The learning curve for any new context or activity involves what to wear. This includes what to wear road biking.
There are those who stubbornly stick to their own style no matter the situation; however, with road biking those sartorial mavericks are few and far between.
While what to wear road biking is still a highly individual choice, the range of selection is limited by what works best. In this article, I’ll give you my tips on how to dress in style and comfort for your next road biking experience.
Road Bike Style
Everybody knows a road biker when they see her. The protocols for how to look may seem pretty simple: funny looking shorts and tight jersey; funny looking gloves and awkward shoes; top it off with a funny looking helmet.
All true. But there’s a little more to it, of course. And the choices for each category are vast. Let’s drill down into those categories and consider what each is about.
Don’t Take That Brain for Granted!
More recently than you’d think, word got out that protecting the head while on a bike matters.
You can find pictures from the 1980s, and even ‘90s, of the best road racers in the world flying 50 miles an hour on their bikes downhill with their hair flying freely.
Anyone that looks to the ‘80s for what to wear, however, should be abandoned like a pair of acid washed jeans and a track suit. Show up to a group ride without a helmet today and no one may say anything, but believe me, everyone in that groups dislikes you.
Road helmets should be light and vented to help keep the rider cool. Aerodynamics are also important. Both how cool and how aerodynamic one wants to be are personal choices and partly depend on what kind of riding one does.
Racers obviously want to cut down on wind drag as much as possible, and recent designs have often coupled aerodynamic helmets with fewer vents.
Road helmets cover mainly the top of the head and do not have a visor, which mountain bike and some skate helmets have.
Most helmets have a foam shell to absorb a single major impact. Newer safety innovations include MIPS, a widely used technology that various brands license.
MIPS helmets, which first came out in 2011, are designed to reduce rotational forces in certain types of impacts. MIPS adds to the cost of a helmet, but if it’s safer it’s probably worth it.
Bontrager’s WaveCel is an even newer safety development. WaveCel combines the benefits of the traditional foam helmet and the rotational impact reduction of MIPS into one distinctive looking material. WaveCel flexes, crumples, then glides to absorb impact. Virginia Tech University’s 2018 tests suggest MIPS and WaveCel are worth the extra cost.
And finally, remember to find the right sized helmet. I know many riders whose experience has improved simply from getting an extra large bike helmet.
- Specialized Align II MIPS. An affordable MIPS helmet that scored second in the Virginia Tech study. Ok venting with a traditional look.
- Specialized S-Works Evade II with Angi MIPS. Pricier but a good example of modern style for an aerodynamic performance helmet that adds safety features. A sensor in the helmet sends a message to emergency contacts in case of a crash.
- Bontrager Specter WaveCel. Straightforward looking helmet, other than the WaveCel protection. Well-vented and relatively affordable.
- Giro Agilis MIPS. A top name in head protection. Many vents to cool the head. Allegedly fat-free and dolphin-friendly as well, so ride without guilt.
- MARKET-LEADING SAFETY: Engineered in Giro’s category-leading helmet test lab
- MIPS: Utilizes the Multi-Directional Impact Protection System to redirect energy...
- COMFORT: Easily adjust vertical position and tension with the Roc Loc 5.5 fit...
- VENTILATION: 32 Wind Tunnel vents with internal channeling
- LIGHTWEIGHT: In-moIding construction
- Kask Protone. Pricier but interesting style with many vents. Even with all the front venting, Kask claims it’s aerodynamic and quiet.
- Handmade in Italy - crafted with the worlds finest materials and hours of pain...
- Wind tunnel tested - the protone boasts the lowest drag co-efficient of any...
- All about fit - Kask octofit adjustment system guarantees a perfect fit
- Lightweight comfort - weighs just 230G and uses 3D Dry padding and eco-leather...
- Safety first - all Kask helmets are Certified, which means they meet and exceed...
- Rudy Project Spectrum. Performance helmet provides an example of the wide range of helmet styles on the market today.
- Lightweight and aero cycling helmet designed for maximum performance and premium protection.
- Features 15 oversized ports for maximum ventilation.
- Adaptive Airframe Band and easy-to-use Fastex Buckle Closure System for optimal fit and safety.
- Adjustable RSR10 Retention System offers superior fit and divider pro side buckles ensure proper adjustment.
