While many cyclists choose to adopt a cycling kit for their riding – with good reason, bike shorts and bike jerseys are ideal for mobility and temperature regulation – you don’t need designated biking attire to start cycling for fitness.
When it comes to bikewear, you simply have to keep those two things – mobility and keeping your body temperature in a comfortable range – in mind.
Depending on where and when you ride, other things can become equally important.
If you’re cycling on the road, for instance, reflective clothing is an absolute must.
But if you’re just getting started with cycling and have no idea what to put on, here are the very basics to help get you dressed and out the door.
What cycling clothing do I need?
The cycling clothing you need depends on what time of year you’re cycling, but can be broken down into a few basic categories.
These categories are:
- Bike Pants/Shorts
- Bike Shirts/Jerseys
- Shoes and Socks
- Cycling Helmets
- Eye Protection
- Hand Protection
- Sports Bra
Let’s start with the most important of these items first.
If you are going to ride a bike with any speed at all, you should be wearing a helmet.
This is the most important piece of “clothing” you’ll wear on your bicycle.
With only a small number of districts in the U.S. (and no states) having laws that require adults to wear bike helmets on the books, it’s no surprise head injuries are the most serious (and most deadly) injuries cyclists experience.
Bike helmets have been found to reduce the risk of serious head injury by up to 70%.
So, why wouldn’t you wear one? (In our opinion, you’re better off naked with a helmet on a bike than fully clothed without one. Please, don’t take this as legal advice.)
For help choosing an effective, high-quality bike helmet, see Finding a Good Road Bike Helmet.
If you’re cycling on a stationary bike indoors: You obviously don’t need a helmet, unless you are wildly enthusiastic and often go flying off your bike.
While you don’t have to wear bike shorts when cycling, bike or cycling shorts do have multiple advantages when riding a bike.
First, they have built-in pieces called chamois that wick moisture from the crotch area where you are bound to get sweaty and most likely to experience a rash or sores due to friction with the seat.
Second, that built in chamois may be padded (shape and thickness varies), which can make riding for long periods of time more comfortable.
Third, bike shorts are designed with biking in mind. They have long legs that fit tightly against the skin, but are also highly flexible and breathable to make pedaling easy and keep you from getting overly warm.
Since bike shorts are the best option for comfort and mobility while cycling, they are our number one recommendation for biking bottoms.
Some bike shorts we like:
- Terry Bike Bermuda Shorts (Women’s)
- PEARL iZUMi Expedition Bike Shorts (Men’s)
- Wild Rye Freel Shorts (Women’s)
- Fox Ranger Shorts (Men’s)
Manufacturers also make full-length bike pants and leggings for colder seasons and inclement weather.
When looking for bike pants/leggings, keep in mind cycling pants and leggings are more likely to be “shells” with no built-in chamois. (Some shorts are shells too, so watch for that when shopping.)
If you find a “shell” pant or short you like, you should consider a liner short that provides the chamois (and sometimes the padded) aspect of bike shorts.
Liner shorts are designed to wear under other pants/shorts and can be worn with any pant or short, from leggings to dress shorts.
They’re a great option if you don’t want to buy an entirely new fitness wardrobe for cycling, but still want the benefits of bike shorts.
Some cycling liner shorts we like:
If you’re cycling indoors:
- You will still benefit from bike shorts, which will keep you far more comfortable in the saddle.
- If you prefer to wear regular gym wear (without liner shorts), just keep bottoms snugly-fitted and breathable.
Like bike shorts, cycling jerseys are designed specifically for riding a bike.
They are moisture-wicking, breathable, highly flexible, and fit snugly against the body to reduce wind resistance.
You can find them in a variety of thicknesses and overall coverage, from sleeveless singlets and short sleeves for the warmest months to long-sleeve thermals for the coldest winter rides.
Cycling jerseys are typically outfitted with some reflective features to make you more visible on the road and feature high collars to reduce sun exposure and zippered fronts to allow for more air circulation as you ride.
