The Nzo Active Zip-Off Dusters are a unique combo of trail shorts, trousers and street gear. With stylish looks and hardwearing, smell-resisting fabrics, plus three zipped pockets paired with a decent undershort, they are a strong contender for the best mountain bike trousers title, although they fare well for touring or gravel riding, too.
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Nzo Active Zip-Off Dusters MTB trousers - Technical details
Nzo Active has been making some of New Zealand’s most-loved MTB gear for over 25 years. Still based in the MTB Mecca of Rotorua, a frequent host of MTB World Cups and Red Bull events, the DNA of the brand is impeccable.
The Zip-Off Dusters are made up of three parts: the shorts themselves, and two pairs of zip-on lower legs. One set of the legs is tapered with an elasticated ankle cuff for riding, with enough width so as not to be a fight to get on but still keep the cuff out of your chainring. The other pair is a straighter leg for casual wear. The zips are black on one side, orange on the other - so it’s dead easy to get the right side on the first go.
The fabrics are carefully chosen to stretch and breathe in the places you want - to the point they feel and move like your favourite trackies. They are treated with Polygiene, an anti-microbial that helps keep them fresher for longer. This will be of interest to bikepackers and travellers alike - I’m partway through six weeks of travel including 24hrs of flying, and they’ve only been washed once after horrifically muddy MTB riding.
Technical features include three zipped and two hand pockets. My most-used feature, multiple times on every ride, is the zipped thigh pockets. They are perfectly placed and angled to allow one-handed access to a phone or snacks, holding contents firmly enough so as not to be noticeable when pedalling. If you aren’t schlepping cargo you can leave the zips undone for some ventilation, as the inside of the pocket is a mesh.
There's a third hidden full-depth pocket at the side of the right-hand hand pocket, that is very suited to securing keys or a phone if you don’t want to use the thigh pockets. Belt loops offer you extra down-trou protection, and there are two poppers holding the zipped fly closed. Off the front right belt loop is a small D for securing keys if you roll that way.
Fit-wise Nzo’s table is pretty accurate. The great thing about a garment made from four-way stretch material is that should you encounter some pan-seasonal girth disparity, they’ll likely still fit well enough to be usable while implementing a wardrobe sizing management strategy. If you find the legs too long, a few quid at your local alterations shop will see you right. The lack of zips or velcro around the cuffs is a bonus here in both adjustability and one less thing to break/wear out.
Nzo Active Zip-Off Dusters MTB trousers - Performance
This review is some two years in the making after Covid and Brexit delayed the brand's launch into the UK market with a Glasgow team and distribution. So for the last two years and in all seasons, I’ve been riding the Nzo Dusters on a close to daily basis.
The fabrics used on these trousers are perfect for the task - moisture-wicking, quick-drying and abrasion-resistant - all whilst being stretchy and quiet. There’s a large stretchy lower back panel to afford a good fit when bent over on the bike, but then not look silly standing up.
Zipping on and off can be done while wearing them –- on many’s days I’ve started off with full legs, then unzipped and rolled the lower legs into a doughnut around each ankle to get a bit of breeze going on –- then to zipped them back up to bash through some bracken or whatnot. Fashion be damned, and there’s usually only the odd Haggis to offer sartorial comment. I’ve zipped them on and off again during walks and general sifting about - it’s a revelation being able to control lower-leg comfort so easily.
There’s enough give around the knees that you can get away with a close-fitting knee pad under the long configuration - which again makes shoulder-season days that can start cool and end hot much easier to manage.
The best I can say about the Dusters is that they’re forgettable. Meaning on the bike, for MTB or gravel, you forget you’re wearing them. There’s no discomfort, no bunching, no noise, and no sweatiness, and when you need your phone the zips just work, one-handed. I crashed them hard at speed along the ground, putting me off the bike for three months with a separated AC - and you can’t spot the place where I impacted and slid. Box ticked for longevity then.
When you encounter rain they resist for a bit but then wet out but given it's a non-treated and non-waterproof fabric, this is understandable. But they still feel okay next to your skin and dry out within a short period of time.
When a conversion is needed due to temperature, the process of de- or en-legging is quick and frustration-free to keep bugs or undergrowth at bay. If you forget to wash them, they’ll likely still smell and look good enough for another ride. Dried mud pretty much brushes off, and after two years of crashing through bracken, pine and whatnot, there’s no sign of any pilling or snagging. All of the stitching is still solid, and if you didn’t know you’d think they were new.
If they have got plastered on a ride, 30 minutes in a normal wash and hanging overnight in the airing cupboard means they are dry to wear the next day.
My standout memory of a Dusters-powered ride was a two-day bikepacking loop through the Cairngorms. The breathability during hour-long grinding ascents, protection through heather-bashing singletrack and quick drying after burn-crossings made for a garment-stress-free ride, allowing focus on my personal inadequacies given I was riding with a Celtman Triathlon finisher.
Nzo Active Zip-Off Dusters MTB trousers - Verdict
At £99 for three garments, all of high quality and functionality, I put the Nzo Active Zip-Off Dusters up there on a class-of-one pedestal for value, function, looks and performance. It’s very rarely that I consider a product both Jack and Master of all Trades, but the Zip-Off Dusters are the closest I’ve ever come to multi-functional perfection in legwear.
Probably the closest comparison product would be the £70 Endura Humvee Zip-Offs. These are very obviously cycling trousers, where the skinny cycling leg is all you get and the fabric and features scream "bike". The Humvees feature DWR coating so will be better suited for rainy rides, but inevitably that means less breathability over a non-proofed fabric. They lack the large thigh pockets which are useful for large phones. So yes, while being £49 cheaper you’re not getting the functionality of casual, non-bike trousers/shorts. You certainly aren’t wearing them as your only pair of multi-month travel trousers.
The only - and seriously this is the only - issue I have with the Zip-Off Dusters, is that I don’t own two pairs, which I may have to resolve soon.