You don’t need a lycra-filled wardrobe to be able to enjoy riding a road bike, but a few cycling-specific garments will make spending time in the saddle more comfortable. And who knows, they may even help you go faster.
- Best bike clothing: all our guides in one place
- Best road bikes under £2,000
- Best road cycling helmets: 8 of our top picks
Colour and design are matters of personal preference and while fit obviously varies from person to person, it is of the utmost importance if you’re purchasing skintight clothing that you’re going to be spending hours exercising in. It’s a well-worn cliché when it comes to buying bike clothing, but trying a garment on before you buy is never a bad idea.
Whatever item of clothing it is it needs to be comfortable, but that can mean different things depending on the garment. Generally speaking, after fit, your main comfort considerations boil down to chafing, temperature, weather resistance, practicality and control.
As far as shorts are concerned, they need to have a good, firm pad that’s positioned and sized well so as to provide support without chafing. And the braces on bib shorts need to be long enough to comfortably reach over your shoulders. The same goes for tights, but with the added element of providing some insulation against the cold and resistance to rain. Practicality (in other words access or ease of removal for mid-ride toilet stops) is also worth considering, especially for women.
When it comes to jerseys and jackets, temperature is probably going to have the biggest bearing on the garment you choose — not only the air’s temperature but also yours when you’re riding. A lightweight climbing jersey made mostly of mesh may be great when you’re charging up the Alps in the height of summer, but it’s going to be chilly if all you’re using it for is commuting along shaded bike paths. Similarly, a nice, thick jersey or water-resistant jacket might protect you from the elements but if it can’t deal with the heat and sweat you’re generating, it’s not much good.
Finally, it almost goes without saying that anything that in any way inhibits your ability to control a bike should be avoided. It might seem obvious but it’s easy to overlook, especially when it comes to gloves. More padding in the palm sounds like a good idea, but if there’s so much that it prevents you from gripping the bars or reaching the brake levers then you need to look elsewhere.
Jackets and jerseys
Giro Chrono Pro jersey
Buy now from Wiggle
- Silky, wicking jersey that fits a variety of body types
- Zippered valuables pocket with sweatproof backing
- Longer sleeves
The jersey has four main materials: mesh under the arms and down the sides, perforated polyester/elastane on the front and back, skinsuit-like nylon/elastane shoulders and sleeves, and a sweatproof backing for the phone/valuables zipper pocket. The end result is a silky, wicking jersey that fits a variety of body types.
The longer sleeves are a big plus too, in my book. Many jerseys use cuffs with a different elasticity, which can bind or give a sausage look. The Chrono’s sleeves, by contrast, lie flat when on the bike or off.
Like many jerseys, the hidden zipper uses a cam lock where flipping the pull tab up lets you pull open the jersey without touching the zipper, and flipping it down locks it in place.
The zippered fourth pocket is excellent for those of us who often ride with our phones. It fits an iPhone 6 no problem. My one gripe is that only the skin-facing side is waterproof, not the exterior.
Giro Chrono Pro jersey review
Craft Active Extreme CN
• Price: £36 / US$N/A / AU$N/ABuy now from Craft Sportswear
- Lightweight, stretchy fabric provides a close fit
- Wicks well and keeps you warm
- Plenty of length in the arms
The lightweight, stretchy fabric gives the Active Extreme a very close fit, which helps it wick sweat away from your body. Flatlock seams around the shoulders aid comfort and it’s nice to find that the torso section is completely seamless.
The slightly ribbed material makes the top warmer than you might expect from such a thin base layer, helped by the high neck, which keeps heat trapped.
On the bike, the arm length is excellent, our only complaints are that the torso is a touch short and we’d like a little more coverage at the back.
CraftActive Extreme review
Rapha Women’s Souplesse
• Price: £120 / US$175 / AU$210Buy now from Rapha
- Exceptional breathability
- Sturdy pockets
- Comfortable with a flattering cut
The Souplesse jersey’s fabric is strikingly soft to touch. While it’s made from a stretch Lycra that holds its shape well, without unduly accentuating any lumps and bumps, it has a matt, almost natural fabric look. Designed for hot-weather riding, it certainly helps moderate your temperature with exceptional breathability. The cut is excellent: comfortable, flattering and fitted.
The full-length zipper sits comfortably in a soft zip garage when fully done up, and the collar sits close to the neck without being constrictive or chaffing. Pockets on the Souplesse jersey are sturdily constructed: two main pouches sit either side of a narrow central one that’s designed to take a pump, plus a small zip-secured compartment at the back of the right hip.
The rear hem of the jersey is reinforced with elastic with a silicone band to help keep the garment in place, particularly while the pockets are loaded.
