How to Dress for Cycling and Mountain Biking
For some people who want to get into road or mountain biking, the clothing associate with the sport can be intimidating. We don’t want that to be the case, so we’ve thrown together this cycling fashion guide to help you find quality clothing and look good out on the saddle. This guide will primarily cover cycling clothing (shoes, helmets, and sunglasses will be covered in other guides).
Bike-specific shorts and bottoms have a purpose: They prevent chafing that is likely to occur if you ride for long distances in regular shorts or pants. Additionally, they help prevent saddle sores through the use of an integrated, specially-designed pad called a chamois (pronounced SHA-MEE). Be aware that not all chamois are created equally, and the quality of the chamois contributes to the price.
Here are your options when it comes to cycling bottoms:
Tight-fitting road cycling shorts are typically made from Lycra, so they stretch and compress, enabling movement while reducing air resistance.
Mountain bike shorts are typically baggy. Many come with a removable base layer that has an integrated chamois (often called a liner). Some people like to ride with road shorts underneath the baggies when the liner isn’t up to snuff.
If you mostly ride around town and don’t feel comfortable in the skin-tight cycling shorts, mountain bike shorts are totally acceptable to wear. Or just throw a liner or road shorts under your regular clothes.
While most cycling shorts are higher in the back to account for the bend of a bike rider, many cyclists prefer the security of bib shorts. These are cycling shorts with integrated straps that go over your shoulders like suspenders, similar to a wrestler’s singlet.
Bib shorts just give you an added sense of security and help you ride more comfortably on the bike, so you don’t have to worry about flashing your plumber’s crack to passing motorists. Usually, the upper portion of the bibs is made from a porous, jersey-like material to help you stay cool.
Tights and Capris
For cooler weather and for those who like more compression, tights and capris tights are the way to go. Just make sure you get cycling-specific tights, as any old compression tights won’t have a chamois to protect your sensitive tissues.
Some cycling tights include stirrups to keep them from riding up your calves while you pedal. Some are fleece-lined for winter riding. You can also find bib tights for the same added security and coverage as bib shorts.
What makes a cycling shirt a cycling shirt? When it comes right down to it, it’s the material, the cut and the pockets. The material is designed to keep you cool. The cut is designed to provide coverage on your back while allowing you to easily reach forward to hold the handlebars.
Road Cycling Jerseys
Road jerseys are form-fitting to reduce drag. They typically feature elastics around the waist hem and the sleeve hems. Most have quarter-zip or full-zip closure in front that allows you to adjust the air flow into your torso to regulate body temperature. Many include pockets in the long back where you can stash snacks or other items you’d like to access during your ride.
Like MTB shorts, mountain bike shirts are typically baggier than road jerseys. With that said, there is a range of styles in mountain biking. Many all-mountain or XC riders wear slimmer-fitting shirts with more of a tee-shirt cut. As you move along the spectrum toward downhill riding, the shirts start looking more like motocross jerseys. With that said, you’ll see a wide variety of cuts and designs in the mountain bike world, and you can wear whatever you feel most comfortable in.
Cycling jackets are usually made of thin nylon or polyester. Their main job is to provide an extra layer of protection against cool wind, but you can find some that are also made to keep out water for those days when you get caught in the rain. Most cycling jackets are longer in the back to provide more coverage when crouching. Many have zippered vents to help you regulate temperature.
Gloves provide some extra cushioning for your hands, with the end goal being to protect your hands from fatigue. They also provide some protection if you happen to crash.
Primarily used in road cycling, short-finger gloves give you cushioning and support without being too warm. If you're worried about saving weight, look for minimalist gloves that have little padding with extra breathable uppers. Other good features to look for are gel pads, quality leather palms, and pull tabs to make removal easier.
Mountain bikers prefer long-finger gloves for the added protection they provide, though some road cyclists and urban riders also prefer them. Look for quality leather palms, gel padding, and good Velcro wrist closures. Downhillers and free riders should look for gloves with armor on the knuckles and tops of the hands.
While regular long-fingered gloves may provide some protection from cool air, you may want to get a pair of insulated gloves for riding in early spring and winter. Just a couple of millimeters of neoprene or some other insulating material goes a long way to keep you comfortable on chilly mornings.
Cycling socks are made from breathable materials and feature a sturdy cuff to keep them from bunching up around your ankles. Polyester and Merino wool are the preferred fabrics for cycling socks. Wool has the added advantage of not trapping odors like other materials. Look for socks with mesh panels to help keep your feet cool. Some may also have compression panels sewn in for added support.
The more important question is how tall your socks should be. In recent years, long socks have been popular. But every few few seasons the styles seem to change, so it's a good idea to get a couple pairs of both longer and shorter socks.