Like most activities, cycling can be undertaken with no particularly special clothing, however it will certainly be more comfortable and probably more enjoyable if you have the right level of kit for when you’re riding.
There is an absolute myriad of clothing etc you can buy so we have tried to pare it down to the essentials below, and have grouped it all in to categories based on whether it’s for Sunny / Dry, Cold / Wet or Mixed conditions. Some items are applicable in only one category, some are applicable in all.
Sunny / Dry
Short Sleeve Jersey – While the image of a Lycra clad road warrior may not appeal to all, the standard short sleeved jersey is almost a given, it should have three pockets for carrying supplies such as food, tools, spare etc and preferably a full length zip so you can ventilate if you get too hot.
Bib Shorts – As with the jersey, a staple amongst regular riders, go for ones with shoulder straps so they don’t ride down when you’re cycling, and make sure the chamois pad is thick enough to provide a decent level of comfort on even the longest rides. As these are one of your primary contact points with your bike don’t skimp, and go for the best you can afford.
Gloves /Mitts – Short fingered gloves with padding in the palms will help to prevent numbness by absorbing some road vibration and will also provide protection in the event of a crash.
Sunscreen – Strictly not clothing but probably one of the most important things to put on if the weather is warm and sunny. Easy to forget at times but essential to avoid burning, go for as high a factor as you can, especially if you’re going to be out for a long period of time.
Sunglasses – Essential not just for keeping the sun out of your eyes, but also dirt, dust, grit, bugs etc. Wraparound cycling specific glasses will work best but ‘standard’ glasses can be used in a pinch. If you need prescription lenses an optician will be able to assist with sports specific glasses or check out our review on the Basto 102 glasses.
Cotton Cap – The traditional cotton cap can be worn under a helmet all year round, but in the summer the peak can be used to shield the eyes against low sun, and may also help to keep sweat out of your eyes.
Insulating Baselayer – On those cooler days your base layer will keep you warm, but still needs to wick away sweat if it does get a bit warmer.
Short Sleeve Jersey – For all the same reasons as you use one on sunny days.
Arm Warmers – Basically the sleeves only of a long sleeve jersey – they allow you to turn a short sleeve jersey into a long sleeve and back again in seconds, and are small enough to store in a jersey pocket.
Gloves – If you’re even slightly unsure of how cold it’s going to be then go for full fingered, there’s nothing worse than cold hands to ruin a perfectly good ride.
Lightweight Rain / Wind Jacket – Get something small and foldable that is easy to carry, and will keep you protected from a light shower or heavier winds.
3/4 Bib Shorts – These usually just cover the knee and provide a little more warmth, especially on those chillier Spring and Autumn mornings
Knee Warmers – If you don’t have, or don’t want 3/4 bib shorts then these removable warmers work the same as arm warmers and will help to keep your lower legs warm.
Cotton Cap – Use the peak on one to keep low sun out of your eyes, and if the weather is cooler it will also provide a level of warmth.
Toe covers – These are cut down versions of the winter overshoe they are designed to keep a chilling wind off your feet but won’t provide any water resistance.
Sunglasses – Another year round staple, use a clear or yellow, low light lens, if the weather is likely to be more overcast than sunny.
Baselayer – An extra close fitting layer under your jersey will provide a bit of extra insulation and warmth. Make sure it will wick away the sweat and consider a Merino wool one for best performance.
Long Sleeve Jersey – These will frequently have a very slightly fleecy ‘Roubaix’ lining giving you that little bit of extra insulation on colder days.
Waterproof Jacket – If you’re riding in the winter then a decent waterproof jacket is an essential, don’t be tempted to wear just any rain jacket, get a cycling specific one which will be both waterproof and breathable. Also make sure it is close fitting around the edges (collar, cuffs and waist hem) so that water doesn’t run in.
Fleece Hat or Ear Warmers – For those really cold days a close fitting fleece cap to wear under your helmet will help to keep you warm, if you don’t like the fit of a cap under yo
ur helmet then a fleece headband / ear warmer will help to keep your ears and head a little warmer.
(Sun) Glasses – if the ones you use the rest of the year have interchangeable lenses then put clear or low-light lenses in, if you don’t have interchangeable lenses then make sure you have a pair for winter riding.
Bib Tights – A full leg length version of the classic bib short, you can get them with or without a fleecy Roubaix lining, we recommend having some of each type in your wardrobe so you can dress according to the weather.
Socks – Frequently overlooked a bad pair of socks can ruin a ride. Merino wool is the sock of choice for the winter cyclist, just make sure they’re not too thick or they will make your shoes too tight and cut off blood supply to your feet.
Gloves – On a cold day you’ll probably need full fingered gloves rather than the shorter fingered version you use in the summer. Again cycling specific gloves will give you padding in the palms and be of a thickness that will still allow you to operate your gears and brakes effectively. Where possible ‘try before you buy’ with your bike so you can assess the feel on the handlebars.
Overshoes – If it’s going to be wet and / or cold then some neoprene overshoes that fit over your regular cycling shoes will make things much more comfortable. As well as providing a level of insulation they will keep out water spray but won’t protect against a major downpour Make sure they’re as close fitting as possible so they don’t rub on your cranks though.