Rapha Souplesse review
Gore One Gore-Tex Active
Buy now from Gore Apparel
- Featherweight and packs down to a tiny size
- Keeps even the heaviest rain at bay
- Waterproofing remains effective after numerous wash and ride cycles
While the Gore One’s performance and price are high, its weight and size are tiny, allowing the jacket to be packed down into a lump about the size of a fist. A quick shake of the 109g jacket removes almost all water so you can easily tuck it into a dry jersey pocket without worrying about moisture leeching through.
Rain just rolls down the One’s hydrophobic surface in beads, in the same way it does on a window. While you can expect that type of performance from a brand new or recently reproofed jacket in a conventional multi-layer fabric for a few minutes, even heavy rain streams off the One for well over an hour.
With no brushed fabric on the inside there’s no thermal value apart from wind protection, so teaming it with the right base layer for the temperature and your work rate is crucial if you’re going to stay comfortable on long rides.
Gore One Gore-Tex Active review
Endura FS260-Pro SL Thermal Windproof
Buy it now from Endura
- Warm enough for late-winter rides
- Close-cut fit
- Double collar to keep draft out whether the zip’s done up or not
Endura’s Thermal Windproof Jacket fits like a thermal long-sleeve jersey, but with extra protection.
It’s warm enough to wear during late winter/early spring over short-sleeved jerseys or base layers. The arms and wrists are a snug fit, however, which can limit what you wear underneath. A long-sleeve base layer is fine, but there isn’t enough room to comfortably wear a long-sleeve thermal jersey. That said, there’s no need to — the jacket with a short-sleeve base layer is good for temperatures down to near freezing, and a long-sleeve base layer makes it comfortable below freezing.
The front, arms and shoulders have a windproof and water-repellent exterior, and the rear is thick thermal. The tall collar keeps the chill at bay, and a creative interior collar gasket keeps the wind from sneaking down your back when you have the jacket unzipped.
Endura FS260-Pro SL Thermal review
Bib shorts, tights and skinsuits
Endura FS260 Pro SL
Buy now from Chain Reaction Cycles
- Almost tailored feel
- Multi-thickness, smooth-faced pad
- Great panel design
With six garment sizes and three dimensions of pad to choose from it’s worth getting properly measured up for a pair of Endura’s FS260 bibs. Do so and you’re likely to end up with a pair of shorts that almost feel as though they’ve been tailored specifically to you.
Despite lying fairly centrally in the bib shorts’ price range, the FS260 sit right at the top of the performance tables. At first glance the pad looks pretty simple, but that’s partly down to the way it’s attached to the crotch. Inverted, the flat face (that would normally be against the fabric) is folded less than standard oriented pads in other shorts. It’s a multi-thickness, supportive elasticated pad, but these details are hidden.
What is visible is the wide gripper bands and great panel design that fits the crouched cycling position so well. The UV-protective Coldblack dye makes for great comfort once the sun is out too.
Endura FS260 Pro SL review
Giro Ride Halter
Buy now from Wiggle
- Halter-neck design makes for hassle-free comfort breaks
- Lightweight pad supportive enough for long and short rides
- Competitive blend of comfort, performance and quality
Giro’s Ride Women’s Halter bib shorts are among the best we’ve tested and feature an innovative solution to the problem of on-the-go comfort breaks.
These shorts were our first introduction to the halter style of straps for bib shorts. The elastic halter strap rests comfortably across the back of the neck but doesn’t rub or pull uncomfortably.
The halter-top strap style makes bathroom breaks easy. Simply unzip your jersey, lift the halter strap over your head and then pull the bibs down for smooth, hassle-free comfort breaks.
Giro’s lightweight chamois is comfortable for both long and short rides, and the elastic leg grips fit well and keep everything in place while you’re riding. This garment’s combination of price, quality and performance make Giro’s Ride Halter bib shorts an excellent choice for any cyclist on a budget.
Giro Ride Halter review
Vermarc Antivento bib tights
Buy now from Vermarc
- Well positioned chamois provides plenty of cushioning
- Tight but comfortable fit
- Windproof panels on the front of the legs
There are a couple of reasons why Vermarc’s Antivento tights do such a good job of keeping you comfortable in the cold and well protected from insistent winter weather.
The first is the chamois, which is well positioned and provides ample cushioning, even after hours in the saddle. The second is the tight, comfortable fit, which is great and in combination with the flat-locked seams, means that these tights don’t rub, irritate or restrict movement.
It’s a similar story with the bibs’ rear panel, which comes high up the back. The fleece-lined braces are comfortable, soft and forgotten about as soon as they’re in place.
The windproof softshell-style panels on the front do a great job of keeping your legs protected from the wind, and even manage to provide some resistance to rain and road spray.
