SAIL Blog

Bike Clothing: 10 Essentials Demystified

SAIL

March 18, 2022

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Bike clothing

Have you found the perfect bike and would like to start your season with some new clothing and accessories? Winston Endall, veteran cyclist and SAIL outdoor associate, lists the essentials of a cycling outfit and explains the benefits of cycling jerseys, shorts, gloves and more.

In this article, you will learn more about bike clothing and accessories:

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

Bike clothing Bike gloves and other accessories

Bike clothing: Basic rules

Put aside what you might think: there are no strict rules to follow regarding proper cycling attire.

The important thing is to wear clothing and accessories that offer freedom of movement depending on the type of bicycle you have, sufficient breathability and aerodynamics, and protection from the elements and cold, depending on the season (spring, summer, fall) and the weather outside.

Clothing can be interchanged and is not restricted to one type of bike. Obviously, for a road biking outfit, you’ll want to choose tight-fitting clothing to reduce air resistance, especially if you want to measure and optimize your performance.

The crucial key piece to have? A cycling short with a chamois, a cushioned essential that protects your rear end, whether you’re riding a mountain bike, a bike with oversized tires, or an all-terrain road bike (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)
Socks

Bike Clothing: Tops

1. Fitted bike jersey

Cycling shirt

The sleeveless, short or long sleeve cycling jersey is a lightweight, tight fitting garment that reduces air resistance.

  • For which type(s) of bike? Road bikes, gravel bikes and cross country mountain bikes.
  • What features and fabrics to look for: Pockets in the back, ideally three to hold snacks, a zipper in the front that you can unzip when it gets too hot, a fitted silhouette, stretchy synthetic fabrics – such as a polyester and elastane blend – that breathe and dry quickly.
  • The benefits? The fitted bike jersey offers good breathability and promotes aerodynamics. Long-sleeved styles also provide protection from the sun in the summer and from the cold in the fall and spring. Note that it is also possible to add extra cycling sleeves to short-sleeved jerseys to keep you warm.
  • Brands to explore: Castelli, Craft, Garneau, Maloja, Sportful and many others.

Casual mountain bike jersey

This type of jersey, ideal for mountain biking, is looser to promote airflow without generating too much flapping or impeding movement.

  • For which type(s) of bike? The mountain bike, the gravel bike and the hybrid bike.
  • What features and fabrics to look for: A moisture-wicking t-shirt, perfect for mountain biking, a loose and casual fit, a stretchy synthetic fabric like polyester that is lightweight and durable, convenient pockets, and UV protection.
  • The benefits? A polyester mountain bike jersey dries quickly and allows you to look sporty without looking like you’re in the Tour de France. The ones with longer sleeves also offer better protection from tree branches and obstacles on wooded trails.
  • Brands to explore: Craft, Dakine, Smartwool and many others.

Bike jacket or vest

A jacket or vest is essential to provide wind protection and increased visibility, especially if you are riding in the evening.

  • For which type(s) of bike? All types, depending on the season and the outside temperature.
  • What features and fabrics to look for: Lightweight fabrics that minimize flapping and cut through cold wind, bright or reflective colourful membranes, lightweight and good compressibility, quick storage and waterproofing.
  • The benefits? Sleeveless jackets and vests allow for layering. They’re great for cold spring mornings because they keep your muscles hot while you warm up, and you can simply remove them as your body temperature rises. As an added bonus, the jacket or vest doesn’t take up much space and is more visible if it’s in a bright colour.
  • Brands to explore: Castelli, Craft, Garneau, Sportful and Sugoi.

Bike clothing: Bottoms

Cycling shorts

Cycling short

The must-have garment for every cyclist! Not only do padded shorts help absorb shocks when you sit on the bike seat, but they also help reduce thigh chafing. Wear without underwear.

  • For which type(s) of bike? All types.
  • What features and fabrics to look for: Really stretchy fabrics, a fit that should be tight enough to keep the shorts in place, well-padded and comfortable chamois (cushion), efficient moisture wicking and quick drying.
  • The benefits? Shorts reduce pressure on the buttocks and crotch, minimize road shock, help the skin dry, and reduce friction that can make skin sensitive or irritated.
  • Brands to explore: Castelli, Craft, Garneau, Sportful and many others.

Cycling bib shorts

Short bike

These shorts have the same features except that they have straps for optimal fit.

