Choosing your Cycling Clothing: 10 Essentials for Riding


April 13, 2023


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Cycling clothes

You have found the bike of your dreams and would like to start your season with new clothes and accessories? Winston Endall, seasoned cyclist and outdoor specialist at SAIL, lists for you the essential cycling clothing. He shares his advice to help you choose the right cycling clothes for men and women.

If you want to know everything about cycling jerseys, gloves, shorts and more, you have come to the right place. Ready to move up a gear?

In this article, you will learn more about:

  1. Fitted bike jersey
  2. Casual mountain bike jersey
  3. Bike jacket or vest
  4. Cycling shorts
  5. Cycling bib shorts
  6. Mountain bike shorts
  7. Cap or beanie
  8. Sunglasses
  9. Cycling gloves
  10. Socks
  11. FAQ

Cycling Clothing: Basic Rules

When it comes to cycling clothing, there are no strict rules. The important thing is rather to choose bike clothing and accessories that provide good ease of movement, while maximizing comfort. Above all, equip yourself according to the season: protect yourself against bad weather and the cold, depending on the time of year and the weather outside. Think also about breathability, as well as aerodynamics if you have performance goals.

Keep this simple principle in mind: clothes are interchangeable, which means no item is restricted to one type of bike. There are, of course, some general guidelines. For a road bike outfit, for example, choose fitted clothes to reduce friction with the air.

One of the ultimate essentials you will most likely want is cycling shorts with a chamois pad, i.e., soft cushioning that will protect your rear. Indispensable for road biking, it is also essential for mountain biking, fat biking and all-terrain road biking (gravel bike).

Clothing or accessory Mountain bike Road bike Gravel bike Hybrid or electric bike
Fitted bike jersey ✔ (cross country mountain bike)
Casual mountain bike jersey ✔ (just a t-shirt or athletic shirt)
Bike jacket or vest
Cycling shorts
Bib shorts
Mountain bike shorts
Cap or beanie
Sunglasses ✔ (classic style) ✔ (wraparound or futuristic style) (if needed)
Cycling gloves ✔ (full finger gloves) ✔ (short gloves) ✔ (short gloves) (if needed)

Cycling Clothing: Tops

Fitted Cycling Shirt

Cycling Jersey

A cycling jersey, with or without sleeves, is a light and fitted garment which helps reduce friction. Several fits are available, from the most comfortable to the most skintight. It all depends on your practice and your goals. Wear a base layer underneath as needed, as long as it is breathable and wicks sweat away from your body.

For which biking types? Road biking, gravel biking, and cross-country mountain biking. A jersey is a “basic” cycling garment for both men and women.

Features and materials to look for: Back pockets, ideally three so you can slip snacks in them; a front zipper to open when it gets too hot; a close fit; synthetic and technical stretch materials – like a mix of polyester and elastane – which are breathable and dry quickly. 

Advantages: A cycling jersey offers good breathability and promotes aerodynamics. Long-sleeved models also provide protection from the sun in summer, or from the cold in fall or spring. Note that it is also possible to add extra sleeves to short-sleeved jerseys.

Brands to explore: You will find at SAIL a beautiful collection of cycling clothing for men and women. For your cycling shirts and jerseys, you can select brands like Castelli, Craft, Garneau, Maloja or Sportful without hesitation.

Casual Mountain Bike Shirt

The ideal mountain biking jersey is looser, to promote air circulation without generating too much flapping or hindering your movements. There is usually no back pocket, but it can be replaced with a hydration bag.

For which biking types? Mountain biking, all-terrain road biking (gravel) and hybrid bike riding.

Features and materials to look for: A t-shirt that can wick away moisture; a loose and relaxed fit; light and resistant stretchy synthetic materials like polyester; UV protection…

Advantages: A polyester mountain bike jersey dries quickly and gives you a sporty look without making you look like a Tour de France rider. Models with longer sleeves also offer better protection against tree branches and obstacles on wooded trails.

Brands to explore: To go play on the trails, trust brands like Craft, Dakine or Smartwool.

