When Jennifer Kriske started Machines for Freedom in 2014, she had no experience in the bike industry. She worked in restaurant design in Los Angeles, and she’d begun riding to relieve stress. She quickly came to love the places her bike took her, and the escape it offered.
What she didn’t love was her bibshorts. Kriske tried multiple brands, but she could not find a pair that fit her comfortably. So, she set out to design her own.
Since then, Machines for Freedom has built a reputation for beautifully designed clothing with a distinctively feminine flair. The brand aims to fit a variety of body types and was among the first brands to offer cycling kit in extended sizes (Velocio also offers extended sizes, https://velocio.cc/). When Specialized acquired the brand in 2018, Kriske continued to direct it.
Earlier this spring, Machines for Freedom released their first clothing line designed for mountain biking. It’ll also work for gravel rides, town bike rides, sitting on the couch, hanging out with friends, or drinking beer — just to name a few possibilities. I probably would not wear the off-road collection to my best friends’ formal wedding, but I am not about to stand in your way. You do you.
A go-anywhere feel is one of the strengths of this new Machines for Freedom collection. So far, Machines offers an undershort, two overshort designs — one with an 11-inch inseam and another with a 5.5-inch inseam — a sports bra, and technical tops in short and long sleeve. The colors range from earth tones to a bright pop of citronelle, and I appreciate the chill, minimalist branding.
True Confession: I love belt loops
Let’s start with the Key Shorts ($108), which are my favorite piece from this collection. Machines for Freedom starts with a brushed, stretch polyester fabric. It feels scrumptious. It’s also on the heavier side, which gives the shorts a nice drape. They fit close without any weird bunching or clinging. I put them on, and they just plain look good. The stretch ensures plenty of mobility for pedaling and the assorted wrangling that a good day on a mountain bike involves.
Machines for Freedom keeps it simple on the design front. Both the 11-inch and 5.5-inch shorts have an easy-going four-pocket design. The front pockets are deep and roomy, and the two rear pockets each have a zip closure. The brand also sneaks a slim, zippered pocket into the rear waistband that’s perfect for sunglasses, an energy gel, or a smaller phone. My iPhone 12 Mini fit neatly.
You know what really got me stoked about these shorts? Belt loops. Often, mountain bike overshorts have some sort of velcro situation for adjusting the fit. This is fine.
But you know what’s even better? An actual belt (I like the Patagonia Tech Web Belt ($35). Stretch fabrics are an amazing invention, but they don’t always retain their shape after an entire day out on the bike. Three hours from anywhere with a full plate of excellent singletrack in front of you, well, let’s just say that is not the best time to get caught with your pants down.
You can’t test outdoor products without breaking a few eggs, is a famous saying I just made up right now. In an effort to make certain these shorts stay on our bodies, Machines for Freedom uses a locking snap. This is super cool, unless you’re a kook like me. I did not notice the fancy snap and yanked on it, until it tore straight through the fabric. Attention to detail is maybe not my strong suit. The fancy snap is sweet. I am an idiot.
Machines for Freedom sells the Key Shorts by waist measurement, and there are 11 sizes, running from 24-38 inches. A small number of brands such as Wild Rye use numeric sizes for their women’s lines and have increased the number of sizes they offer. Wild Rye’s Kaweah short ($99), for example, is available in ten sizes, from 0 to 18. I love this trend, and I hope more clothing brands will embrace it. More sizes means more women can find clothing to fit them, which is a total win.
I tried a size 30 in the Key Shorts, and they are roomy. I am accustomed to clothing in the bike industry running slightly small, but in this case, I could have sized down. The Key Shorts hit at my natural waist and are cut to accommodate curves. If you identify closely with the peach emoji, these shorts are for you.
Since I ripped them out of their packaging, the Key Shorts have become a go-to for me. Yes, I destroyed the snap closure on the pair with the 5.5-inch inseam — my favorite length! — but a belt took care of that little problem.