- Interchangeable and washable padding system & Bugstop with protective net for safety and comfort.
While on the bike, there are many malign forces that want access to your eyes: bugs, wind, UV rays, dust.
Just get a pair of cycling glasses already!
If you mainly ride when it’s sunny out because you live in Yuma or Phoenix, Arizona, then you can own a single lens. For the rest of us, there are interchangeable lenses for different light conditions. Some single lens designs will change based on the lighting conditions.
The current fashion in road glasses is big lenses.
- Rapha Pro Team Full Frame. A dependable name in style offers their dependably pricey take on modern style. Comes with two lenses.
- Tifosi Alliant. Similar to my glasses pictured below, the Alliant has three lenses and offers superb vision with decent style at a reasonable price.
AC Red, clear, full sun.
- Oakley Jawbreaker. There’s no denying Oakley’s penchant for good style and Oakley quality. There’s also no denying its claim to stacks of your hard-earned cash. The Jawbreaker is a good combination of stylish quality and fulfillment of the need to pay more to flash a name brand.
- Case included
- Lenses are prescription ready (rx-able)
- JAWBREAKER is the ultimate sport design frame. This frame is comfortable,...
Road Bike Shorts
Why do road shorts look the way they do? Three words: aerodynamics, sweat, comfort. There are many factors that go into finding the right shorts for each person’s needs. For our brief overview, we’ll consider a few aspects.
Price. Shorts are not the place to cut costs. Although safety is crucial, you can certainly buy a good, safe helmet on a tight budget.
As much as possible, do not think budget with shorts. Think about it: you’re sitting on a small saddle for possibly hours. If it means owning fewer pairs and having to wash them more frequently, then do that. Cheap shorts will look, well, cheap. They won’t last as long. And the chamois liner in the crotch for comfort won’t work as well.
Case in point: I bought a pair of inexpensive shorts with a gel liner. Terrible mistake.
The shorts, which I quickly realized were made of cheap materials, lasted only two years; the liner, which seemed so cushy at first, was actually bulky and split open. On the other hand, my multiple Castelli bib shorts have lasted for years and offer supreme comfort. Similarly, I have a pair of traditional Pearl Izumi, non-bib shorts that still amaze me even though they’re probably thirteen years old by now. Amazing quality.
Regular shorts versus bibs. Bibs are nice in that they always stay put and don’t have a stretchy band around the waste. Most pairs make things awkward when nature calls, though, especially for females.
The shorts listed below are mostly available in male and female versions.
- Rapha Core Cargo Bib. As the name suggests, these bib shorts have multiple pockets, which is nice for spreading things around. The price tag—$150—may cause sticker shock in the uninitiated, but it’s probably reasonable, and they share most of the same features as higher priced Rapha shorts, including the chamois.
- SUGOi Evolution Bib. A little more affordable and more straightforward than the Rapha Core. The Evolution claims great comfort, padding, and fit. Improved leg grippers as well. Leg grippers are a feature on the bottom of shorts that keep the shorts in place and from not moving up or down as the legs move.
- Evo Plus is a moisture wicking and breathable fabric for high output performance...
- Mobil Mesh bib for superior ventilation and support
- Updated RC Pro chamois with 3D construction for increased comfort in the saddle
- MAB PowerBand silicone leg gripper provides slip-free comfort without...
- Louis Garneau CB Carbon. Louis Garneau clothes tend to be stylish and comfortable, and these appear to be no exception. My one experience with the brand was very positive, though my pair were less durable than other shorts, and reports on the CB Carbon 2 suggest that longevity may be its only weakness.
- Made to perform: The CB Carbon 2 Bike Shorts are designed to offer lasting...
- Fully padded: The 4Motion integrated chamois combines 3D pre-shaped wings and a...
- Compressive: The ergonomic fit of the shorts is combined with the use of highly...
- Supportive: An Aero Lazer band is used at the thigh for a smooth transition that...
- Practical: Flatlock seams and laser-cut fabrics offer greater comfort while the...
- Pearl Izumi Escape Quest. Here’s for affordability in a name brand. Perfect for one’s first shorts or those on a budget.
- SELECT Transfer Dry fabric sets the benchmark for compression with comfort and...
