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.
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.
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.
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.
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?