What to wear on a bike ride

Just getting started? These are the essential pieces of cycling clothing and kit you need

It's always good to know what kit and clothing you need if you’re getting into cycling. Whether you’re starting to ride to work, developing your passion for road cycling or just want a bit more comfort when you ride, this list gives you the lowdown of what to get and why.

Some of the items in the list are essential for comfort and safety if you plan to ride frequently, while others are worth investing in further down the line.

There are options available in your local bike shop and via online retailers to suit every budget, so you don’t need to splurge loads of cash to get your cycling kit together.

Use this list as your starting point, and if you want recommendations then we also have plenty of kit reviews by our team here at BikeRadar, which have been tried, tested and rated so you know you’re getting the right product for the right job.

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.

Commuting in an urban environment is stop/start by nature, so commuters tend to alternate between feeling warm when they’re moving but can cool down quickly when they stop at traffic lights and junctions. 

Visibility in busy urban environments is also important, so commuter-focused kit will often have hi-vis and/or reflective elements, and in some cases integrated lights.

Bike helmet

Many commuter-focused helmets have hi-vis and reflective elements
Many commuter-focused helmets have hi-vis and reflective elements

Depending on where you ride in the world, helmets will either be optional or compulsory, so check the law.

Visibility in traffic is a concern for many commuters, and many helmets come in bright colours with hi-vis elements and reflective patches, while some will even have integrated lights.

Make sure you get a helmet that fits well. Most will have a degree of adjustability, and some of the pricier models include MIPS (Multi-directional Impact Protection System), which is an additional safety layer that diffuses oblique forces in the case of a crash or impact.

Waterproof jacket

While most waterproof jackets will work, cycling-specific jackets tend to have a longer back and sleeves that keep more of the rider protected when in a forward position on the bike.

Commuter-specific waterproofs are usually accessibly priced and are full of features that increase rider visibility, such as bright fluoro colours and reflective panels. Some also include integrated lights.

Waterproof trousers

If you have to commute in wet weather, you will definitely feel the benefit of waterproof trousers, which can be layered over your clothes.

These often have reflective details and zipped legs, which make them easy to get on and off without removing shoes.

Shoes and/or overshoes

There are few things more uncomfortable than wet feet, hence waterproof overshoes
There are few things more uncomfortable than wet feet, hence waterproof overshoes

The final piece in the dry-commuting conundrum is waterproof overshoes. Alternatively, you can keep a pair of shoes to use just for commuting.

Overshoes pull over the top of shoes, and have a zip at the back and an elastic strap underneath. They prevent the rain and puddle splashes penetrating your shoes, so they're a great addition for anyone who plans to ride through the winter. They fit over the top of most shoes, but for bulky shoes or trainers going up a size is recommended.

As for commuting shoes, you could simply use a pair of trainers that you don't mind getting trashed, or you could invest in a pair of cycle-specific shoes and clipless pedals for a more efficient ride. Many riders opt for mountain-bike clipless pedal systems, as they can be easier to clip in and out of, which is handy for the stop-start nature of commuting.

Gloves

Gloves for commuting often have reflective elements, which helps drivers see signals more clearly
Gloves for commuting often have reflective elements, which helps drivers see signals more clearly

Gloves aren’t so much of an issue in the summer months, but when the weather starts to turn and the commute involves cold wet mornings, a good pair of gloves will be a godsend. 

There are many options available that offer insulation and wind proofing, and a good number have hi-vis colours and reflective patches, which makes signalling movements more eye-catching to other road users.

Backpack or pannier bags

Being able to carry daily essentials such as laptop, lunch and wallet is important, so invest in a good-quality backpack. Some have additional straps over the chest and around the waist to help keep them steady as you pedal. 

There are also plenty of commuter-specific packs that feature waterproofing or come with waterproof and hi-vis covers, reflective elements and designs that are smart enough for the office.

If there’s the option of fitting a pannier rack and back to a commuter bike, it’s often more comfortable and less sweaty on the back than using a backpack. Generally, it also means you can fit in more stuff like a change of clothes and shoes for work, as well as your gym kit for the evening.

Padded underwear

Some commuters like to have a little cushioning for their ride, and padded underwear is a good compromise between full-on lycra cycle kit and not wearing anything padded at all.

There are lots of options on the market for both men and women, and they look just like regular underwear but feature a thin padded chamois.

What to wear on a road bike

Speed, distance, smooth tarmac (hopefully) and the open road — these are the things that make road cycling enjoyable, but road cyclists are also exposed to the elements. And while lightweight lycra clothing is comfortable and practical to ride in, it doesn’t provide much insulation or protection from wind and rain.

A waterproof and/or lightweight windproof jacket are essential for rides where the weather is looking even slightly wet. That said, for speed and comfort, close-fitting lycra kit is hard to beat. It moves with the rider, which minimises chafing from all the repeated pedalling movements. 

