Cycle Clothing. What to wear

When you’re new to cycling it’s often tricky to work out what to wear. The weather will play a big part in how well you wrap up but a few basic principles will help you stay comfy.

Helmet
Mandatory on club rides.
It’s best to get fitted for a ‘lid’ (helmet) at your local bike shop. The side straps should meet just below your ears and the helmet should stay in place when you tilt your head (chin on chest) even without the chin strap done up. Cycle helmets (crash hats, brain buckets, skid lids) come in different shapes and sizes, so try on a few before you buy. A slight discomfort may not worry you short-term, but on a longer ride it might become really annoying.

Layers
Try to wear thinner layers that are easy to add and remove, rather than one thick garment. You may get hot on a climb but on the flat or downhill you might get cold, so being able to quickly adjust your layers is important for comfort. Be prepared: If you need to add or remove layers then you’ll need a way of carrying unused layers – this could be a rucksack, panniers, or simply tying the arms of the garment around your waist. Be careful of tying clothes around yourself as it’s easier to get them caught in the moving parts of your bike.

Materials
Avoid cotton unless it’s a specific sports weave, as this will soak up sweat and leave you feeling clammy. Instead, opt for polyester or merino wool – both are good at ‘wicking away’ moisture and also at keeping down odours. Sports specific clothing isn’t just a marketing gimmick – the materials are designed to keep you dry and comfortable. Bamboo fibres are becoming more popular, too.

Tops
Long sleeves or short, it’s up to you, but be careful of sunburn as well as the cold. If you’re wearing layers (and you should) then consider something easy to swap – a full-length zip might help, or something less fiddly to remove than a skin-tight layer. A short-sleeved polyester t-shirt or sports top, then a long sleeved one, followed by a jacket will give you plenty of options as a starting point. Adjust this according to the expected weather at the start and end of the ride – thicker materials for the cold and thinner ones for warmer days.

Avoid T-shirts and tops that have a design printed in thick ink, as this will act as a water barrier to keep sweat in. Logos should be ‘sublimated’ into the material or be minimal.

Watch out for high winds. Even on a hot day a strong wind will dramatically cool down a hot and sweaty body, so take a light wind-proof jacket.

Bottoms
Your legs are what will be doing the bulk of the work, and will get hot and sticky quite quickly. Shorts and/or leggings/tights are a good bet.  Again go for sports materials to disperse sweat; that includes underwear – see our article on saddle sores.

Gloves
Thin gloves for summer, thick gloves for winter. Seems simple enough, eh?

Winter gloves: Be careful wearing thick or ill-fitting gloves as these may interfere with braking and/or changing gear.
Summer gloves: Why wear gloves in the summer? Gloves are not only protection from the elements but also if you fall off. Your hands are often what take the brunt of an ‘unintentional dismount’, and a protective layer will help prevent gravel rash. Fingerless gloves are great for warmer weather as they provide protection and comfort, and they interfere less with gear changes and braking.

Cycle specific gloves sometimes come with padding at key pressure points on the palms, making longer rides more comfy.

Shoes
Assuming you are using normal ‘flat’ pedals, and not ones that are clipped to cycle-specific shoes, then start out with trainers.  After the ride make sure your shoes get properly air dried. To help reduce smells insert a few used, dry teabags or sprinkle in bicarbonate of soda. You can even stuff shoes into a plastic bag then put them into the freezer to help kill bacteria and so reduce smells. Wet shoes can be stuffed with newspaper and allowed to dry naturally.

Specific cycling shoes have very stiff soles that don’t flex when you pedal, which helps transfer energy to your back wheel more efficiently. Most have the ability to lock into special pedals using a ‘cleat’ underneath the sole that engages with a special pedal – they take some practice before you can easily remove your foot from the pedal.

Cold or Wet weather
Avoid thick and heavy coats as they are often too warm. Instead, go for more thinner layers. For short trips you might want to take a thin and cheap rain cover, but for longer adventures it’s better to get some good waterproofs. Cycle specific jackets have a longer back that keep you warm while you are in the cycling position.

There are some high-tec materials out there that will keep you dry from the outside while allowing sweat to evaporate from the inside. You certainly get what you pay for, and it’s worth asking other riders what they like to wear.

Waterproof socks are a cheaper alternative to waterproof shoes, but make sure you dry your shoes correctly post-ride. You may also need to a half-size or full size bigger on your shoes, as waterproof socks (especially thermal ones) may be thicker than your normal socks.

 

As you ride more you will learn what sort of clothing suits you. Got any advice you want to share? Please get in touch using our CONTACT page.

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