Clothing for every (Cycling) occasion
There is a well known expression used in the outdoor industry. It goes “there’s no such thing as bad weather, just the wrong clothing”. Clearly whoever came up with that one was well versed in the variety of weather that we can experience in the UK. All four seasons in one day is another expression that also comes readily to mind. There is no doubt though that sitting on top of a bike for a reasonable length of time is going to expose you, the rider, to everything the British weather has to offer and more. So choosing appropriate clothing is important. Weather is not the only factor to be aware of either when considering clothing. Safety and comfort are two equally critical factors so in our Criterium Cycles Clothing Buying guide, we look at the most important factors to take account of when choosing your clothing.
Your layering strategy is the most important first step and the good news is it is pretty simple. You have three layers to consider
- Outer (or Shell)
You should then combine the layers depending on the season, the conditions and you. The last point is very important. Many of us here at Criterium Cycles never wear more than two layers. We prefer to be slightly colder and heat up through cycling than the other way round. We are all different and only you will know what works for you. However, the three layers are all quite distinct as we explain now.
This is the layer that sits closest to your skin and is designed to do two things. First, it keeps you warm by acting as an insulator. Second it keeps you dry by wicking away the sweat. Wicking is the process by which a fabric draws moisture away by capillary action, thus keeping you dry. Base layers come in many types with different sleeve lengths, different fabrics, collars and weights. The trick is to find the one that suits your needs on any particular day / ride. Short sleeve for summer, perhaps long sleeve for winter. A short sleeve thermal base layer can always be supplemented by arm warmers and used in the Winter as well.
The other choice to make is in terms of material with the big difference being whether it is a natural or man-made fibre. The most common natural fibre is Merino Wool. It feels lovely to the touch, keeps you warm and it is less susceptible to retaining sweat odour than a man made fibre. This means you can use it for more than one ride before it needs a wash. It is not as good at wicking as a man made fibre so it will not dry as quickly if subjected to a rain shower. Man made / synthetic fibres are usually lighter, better at wicking and more flexible / stretchy. They are not though as warm as merino wool / natural fibres. Some companies also produce hybrid fabrics with wool / synthetic mixes or part wool / part synthetic for different parts of the base layer.
Everything is really down to personal choice. Check out the product descriptions, any customer reviews and technical info on each base layer for more information. Always remember to check the washing instructions that come provided with your purchase.
For many people, the Mid layer is the one that provides the most flexiblity. Mid layers include short or long sleeved riding jerseys, windproof gilets and Softshell Jackets. So depending on the weather and your own approach to keeping warm (or cool) Mid layers can either be the thing you wear on its own, or under a waterproof Outer layer / shell or even on top of a base layer. Whatever combination you choose, make sure you choose fabric that isn’t going to feel too rough and isn’t going be too heavy. Also, we like to suggest that if you are planning to use a softshell jacket or gilet as your top layer, it’s good to choose light coloured fabrics, possibly even with reflective characteristics. Remember – you’re likely to be a perfectly competent rider but it’s other road users we need to be aware of as well as help them be aware of us. Always best to be seen as much as you can.
Whatever you choose as your outer shell layer, it is really important that it is breathable, windproof and, if you are planning to use it when it’s raining, then waterproof and not just water resistant. There is a big difference. If your budget will stretch to it, then jackets that are really breathable but which will also stand up to everything the British weather can throw at them are likely to be the best all year round Outer Layers.
There are few things in cycling that are pretty much a requirement, but a decent pair of padded shorts is one of them. Check out our Saddle Buying Guide for a more detailed explanation of your sit bones and the contact points with the saddle. Note that the quality of the padding between your rear end and the saddle is going to make one heck of a difference to your cycling enjoyment. If you don’t want to be seen wearing lycra then fine. However, if you then wear something else over the top of your shorts do make sure they are cycling specific in terms of design and cut. Perhaps a pair of baggy cycling shorts for example. This is because seam design and location as well as panel design and fit is important for your comfort and enjoyment in the saddle. As with everything else though, there are different types and you get a lot of choice.
Close Fitting (basic) Shorts
There’s nothing basic about a good pair of shorts made of lycra but there are also some really good tips to note to get the best product:
Don’t wear underwear
Padded shorts are your underwear and are designed to be worn as the base layer. These days, microbial padding and inserts help enormously though we always have a clean pair for every ride.
Panels are important
The more panels the better will be the fit. 8 is pretty much the standard.
The padding or chamois in the shorts is a really important feature for your comfort. As the name suggests, they were initially of leather but these days tend to be synthetic materials. They often have gel filled inserts, to mould to your body.
Womens Specific Design
Plenty of Womens Specific Designs exists these days so there is no need at all to compromise with shape, fit or style.
Bib Shorts (and Bib Tights)
OK, so they can look a little bit like old fashioned braces but many cyclists do prefer them. This is because like braces, they keep the lower part of the garment in precisely the spot you need it kept all the time. There is also no seam to rub on your waist when bent over on the bars of your bike. Here are a few other good tips:
It is always best to judge the sizing of your bib shorts by bending over as if you were on your bike. It is advisable to do this in a changing room or somewhere a bit more private! However, the point is you will spend most of the time wearing your bib shorts in a bent over position on your bike. So the size / comfort balance you are aiming for is when you are in that bent over posture, not standing up.
