If you’re just heading out to the shops or popping down the road to see a friend, you can pretty much get away with cycling in whatever you wish. Likewise, if you’re riding your bike to a social event it might be best to turn up in your party clothes rather than Lycra cycling gear!
But if you’re planning on racking up some miles and making a long journey on your two-wheeled steed, it is worth kitting yourself out suitably to ensure your ride is as comfortable and enjoyable as possible. These days cyclists are spoilt for choice when it comes to clothing. There is a huge range of items that range in materials, purpose and price – from figure-hugging, high-tech gear to organic, natural fibre clothing, there is something for everyone.
Tip One: Layers, Layers, Layers!
Layers will keep you dry and cool in the summer months, and warm and dry during the winter. It is recommended that wear up to three layers: a base layer, mid layer and outer layer or shell. These three layers will ensure that you comfortable in any weather – lightweight, easily packed layers are the best as you can easily take them on and off as you need on your ride.
- Base Layer: Base layers come in synthetic and woollen materials, and their purpose is to keep you dry whilst you’re riding your bike. This layer will be in contact with your skin, and uses wicking to evaporate any moisture. Admit it; no one likes to be drenched in sweat when riding a bike, so this layer is crucial as the wicking factor moves body moisture from the skin to the outer layer of the fabric.
- Mid Layer: Riders usually wear one or two mid-layers, depending on how warm it is outside. These layers tend to be made of synthetic material, but may also contain traces of natural fibres too. In terms of wicking away moisture, mid layers act as an extension of your base layer, but is also used to trap air between itself and your base layer. When exercising, this air heats up and keeps you cosy when riding when the temperature is low.
- Outer Layer / Shell: An outer layer is normally used when it is cold and/or wet outside. You have two types of shells to choose from: soft shells and hard shells. The one you choose to wear should be dependent on the conditions which you will be riding in.
Softshell: A softshell will keep you dry when it’s raining, but still allow moisture to be wicked away and prevent you from feeling sweaty. A softshell is a breathable, lightweight, waterproof and windproof jacket that can easily be stashed away if the weather perks up. It will keep you dry in the rain, but if you are caught in torrential downpour you may well need to go find shelter!
Hardshell: A hardshell is suitable for those hardcore cyclists who continue to cycle when the weather really does get terrible. It is more bulky, less breathable and pricier than a softshell, but a worthwhile investment if you plan on cycling year-round.
Tip Two: Say NO to Cotton!
If you get caught in a rainstorm whilst wearing cotton clothing you will immediately understand why we are advising you to avoid this dreaded material when cycling. Cotton is not good at retaining warmth when wet. This means that if you get caught in the rain and your cotton t-shirt gets wet, chances are you will stay wet and cold for the rest of the day which is not pleasant at all, and in extreme cases can lead to hypothermia.
Tip Three: Opt for Specialist Cycling Clothing
Wearing clothes that have been designed with cyclists in mind will make your ride more comfortable. There are a wide variety of specialist items of clothing, but we recommend starting with two: padded shorts and cycling shoes.
- Padded Shorts: Do you enjoy having a sweaty, chafed groin after a long day cycling? No, us neither. That’s why you should seriously consider buying padded shorts, they wick away sweat whilst providing extra comfort. It is a good idea to apply chamois cream down there to further minimise friction and saddle sores.
- Cycling Shoes: Specialist cycling shoes have a rigid sole which barely flexes, which makes pedalling more comfortable and efficient for the rider because more power is transferred to the chain, crank and gear system. These shoes also reduce the pressure on your hips, knees and feet when cycling. A pair of touring or mountain shoes has a little bit of flex in the sole, and make the perfect shoe for a beginner or casual cyclist. For further advice on cycling footwear go check out our insider’s guide to cycling shoes.