Commuting by bike is a great way to get to work invigorated by some exercise and avoid the crush on urban transport or traffic jams on the roads.
Commuting by bike can save you significant amounts of money.
However, the up-front costs of all the clothing and extras you could buy – not to mention purchasing a suitable bike for commuting – could look daunting.
For riders in the UK, the Cycle to Work scheme can take a big chunk off the cost and help spread the payments, making commuting by bike much more affordable.
The good news is that you don’t have to look as if you’re training for the Tour de France to commute by bike, although there are good reasons to invest in cycle clothing for longer commutes, or if you’re riding in bad weather.
You don’t need the most expensive technical gear to commute either and you can find commuter clothing and accessories that are very affordable in bike shops and online.
Some of the items in the list below are essential for comfort and safety if you plan to ride frequently, while others are worth investing in further down the line. Take a look at our 10 tips for cycling to work and six commuter bike accessories as well.
What to wear for commuting by bike
Unless you’ve got an epic commute (in which case you might prefer to take a look at the road cycling kit list further down the page), the priority is to stay dry, warm (or cool if it’s summer), and arrive at work clean and relatively unruffled… all while beating the traffic.
Here are our recommendations for clothing that will help make your commute more comfortable.
A cycling helmet
While it’s entirely your choice, we’d advise wearing a helmet when cycling.
The best budget bike helmets often come with many of the features of higher-priced options. That increasingly includes MIPS, or other additional protection features that were previously only found in the best cycling helmets.
Road-style cycling helmets come with plenty of ventilation, which is an asset in hot weather or on longer commutes – less so if it’s cold or wet. Urban cycling helmets have a more enclosed design with less venting, but often include additional LED lights to help increase your visibility on busy city roads.
Your everyday clothing
If your commute is relatively short, you could be just fine in your normal work clothes. In temperate dry weather, you shouldn’t get too hot or too cold. You may not have time to work up a sweat and the best bikes for commuting now include plenty of electric bikes, which help to keep you that bit cooler.
But if your commute is longer or if the weather is hot, cold and/or wet, some extra cycling clothing starts to become more important.
Probably first on your list of extras for your commute should be a waterproof jacket.
The best value waterproof jackets will provide plenty of protection for all but the most serious of commutes. They almost always use breathable fabrics and a commuter jacket may be looser fitting than a high-end jacket so it’s easier to fit extra layers underneath and there’s better air circulation to help keep you from getting sweaty inside.
A waterproof jacket can serve double duty as a windproof outer layer on cooler days, helping inner layers to provide more effective insulation.
Waterproof trousers or overtrousers are another item that’s important if you are going to commute in the rain. Although mudguards can protect you from road spray, they won’t help with what comes from the sky. Waterproof overtrousers also help to keep the layers underneath clean.
Another piece of kit that will make things a lot more comfortable when it gets cold and wet, a pair of cycling gloves will provide insulation and waterproofing and will usually be breathable, so that your hands don’t get sweaty. They’ll usually include some padding in the palm as well, to make gripping your handlebars more comfortable.
Even in warm weather, a pair of summer cycling mitts can help with sweat absorption and provide additional ride comfort.
If you’ve got a longer commute or are feeling uncomfortable on your saddle, a pair of padded cycling shorts will definitely help and should be high on your list of cycling-specific clothing to purchase.
The extra padding will help to protect your rear end from road imperfections and Lycra shorts will be designed to fit closely so they won’t rub as you pedal. The fabric will also wick moisture away from your body, helping to keep you more comfortable and avoid the dreaded saddle sores.
The best cycling shorts can be very pricey and usually come with a bib, making them more awkward to change. However, there are plenty of budget cycling shorts that will serve you perfectly well for commuting, and there are quality women’s cycling shorts available.
Another item that’s likely to be further down the list if you’re thinking of getting fully kitted out for commuting is a pair of cycling-specific shoes.
You can get by with ordinary shoes or trainers and flat pedals, but your riding will be more efficient and comfortable with cycling shoes, because these are designed with firmer soles for better power transfer when riding.
Although clipped-in road cycling shoes are difficult to walk in, mountain biking shoes and gravel bike shoes are designed so that they’re walkable. They can be waterproof too and having a second pair of shoes avoids having to spend the day at work in wet footwear.
What to wear to commute on a road bike
If your commute is longer or you’re planning to get fit on your commute, a hybrid bike can work just fine, but a budget road bike is usually a faster option. Here are a few additions that will make a more serious commute more comfortable.
The best cycling jerseys tend to be close-fitting and made of Lycra, although some options will contain a blend of Merino wool. The fabric is designed to wick away sweat and keep you more comfortable on your ride.
A cycling jersey is another piece of kit that can be expensive, but there are cheap cycling jerseys that will save you some cash.
As with road cycling jackets, most jerseys will have a dropped hem at the rear to keep your lower back covered when leaning forward on the bike. They generally have a full- or half-length zip on the front and a high neckline.
Pockets that sit at the lower back are designed to stow essentials, such as a wallet, small jacket, snacks or essentials for a repair such as a multi-tool.
Long-sleeve jerseys will provide extra warmth in cool conditions. They’ll sometimes have windproof panelling or a water-resistant coating for added protection.
The cooler-weather equivalent of cycling shorts, cycling tights will keep your legs warmer. Like cycling shorts, the best cycling tights come in men’s and women’s fits and include a gender-specific seat pad.
They’ll usually have a fleeced inner face to increase warmth, may have windproof panels and may be DWR coated to protect you from road spray.
Unlike overtrousers, tights are unlikely to get caught in your drivetrain.
Glasses are worn by cyclists for protection and can reduce the chance of your eyes getting irritated by grit, dust or flying insects.
The best sunglasses for cycling tend to have a wraparound style, which offers a broad range of vision with a lens that provides good clarity, sun protection and a fog-resistant coating.
A pair of photochromatic sunglasses will work well in both bright and gloomy conditions, although most are expensive. Other cycling glasses come with multiple swappable lenses, including a clear or lightly tinted option for low-light conditions.
Caps with a peak on the front are completely optional, but they are also very popular and relatively cheap.
So, while it might not be an essential as such, a cycling cap will provide shade for the eyes in the summer and extra insulation for your head in the winter.