While they are not essential for your ride, bike jerseys can certainly making your cycling more comfortable.
Some cycling jerseys we like:
- Rapha Core Lightweight Jersey (Men’s)
- Rapha Core Lightweight Jersey (Women’s)
- Gore Wear C3 Jersey (Men’s)
- Gore Wear C3 Jersey (Women’s)
Cold weather jerseys we like:
- Rapha Core Long-Sleeve Cycling Jersey (Men’s)
- Rapha Core Long-Sleeve Cycling Jersey (Women’s)
- PEARL iZUMi Quest Thermal Cycling Jersey (Men’s)
- PEARL iZUMi Quest Thermal Cycling Jersey (Women’s)
Other Cycling Shirts
While cycling jerseys can feel (and look) good when riding your bike, what you wear up top while biking simply isn’t as important as what you wear down low. (That bike seat can be a hella-chafer if you wear the wrong bottoms.)
If you don’t want to buy a new shirt to wear cycling, any breathable (non-cotton) shirt will do.
When dressing up top, just make sure to dress in layers and always wear a thin or short-sleeved shirt as your bottom layer (except in the dead of winter).
While wind speed will cool you down a little on your bike, most cyclists are still most comfortable in short sleeves in anything above 50 to 60 degrees.
If you’re cycling indoors: Due to better temperature regulation, cycling jerseys are rarely necessary indoors. Just keep your bottom layer light and breathable.
If you are cycling in the cold (40 degrees and below) or in the rain, you will need a jacket.
While any breathable, flexible jacket will do for cycling in cold weather, a cycling-specific jacket becomes more important in precipitation.
A good cycling jacket for rain needs a hood that will fit over a bike helmet.
Ideally, that hood will be removable so the jacket can lose its bulk and serve as a windbreaker in cold, but less rainy conditions.
Some cycling jackets we like:
- REI Co-op Junction Cycling Rain Jacket (Women’s)
- REI Co-op Junction Cycling Rain Jacket (Men’s)
- Showers Pass Syncline CC Cycling Jacket (Women’s)
- Showers Pass Syncline CC Cycling Jacket (Men’s)
If you’re cycling indoors: You probably won’t need a jacket, but some gyms can actually be this chilly. If you get cold easily, it doesn’t hurt to carry a breathable, synthetic jacket to the gym.
Cycling Shoes and Socks
The type of shoe you need when cycling depends on the pedals on your bike.
Clipless bike pedals require a specific type of “clipless” sole to hold your foot in place as you ride.
Platform bike pedals can be worn with any type of sensible exercise shoe, such as a sneaker.
If you’ve just started biking and have clipless pedals on your bike, we recommend switching them out with platform (flat) pedals until you are familiar with your bike and ready for the upgraded skill of clipping in and out.
With platform pedals, you can just wear a good, breathable outdoor sneaker with your bike clothes.
Any synthetic workout sock will work well for cycling.
As always with sweaty, endurance sports, just avoid cotton to prevent wet feet and blisters.
If you’re cycling indoors: Stick with a breathable sneaker and moisture-wicking synthetic socks.
No matter what time of year you’re riding, or how gloomy it might be outside, you should always protect your eyes on a bike ride (especially if you’re riding on the road).
On sunny days, sunglasses can provide sufficient protection from glare, UV rays, and debris in the air.
Wraparound, full coverage sunglasses are best, and lenses should be gray-tinted for the most glare-reduction.
Sunglasses are also ideal protection on cloudy days.
Even when its gray outside, UV rays can still damage your eyes.
Brown, amber, orange and yellow-tinted sunglasses protect your eyes from UV rays while enhancing vision to help you see more clearly through the gloom.
In the dark, you can swap sunglasses for bike goggles to protect your eyes without coloring your vision.
If you’re cycling indoors: If you need eye protection inside, that’s some seriously bad lighting and air quality. Get the heck out of there.
