Cycling is an excellent opportunity to discover your surroundings, exercise and, most importantly, have fun. But to get the most out of your ride, you must be prepared for the different factors you may encounter, like the weather, terrain, etc, as these can influence how you feel while riding.
You might not need specialised wear if you’re just a casual cyclist or someone who enjoys taking quick rides. However, as you start taking longer trips, you’ll want to invest in bicycle clothing to improve your comfort and safety.
Is There a Difference?
There are a few characteristics of cycling apparel that set it apart from “normal” clothing. For one, it’s constructed of flexible fabric that streamlines the body, boosts aerodynamics and reduces lag time caused by folds in ordinary clothes. Another common aspect of cycling apparel is moisture wicking, which is a design element that moves perspiration away from the skin so it may evaporate more quickly.
What Clothing Do I Need for Cycling?
Nowadays, you’ll find many pieces of bicycle clothing available that cover you from head to toe. To further complicate matters, there are different versions of each piece of clothing depending on the climate. You can read more about these clothes in detail below, including what they are, what they do, and why you need them for cycling.
Why isn’t a simple cotton T-shirt enough, you might be wondering. Because drying off after becoming drenched in it will take a very long period. Although a cycling jersey looks like a T-shirt, it’s made of a technical fabric (or a blend with Merino wool) with fibres designed to drain moisture away from the skin.
These jerseys are usually available with long sleeves for winter and short ones for summer. But you can also purchase one with no sleeves at all for exceptionally hot weather.
There are also different fabrics, which range from thin, windproof, and water-resistant to thick, heavy, and durable. If you want something you can match with a variety of items and wear in different weather, go for a medium-weight short-sleeve design.
Why would you need anything underneath your shirt when it already keeps moisture at bay? Well, layering is integral to cycling. In addition to your jersey, you should also wear a jacket (which we’ll discuss next) and a next-to-skin base layer.
When it’s hot, the base layer transfers sweat from your skin to the jersey; when it’s chilly, it provides warmth. Thus, for year-round cycling, you should opt for lighter materials in the summer and heavier undershirts made of Merino wool in the winter. Depending on the weather, a well-made base layer can be used on warm or cold days.
Avoid wearing cotton base layers, particularly during cold weather. Cotton absorbs and holds a lot of moisture, so if you perspire even a little, you’ll be drenched the entire ride. And paired with the cold wind and low temperatures, this can increase your risk of hypothermia. Additionally, cotton underwear may cause rashes.
Base layers also come with compression-like characteristics that may improve blood circulation. As a result, they help delay muscle tiredness and improve blood flow, which leads to better performance.
A cycling jacket, often constructed of polyester, Lycra, nylon, and other synthetic materials, is the final item of clothing for your upper body. There are three primary types of jackets to select from:
- Thermal – for protection from very cold and dry weather.
- Hard shell – waterproof options, generally made of breathable materials to prevent perspiration.
- Softshell – lightweight, water-resistant and insulating.
Pick a design that is snug, but offers freedom of movement and room for other clothes. Make sure the collar can fit your neck securely by testing the seal. If the lining isn’t soft, it will rub against your neck and make the ride uncomfortable.
This is the clothing item that’s synonymous with riding culture. They feature padding (also known as “chamois”) for the crotch area and are stretchier than conventional shorts for smoother movement.
The chamois is, in fact, the most crucial component of the shorts – it’s what ensures comfort. The chamois can be a single piece of foam or it can have multiple layers of an anti-chafing, anti-bacterial, and anti-a variety of other materials on top of the lining.
The two types of cycling shorts that are most in demand are:
- Shorts with a waistband that is elastically held up.
- Bib shorts, which a bib holds up (built-in braces). They will resemble any other pair of cycling shorts if worn with a jersey.
Between the two, bib shorts are thought to be the more comfortable option as the elastic band doesn’t dig into your skin, there is less chafing, and there is no pressure on your waist. Though they may be comfortable when you’re out on the road, bib shorts were designed for riding, so they may feel entirely different when you’re just walking around in them.
Cycling tights are a good option when it starts to get cold but you still want to cycle. They are an excellent way to keep your lower body at the right temperature for performance while allowing you to cycle comfortably.
Depending on the climate, different cycling tights are used. Look for tights that cover your entire leg, all the way down to your ankles, for colder temperatures and wetter weather. Choose three-quarter leggings, which typically come in fairly light Lycra and extend to mid-calf when the weather warms up. Some tights have ankle zippers; these are great for layering and make it simpler to take off tights over shoes.
Like cycling shorts, many cycling tights feature an integrated chamois. However, some tights lack padding so they can be worn as a layering piece over a pair of cycling shorts.
A nice pair of socks help keep your feet from getting sweaty while on the road. Sweating feet in the cold could be a sign of illness. In the heat, it could cause excruciating scorching. In either of these situations, you won’t be a happy rider.
To prevent friction, the cycling socks should ideally fit snugly and have as few pressure points as feasible. Materials that are preferred include synthetic fibres. After absorbing wet, natural fibres like cotton expand, leading to friction burns, blistering, and hot spots. On the other hand, synthetic materials minimise irritation since they mould to the shape of the foot, absorb moisture more effectively, and do so often. A viable alternative to synthetic materials is merino wool. Its capacity to wick moisture, dry rapidly, and insulate even when wet makes cycling in the rain possible.