Choosing the right apparel for your bike isn’t always easy. Often, it will depend on what type of bike ride you want to go, what sort of temperature you are riding in, how much you are looking to spend, how frequently you are riding, and your riding level. Let’s go through the essentials, useful add-ons and what to stay well away from for three different types of cycling, and hopefully, you’ll find what you need for a smooth ride.
What to wear out on your bike
We know that there are different ways to approach cycling, whether be going on long cycle rides, your daily commute, taking your kids out around the park or heading up a mountain...
The cycling gear must-haves
First things first, the most essential piece of cycling apparel you need, is a helmet. Consider buying a helmet as important as buying the bike itself. Cycling is an excellent way to both stay active and get around, but no matter the surface you are cycling on, it’s vital you are wearing a helmet.
When looking for one, make sure it has the CE mark, meaning it meets European standards, and make sure you find one that fits! An ill-fitting helmet can be at least an annoyance and at worst a catastrophe to your ride.
Once you’ve found the right helmet for you, make sure it fits so the side adjusters are positioned just under the earlobes, and the chin fastener is set just beneath the chin. To know it’s properly adjusted, you should only be able to vertically fit two fingers between your chin and the fastener which will mean you have the correct amount of slackness to the helmet straps. Your helmet may also have a retention system at the back, which will look like a dial or push tabs, which you can also adjust to make sure your helmet is snug but not too tight.
Another integral piece of apparel is clothing that makes you visible. It doesn’t necessarily need to be a high-vis anorak or pair of luminous trousers, even just a reflective vest or gilet will do the job once the days get shorter and the nights longer.
The nice to haves
When it comes to addons that make your casual cycling experience that much nicer, your first item on your list should be the trouser clip. For many regular riders, there is a constant concern regarding the bottom of trouser legs getting caught in the bike chain, leading to rips, damage to clothing and potentially, the cyclist coming off their bike. A trouser clip solves this issue, keeping any loose-fitting legwear in its correct position, and leading to an all-round better ride.
If you are looking to carry any belongings with you, whether that be a change of clothes or any gadgets, it may well be worth finding a bike bag that clips on, meaning you can free yourself from stuffing your pockets or being weighed down by a backpack.
Again, this is not an essential piece of cycling apparel, as it is weather dependent, but if you’re thinking about what to wear whilst cycling in the rain, bringing a foldable waterproof jacket with you, which if the heavens were to open up, will stand you in good stead.
The what not to haves
There are certain pieces of apparel that will make cycling less enjoyable. Denim jeans are one of them. For an activity that requires your hips and knees to continuously flex, wearing a material such as denim that pushes into your knees and groin, plus the hard and inflexible seams you often have on jeans, has the makings of a very uncomfortable bike ride.
If you can, it’s also good to avoid wearing heavy outer layers that have the ability to create a cape-like-look and a wind-sail feel, especially in bad weather. There are two reasons for this. The first is that despite often being waterproof, this type of clothing has the ability to rise up when it’s windy, leaving your bottom half exposed for puddle splashes, which will make it much harder to cycle. The second is that in windy weather, there is potential for your bike to be dragged around the road, which can be a cause for concern when cycling alongside traffic. Keep your outfits windproof, and to repeat an earlier point, not camo.
To back up another earlier point, for the same reason trouser clips are excellent for your legs whilst out cycling, not wearing old shoes or ones long laces will be great for your feet. Regardless of how much you cycle, getting items of clothing or footwear caught in your chain is no laughing matter!
Gear for becoming a road cyclist
While it’s great to just use your bike for everyday activities, committing to long-distance road cycling not only means feeling the wide-ranging health benefits, it also means having the correct gear. It’s certainly smart to get to grips with cycling on the road before you invest in a road cycling outfit, but once you do...
Once again, a helmet is essential. As you may be traveling at a greater speed, it might be worth investing in one that is more aerodynamic than a normal helmet (but no less protective).
When it comes to actual clothing, you’ll want gear that is generally more lightweight, more breathable, and able to handle moisture. This is certainly the case with cycling jerseys, shorts or tights. Your jersey should be made from moisture-wicking materials to keep you free from sweat-free and preferably a high neck to protect your neck from the sun. Also depending on the weather, you can also choose between ultra-light breathable material for hotter rides and thick windproof, water-resistant tops for trickier conditions. It may be wise to add a thermal layer to your kit, for the really chilly times.
