What to Wear Cycling

Cycling Expert Jared Fontaine answers some frequently asked questions about cycling clothing and breaks down the dos and donts of what to wear on the bike!

A cyclist wearing a jersey and bike shorts is on their bike with a field in the background.

Photo by Markus Spiske

“What should I wear for cycling? Do I have to wear those spandex shorts? My seat hurts when I ride for more than 10 miles, so do I need a new saddle? Should I buy bike shorts? I have some chafing problems down there,’ so what should I do? What should mountain bikers wear?” These are the most common questions I hear from customers in the store or as a Cycling Expert on Curated. In this article, I will answer these questions and dive into cycling clothing and describe how cycling clothing can improve comfort—especially down under—aerodynamics, and speed.

Answers to Common Questions about Cycling Apparel

“Do I Need Special Bike Clothing to Ride My Bike?”

This is a popular question I hear from new cyclists. Bike clothing is designed to improve comfort, keep you dry, and improve aerodynamics. However, in some situations, wearing lycra bike clothing is too much.

Generally, I recommend purchasing padded cycling shorts if you are riding more than 10 to 15 miles. The pad is called a chamois which is named after the French deer hide that they were once made out of—until advanced synthetic materials replaced animal hide. It adds padding to the saddle to improve comfort while reducing chafing.

Your lower legs and butt constantly rub against the saddle when you cycle. Padded shorts will be overkill if you are riding one mile or so to the grocery store. However, when you ride for longer distances, your skin rubs against your jeans, undergarments, and saddle. This can cause chafing. Your sweat can then seep into your skin and cause an infection called a saddle sore. These are horrible. It feels like someone is sticking a needle into your bottom. Even Pro Tour de France riders leave the race because of saddle sores!

“My Seat Hurts. Should I Get a Soft, Cushy Saddle?”

Most people would think I would recommend purchasing a new gel cushy saddle instead of buying bike shorts. One customer told me he rode 30 miles without bike shorts. I cringed as I knew his pain. Ouch! The large gel saddle can increase chafing. As stated above, you don’t want saddle sores. So if your bottom needs cushioning, buying a new pair of bike shorts is best. If it still hurts, you can buy a new saddle that will fit you, but that is another article.

If you are still chaffing, you can buy chamois cream. It is a lubricant that works to reduce further chafing. You rub the cream on your chamois and yourself to reduce chafing. The cream is also anti-microbial to help reduce the chance of infection.

“Do I Need Lycra Shorts? I Don’t Like the Style.”

Lycra shorts are designed for aerodynamics and comfort for long riding. So if you are riding down to the store or are commuting, you might not need Lycra shorts. Lycra jerseys and shorts are designed to cut through the air for maximum aerodynamics. In addition, many advanced jerseys have different textures on the shoulders to slip through the wind as efficiently as possible.

Also, skin-tight Lycra will not get hung up on the saddle. Sometimes clothing will wrap around the saddle and pull your pants down. I have had this happen. Thank goodness no one was around. Moreover, your pants can get hung in the bike’s drivetrain and can rip your nice pants. In addition, if you are gravel or mountain bike riding, sometimes your pants or jersey can get snagged by a branch, which will not happen with Lycra.

If you are commuting and don't like the Lycra look, there is cycling clothing you can consider. Cycling clothing is designed for comfort and has the same wicking design to draw sweat away from your skin to keep you dry and reduce pedaling chafing. They also make cycling shorts designed to be worn under regular clothes until you get used to Lycra.

Bib Shorts or Regular Shorts

A cyclist in cycling clothing standing in front of a Tour de France sign.

Photo by Jared Fontaine

There are two types of Lycra shorts for road cycling: shorts and bibs. The entry-level padded option is regular shorts. They are best for beginners to the sport. Shorts are normally more affordable and have a beginner cycling pad. Getting a set of these shorts will be a major upgrade from wearing pants and undergarments on a hard saddle.

The main issue with shorts without the bibs is chafing. Advanced riders use bib shorts to reduce friction on the saddle and improve comfort. Without the bibs holding the chamois directly on your sit bones, the chamois will move around and cause more chafing. Moreover, the shorts can get hung on the saddle and pulled down. With straps on the shoulders, this will never happen.

Also, bib shorts don’t have an elastic band around the waist. After riding for hours, the band around the waist can sometimes restrict breathing and be uncomfortable. So more advanced riders use bib shorts or road speed suits where the shorts and jerseys are a one-piece. This reduces irritation from bibs. Also, the chamois in premium shorts offer multiple densities and are multi-layered so that the sit bones get more cushion and other areas get less padding to reduce chafing.

The main problems with bib shorts or road skin suits are bathroom breaks. You have to take your jersey off to go to the bathroom, and it can be challenging for women riders.

