If you’re new to cycling, the gear can feel a little overwhelming. What do you wear for a bike ride in the summer versus the spring and fall, and how do you possibly stay warm in the winter? And the clothing needs shift slightly if you’re mountain biking versus road riding versus just trying to commute with a bit more comfort. Here, we’re breaking down what to wear to cycle for fun, to work, or for exercise. Want to know what to wear on bike ride of a specific type? Scroll down for specific advice for road riding, mountain biking, and just commuting around town.
What to wear for cycling? Start with the key pieces
For more on bike helmet construction and a breakdown of the different styles of helmet depending on whether you’re riding on the road, commuting, or mountain biking, BikeRumor has a great explainer piece right here. But long story short, any helmet beats no helmet, and unless you’re downhill mountain biking or racing BMX, a basic road bike helmet will probably be fine.
Beyond the helmet, everything else is negotiable, especially for a bike commute or shorter ride (scroll down to read more about the best practices for dressing for different types of rides). But assuming you’re thinking about a more serious, lengthy bike ride, here’s the deal with the other cycling clothing you’ll encounter.
Cycling jerseys may seem like they aren’t important, but they can make riding a lot easier since they have handy back pockets to hold all of your gear, from your phone to bike repair tools to snacks. They fit snug, though if you opt for ‘club cut’ over ‘race cut,’ you’ll have a bit more roominess in the fit, but generally, you want your jersey to be fitted so it doesn’t flap in the wind. Look for a jersey that fits snug but still gives you full mobility and has room to take a deep breath.
You may have seen padded shorts or tights in bike stores and wondered what the heck was happening. To most adults, bike shorts just kind of look like a diaper and it’s hard to imagine wearing them to increase comfort. But seriously, they’re a huge help when it comes to riding comfortably. The padded part is called a chamois (pronounced sham-E) and it’s there to reduce friction between your bum and the bike, and to provide a bit of padding in the process. Like your jersey, find a pair that fits snug but still gives you full mobility and has room to take a deep breath. Oh—and try bib shorts (the ones that look like they have suspenders). Most riders find that they’re much more comfortable than regular shorts.
(Still have questions? We have a whole article on riding comfort, saddles, and bike shorts right here.)
First, we’ll say this: You absolutely can ride a bike with flat pedals and regular shoes. For commuters, this is often the way you’ll ride around town to run errands or go to work. And for riders who are just getting comfortable on the bike, using flat pedals is a great way to get used to riding and work on skills before transitioning to cycling shoes and pedals that they attach to. For longer rides, though, look for a sneaker that’s more like a skate shoe, with flat and slightly sticky rubber on the sole. That will provide the most comfort and traction—and won’t wreck those shoes!
If you’re getting serious about cycling and want to do more group rides and are thinking about racing, you’ll want to learn how to ride with lipless pedals—which, ironically, are the ones you clip into, so don’t be fooled by the weird naming. This is where you get into bike shoes, or cycling shoes, that are road or mountain bike (MTB) specific, based on what the soles look like. Road shoes have smoother soles and are focused on optimal aerodynamics, while MTB shoes tend to have softer soles and more lugs on the bottom for when you need to walk with your bike (much more common on the mountain bike trails!).
Add these cycling accessories as necessary:
The first ‘extra’ that’s worth the spend is a dedicated cycling rain jacket. These jackets are cut to fit the position you’re in on the bike and tend to be a bit closer fitting than a casual rain coat. They also tend to have reflective accents, higher collars, lower/longer backs (to protect your bum from spray!), and watertight pockets.
Arm and Leg Warmers
To extend the life of cycling jerseys and shorts, add a pair of arm warmers and leg warmers rather than buying tights and a long sleeve jersey right away. Warmers are also nice for riding in weird weather, since you can take them off mid-ride and stash them in your jersey pocket if the temperature starts to rise.
MTB Baggie Shorts
Baggie shorts are worn over top of cycling shorts to provide an extra layer of protection when mountain biking. They’re also just a more comfortable option for anyone who feels a bit self-conscious wearing tight cycling shorts on their own.
No matter what the weather is outside, cycling gloves are nice to have. In the summer, fingerless or lightweight full finger cycling gloves can protect your palms in the event of a crash, and even dampen the vibration of the road on your hands. In the winter, look for cycling-specific wind- and waterproof gloves. It’s tempting to use what you may already have in stock, but cycling-specific gloves are designed to make it easier to grip the brakes and shift gears while riding in below-freezing conditions.
The cycling vest is a great layering piece that can instantly make a ride much more temperate. It keeps your core warm—critical in bad weather riding—and can usually be tucked into a pocket if needed. We love a vest for turning a pair of shorts and short sleeve jersey plus arm and leg warmers into an all-season bike rider outfit!
You don’t need bike socks, but they are nice to have. They tend to be ankle height or a bit taller, and often they’re quite thin, so you have more space in your road cycling shoes (which tend to be very narrow). If you’re a cold-weather rider, look for wool options, which are the best at keeping heat in.
You don’t need a cycling cap, but they’re nice to have. A cycling cap fits under a helmet and provides a small brim to keep some sun and rain out of your field of vision. It can also keep your head warmer! In winter conditions, you can swap a cycling cap for a thin beanie that can go under your helmet to keep your ears warm.