  • For which type(s) of bike? Mainly road bikes and mountain bikes.
  • What features and fabrics to look for: The same as for the standard cycling shorts.
  • The benefits? The same as the standard cycling shorts, but the shoulder straps help to stay in place even better. The only drawback is that you have to take off your jersey then the shoulder straps off if you have to go to the bathroom.
  • Brands to explore: Castelli, Craft, Maloja, Sportful and many others.

Mountain bike shorts

Mountain bike shorts can be worn alone on short rides or over padded shorts with a chamois.

  • For which type(s) of bike? Mountain biking.
  • What features and fabrics to look for: Pockets, a loose fit with good freedom of movement, a slightly stretchy material (a mix of nylon, polyester and elastane) that is thick and resistant to water and mud, and a length that allows the knees to be free.
  • The benefits? Mountain bike shorts protect against the elements and accidents, in case of a fall, and offer better durability and quick drying. It also allows you to wear a fitted short with a chamois thanks to its loose fit.
  • Brands to explore: Craft, Dakine, Maloja, Sugoi and many others.

Bike clothing: Accessories

Cap or beanie

This accessory is reminiscent of the years when cyclists rode without helmets and has a practical function in addition to offering an old school style.

  • For which type(s) of bike? All types.
  • What features and fabrics to look for: Breathable and lightweight material, thin enough to not interfere with helmet use and a pallet to protect the face from the sun.
  • The benefits? The cap or beanie absorbs sweat and helps keep the rain off your head when it’s rainy or blocks the wind (and bugs!) from getting into your helmet, especially on cool days.
  • Brands to explore: Ciele, Garneau, Sportful and many others.

Sunglasses

Sunglasses

Don’t ride your bike without eye protection; the road will be clearer and your eyes will be protected from the sun, bugs or branches.

  • For which type(s) of bike? All types.
  • What features and fabrics to look for: A more classic model for mountain biking or a futuristic and wraparound model for road biking, comfort when wearing the glasses and coloured lenses adapted to the type of bike and the weather (yellow lenses for dark and overcast or gloomy days, tinted lenses for mountain biking to better see contrast, etc.) Avoid polarized lenses that block the sun’s glare on the road, as you need to see the shine on the ground to know if the surface is wet and avoid falling.
  • The benefits? Non-polarized sunglasses protect the eyes from external aggressions and the sun, offer an optimal vision, clear and unobstructed of the road, therefore better safety.
  • Brands to explore: Oakley, Smith and more.

Cycling gloves

Cycling gloves

Cycling is demanding on the legs as well as the hands, which can suffer from bumps on the road, resistance and slipping due to perspiration.

  • For which type(s) of bike? All types.
  • What features and fabrics to look for: A full-length glove for mountain biking for better grip, a short and well-padded glove for road biking, a grippy and cushiony material for the palm of the hand, such as leather, and a synthetic breathable material for the outside of the glove.
  • The benefits? Gloves increase safety by providing a better grip on the handlebars, absorb sweat and minimize slipping, and provide a dose of comfort to the hands during long rides or on rough roads.
  • Brands to explore: Castelli, Dakine, Garneau and many others.

Socks

Socks

Short or long, socks add a stylish touch to your outfit and add a protective layer between your feet and your cycling shoes.

  • For which type(s) of bike? All types.
  • What features and fabrics to look for: Breathable materials such as merino wool for efficient moisture wicking, or a blend of nylon and/or elastane, and good foot support.
  • The benefits? Socks allow you to show off your colours and preferences because their length and colour are up to you, they keep your skin dry, wick moisture and reduce chafing.
  • Brands to explore: Castelli, Craft, Maloja and more.

Fat bike: What clothes should you choose?

Since fat biking is done mostly in the winter, betting on good layers is paramount if you don’t want to get too cold or too warm.

Start with a base layer, ideally in merino wool, add a warm fleece mid-layer under an insulated winter coat or weatherproof shell. Opt for insulated, waterproof ski pants.

Wear a tuque under your bike helmet, a merino wool neck warmer, thin breathable socks over which you can add thicker merino wool socks, insulated gloves or mittens, and don’t forget ski goggles.

Pro tips

  • Adapt to the weather: there are no style rules. You can wear a road riding outfit for mountain biking just to be comfortable and feel fresher instead of wearing long shorts.
  • For going downhill, opt for more tough clothing, long sleeves, heavier shorts, knee pads and elbow pads which will give you more protection.
  • Consider wearing cycling sleeves and leg warmers in colder weather. These pieces will give you extra layers that are easier to remove.
     

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