Vermarc Antivento review
Specialized S-Works Evade GC
• Price: £300 / US$500 / AU$N/A
Buy now from Specialized
- Careful seam positioning and fabric selection for aero advantages
- Pockets sit flat when empty
- Full-length zip
Specialized says the aero savings its Evade skinsuit offers come from careful seam placement and fabric selection. To that end, the suit’s shoulders are completely smooth and seam-free because they’re effectively the garment’s leading edge and the Dimplex fabric is dimpled (like a golf ball or Zipp wheels) to create a boundary layer of air that improves the airflow by reducing turbulence.
It has a full-length front zip for practicality and three rear pockets that are designed to sit completely flat when empty.
The Evade suit is very light and the full zip makes it easy to get in and out of, although the sizing seems slightly big it’s spot on to the size guide so check that before ordering.
Specialized s-Works Evade GC review
Gloves and shoes
Buy now from Specialized
- Thin, lightweight construction
- Minimal padding provides a better connection to the bars
- Velcro-free, slip-on fit
Made with the help of orthopedic surgeon and hand-specialist Dr Kyle Bickel MD, the grail gloves use a single, minimal pad — called the Equalizer. It’s designed to fill in the concave ‘well’ in your palm to more evenly distribute the load and prevent the loss of circulation that leads to numbness or sore hands.
The perforated gel padding is thin and adds very little bulk to your grip so you feel a greater connection to the bars. Riders with smaller hands will probably also appreciate easier reach to the brake levers that the minimal padding provides.
The Grail does away with a Velcro closure and simply slips on snugly. The synthetic leather palm has proven durable, while the back of the hand is treated to a stretchy, lightweight, and breathable mesh.
Specialized Grail review
Specialized S-Works 6
Buy now from Specialized
- Keep a secure hold on your foot when you’re pedalling
- Fantastic on-the-bike fit
- Breathable uppers, stiff soles and roomy toe boxes
The fit of the S-Works 6 shoe is fantastic, with a reassuringly snug and shrink-wrapped feel around the middle of your foot and an almost ludicrously secure hold on your heel. Despite having essentially no padding on the tongue, the Boa cables don’t dig into the tops of your feet at all, even when cranked right down.
Adding to the high-performance feel is an ultra-rigid carbon sole and an impressively low weight of just 440g for a size 43 pair.
Breathability is very good and there’s the full suite of Specialized’s trademark Body Geometry footwear features, the most notable of which are the stout built-in arch support and forefoot varus wedge. Despite being snug, the shoes are supremely comfortable and the toe boxes are surprisingly roomy, leaving heaps of space for your little piggies to wiggle around.
Specialized S-Works 6 review
Buy now from Wiggle
- Pro-race looks without the pro-race price
- Compatible with three-bolt road cleats and two-bolt MTB cleats
- Secure closure system
The RP5s share numerous features with Shimano’s pro-level R321 shoes, most notably the ‘Surround’ upper that wraps around your foot and does away with a traditional tongue. Closure is taken care of by a pair of Velcro straps and a ratcheted anchor. The ratchet attaches to the strap rather than the shoe itself, a system that pulls the shoe in more evenly.
Fit is generous, especially around the forefoot, and the upper is largely enclosed except for a triangular mesh section on the toe box, which makes them a fine choice for cooler days, and even wet days when paired with toe covers.
The reinforced nylon sole is bolstered by a carbon cleat plate that adds rigidity exactly where you need it and the large rubber heel bumper makes walking easy when using road cleats. If you prefer the convenience of a double-sided pedal but want pro race shoe looks without the associated price, the RP5s might be the ideal choice for you.
Shimano RP5 review
• Price: £130 / US$177 / AU$232
Buy now from Chain Reaction Cycles
- A feature-loaded women’s shoe that’s ready for racing
- Its stiff sole is married to a comfy yet secure upper
- Great fit with plenty of room for broad feet
Available in sizes EU36-44, the WR84 is the top women’s road shoe from Shimano.
The stiff carbon sole is a real highlight and allows you to deliver power straight to the pedals, while the upper has a synthetic outer and a soft lining on the inside. Its wraparound construction provides a light, glove-like sensation aided by the placement of three straps on top, the lowest of which has two points of adjustment and rotates at its fixing so you can get the placement just right.
The women’s fit translates to narrower toe area, lower overall volume and narrower heel cup and it’s well executed on the WR84 with no heal slip, no hot spots and a toe box that’s roomy enough for broad feet.
The insoles appear to be a women’s version of Shimano’s dual-density cup insole, which uses a denser foam under the heel and arch to increase support, longevity and comfort.
Shimano WR84 review