How to Choose the Best Cycling Clothing for You
Most sports activities require specialist clothing, and cycling is no exception. Of course, cycling can also be done without specific clothing or gear — if you casually cycle to work every morning, it’s unlikely you’ll arrive at the office fully kitted out in your cycling shorts and a high-end jersey. But if you’re going far and fast, or enduring all sorts of weather conditions, you’ll be much more comfortable wearing clothing specifically designed with cycling in mind.
While we’re not telling you that you need to look like the legendary Sir Chris Hoy on his way to winning Olympic gold, or Team Sky’s Ian Stannard, who recently entertained us at the Tour of Britain 2018, it’s important that the clothes you wear are comfortable and designed to give you the best cycling experience.
What Should You Wear When Cycling?
Let’s get into the nitty-gritty of choosing the cycling gear that’s right for you. Before you start shopping around, you first need to determine which kind of cyclist you are. Your needs will change depending on whether you’re a pro, long-distance racer or a casual commuter.
- The Casual Short-Distance Cyclist
As a casual cyclist, you’ll need the bare minimum to get you on your way. You’ll want your clothing to:
- Be casual and comfy
- Be stretchy (or loose fitting, depending on preference)
- Have zip pockets
- Have reflective trims
Freedom of movement and convenience is the name of the game here. If you cover short distances, you may not need a chamois pad, but it won’t hurt for you to have one for maximum comfort.
- The Commuter Cyclist
As a commuter cyclist, you’ll need to gear up a bit more to combat the elements, such as unpredictable weather, mud and puddles. You’ll want clothes that are:
- Casual and trendy
- Waterproof / Windproof (especially in the winter)
- Made from a synthetic fabric (such as nylon)
- Preferably some sort of lycra blend for shirts
- Reflective during low light situations
You want to reach your destination dry and warm. Of course, your top priority is staying safe — and your choice of clothes plays an important part.
- The Cycling Enthusiast
If you take up cycling as a sport at the weekend or whenever you have the spare time, you’re probably getting faster and going longer distances each time you ride. If that’s the case, here’s what you’ll need:
- Safety colours (for example, fluorescent yellow for visibility during the day and night)
- Strategically-placed reflective trims for low light conditions
- Gel-padded bike gloves
- Cycling shoes
- Cycling socks
- Clipped in pedals to make pedaling more efficient, stable and comfortable
Padded shorts require a VIP mention, as it’s been a point of discussion in cycling — especially for men — for a while now. Not all padded shorts are created equal. Some have a thin pad and are ideal for those who are conditioned to their own saddle, so just preventing chafing, while others, protect and cushion the bottom area and are breathable. A study into the qualities of shorts with different pads states that “pants with chamois pads are the most comfortable and allow sweat absorption.”
- The Long Distance Cyclist (or Racer)
If you’re a long distance racer, you might already know that you need nothing less than elite cycling clothing pumped up with the latest built-in technology. This includes:
- Air gel pad shorts
- Highly engineered chamois pads shorts
- High-end cycling jersey (with carbon fibres to prevent odour)
What Do You Need to Consider When Choosing What to Wear?
You don’t need to be an expert cyclist to choose the right gear. However, with such huge variety on offer, choosing what to wear can be a daunting experience. Regardless of which type of cyclist you are, there are five key points to consider:
|Proper fit||Appropriate cycling clothing will be designed to fit properly when you lean over the handlebars. Jackets and shirts have extra long backs designed to keep your lower back covered at all times, while legwear is high-waisted.|
|Movement||Your legs move most during cycling, so your legwear will be designed in such a way that it doesn’t impede pedalling. Cycling shorts and tights are made from Lycra to give you sufficient stretch and prevent discomfort.|
|Breathability||Cycling gear uses wicking to manage sweat. This is a process where water moves off your skin and evaporates. Wearing the wrong clothing will cause you to retain sweat, which can be uncomfortable.|
|Padding||Apart from the padding in your saddle, you also need extra padding in your shorts. They work together to absorb shock from the road and reduce the impact on your bottom as you cycle. Padding is available in varying degrees of thickness, but you should be looking for a minimum of one layer of foam. The even layer of soft fabric in your shorts helps to prevent chafing.|
|Efficiency||Cycling clothing is more aerodynamic than regular clothing and works by reducing drag to enable you to go faster. Cycling shoes should be stiff, so that you don’t waste energy flexing your feet on the pedals.|
The value of finding the right cycling gear can’t be understanded. One user at Cycling Forum UK says, “I appreciate the comfort offered by modern fabrics. When I started riding (late 60s), I simply wore old clothing, remembering the sweaty shirt clinging to my back during the summer and getting home on a winter’s evening to find I had trouble turning the key in the lock due to inadequate gloves.”
Find the Perfect Fit
We’ve talked about the benefits of wearing cycling clothes, but how do you make sure you’ve got the right fit? Cycling gear may be vital, but it can also be costly, so it’s important to be prepared to ensure you don’t have any headaches from purchasing the wrong size. Ideally, you should always try on cycling gear before buying, but if you’re buying online, that’s not possible unless the store has a good returns policy. In this case, you should always consult a sizing chart.
Jersey sizes can be a little bit tricky, as the mentioned size may fit someone with a specific build, but it’s a good place to start.
|Jersey||85-94 cm||94-103 cm||103-112cm||112-120.5cm||120.5-129.5cm|
|Waterproof Jacket||94-99cm||99-104 cm||104-109cm||109-114 cm||114-119 cm|
|Waterproof Jacket||87-90cm||91-95 cm||96-100 cm||101-105 cm|
NB: This is just an example of a size chart (this will vary per manufacturer).
Make sure that you first take accurate measurements of yourself before referring to a size chart.
So before setting out to buy cycling clothing, make sure you know which type of cyclist you are. You want to achieve the balance between overdressing — especially if you’re heading to a meeting — and staying protected. The best cycling gear that will stand the test of time allows for movement, is breathable, padded and durable, and made to fit.