Bib Shorts do come in padded and unpadded forms. We would always treat them exactly the same as normal shorts and go for the padded variety. However, make sure the specification of the product you are buying is exactly what you want i.e. padded or not. The unpadded version does mean you can wear a pair of padded shorts underneath if you wish.
Womens Specific Design
There are plenty of Womens Specific Designs for Bib shorts which have a different cut so as to fit over the chest more comfortably. Some manufactures such as Gore Bike Wear produce Womens Specific Designs that have zipping systems to make comfort breaks a lot more convenient.
Baggy Shorts tend to be the preserve of mountain bikers. However, for those who really don’t like the look of lycra, even if they wear it, they can have a pair baggy shorts over the top to ‘tone down’ the look! If you think baggy shorts may be the way to go, here are some additional tips:
It is still worth looking at high quality breathable and windstopper fabrics. This is especially true if you are going to be wearing them over other tighter fitting garments. You want to make sure you don’t overheat.
If your budget will stretch to it, then it is definitely worth looking for baggy shorts that come with a removable liner, padded or otherwise. This helps enormously when wearing baggy shorts over the top of other shorts.
Fit & Cut
It is worth buying cycle specific baggy shorts because they will normally come with a higher waistband at the rear. You don’t want to inadvertently expose things you would rather not expose. They should also have reinforced padding on the seat to reduce wear.
A Jersey is just a fancy name for a cycling top. They come in all kinds of sizes and materials. When choosing one, your key concerns should be durability, lightness, comfort and the wicking capacity of the fabric. Wicking is the ability of the fabric to draw out moisture using capillary action thus drying out the fabric quickly principally from sweating. Jerseys are a mid layer but can be worn as your outermost garment depending on how you choose to manage your layers. Jerseys may be your innermost garment on occasions which is why comfort is an important consideration.
In terms of material, the wicking capability is important so synthetic fabrics tend to be very popular such as polyester. Polyester has the benefit of being very light and feels quite comfortable too. If you are a traditionalist, or just like the feel of it, then wool is good. Do make sure you go for Merino wool which is much lighter than normal wool, has good wicking capability and dries fast. It also has antibacterial properties, more so than polyester. That means you won’t be quite as smelly after just one ride. We wouldn’t suggest leaving it for too many rides though!
Good for the summer when you want to keep cool. If it does get cool and you get caught out, then arm warmers are always an optional extra worth considering.
The preferred choice in the winter. However, because of this they come in a bewildering range of weights and thickness with the heaviest, most insulated being very warm indeed. If you are the kind of person that gets very hot on a ride, you may find this overbearing so always check out the specific product descriptions.
We absolutely love arm warmers at Criterium Cycles. They are a really clever and flexible addition to your wardrobe. They enable you to add a section of warm clothing to a short sleeve jersey for instance without the hassle of having to take it off and replace with a long sleeve jersey or jacket. They can be quite a challenge to make however. The manufacturer is always trying to strike a balance between an arm warmer that won’t keep slipping down yet isn’t too tight so as to bite into the arm. We have selected arm warmers carefully at Criterium Cycles and the brands we sell are the ones where we think the manufactures have got that balance just right.
Gloves are similar to cycle shorts in our opinion – they are an absolute must. They perform a wide range of functions from general comfort, anti-vibration padding and insulation.
If you spend a decent amount of time in the saddle then inevitably your palms are going to rub against the bar tape or grips on your handlebars and suffer mild abrasion from constant changing of gears. This is especially true if you live where the Criterium Cycles Team lives.
Then there’s the vibration coming through into the handlebars. Even if you have a high tech vibration cancelling frame such as on the Trek Domane SLR or the Bianchi Infinito CV you are still going to feel the input from our wonderful British Tarmac.
And then there is the weather. Your fingers are going to get cold because they are at the ends of your body. They are your first point of contact between the onrushing wind and rain. They deserve to be wrapped up a bit.
Finally, there is safety. We really hope you don’t come off your bike but it is inevitable that will happen once in a while. The last thing you want is the skin on your hands coming into contact with whatever surface you land on. So for all those reasons, gloves are definitely worth having.
Long or Short?
If cycling in winter, go for long fingered gloves. Many additional options are possible including waterproof gloves, breathable gloves, thermal gloves or various combinations. If it is going to be really cold, make sure you have long cuffs. You can tuck them under the end of the sleeve of your cycling jersey to make sure the wind and rain can’t get in.
If it is the summer and comfort and padding are you priorities, then short fingered mitts may well be the thing. They are certainly more breathable but they are not quite so good if you find your hand coming into contact with the ground. However, we are sure you will find plenty of ways to make sure that doesn’t happen in any event!
For mountain biking, we tend to go for long fingered gloves most times. This is partly for protection and partly because you are going to be braking and changing gear pretty regularly. So the added protection against abrasion is worth having.
Socks are an essential part of a cyclist’s wardrobe. Close fitting socks are good for ensuring that close fitting shoes (e.g. road cycling shoes) don’t rub. There is little more guaranteed to spoil an otherwise enjoyable ride than a blister. In the summer, lightweight socks are best especially those that have good sweat and moisture wicking capability. In winter, thicker, more insulating socks are best. Your feet, like your hands, are body extremities that tend to feel the cold the most. We in Criterium Cycles certainly subscribe to that view.