Cycling Jacket and Vest

A cycling jacket or vest is essential to give you wind protection and increased visibility, especially if you are riding in the evening. Some windbreakers can also protect you against light rain. If you opt for a thermal jacket, make sure it is breathable, so you do not get soaked underneath.

For which biking types? All types, depending on the season and outside temperature.

Features and materials to look for: Lightweight materials that minimize flapping and block out the cold wind; visible membranes or reflective colours; minimal weight and good compressibility; quick storage and optimal waterproofing.

Advantages: A jacket or sleeveless vest allows you to layer up. They are good allies for cold spring mornings as they keep your muscles warm, especially during the first few miles. You can then simply remove layers as your body temperature rises. As a bonus, cycling jackets and vests take up little space and increase your visibility.

Brands to explore: Finding the right cycling jacket or vest is a serious affair. To do so, turn to renowned brands with solid experience in this area. Think Castelli, Craft, Garneau or Sportful.

Cycling Clothing: Bottoms

Cycling shorts

A must-have garment for every cyclist! Cycling shorts are padded with a chamois, which has several goals. More or less thick, it reduces pressure points against the saddle and minimizes friction caused by pedalling. Leave your underwear in the closet: the shorts are worn on the skin!

For which biking types? All types.

Features and materials to look for: Great stretch; excellent fit (the shorts should be tight enough to stay in place); a well-padded and comfortable chamois; effective moisture wicking and quick drying. Shorts with silicone bands on the thighs are a good option, as it prevents them from riding up while you pedal. Be careful, though, that the bands do not reduce your blood circulation!

Advantages: Cycling shorts reduce pressure on the buttocks and crotch, minimize road shock, keep skin dry and reduce irritating chafing. They can also fulfill a safety mission if they are fitted with reflective strips. And do not forget their aerodynamic function!

Brands to explore: Just like a jersey, cycling shorts are a must. Take the time to choose yours carefully, especially if it is your first pair. Look at brands like Castelli, Craft, Garneau or Sportful.

Bib Shorts

Bib shorts look a lot like regular cycling shorts, except that they are equipped with suspenders for optimal hold. Contrary to what some might think, bib shorts are not just for professional riders! In fact, most cyclists agree that they are the most comfortable type of shorts.

For which biking types? Road biking mostly, and mountain biking.

Features and materials to look for: The same as standard bike shorts: stretch, fit, padding, moisture wicking and quick drying.

Advantages: Benefits are similar to those of standard bike shorts, but the fit and support are optimized. Straps reduce pressure on the waist, which makes it easier to breathe. The chamois also stays in place better. Pay attention to the length, though: the straps must be perfectly adjusted to your morphology. Each model of bib shorts is either men’s cycling clothing or women’s cycling clothing to take into account morphological differences.

Brands to explore: As with classic cycling shorts, trust brands like Castelli, Craft, Maloja or Sportful.

Mountain bike shorts

Mountain Bike Short

Mountain bike shorts can be worn on their own for short rides, or over padded bib shorts with a chamois.

For which biking type? Mountain biking.

Features and materials to look for: Pockets; loose fit allowing for good ease of movement; thick, slightly stretchy material (a mixture of nylon, polyester, and elastane) resistant to water and mud; length that leaves the knees free.

Advantages: Mountain bike shorts shield from the elements and provide an extra protective layer in the event of a fall. In general, they present good durability and dry quickly. Their loose fit also allows them to be worn with fitted shorts that have a chamois.

Brands to explore: Craft, Dakine and Maloja have a nice range of mountain bike clothing. It’s a good place to start if you want to find the perfect mountain bike shorts.

Cycling Clothing: Accessories

Caps and tuques are practical but unsafe cycling accessories. Not so long ago, some cyclists rode without a helmet. We obviously advise against it today. However, nothing prevents you from combining a cap or tuque with a quality helmet. A tuque will cover your ears and protect them from the cold, while a cap with a short visor will definitely give you a “retro” style.

For which biking types? All types.

Features to look for: Breathable and light materials, minimal thickness to avoid discomfort when wearing a helmet, and a visor to protect your face from the sun.