It’s also worth having cycling shorts and tights made from stretchy lycra or nylon, many of which have an attached pad that can provide a nice cushion whilst you ride. For the longer rides, you’ll want shorts or tights with built-in braces, which will insure everything stays in the right place.
Although we've already spoken a fair bit about jackets, it becomes more vital when looking to go on longer road cycles, as being caught out in the middle of nowhere without protection from the elements isn’t a wise move. To put it simply, they can be put into three different groups, and each is good for a certain type of weather.
- Hardshells are perfect breathable waterproofs
- Softshells provide warmth and protection during a downpour and thermal jackets work best for cycling in colder times.
Also, if you’re looking to ride regularly, it can be a wise move to get yourself some cycling gloves, to protect your hands from blisters and dry, chapped skin. Look for a pair with a lightly padded palm and velcro strapping to make sure they stay in one place during the cycle. In the summer, you could also go the way of fingerless gloves, to stop your hands from getting sweaty.
The nice to haves
As there are a fair few essentials to an enjoyable road cycle, the add-ons might seem a cycle spin too far, so we promise that they really do take your ride up a level.
The first of these are road cycling shoes and overshoes. Not only will owning these items give you a more comfortable ride, the lightness and stiff shape of their design will lead to an improvement in your cycling performance. Many road bikes have pedals you can click your shoes into, which also make your cycle that much more secure.
Whether you’re cycling in sunny weather or not, cycling glasses may also be a good option. Not only is it a good way to avoid glare, but it’s also likely that you’ll pick up some pace whilst out on your bike, and by wearing glasses, you’ll be able to deal with windy conditions, meaning you can focus on the road without getting teary eyes. Many frames come with the ability to change the lens to match the weather, meaning you’ll be ready for anything.
Last but certainly not least, are cycling socks. While most thin socks will be fine when you’re just getting started with road cycling, the more you ride, you’ll want socks that stay dry in the winter and sweat-free in the summertime.
The what not to haves
While the previous set of don’ts still apply, potentially even more so with the demands of road cycling, there are a few more bits of advice to keep in mind when it comes to choosing your apparel. The first of these is making sure the cycling clothing you buy has a tight fighting feel. Being aerodynamic is an integral part of a good road cycling experience and the less your apparel fits, the less aerodynamic you will be.
It’s important also to not go for a sleeveless jersey when out cycling for the simple reason that leaving your arms exposed will not keep you safe if you were to come off your bike.
You and your bike vs. the mountain
When it comes to having the right clothing for a type of cycling, mountain biking is definitely the most important to get right. Known as an extreme sport, it’s an activity that requires your body to go take impact, even if you’re just riding across a flat surface, so you want the right to get your apparel right. Here's what to wear mountain biking.
They say repetition is the best way to remember, so one last time...a helmet. With both the unpredictable nature of the surface you will be riding on and the strong chance you will be going off jumps during your mountain biking career, protecting your head is vital. There are specific adjustable styles of mountain bike helmets that not only protect your skull but also have the capability to attach further protective gear whilst remaining comfortable.
Other important protective items that need to be worn whilst riding across tricky terrain include gloves, kneepads, and protective glasses or goggles. We’ve already spoken about wearing gloves, but with mountain biking, owning a pair that not only protect your skin but also from impact, is important. This is also the case with knee pads, as they protect a body part that you will need if you want a long career in mountain biking.
Vision is vital across all forms of cycling, but none throws up as many potential hazards to it as mountain biking. Whether it’s rocks, dirt, dust, twigs, glare from the sun, or heavy rain, wearing a pair of glasses or goggles to keep your sight unimpeded is essential.
The nice to haves
It’s always important to feel comfortable and confident when mountain biking, so while many of these are important, they will depend on a number of factors, such as the type of mountain biking you want to be doing and what type of temperature you’re riding in. Depending on the type of mountain bike you own, it may also be worth purchasing a pair of mountain biking shoes, which will commonly have a gripper, but stiffer sole.
For a more comfortable relationship with the seat of your mountain bike, it’s worth investing in a pair of padded lycra shorts, which go under the longer, baggier mountain biking shorts. Also if you are thinking about what to wear when mountain biking in the cold, a thermal layer underneath your jersey or t-shirt will stop you from catching a chill, plus a gore bike wear rain jacket will stand you in great stead should things get tricky up on the mountain.
The what not to haves
Anything you feel you can’t be agile in or are worried about getting ruined! As stated earlier, mountain biking can be tough going, so it’s about a combination of wearing the right protective gear and clothes you feel comfortable but sentimental about.