Do you need cycling clothes?

Reading this blog or many other bike blogs, you will have inevitably come across talk of “essential” clothing and accessories for cycling. Is this all just hokum to sell things? Well, that depends.

What one person deems essential is going to vary from the next person. A number of factors come in to play including distance of commute, type of commute, participation in other bike related activities, willingness to cycle through the winter, off bike style, budget, etc. These things will determine your personal preferences.

Ortlieb Commuter bag on bike

What is your priority?

Here at London Cyclist HQ both Andreas and I are urban cyclists. I don’t own a true road bike, padded shorts or SPD shoes. The riding I do is primarily to and from business meetings. I’m the outdoorsy type, with hiking and camping being two of my favourite things after cycling. Therefore, I also have quite a lot of technical clothing and am a bit of a gear freak, so tend to like multipurpose items.

I mostly ride with cycling specific gear, but that emphasises looking good both on and off the bike. This is an increasingly popular choice for cyclists, as evidenced by the rise of brands such as Vulpine.

For Andreas it’s a similar mix, on days with good weather he’ll ride with off the peg jeans, t-shirt and jacket that have no specific cycling quality. As most of the trips are short – 3 to 5 miles – this works well and it fits his personal style.

Mother nature

Where more technical clothing plays a role is when you still want to ride, even when mother nature isn’t feeling so kind. In more inclement times, it is usually nice to not get wet or cold. Regular clothing can of course also take care of these things, and sometimes getting a bit wet is not the end of the world. When it is 5°c and you have 10 miles to go and no option to change at the other end though it can be a pretty miserable thing.

cyclist in rain

When I have a 5 mile ride home I don’t mind getting wet, but other times I will wear a waterproof jacket. If I can’t change at the other end and need to avoid the drowned rat look, I will wear waterproof trousers, although this is really a worst case scenario for me.

Your tolerance for mother nature will also impact the type of clothing you require. If you feel the cold, then you will need things to keep you warm. However, by the time you have cycled a few miles you might warm up, therefore the clothing needs to be breathable. Weather is a fact of life and the way you dress on a bike needs to marry the weather with your personal style and the type of cycling you do.

Typical features of cycling clothing

Our reviews on London Cyclist focus on the cycling specific features of the clothing. Some are really obvious. The Lumo Jacket for example incorporates lights on the front and back for visibility. Others are more subtle, such as the Rapha jeans that have a higher cut at the back, to prevent builders bum syndrome as you lean forward on your handlebars.

Most of the clothing we review will have a cycling specific cut to prevent, for example, the arms from riding too high up. They’ll also typically have features that help prolong their life, such as incorporating elastane in jeans.

Longer sleeves, wider shoulders and dropped tails are generally the standout features of tops specifically designed for cycling. The exact cut and material will vary by the manufacturers intended use. Wicking, quick drying fabrics are used for close to skin items. Various weather impermeable fabrics are used for outer layers to battle the wind and/or rain. The cut and fabric choice for jackets will vary depending on whether the item is intended to be worn in a city or on the open road.

Are these features essential? Absolutely not, but they can make riding a bike more comfortable and if chosen correctly can save you money as you are not wearing out your regular clothing.

Conclusions

Do you need cycling specific clothes? Are they essential to your enjoyment of cycling? No, of course you don’t and really very few things in life are essential. Do they help make your bike ride more comfortable? Well, yes they can. Will they make you a better cyclist? I’m certainly more capable of riding a bike when my fingers are not about to fall off.

I do have a lot of cycling specific clothing, its kind of a part of my role at London Cyclist. However, all of my cycling clothing is meant for urban environments. I am happy walking into the pub or a shop in the clothing I wear on my bike. I do tend to steer clear of special trousers and wear regular jeans (although I recently brought some Levi’s commuter jeans… review forthcoming). I do really appreciate merino layers and a good cycling jacket though. They just make things more comfortable, in my opinion.

Do you have a few items of clothing designed for riding a bike that you find indispensable? What piece of ‘regular’ clothing do you wear on bike that you love?

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21 Responses to Do you need cycling clothes?

