Bike Clothing: How to Choose
Bike-specific clothing makes for a comfortable ride—whether you're on the road, hitting the trail or commuting to and from work. These styles can help you perform better and ride longer!
REI's new collection of urban cyclewear adds some city styling to your clothing choices. Here's what to consider.
Cycling Jerseys, Shorts and Tights
You don't need to squeeze into skin-tight spandex covered with corporate logos just for a trip to the grocery store.
A bike jersey of Lycra® spandex or other form–fitting material reduces drag when you ride. Their technical fabrics enhance performance by wicking away sweat to keep you drier.
- Stand–up collar to shade your neck in summer.
- Front zipper for ventilation when your temperature rises.
- Shoulders cut wider for arms–forward comfort.
- Sleeves specially shaped for forward lean.
- Back pockets for easy on–the–go access.
- Longer cut in back for coverage when riding.
- Reflective trim or highlights for night riding.
Additional features for winter riding:
- Long sleeves for more warmth and coverage.
- Denser, heavier fabric weaves and a brushed lining to add insulation.
These differ from street shorts primarily by 1) added stretch for full freedom of movement, and 2) a padded crotch liner to reduce friction and wick moisture. If possible, try several on to determine what padding style best fits your anatomy.
Road-bike short features:
- Panel construction: In the past, a greater number of panels (typically 6 or 8) correlated to a more comfortable fit. While this is still generally true, fabric technology has progressed to the point that the number of panels doesn't necessarily mean "better" for everyone.
- Padded liner: A smooth, soft pad of "chamois" (actually made of synthetic) minimizes friction, wicks moisture, prevents bacterial growth and helps cushion bumps. It's the most complex part of a bike short. There are a multitude of shapes, thicknesses and materials among brands and genders. Some guidelines:
- Multi-density, open-cell foam liners deliver high-end performance and comfort for long rides.
- Gel/open-cell foam liners offer greater recreational or mountain-bike cushioning but are less breathable on long, hot rides.
- Closed-cell foam liners offer good performance at a lower cost.
- Legs: Longer-cut legs and leg grippers prevent saddle chafing and keep shorts in place.
- Waist style: Most road shorts feature stretchy but non-adjustable spandex. A yoga-style cut offers less-restrictive comfort in some women's styles.
Tip: All of the bike-short padding in the world will not make up for an uncomfortable or poorly adjusted bike seat. See the REI Expert Advice article, Bike Saddles: How to Choose for more information.
Other styles of bike shorts include:
- Mountain bike shorts: Sometimes called "baggies," these have a loose outer short in addition to the spandex chamois liner. The waist is fastened by a button or hook-and-look patch. Pockets are also common. Choose these by their features and quality of construction, but also make sure the cut of the outer shorts feels comfortable and allows for full leg rotation and flexibility.
- Bib shorts: Popular with cycling enthusiasts but a comfortable option for any rider, these don't have an elastic waistband that can restrict breathing. Worn with a jersey, they look like any other bike shorts.
- Skorts: For women, some brands make cycling skorts, where the spandex short is covered by a skirt. Skorts can be worn on the road, mountain or even around town.
Bike Tights, Knickers and Leg Warmers
For cooler temperatures, you may opt for cycling tights, which cover the entire leg, or knickers, which cover the knee and above. Just like shorts, many tights and knickers come with a built-in chamois and should be chosen using the same guidelines for fit and comfort. Tights often include weather-resistant front panels and reflective detailing for dark, winter rides.
For layering purposes, some tights and knickers come without a chamois liner so they will fit over a pair of cycling shorts with no problem. Additionally, leg warmers are a handy cycling accessory that can be used on the fly to make a pair of cycling shorts into tights or knickers.
The top 2 considerations when selecting a cycling jacket: Will it keep me warm? Will it keep me dry? Some styles will do both, but keep the following in mind:
How warm is "warm"? The jacket you select for winter riding in Chicago will probably be different than the one you'd use for winter riding in Phoenix. But don't overdress; you'll warm up from exertion during your ride. Jackets for maximum warmth will protect you against the wind and offer some insulation, mostly in the front and arms.
Is rain in the forecast? Get a waterproof cycling jacket. These provide a longer back and sleeves cut for a forward lean; some offer an oversized hood that fits over a helmet. Most offer minimal insulation (which can be offset by layering) and are less breathable than other jackets, but they will keep you dry on a long, wet ride.
Not sure what to expect? For mild winter conditions, look for a waterproof/breathable or water-resistant jacket. These are also lightweight and offer wind protection; stow in a pocket or pack when not in use. Some cycling jackets can be converted into a vest via zip-off sleeves. These are suitable for year-round use.
Layering Your Clothing
Layering your clothing can keep your core body temperature consistent as you ride. Being too warm can be just as bad as being too cold because your body wastes energy at both extremes trying to regulate itself.
The 3 traditional components of layering:
- A next-to-skin layer (e.g., long underwear) that wicks away moisture.
- An insulating middle layer.
- A weatherproof or windproof outer shell.
For more information, read the REI Expert Advice article, Layering Basics.
Bike Shoes and Socks
For wet or rainy rides, toe covers (which cover the shoe from arch to toe) or shoe covers (which cover the entire shoe and part of the ankle) are a great way to ensure your toes stay toasty. Both offer some wind protection or insulation, and many shoe covers will offer water protection, too.
Shop REI's selection of cycling footwear.
Your feet can produce as much as a cup of perspiration when you're pedaling hard. In winter, this can lead to cold feet. In summer, it can mean blisters unless you wear synthetic materials (such as polyester or nylon blends) that help wick away perspiration. Avoid cotton socks for all but light workouts.
Merino wool is a popular alternative to synthetics for summer or winter riding. It not only wicks moisture and dries fast, it insulates even while wet—perfect for the occasional stream crossing or unexpected rainstorm.
Shop REI's selection of bike socks.
Caps: These add insulation to your winter rides, while a headband or a thinner skullcap can serve as a sweat barrier and help wick moisture for a cooler head during summer riding.
Gloves: In summer, gloves with short-cut fingers are the popular choice. Most have a padded leather or synthetic-leather palm and moisture-absorbing terry cloth for dabbing sweat or a runny nose. For cold-weather rides, a pair of wicking, breathable, full-finger bike gloves are a must. Most also offer some protection against the wind. For maximum warmth, consider using a thin liner inside the glove. Shop REI's selection of men's bike gloves and women's bike gloves.
Arm/leg warmers: These provide a little extra warmth while taking up minimal space in a shirt pocket or pack. Each is essentially a fleece or wool sleeve that fits over your arms or legs to cover exposed skin. Warmers should be slid on under your jersey and shorts and fit snugly to avoid slippage during a ride. When temperatures rise, they can be easily slipped off without having to unbutton, unzip or change anything. Shop REI's selection of warmers.
Shop REI's Selection