Cycling sunglasses are designed specifically for different cycling conditions—some lenses are even designed for mountain bike trails versus the road (and vice versa). Even if it’s not a super sunny day, wearing sunglasses or clear glasses to ride is a good idea for safety, especially if you’re on trails or in a group. It’s easy to hit branches or get a bit of road grime kicked up at you, which can damage your eyes if they’re not protected.
Backpack or pannier bags
As a commuter, you’ll need to decide between using a backpack or putting a rack on your bike and fitting pannier bags on either side of it. Both are great options, but panniers are ideal if you often bring a lot of stuff, or if your ride is hot and you tend to get really sweaty, since a backpack can instantly make your back drenched with sweat.
Bike riding outfit ideas
If you’re still wonder what to wear biking, it’s understandable. Different types of rides will have different ‘dress codes,’ though remember, your comfort is really all that matters! Here, we’re breaking down the different situations you might be riding in, and what to wear when biking in these different disciplines and conditions.
What to wear for road cycling
What to wear road biking begins with the basics: Helmet, jersey, shorts and cycling shoes that clip into your pedals. Bike ride outfits don’t need to be complicated, it can be as simple as those key pieces. As the weather gets colder or rainier, you may need to add some extras. And there are plenty of fun accessories like caps, socks, and fingerless or full-finger gloves that can be nice to have, but aren’t critical to your cycling success.
What to wear for casual bike riding
The best clothes for biking in a casual situation are generally the same that you would wear to the gym or on a hike. Think comfortable clothes that you can easily move in. If you’re not riding for very long, you can probably get by without padded bike shorts, though you certainly can either wear bike shorts under regular pants or tights, or opt for the ‘brief style’ thinner chamois that brands like Club Ride make specifically for commuting in casual clothes.
Cycling clothing for beginners
If you’re just getting started and you’re on a tighter budget, prioritize a helmet first and foremost. After that, look for a pair of cycling shorts. (The Black Bibs is a fantastic brand that offers a great set of basic black cycling shorts at an amazing price.) Because shorts are part of your direct connection to your bike—ahem, your bum on the saddle—they can make or break how comfortable a ride is. You can always wear a tshirt on top to get started, though there are plenty of inexpensive jerseys available online. While shopping at your local bike shop is great, often shops won’t have a huge clothing selection in a variety of sizes or price points, so don’t be put off if you can’t find something in store immediately. Shop around to find pieces that feel food for you.
What to wear for biking on the trails
Riding on mountain bike trails can be done in the same clothing you’d wear to ride on the road, though you’ll swap your road cycling shoes for MTB shoes. (You can ride the road with MTB shoes, but don’t ride a MTB in road shoes, it’s dangerous!) Many mountain bikers will opt for baggier jerseys that don’t have pockets or technical t-shirts, and use hydration packs to carry their supplies. They also will often put a pair of baggy shorts (“MTB baggies”) on over top of bib shorts for some more protection, added comfort, and style. (For downhill riding, you’ll be adding more layers of protection, including a full-face helmet and body armor.)
What to wear on bike ride in cold weather
Layers are your friend on chilly bike rides. The best winter bike ride outfit starts with the basics: a base layer if you have one, and either bib shorts or tights. If you’re wearing shorts rather than full-length tights, add leg warmers. Then, on top, add layers: A long-sleeve jersey and a winter cycling jacket work great, but if you don’t have either of them, opt for a long-sleeve shirt made with some performance fabric like merino wool or polyester, then layer your raincoat overtop to lock in some heat. The warmer you can keep hands and feet, the better, so a good pair of winter cycling gloves and a pair of overshoes for your cycling shoes can go a long way.
What to wear riding a bike in the rain
Heading out in the rain? If it’s not too chilly, you can usually get away with simply adding a rain coat—and in the summer, you might be able to skip that as well and just accept that you’re getting wet on this ride. Opt for a cap with a brim under your helmet as well—it will help block the rain from dripping down your eyes and obscuring your vision. As it gets chillier, though, try to cover as much as possible with clothing that’s waterproof or water-resistant. Look for shoe covers to keep water out of your socks, and even leg warmers that offer a bit of protection. For casual commuters, you can look to a brand like Gore or Showers Pass for waterproof pants that will be a bit baggier and will definitely get a bit steamy as you warm up, but will keep your clothing underneath completely dry. Waterproof gloves can make a huge difference in riding comfort as well.
What to wear when bike riding to work
If you’re wondering what to wear when biking to work, you’re not alone. This is actually a tricky question, because a lot of companies make clothing that looks great on the bike and at the office (Rapha, for instance, makes dress shirts and pants that have been optimized for riding). But if your commute is long, in bad weather, or in hot weather, you might be better served to simply ride to work in cycling-specific clothes, and then changing when you get there. If you do get sweaty during your commute but you don’t want to show up to the office wearing all spandex, consider a pair of cycling briefs (like these from Club Ride) under your regular work pants, then do a quick bathroom swap-out to put on regular underwear. Generally, though, avoid sitting around in sweaty clothes whenever possible—especially if you’re prone to urinary tract infections.
A few great brands making the best clothing for bike riders
When it comes to the best biking clothes, there are hundreds of brands out there making great gear. This list is by no means exhaustive, but it might help narrow down your search. As a rule, remember: Ordering no-name cycling kit off of Amazon or similar sites will likely result in awkward or ill-fitting clothing that doesn’t last. Choose good brands: the best cycle clothes should last for years.