  1. Malc 05/11/2015 at 1:43 pm #

    It is preferably but not essential to have cycle specific clothing. My commute is bike then train then bike or walk. I dislike wearing a suit on the train. Ideally I would have cycle friendly, business meeting friendly attire….

  2. Fergal 05/11/2015 at 1:57 pm #

    Cycling gear isn’t essential for city riding, but for my 8-mile commute, comfort means shorts and a top. My one essential is my Vulpine gilet. Warm, breathable, not too bad in light rain. Works in most weather, except peak summer

  3. Marcelo 05/11/2015 at 3:29 pm #

    My bike commute is not particularly long but it involves riding 2 bikes (plus a train journey) and I really appreciate the comfort one gets from wearing cycling gear. It also means I no longer need to worry too much about the weather forecast and about ruining my casual trousers with grease and grime 😊

  4. MJ Ray 06/11/2015 at 10:25 am #

    Arm warmers and rain legs are my best cycling specific clothes. They pack down fairly small but are really worthwhile. I do have a Roubaix jacket which is useful and not too bad to wear otherwise, but once it gets seriously wet or cold, I switch to my regular winter coats, which are OK for cycling (thigh length, vented and so on) but not specific.

    Other than that, much of my stuff like shirts, trousers, socks and hats are really walking ones, which I feel are far better for urban cycling than cycling clothes that mostly seem more expensive and designed for sports.

  5. Tony Parrack 06/11/2015 at 10:32 am #

    “no such thing as bad weather, only inappropriate clothing”.

    love my Vulpine jacket my kids gave me for my birthday, but most of my 10 mile each way daily cycle commute clothing is just cheap and cheerful stuff, bought in a sale.

  6. raymond 06/11/2015 at 10:49 am #

    Hi,

    when commuting I find it essential to wear cycling gear. My way to and from work consists of twenty five kilometres ( fifteen miles) in the car and then thirty kilometres (nineteen miles) on the bike. When I get to the office I change completely and when I go home I have a shirt and cardigan in the car.

    Grüße

    raymond

  7. David Bates 06/11/2015 at 11:07 am #

    My ride is only about 25-30 mins each way, but even in that short time I get fairly sweaty. I prefer to wear comfortable cycling gear on the bike and then shower and change when I get to work.

  8. Raj 06/11/2015 at 11:17 am #

    Normal cotton shorts wear out too quickly, so Cycle shorts, padded pants and base layer essential for my 12 mile each way commute.

  9. David Robinson 06/11/2015 at 11:27 am #

    I have used Rohan Bags for years as they dry extremely quickly whilst still wearing them. When wet they do not cling to you in an unpleasant manner. The material they use is also lightweight, windproof and needs no ironing. I, or more to the point my wife, does not like the style. The two front pockets give good security. The one on the leg and the back are of not much use. I have asked Rohan to use the material in a more ordinary style but they do not intend to. It is a pity the ‘airlight’ material used is not available elsewhere as far as I know

  10. Johno 06/11/2015 at 12:59 pm #

    My only cycling-specific clothing is my footwear and eye protection – everything else is technical fabric outdoor gear. In the past I’ve found cycle clothing to be ill-fitting, not always very practical and overly expensive. My Craghopper convertible shorts are far more comfortable and have many more and deeper pockets than any cycling shorts I’ve looked at, and in winter I can zip on the lower leg sections to make full length trousers to keep my legs warm.

  11. Richard Himan 06/11/2015 at 2:04 pm #

    Howies stretch chinos and a merino shirt work for me. Comfortable on and off the bike

  12. Rebecca 06/11/2015 at 5:44 pm #

    I work on a bike- making deliveries for six hours a day minimum. Cycling douche show offs with all their best hear has always put me off. I can’t understand if it’s a short commute why you need to go all out — except when nature decides to bring us crazy rains.. although like you said, cycling home in the rain is not problem. Daily racing is London traffic is looong!! Although I do get the urge to race at least once a day..
    Since I started cycling for so many hours in a day realised how important fitted breathable clothing is.
    Our company gave us waterproof clothing of a terrible quality.. and all that happens is sweat sweaty sweaty- better off getting wet by the rain. To be fair I quite enjoy rain cycling cos the air tends to be warmer.