- Center bib clip allows for customizable front strap position
- Non-constricting silicone leg grippers hold shorts in place smoothly while you...
- Women's SELECT Escape 1:1 Chamois is smooth next to skin with blended edge-free...
- BioViz reflective elements ensure low-light visibility during dawn, dusk or...
What to Wear on Top?
A friend tells a story about showing up to his first group ride with a white t-shirt tucked into his black cycling shorts. Veterans and slightly seasoned riders will all knowingly laugh at such a tale. Will wearing a t-shirt block you from gaining fitness or enjoying yourself? No. Yet form and function will eventually convince all but the most individualistic holdouts.
A breathable, tight-fitting jersey is the best place to put one’s personal stamp on style. Functionality and comfort matter. Having the right number and type of pockets are important. Any half-way decent jersey will wick sweat. Shopping for jerseys shows how money spent on the right kit can add up fast, especially as most people will want more than one.
The jersey is the largest item on the body; therefore, safety dictates that a jersey ought to have something on it to make drivers—many of whom are either distracted, aggressive, dumb, or aggressively dumb—take notice. All-black jerseys certainly look cool, but they don’t help visibility (and aren’t the best choice for staying cool either); one need not get a florescent color to draw attention, though it’s certainly a good choice.
- Pearl Izumi Elite Pursuit Graphic. Full length zipper and three back pockets. Affordable price with Pearl Izumi quality. And lots of lines for style, if that’s your thing!
- ELITE Transfer fabric provides superior moisture transfer.
- Sleeve and side panels are a polyester and LYCRA blend for form-fitting freedom of movement.
- Full-length zipper for venting.
- Three back pockets with bellows construction for optimal storage.
- Le Col Pro Air. Pricier but higher quality, the Le Col is a form fitting jersey that’s comfortable and stylish. It boasts of supreme comfort in the hottest conditions.
- Adidas Short Sleeve Cycling Jersey. For those who prefer plain and three stripes. Made of sustainable recycled material. Added to the three regular pockets is a zippered pocket, which is a nice touch. Adidas’ website shows only a mostly black with minimal white version, but elsewhere it appears in bright colors that will help drivers notice you. If you get the black version, for safety sake just decorate yourself like a Christmas tree or only ride on bike paths.
Gloves offer a rider added cushion for comfort and improve grip when things get sweaty. In the event of a crash, gloves help protect the skin. Terry cloth on the thumb for a nose wipe is essential. Warm weather road gloves are usually fingerless to keep the hands cooler. My full-finger Specialized gloves pictured below are for colder fall and spring weather.
- Giro Monaco II Gel. Breathable with good padding. Velcro enclosure and nose wipe. Giro quality. Pick your favorite color!
- The Monaco II Gel Glove's 3-piece Pittards® vented leather palm and breathable construction is combined with Technogel® padding for exceptional pressure distribution, ventilation, and fit.
- Double-stitched seams provide increased durability for season of hard use and frequent washings.
- 3mm Technogel padding.
- Moisture-wicking four-way-stretch, breathable mesh.
- Highly absorbent microfiber wiping surface.
- Rovos Bike Gloves. Has all the features mentioned above with the Monoco IIs, except they also have pull tabs to help get them off. Costs less than half the Monoco IIs. If there’s one item in the wardrobe where cutting costs probably won’t matter much, it’s gloves. Of course, durability can be an issue with cheaper gloves, and the padding might not be as good. But some expensive gloves have poor padding as well. So, you can buy two pairs of Rovos, have change in the pocket and I’m guessing the two pairs will outlast higher priced competitors.
- ✅【Breathable Fabri & Comfortable Fit】Cool elasticity and breathable Lycra...
- ✅【5mm SBR Shock Pads】5mm thicken SBR padding cycling gloves at palm...
- ✅【Palm Protection with Extra Grip】Non-slip silicone printing provides...
- ✅【Easy-Off Hooks】The 2 tabs on the fingers of each gloves are a...
- ✅【All-Purpose Training】Made for...
- Tanluhu Cycling Glove. Same comments as the Rovos and similar price, but the style of one or the other may appeal more. A four and a half star rating by thousands of cyclists just like you on Amazon can’t be wrong. Or can it? Roll the dice and see. (Multicolor option pictured below.)