Jerseys

Three cyclists wearing jerseys and biking on a road.

Bike jerseys are a great upgrade from a regular T-shirt. Along with moisture-wicking capabilities, more premium jerseys have mesh on the back of the jersey to provide more ventilation on the hottest days in the Alps.

Moreover, cycling jerseys have rear pockets to hold your phone, keys, wallet, food, and whatever else you need. The pockets keep your supplies safe when you are cycling. For example, if you are riding in regular shorts, your wallet can easily fly out of your pants while standing on the pedals. Some jerseys have a zipper pocket to secure your keys and wallet. Also, all cycling clothing has an anti-microbial treatment to reduce smell and saddle sores and to keep them fresh for future rides.

Consider buying a full zip jersey so that you can unzip the jersey to cool you down on super hot days or when you are climbing in the mountains.

Fit

A cyclist in winter gear on a bike.

Winter riding in Montnegro. This is an example of winter gear, summer shorts with warmers, vest. Photo by Jared Fontaine

Many cycling brands such as Castelli, Pearl Izumi, and Rapha have a club fit and a race fit. The race fit is tighter and closely fits the body for improved aerodynamics. It can be slightly less comfortable and restrain movement. Also, the race fit is designed to be worn in an aerodynamic riding position. So if you’re walking around the coffee shop on a break, the overall fit can feel too tight.

Club road jerseys and shorts are made for more casual riding such as Gran Fondos and charity rides. The overall fit is more forgiving for long rides and coffee shop breaks. A club-fit jersey can be more comfortable if you are heavier or older.

Women’s Clothing

A woman cycling.

Photo by Coen Van De Broek

Women’s cycling clothing is designed to fit their bodies. Since women have wider sit bones than men, women’s cycling chamois are shorter and wider for improved comfort. Also, there are women’s specific chamois creams if needed.

Many women’s cycling bib shorts have drop-tail straps to make bathroom breaks easier. The bibs have a device on the back to allow women to detach the straps from the shorts, so they don’t have to take off their tops to go to the bathroom. Each company has different designs.

Visibility

Top down view of a cyclist in a red jersey.

Photo by Loka Studio

This is more controversial as the trend for cycling is to go to darker muted tones. Since I have been hit twice by a car, I believe in being as visible as possible. So I suggest wearing brighter colors and clothing with reflective strips. I use lights, but some states have made it illegal to ride with a flashing red light, and some motorists will state your lights are too bright.

The human eye sees movement before it notices anything else; therefore, I add obnoxious bright colors on my feet and head, especially in the wintertime, when it is dark outside, and visibility is low already. I also wear a bright helmet because my head moves, which helps motorists recognize that a human is riding in front of them.

I already wrote about how to dress for winter; you can find it here. I recommend wearing at least bright socks, shoes, and overshoes because people will see bright orange or high-visibility feet moving up and down from a mile or more away.

A few companies make super reflective clothing for both commuters and road cyclists. The clothing has strips of reflective material so that when the light of a car shines on it, it reflects.

Baselayers

Baselayers are great for commuters and winter riding. I generally don’t wear them in the summertime. Baselayers come in short and long sleeves and are made from fabrics designed to wick away sweat to keep your core dry. This is very important in the wintertime because once you get wet climbing a mountain and descend, the wetness will really chill your core temperature down, causing you to freeze on the descent. Most long-sleeve baselayers are made for cooler temperatures and are made from merino wool since merino wool is great for quick-drying and keeping you warm. I talked more about baselayers in my winter cycling article.

Gloves

Gloves have fallen out of fashion, but they are a great part of your kit in the summer. Gloves reduce the amount of road vibration or road buzz transmitted into your hands. The road buzz can cause numbness of the hands, and the pad shields you from this.

Gloves also protect your hands from getting scratched up in a crash. A sliced palm is not fun because it hurts to pick up anything, so gloves really shield you from this.

For advanced riders, really thick padding on the pads can take away the “feel” of the bike and how it handles. So advanced riders have multi-density thinner glove pads that accomplish the same goal.

Conclusion

View of a cyclist in the road looking towards a mountain.

Photo by Jared Fontaine

Hopefully, you now have an idea of cycling clothing you can get for commuting and road cycling. These clothing articles will keep you protected from the elements, make you faster, and keep you comfortable and dry. If you have anymore questions about how to pick out bike shorts, ways to prevent saddle sores, or other cycling products you can contact me or another Cycling Expert on Curated.

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Written By
Hi! I am a lover of professional cycling and training. I have been cycling well over 10 years and I usually go to Europe to see the Tour de France and the Giro. I have ridden most of the France mountains in the Tour like Alp d'Heuz, the Galibier, and others. Moreover, I have ridden in Ireland, Germa...

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