As you gear up for your next bike adventure, you may be wondering what in the world to wear. Or perhaps you thought you’d just throw on any old pair of shorts and shirts in your closet, hop on, and go for a ride. Dressing for any outdoor activity requires careful consideration, and that includes cycling. You want your clothes to be functional and comfortable. This guide provides the dos and don’ts of bicycle attire. By the end, you’ll know everything you need to know to choose the right gear, from your bike shorts to your sunglasses.
Dress for Success: The Dos of Bicycle Attire
As you prepare for your next bike adventure, you want the experience to be a success. The clothing you wear can make or break your trip as much as the bike you ride. Your kit is part of your collective cycling gear, and you should put as much thought into assembling it as all of your other gear. Follow these dos, and you’ll be one step closer to a successful cycling adventure.
Do Layer Correctly
No matter what time of year it is, correct layering is essential. Summer is the hottest season, but you still have to know how to select any layers you might need for inclement weather or cooler morning and evening temperatures.
Do Choose the Right Base Layer
The layer closest to your skin is your base layer. This layer helps to regulate your body temperature and moisture in warm weather and cool temperatures. A good base layer moves sweat away from your body. Choose one with the technology to match the riding conditions you expect. If it’s hot out, you want a base layer that allows for airflow. In colder weather, it should provide insulation to keep in the warmth.
Make sure the base layer is comfortable. It should fit you closely but also allow for easy movement. Test out how the pits feel when you’re in a hunched-over cycling position. If it’s warm enough, your base layer may be your cycling jersey. Your bike shorts, tights, or cycling underwear is your base layer for the lower half of your body.
Do Choose the Right Mid Layer
The mid-layer is the next layer out. This layer should work with your base layer in temperature regulation and moisture control. You’re primarily going to focus on your upper body for this layer. If temperatures are mild, you may only need to toss a short-sleeved jersey over your base layer top. In cooler weather, opt for a long-sleeved jersey. Look for UV protection tops that safeguard you against harsh sun rays.
Your mid-layer should be loose enough to allow for movement. You need to be able to move your body, and you also need a little bit of breathing room in cooler temperatures. This extra space traps air, providing you with additional heat.
Do Choose the Right Outer Layer
Even on a warm summer’s day, you don’t want to leave home without an outer layer. This is the layer that protects you in a freak downpour or when a surprise cold front sends temperatures plummeting south in a matter of minutes. On windy days, you’ll also appreciate a shell that blocks the wind’s cooling powers. Your outer layer may consist of:
- A shell vest for mild conditions
- A thin cycling jacket that is wind-resistant and waterproof for intermediate conditions
- A heavier shell that is insulated, wind-resistant and waterproof for colder and wetter conditions
Even if you don’t begin your ride wearing your outer layer, make sure you bring it along, just in case the weather turns. If you wear it to start, it’s easy enough to peel this layer off and stuff it in your bag once you get warmed up.
Do Choose the Right Accessories
Your accessories are the final touch, but they aren’t an afterthought. Cycling gloves give you a better grip and protect your hands from the impact of riding over terrain. When it’s warm out, you can opt for fingerless gloves. Wearing a headband or bandana helps keep your sweat off of your face and out of your eyes.
Make sure you have sunglasses that are suited for riding. The lenses should wrap around the sides to give you better peripheral vision. You may want to look for a pair with interchangeable lenses that allow you to swap out to a different tint when lighting conditions change.
Avoid Disaster: The Don’ts of Bicycle Attire
Wearing the wrong gear isn’t just about not looking the part of a cyclist. It’s all about safety. Poor choices create a safety hazard and can lead to disaster. Take a look at these don’ts in choosing your clothing for your next bike adventure.
Don’t Skimp on the Helmet
Helmets may all look similar, and it may seem like they couldn’t possibly do that much for you if you should wipe out, but this is one piece of equipment you should not skimp on. That doesn’t mean that you need to go looking for the most expensive brand on the market, but you shouldn’t necessarily look for the cheapest either. When you’re on a budget, it’s understandable that you’d consider price, but it should be the last item on your list of comparisons.
Compare product features first. Look for helmets that use multi-directional impact protection system technologies for improved impact protection. There also needs to be a layer of polystyrene, another feature designed to absorb impact. Your helmet should have vents that let your head breathe. Most importantly, it needs to fit your head properly. If you’ve never purchased a helmet before, it’s a good idea to ask one of the bike specialists for assistance to ensure you get a good fit. Once you’ve ticked off all the safety boxes and found a selection of comparable products, you can compare pricing and styles to narrow down your choices.
Don’t Wear Cotton
When it comes to cycling, cotton is not your friend. For any riding that involves the potential for sweating, you don’t want to don cotton anything. This natural fiber may feel great when you first start. It can be cool — as in, temperature, but looks works, too — and comfortable, but, as soon as you start moving enough to turn up the heat, you’ll find that there is nothing cool about cotton clothing.
The fibers absorb moisture, making the clothing heavier, stickier, and so much less comfortable. When you stop, the moisture you’ve collected in your clothes will cause your body temperature to drop quickly. This might not be such a bad thing if it’s super hot outside, but in cooler temperatures or breezy conditions, you’ll get uncomfortably chilled, which can be dangerous.
Don’t Wear Ill-Fitting Clothing
If you head out on a mountain-biking trail, you’ll likely notice plenty of riders wearing clothes that don’t look like a second layer of skin. In certain conditions, you can don shorts and shirts that don’t fit as snug as the Lycra bike shorts or jerseys you see road cyclists wearing. Even so, you don’t want your clothes to be too loose. Baggy shorts and shirts can actually make movement more of a challenge, just as too tight clothes do. Baggy clothes can also get caught on branches easily and increase wind resistance. The first situation could be dangerous, and the second slows you down considerably.
Don’t Go Sleeveless
When it’s hot outside, sleeveless seems like the way to go. They even make sleeveless bike jerseys. So, why is wearing one a bad idea? Imagine taking a spill. Besides your head, what else is likely to make contact with the ground? In addition to your legs, your entire upper body is vulnerable in a crash. Road rash is no fun. The shoulders are the widest part of your upper body, which means that they’re likely to get banged up, especially if you’re wearing a shirt with no sleeves.
Safety is a priority on any cycling adventure. Protective measures include the clothing you wear. It’s essential to choose shirts that cover as much of your upper body as possible. In hot weather, this means opting for long or short sleeves over sleeveless. The difference in temperature comfort is not enough to warrant baring your shoulders.
Don’t Dangle Your Laces
There’s nothing wrong with wearing sneakers on a casual ride across town, but make sure you pay attention to your shoelaces. When your laces are too long, they can get caught up in the bike chain. If that happens, you’re likely to come face-to-face with the ground. Your best bet is to wear shoes that have Velcro instead of laces. You can also look for those with a guard that closes over the tops of the shoelaces once they’re tied. As a last resort, tuck the ends down into your shoes. It isn’t terribly comfortable, but it’s better than having an accident.
Layering is key to making sure you’re prepared for whatever conditions you may face. When you wear the right clothing for a bike adventure, you pave the way for a more enjoyable trip. You get to focus on your cycling and the scenery rather than on how wet, uncomfortable, hot, or cold you feel.