    For me.. think it’s worth just buying breathable clothing which I still look good in- doesn’t have to be bicyle specific. Must have waterproof shoes and must be able to move easily. Anythig bulky or loose will p me off..

    • David Robinson 18/01/2016 at 5:17 pm #

      Do you have any recommendations as to what brands of breathable clothing are worth buying

  13. Vincent 09/11/2015 at 3:55 pm #

    A cycling rain cape/poncho is a very useful item to have. Then, you don’t have to 1) get an expensive waterproof jacket and 2) bother with rain pants.

    I can recommend three products:
    – Carradice Pro Route http://www.carradice.co.uk
    – Fulap http://www.spaddeville.com
    – Nooc http://www.nooc.fr

    • MJ Ray 10/11/2015 at 5:51 pm #

      Waterproof jackets don’t need to be expensive. Popular packaway waterproofs can be bought for £30, while rainlegs are £20, so £50 total, or less in sales.

      Looking at the suggested options: Carradice Pro Route is £38 for the cape and £25 for the trousers, so £63, but the cape’s out of stock; Fulap is €63; and I didn’t see a price for Nooc.

      I used to ride in a cape about 25 years ago, but they aren’t really useful off the bike, while jacket materials have surpassed them giving a choice of breathable or packable ones at reasonable prices, so why do you feel capes are still worthwhile?

      • Vincent 11/11/2015 at 11:12 am #

        The problem with cheap waterproof jackets, is that they act like a sauna. A rain cape/poncho provides some ventilation from below.

        Besides, it’s faster to put on a cape/poncho than a jacket + pants.

        Nooc ponchos are a bit expensive (€130), but 1) they have sleeves (pretty useful to indicate when turning or needing to grab something and 2) they are longer at the bottom so cover the legs better. http://www.nooc.fr/1-e-boutique

        For having used both, I definitely recommend capes/ponchos over cheap or expensive jackets. I’m surprised so few cyclists use them, even in the Netherlands.

        • MJ Ray 12/11/2015 at 11:19 am #

          It probably depends how hard you pedal. I tend to slow down a bit in rain because my vision and braking effectiveness are reduced, so I’ve not had a problem.

          Also, one-size-per-height waterproofs tend to be a bit loose on me because I’ve fairly long arms and legs but not much width, so maybe I get more ventilation than some.

          I suggest you may be naturally warmer or ride harder than most people, which is why you see a greater benefit in a rain cape than most. If it works for you, enjoy it!

  14. Alehouse Rock 09/11/2015 at 10:13 pm #

    [[[[[[[ I wonder why so many folks “prefer not to look like a cyclist”….are they somehow ashamed of the identity? Frankly, if people see me as a bikie, that’s fine by me. (Obviously, not the skin-tight lycra down the pub—that WOULD be silly. But there are options available.

    • MJ Ray 10/11/2015 at 4:44 pm #

      It depends what “look like a cyclist” means. I no more want to arrive at a work appointment looking like a hi-vis builder or a lycra wrestler than I want to arrive dressed in Formula 1 fire suit, helmet and neck brace after driving somewhere.

      Plenty of people wear cycling lycra into the pubs that we stop at on our local cycle rides. I wouldn’t, but plenty do. Personally, I think it’s sillier to turn up at work with all your bulges on show, but plenty do that too!

    • Paul 16/11/2015 at 4:56 pm #

      I have worn skin tight lycra round National Trust houses if it was a fair ride to get there. Status clothing before the 19th century was usually (horse)riding costume. It is only relatively recently that people dressed like bankers.
      Agree with Vincent that a cape is great , keeping trousers dry as well, as long as it isn’t too windy. Otherwise cycling jacket and rain-legs or Aldi equivalent.

  15. Dave 18/01/2016 at 3:29 pm #

    I’ve learned to embrace Mother Nature, and wear ordinary light clothing and dry quickly. You don’t melt when you get wet

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