- Tanluhu Bike gloves is made of super elastic lycra and durable knitted mesh...
- Adjust Biking gloves tension to your personal needs by sticky adjustable Buckle....
- Tanluhu Bicycle gloves absorbent microfiber wiping on thumbs is mainly helps to...
- Mountain Road bike gloves with powerful shock absorption protection, reduce road...
- High quality, Low-carbon green cycling gloves provide safer and comfortable in...
Big Decision for the Feet!
For those with platform or clipped pedals, shoes should be an easy choice. However, for those with clipless pedals, buying the right shoes is vital. Getting shoes compatible with the pedals is a starting point. Stiffness is important for performance. Although comfort is important for all, high performance road shoes aren’t going to do you any favors when you walk in them. Therefore, comfort for walking is separate from comfort while riding and will divide riders into different camps.
It’s easy to get carried away with spending on road shoes. Choose any one of the “top ten” from whatever list and you’ve probably dropped $300 – $500. Sole material, overall construction, and the enclosure system are some of the main differences. A single or double boa enclosure is great, but three Velcro straps can also work fine. A carbon sole will provide the best stiffness, but a budget model may provide all the stiffness you need. Shoes are not a good place to cut cost and buying a name brand is recommended for durability.
- Bont Cycling Road+ Boa. Surprisingly affordable road shoe with carbon sole and boa enclosure system. Comes in a non-boa version as well.
- Bont Riot+ , the worlds first carbon composite heat moldable entry level cycling shoe now available with BOA retention system.
- The Riot+ combines Bont's pro series technical features, our power transfer platform, anatomical shaping with competition grade materials and BOA retention system to create the most technically advanced entry level road cycling shoe.
- Ventilations holes through upper and mesh inserts.
- Fizik Tempo Overcurve. Carbon-injected nylon sole with a single boa enclosure. The R4 is a performance shoe for just under $200, which means it’s a good deal.
- A versatile performance road cycling shoe, quick and easy to wear. With an...
- Tempo Overcurve R4 is a versatile performance, quick and easy to wear. It is...
- The construction of the Overcurve shoe features a staggered collar that envelops...
- The new moderately rigid R4 sole – with 15% infused carbon fibre – creates a...
- Fizik Tempo Powerstrap. A synthetic sole and a unique enclosure system that has to be seen to be understood. Cost is around $100 for a name brand shoe.
- Giro Republic R-Knit. Stylish retro knit shoe with lace-up enclosure. Nylon sole. Cost is around $140. (Many of these shoes have different costs for different sizes and colors.)
- VERSATILITY, COMFORT AND TIMELESS STYLE: A versatile laced cycling shoe for...
- COMFORTABLE AND SUPPORTIVE FIT: One-piece Xnetic Knit upper with laced closure...
- ULTIMATE FIT ADJUSTMENT: Empire laces offer unrivaled fit adjustment, hold a...
- POWERFUL PEDALING: Injected nylon outsole for great power transfer, with...
- COMFORTABLE SUPPORT AND 2-BOLT CLEAT COMPATIBLE: Includes Molded EVA footbed...
- Shimano Entry Level. At $90 these are an entry level shoe, but they’re Shimano so they should do what they’re supposed to do for years. Three Velcro strap enclosure. Fiberglass reinforced sole for stiffness. Only comes in one color, black.
- The SH-RC100 (RC1) is a high value road cycling shoe: Leading technologies at an...
- Durable & Breathable: Perforated synthetic leather uppers for long-lasting and...
- Comfortable Fit For All Feet: The wraparound upper comfortably accommodates...
- Walkability: Wide heel pads provide stability when off the bike for a confident...
- Stiff and Lightweight Sole: Fibreglass reinforced sole for optimal power...
Road Biking Socks
So many choices, so many body parts! What is important with socks? Height. Materials. Design.
Obviously longevity matters, but most socks will last until you’re tired of the design or the sock height is out of fashion. DeFeet, Sock Guy, and Swiftwick are some of my favorite brands, but there are many other good ones.
Higher, to the calf, socks are currently in fashion, but as with many other products today, consumers want multiple options, so the Sock Guy panoply of sock heights below shows how you can get what you want.