Comfortable shorts with a good-quality chamois is also worth investing in — nobody wants to be uncomfortable in the undercarriage area…

The benefits of wearing Lycra are many
The benefits of wearing Lycra are many

Road-cycling helmet

Road-cycling helmets offer a combination of protection and ventilation in as light a package as the rider’s budget allows.

Some come with the added protection of MIPS (Multi-directional Impact Protection System), designed to reduce the effect of oblique forces during a crash.

Cycling cap

Caps with a peak on the front are completely optional, but they are also very popular and relatively cheap. So while they might not be an essential as such, they are fun (they also feature quirky or cool slogans) and provide shade for the eyes in summer and extra insulation in the winter.

Cycling glasses

Glasses are worn by cyclists for protection and can reduce the chance of your eyes getting irritated by grit, dust or flying insects.

They tend to have a wraparound style, which offers a single range of vision with a lens that provides good clarity, sun protection and a fog-resistant coating.

Cycling jerseys

A good-quality jersey with technical fabrics will help you step up your performance
A good-quality jersey with technical fabrics will help you step up your performance

Jerseys tend to be close-fitting and made of Lycra, although there are more options becoming available that have a blend of merino wool.

They generally have a full- or half-length zip on the front, a high neckline and around three pockets built in that sit at the lower back. These pockets are designed to stow essentials, such as wallet, small jacket, snacks or small repair essentials like a multi-tool.

As with cycling jackets, most jerseys will have a dropped hem at the rear to keep the rider's lower back covered when leaning forward on the bike.

If you like to coordinate, most companies have matching sets of jerseys and shorts.

Shorts or bibs

Bibshorts are particularly comfortable for long distances
Bibshorts are particularly comfortable for long distances

Padded shorts or tights (worn without underwear), are key pieces of kit when it comes to rider comfort. The stretchy material moves with the rider, and is often made from a firm, supportive Lycra.

They come in different lengths  – shorts for warm weather, three-quarter length or knickers, which are good for transitional seasons, and full-length or tights for cold weather.

All of the above are usually available either as shorts/tights, or as bibs, which means they come with shoulder straps. Bibs stay in position better and have no compression on the waist or chance of the waistband rolling down.

The downside to bibs is that they can make going to the toilet more awkward, particularly for women. However, many brands have developed solutions to alleviate this awkwardness, with Endura offering zips at the back of their shorts, while Specialized have included quick-release straps.

Waterproof jacket

Grab a waterproof and you won't be stumped by bad weather
Grab a waterproof and you won't be stumped by bad weather

A good waterproof is essential for riding in wet weather, and many are compact enough that they can be stowed in a rear pocket if the weather brightens up.

If the weather is good but the wind is chilly, road cyclists often opt for a windproof jacket or gilet, which provides just enough protection to keep warm without the bulk of a waterproof. Again, these can usually be stowed in a rear pocket.

Mitts or gloves

Mitts or fingerless gloves provide extra cushioning, as well as some protection from the breeze.

In winter, riders generally switch over to full-finger gloves, which feature windproof panels or can fully insulate against the wintry chill.

Socks

Loud socks are an essential part of every cyclist's outfit
Loud socks are an essential part of every cyclist's outfit

Apart from the comfort factor, another reason road cyclists love socks so much is so they can show off their style. That’s why you have #sockdoping frequently mentioned on Instagram…

Arm and leg warmers

Arm and leg warmers are a great addition for cycling on chilly mornings and during cooler evenings. 

They’re essentially tubes of Lycra, often with a fleecy backing for warmth, that can be layered under jersey and shorts to give extra coverage. They’re easy to roll off and are small enough to be stowed in a rear pocket.

Clipless shoes

Road-cycling shoes have a stiff sole for good power transfer
Road-cycling shoes have a stiff sole for good power transfer

Road cyclists tend to wear shoes that attach to their pedals through a simple mechanism. This allows them to clip in and out with a little twist of the ankle.

Clipping in makes pedalling more efficient, and by including elements such as stiff carbon soles and a close fit, the shoes can make the transfer of power from leg to pedal to bike even more effective.

Clipless or road cycling shoes come with different fastenings, but typically you'll find them with laces or velcro straps, before getting more sophisticated as the price creeps up — Boa dials feature frequently on premium shoes.

Aoife Glass

Women's Cycling Editor
A mountain biker at heart, also drawn to the open road. Likes big long adventures in the mountains. Usually to be found in the Mendip Hills or the Somerset Levels in the UK. Passionate about women's cycling at all levels.
  • Discipline: Mountain, road
  • Preferred Terrain: Rocky, rough and a long way from anywhere.
  • Current Bikes: Liv Avail Advanced Pro 2015, Juliana Furtado 2013, Canyon Roadlite AL
  • Dream Bike: Juliana Roubion, Liv Avail Advanced SL
  • Beer of Choice: Red wine for the win!
  • Location: Weston Super Mare, Somerset, UK

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