Advantages: Caps and tuques absorb sweat and prevent the rain from falling directly on your head. Both can also “block” the wind (and insects!) that could chill your head through the helmet if it is cold.

Brands to explore: When it comes to caps or tuques, there are all kinds of tastes. Opt for sport-oriented caps and tuques with brands like Ciele, Garneau or Sportful.

Cycling Glasses

Cycling glasses

A good pair of glasses is an essential cycling accessory. Do not ride without eye protection. Your eyes must be protected from the sun, insects, branches, dust… The bigger the lens, the more your face is protected. Depending on the pair you choose, lenses can also increase the contrasts of the road or trails, which improves your visibility.

For which biking types? All types.

Features and materials to look for: A more classic model for mountain biking, or a more “futuristic” model, aerodynamic with wraparound coverage, for road biking.

Make sure the glasses are comfortable. Adjust the colour of the lenses according to your type of cycling and the weather outside: yellow lenses for dark and overcast days, tinted lenses for mountain biking to see the contrasts better… Avoid polarized lenses that block the sun’s glare and reflection on the road: you need to be able to see the sheen on the ground to know if the surface is wet.

Advantages: Non-polarized sunglasses protect the eyes from the sun and external factors, offer an optimal, clear, and unobstructed vision of the road, and thus improve safety.

Brands to explore: Look to brands that specialize in optics and eyewear, such as Oakley, Smith, and others.

Cycling gloves

Cycling Gloves

Cycling is hard on the legs, but hands also do their part! Between road jolts, friction and chafing from perspiration, it is essential to protect them. A pair of gloves must, of course, be chosen according to your needs: biking type, outings length, temperature…

For which biking types? All types.

Features and materials to look for: Full gloves for mountain biking for a better grip; short and well-padded gloves for road biking; grippy and cushioned material for the membrane covering the palm and breathable synthetic materials for the outside of the glove.

Advantages: Gloves offer increased safety by ensuring a better grip of the hands on the handlebars. They absorb sweat and minimize slipping, while providing better comfort to the hands during long hikes or on rough roads.

Brands to explore: Most brands specializing in cycling offer high-performance glove models optimized for different practices. Take a look at Castelli, Dakine and Garneau.

Cycling Socks

Cycling socks

Short or long, socks add a touch of style to your men’s or women’s cycling clothing outfits. They also make a good protection for your feet, keeping them warm in your cycling shoes.

For which biking types? All types.

Features and materials to look for: Breathable materials like merino wool, which wicks away moisture effectively, or a blend of nylon and elastane; good foot support; thermal materials to keep your feet warm when temperatures drop.

Advantages: Socks express your style and preferences; their length and colour are up to you. They also keep your skin dry, wick away moisture and reduce chafing. Socks that provide light compression also improve blood circulation to the entire area.

Brands to explore: You don’t have to look to cycling brands only to find socks adapted to your practice, as long as you keep in mind the key principles seen just above. Knowing this, you are sure to find an ideal pair if you shop brands like Castelli, Craft or Maloja.

Fat bike: Which Clothes Are Best?

Fat biking is practised more in winter. Betting on the multilayer system is essential if you do not want to be too cold or too warm.

Start with a base layer, ideally merino wool, then add a warm fleece mid-layer. Pair it all up with an insulated winter coat or weatherproof shell. Finally, opt for insulated and waterproof ski pants.

Remember to wear a tuque under your bike helmet, as well as a neck warmer, ideally made from merino wool. Protect your hands with insulated gloves or mittens, and do not forget your ski goggles. As for bottoms, wear thin, breathable socks and line them with thicker merino wool socks.

Pro tips

  • Adapt to the weather: there are no style rules. You can wear road biking gear to feel comfortable and cool when mountain biking instead of wearing long shorts.
  • For downhill mountain biking, count on more durable clothing, long sleeves, heavier shorts, knee pads and elbow pads that will give you better protection.
  • Consider wearing extra sleeves and leggings if it is colder. This clothing will give you extra layers that are easy to take off.


How to Cover Up When Cycling?

What Underwear for Cycling?

How to Wear Cycling Shorts?

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