I’m a fan of these shorts with one exception. Because of the heavier fabric, I would not choose these shorts for the very hottest, peak summer days on the bike. For hot weather riding, I grab the 7Mesh Farside Shorts ($120) or a long-time favorite (though they do lack belt loops), the Zoic Navaeh ($75).
Underthings: There for you
Undershorts have often been an afterthought, but recently, brands such as 7Mesh (Foundation Short, $120) and Club Ride Apparel (Women’s Drift, $44.95) have paid more attention to this mountain biking essential. Sure, I can wear boyshorts. I could also slip into a well-designed liner short and ride happily ever after. I know which path I’m choosing.
For the Foundations Liner ($68), Machines for Freedom starts with a lightweight lycra fabric. A chamois pad from Elastic Interface, the Endurance 2.5 HD, brings the comfort. EIT constructs the pad from breathable, stretch fabric. Thanks to the stretch, it doesn’t scrunch or bunch while riding, and as a very sweaty human, let’s just say, I appreciate all the breathable fabric I can get.
A narrow panel of mesh fabric runs in a u-shape across the back and down each leg. It looks stylish and adds some helpful air conditioning. A flat waistband slid easily under my outer layer and I didn’t feel it bind as I rode. I am a fan of a good undershort, and this one from Machines is a keeper.
The coordinating Foundations Sports Bra ($68) continues the aesthetic. It pairs mesh trim with smooth stretch fabric. The Foundations bra features a simple design with a high neckline, straight straps, and a wide lower band. A subtle black on black logo peeks out of an unzipped jersey. It also plays well as a solo piece.
I really wanted to love this thing, but as we all know, sports bras are a tricky business. The fabric on the Foundations bra is scrumptious. And, it is cute af, which is a key consideration. Unfortunately, the sizing didn’t quite work for me, and in particular, the wide band felt overly tight. I I tested an XL in the Foundations Bra, and it seemed to run small overall. I wear a size ten in lululemon’s Energy Bra, which is my go-to.
Tops: Where style meets performance
For the Short Sleeve Technical Tee ($78), Machines for Freedom blends performance details with a going-out top vibe. Machines constructs the body of the Tee from a soft modal and pairs it with mesh sleeves. The Tee features a cropped hemline and a swingy, loose-hanging cut. The result is a light, airy top that’s awesome for warm weather riding. The modal fabric is not quite as breathable as some options out there, but the loose cut and cropped hem keep the breezes flowing.
I liked the little black dress simplicity of this top. I tested a size medium, and it was plenty roomy. This is unusual for me, because as a tall human with wide shoulders, I often max out the size runs for women’s bike and outdoor clothing. Fortunately, the outdoor and bike industry have begun to inch toward more realistic ideas for womens’ sizing. Frankly, it’s about time.
I loved the idea of this fun Tee that also brings the technical features. But it didn’t quite work for my particular body. I am long waisted — my legs are laughably short for my height — and the cropped hemline hit a little too high to be flattering.
For hot-weather mountain biking, I pair the Key Shorts with the lululemon Swiftly Tech Short Sleeve 2.0 ($68), 7Mesh Elevate Short Sleeve ($50), or Patagonia Capilene Cool Trail Shirt ($39). Sometimes, I just grab a t-shirt out of the laundry pile. I’m not judging, if you’re not.
Bikes are for everyone
While the Machines for Freedom Technical Tee did not work for me, I am glad that it exists in the world. It’s a useful reminder of an uncomfortable truth: Mountain biking has not always welcomed everyone, and that’s especially true for women riders. Too often, the community has taken a narrow view of who rides bikes and what they should look like. Not surprisingly, clothing lines have reflected those same straitened ideas about who belongs out on the trail.
Bikes are awesome. Bikes are for everyone. I feel like I can never say those two things often enough.
This new collection from Machines for Freedom brings some much-needed variety to mountain bike clothing. While not all the pieces fit me, they will fit someone out there who may not have found clothing for them in the past. To me, that feels pretty great. Machines for Freedom has brought their distinctive feminine style to this new mountain bike collection. I’m here for it.