Socks come in various materials, from acrylic and polyester to wool. As with other parts of cycling wear, cotton is to be avoided as it absorbs sweat and is slow to dry, among other issues.
Merino wool socks are nice to have and work well in all temperatures. They’re exclusively what I wear in cooler weather and yet they work fine when it’s hot. Plus, they’re no-itch and odor-fighting. Kind of a wonder fabric. From personal experience, I know that Swiftwick and Smartwool are pros with this material, but no doubt other companies know what they’re doing with wool as well.
- Swiftwick Aspire 7. Made from “high performance . . . olefin fiber,” whatever that is, but since it’s Swiftwick it’s probably good. The link connects to a bright yellow sock, though the sock comes in other flavors too. It’s not a bad idea to consider bright color socks to help drivers who are too busy texting or watching TikTok videos to see you.
- DeFeet Aireator. A classic, made of polyester, with Amazon five star rating to boot. The link is to the Mashup, a very colorful option, but the Aireator comes in many other styles as well.
- Trademark Venting Mesh Weave Foot
- Airflow Design For Ventilation And Endurance.
- Durable Stayfast Cuff
- Sized in Large
- Smartwool Ultra Light Merino Wool Socks. About half Merino wool and half nylon mix, with dashes of two other materials. Features Smartwool’s Indestructawool technology, which sounds like a big promise! More certain is the great design on the sock, created by pro skier Chris Benchetler.
- Smartwool's thinnest outdoor socks, the PhD Outdoor Ultra Light Adventure On...
- These socks feature all of Smartwool's greatest sock technologies, including...
- Artwork by Chris Benchetler
- Indestructawool technology for enhanced durability
- 4 Degree elite fit system for a dialed, performance-oriented fit
A Sampler for Cooler Fall & Spring rides
The above survey covers warm weather riding. Without going into detail for every temperature variation, there are a few additional basics that every rider will eventually need to add if they’re going to ride when the temperature dips below 60 degrees, give or take.
An all-sport base layer is an essential item; next I’d get arm warmers. Arm warmers are versatile because they can be taken off during a ride if the temperature changes or you realize it was warmer out than you thought. Similarly, you can set off on a ride with them stuffed in a jersey pocket and change your mind part way through a ride. Add a long sleeve base layer to your wardrobe for layering.
A long sleeve jersey or waterproof jacket are nice but may be luxuries as you might not use them often, and the latter, especially, doesn’t come cheap. That said, a jacket or vest of some kind will be necessary if you’re riding in 40 or 45 degree weather. Runners may think 40 degrees sounds balmy, but cycling increases the wind chill due to its higher speeds.
Thick, full-finger gloves are a must once the temperature goes below around 50 degrees. Getting colder still, you’ll want shoe covers as the toes take the brunt of that March wind. A cycling hat that covers the ears will also prevent you from freezing when the temperature is low, and it can be stored away without notice in a jersey pocket when conditions change.
Below the waist, tights, leg warmers, and knee warmers keep the legs from crying. You don’t need all three, of course, and can choose the one that fits your situation best. Knee warmers, for example, only add a little protection for a very limited temperature range. I prefer leg warmers for most situations that the legs need to be covered. They’re versatile and comfortable and look better than tights.
That’s a Wrap!
Looking through this survey of items makes the barrier to entry for cycling seem high. You’ll spend two weeks just shopping for what to wear road biking before you can even get started, right?
A strong interest in an activity usually doesn’t precede participation in it, and participation usually grows gradually. So go one’s additions to her cycling wardrobe.
Once in a while, I’ll take a bike out just to get somewhere and, since I’m already out, afterwards I’ll ride 20 miles. Dressed in casual shorts, a cotton t-shirt, and sandals on platform pedals. I never think about what a terrible time I’m having because I’m wearing the wrong clothing. Quite the opposite. It’s like Friday casual at the office.
The point here is if you’re riding, you’re doing it right. All the extra clothing and gear just adds to the whole experience. Enjoy the search.
Trevor is an experienced road and mountain biker. He has mountain biked in many of the top places in the world, including Moab, Utah; Fruita, Colorado; Bend, Oregon; Durango, Colorado; Bentonville, Arkansas; Copper Harbor, Michigan; Lake Tahoe, California; amongst others.