While cycling gloves can provide comfort (keep hands from slipping on the handlebars, prevent blisters and numbness, etc.) at any time of year, in colder weather they become an essential part of your biking attire.
Cycling simply doesn’t provide enough movement and circulation in the hands to keep them warm when riding in cold weather.
Low temperatures and wind can cause chapping and cracking and affect your joints and muscles, making it harder for you to grip the handlebars.
So, if you’re going to be riding in temperatures below 50 to 60 degrees (it varies by person), you should wear full-coverage gloves.
Some full-coverage cycling gloves we like:
- PEARL iZUMi Cyclone Gel Cycling Gloves (Men’s)
- PEARL iZUMi Cyclone Gel Cycling Gloves (Women’s)
- Castelli Spettacolo RoS Glove (Men’s)
- Castelli Spettacolo RoS Glove (Women’s)
(In warmer temperatures, fingerless cycling gloves are ideal to prevent overheating.)
If you’re cycling indoors: Cycling classes are long. Some indoor cyclists still benefit from a thin glove.
While cycling is a low-impact activity, the shock and movement of a bike on terrain keeps things pretty bouncing.
If you’ve got boobs, they need to be in a sports bra that can handle those vibrations.
A medium to high-impact sports bra is ideal for most.
Some sports bras we like for cycling:
If you’re cycling indoors: You won’t have quite as much movement on a stationary bike, but you still need a good sports bra.
What to Wear Cycling in Hot Weather
When it comes to hot weather cycling, the most important thing to remember is that cycling is an endurance activity that will get your heart and respiration rates up and make you sweat.
That means it’s essential to keep cool.
The best hot weather bike wear, from the top down is:
- Sports bra
- Short-sleeved cycling jersey or athletic (non-cotton) shirt
- Bike Shorts or breathable athletic shorts with liner shorts
- Moisture-wicking (non-cotton) socks
If you are overly sensitive to sun, a lightweight, long-sleeved jersey or athletic shirt is a good alternative to short sleeves.
And, whatever you wear, make sure you slather everything that isn’t covered in sunscreen to prevent burning and reduce your risk of skin cancer.
What to Wear Cycling in Cold Weather
Dressing for cold weather can be tricky for cyclists, because the two most important things are in direct conflict with each other.
The most important thing to remember remains the same, keeping cool as your body starts to warm up. (Overheating and sweating can actually make you feel colder in cold temperatures.)
But you also need to stay warm.
This is especially true for parts of the body that don’t get as much circulation during a bike ride, like the hands and the face.
The best cold weather bikewear, from the top down is:
- Sports bra
- Short-sleeved or long-sleeved cycling jersey or mid-weight athletic (non-cotton) shirt
- Wind-breaking cycling jacket
- Full-coverage cycling gloves
- Bike Pants or breathable athletic pants/leggings with liner shorts
- Moisture-wicking (non-cotton) socks
On very cold days (near or below freezing), it’s also important to cover the lower face with a neck gaiter.
A neck gaiter will keep skin from chapping and prevent irritation of the throat.
And, just like on warm days, if it’s daytime wear sunscreen on all exposed areas.
It doesn’t matter how gloomy it is, the UV’s still out there.
Dress for Cycling Comfort
When it comes to dressing for a bike ride, it really comes down to comfort – keeping cool, staying warm, and maintaining flexibility.
For short, recreational rides, any stretchy, breathable clothing will suffice.
But if you want to start cycling for fitness – taking longer rides, getting your heart rate up over long periods of time – the right clothing will lend to your mobility, help regulate your body temperature, and protect you from the elements.
So, it’s worth getting it right.
Hold up! Even fully dressed isn’t fully dressed on a bicycle.
For the accessories we think every cyclist should carry, see Road Bike Must Have Accessories.
Did you need help getting dressed because you’re new to cycling? Check out Getting Started With Cycling (Cycling For Beginners) for more beginner guidance.