Freewheel Tops

Outdoor Research Freewheel MTB Collection Apparel
(Photo/Outdoor Research)

The Short-Sleeve T ($60) was a true delight on the trail. The fabric (90% polyester and 10% spandex) was comfortable, supple, and robust feeling. The shirt also had a good fit and ample length. The brand applied a proprietary treatment it claims adds to the thermal-regulating ability of the sweat-wicking UPF 30 fabric.

The contoured lower hem features a drop tail. There’s a partial rib collar to help hold it in place around the back of the neck. OR also removes seams on the top of the shoulders so you don’t get chafing if you ride with a backpack. The slightly longer sleeves, at just ¼-inch extra, added welcome coverage.

The Long-Sleeve Jersey ($70) didn’t have the same robust feeling as the T, but it was still quite comfortable. OR uses 94% polyester and 6% spandex, and the same drop-tail countered hem as the Short-Sleeve T. My short arms found the sleeves a bit long, but overall, it offered a good fit and mirrored many of the qualities of the T. It also had an interior microfiber wipe at the left hem to clean eyewear, a thoughtful bonus.

The stretchy Soft-Shell Hoodie ($179) fought with the T as the second star — alongside the shorts — of the collection. The brushed interior of the newly crafted soft-shell fabric really shined as a cool-weather option. And it’s wind and water-resistant. The hoodie material also seemed super strong and very abrasion-resistant.

The Soft-Shell Hoodie is 92% recycled nylon and 8% spandex. Like the other shirts, there are no seams on the shoulders for backpack wearers. And the three-panel hood was designed to fit under the helmet. I’m not a fan of hoods on my biking gear, so I would love an option without the hood.

It features a drop tail for coverage and a single zippered picket on the left chest. Think of this layer as added warmth and not a source of gear storage.

Freewheel Accessories

For as much as we loved the apparel, the accessories will require some additional tweaking to give the entire collection an exemplary review.

I’m not a rider who generally straps on a hip pack, but OR did a fine job employing a 600D durable shell for its water-resistant 5L Pack ($85). I appreciated how the pack features plenty of internal and external storage options. These include a net to store pads or jackets and compression straps to secure the load. And the pack is compatible with a water bladder and hose. OR will also offer a plus version that adds hip pads and longer waist straps.

Review Outdoor Research’s Upcoming 8-Piece Freewheel MTB Collection - Gloves
Outdoor Research Freewheel Gloves; (photo/Tim Newcomb)

The Freewheel Gloves ($39) offer a few differences compared to traditional mountain biking gloves.

If you’re not a fan of Velcro closures, then these may be for you. The Velcro-less entry features a nylon-spandex back mesh for stretch and breathability. And a “secure bonded stretch cuff” helped hold the glove in place. This system had a different feel, and while I didn’t love it, it didn’t hamper riding. The collar extends longer than many other gloves I’ve tested and sometimes got in the way of a GPS watch.

The gloves have somewhat skinny fingers, and the synthetic suede palm bunched slightly when gripping the handlebars. A second version of the gloves ($59) features goat leather in the palm and padded reinforcements.

While I didn’t love the fit of the gloves — from the fingers to the palm to the enclosure — I did appreciate some of the special mountain biking features. OR added stitching on the forefinger and thumb for reinforcement in areas that typically fray. And the silicone grip print on the first two fingers and thumb ensured that I didn’t slip when grabbing the brakes on downhill sections.

Also, the touchscreen compatibility of the gloves was among the best I’ve used. Lastly, the 100% poly terry material on the back of the thumb was designed to wipe sweat. I wasn’t sure how it would perform. But for a high-level sweater, it was actually a cherished addition to the gloves.

Outdoor Research Freewheel MTB Collection Aesthetics

The OR Freewheel MTB Collection isn’t just a one-color wonder. On the men’s side, the shorts will debut in three colors, the T in four and the other two tops both in three. There are three colors of the regular bike gloves and two of the leather-palmed version. The pack has three variations.

Black and blues play most heavily, while “bronze” and a green-feeling “grove” will also join the fun. The collection certainly has a cohesive look and feel, and the color scheme options should appeal to a large segment of the population. The array of choices should placate someone looking to get earth tones, go straight black, or even brighten up the wardrobe with either a vibrant or deep blue hue.

Outdoor Research wants to welcome all its fans — and new ones, of course — into the Freewheel fold by offering an extended range of sizing. The men’s collection goes up to size 42, and the women’s a 4X plus.

The Final Word

We believe that fans of quality technical gear will want to experience the Outdoor Research Freewheel collection, whether they’ve tried the fabrics and materials of Outdoor Research before or not. Outdoor Research has certainly made a quality entry into the space. And we’re excited to see additional pieces and tweaks over the life of the collection.

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