The Beginner’s Guide To Road Cycling Gear
What are bib shorts and how exactly do you get into them? The clothing you need to know before you ride a bike
You’ve no doubt heard the mantra: “all the gear, no idea” (hopefully not thrown in your direction). Well, cycling is the sport it was coined for and once you delve into the equipment required, you begin to understand why. To participate – before you can, very literally, go anywhere – you’ll need to drop a sizeable wedge of cash on a bike. You could start with a hire bike, but once you grow weary of being overtaken by elderly pedestrians carting heavy shopping, you’ll want to invest in your own set of wheels. And a decent, new road bike could cost about the same as a second-hand car.
Then, there’s the kit. As with most disciplines, cycling comes with its own unique dress code and specialist items of clothing. In fact, what you wear is so ingrained within the sport that your success in the highest tiers of professional road racing – notably the three Grand Tours – is rewarded with a jersey of a particular colour.
The most intimidating article for those new to cycling is a pair of bib shorts. Existing somewhere in the middle of a Venn diagram featuring compression sportswear, lederhosen and “butt-lifting” padded shapewear, it is an item likely to be treated with trepidation when first encountered, let alone worn. Needless to say, in a sport with a totalistic devotion to shaving off every extraneous gram of weight (and even leg hair), form very much follows function here, and all features are there for a reason.
To give you a head start, MR PORTER has compiled this guide to the kit the modern road cyclist needs to know about, and how best to deploy it – or even get into it. Once mastered, getting dressed will be like, well, riding a bike.
The base layer
The foundation upon which your cycling outfit is built. Because it is unlikely to be seen by anybody but you, it might be tempting to scrimp on, or – god forbid – go without. However, your base layer is probably the most important piece of cycling kit, especially so in winter, although it shouldn’t be overlooked during the rest of the year, either. Even in summer, a lightweight layer can help wick away sweat and regulate body temperature, while also offering valuable protection should you fall off your bike.
In short, it’s insulation that will keep you cool once you get going. As you would expect, high-tech materials certainly play their part, but also – perhaps surprisingly – good, old-fashioned wool is often employed. A naturally antimicrobial fine-gauge merino blend in particular will serve you well.
Or try these
The bib shorts
We better get this out of the way now: these are designed to be worn without underwear. Putting them on, then, makes for an unusual experience at first, but once you start racking up the kilometres (note: to sound like you know what you’re talking about, when cycling, always use metric measurements), you’ll soon see, or feel, the benefits.
The padded seat of the shorts is called the chamois. It is now largely made from synthetic materials, but retains its name from the original leather once used for this purpose. As well as providing comfort for the portion of your anatomy that comes into contact with your bike’s saddle (please don’t make us draw you a diagram), it helps reduce chafing and lessen the impact of saddle sore, which, as you can guess from the name, is not something you want.
To work effectively, bib shorts need to sit snuggly around the part of your body that we really hope never comes up in Pictionary. This means a tight fit, gripped trims and, yes, bib straps, all to keep the shorts in place, and without a waistband to restrict movement. So, should you be planning to give the peloton the slip, your shorts won’t.
Worn with the brace-like straps under a jersey, the really tricky part is getting out of them again, making that first toilet break a steep learning curve.
Or try these
It might be perfectly acceptable to participate in a kickabout at the park while wearing a Brazil, Barcelona or Manchester United shirt, but you should never sport a yellow jersey while on a bike unless you have actually won the Tour de France. The maillot jaune is a sacred artefact, only for those few immortals who have earned it. Instead, we suggest to just ensure your jersey matches the rest of your kit – dark colours are always a good choice and will hide grease and dirt.
In the cooler months, a long-sleeved jersey makes sense. Short sleeves are best when the temperature nudges above 15ºC, with arm warmers should you need them. Comfort is key here, so figure out what works for you. Either way, the jersey will likely feature a zip-up front, which makes it easier to put on while allowing you to adjust it for ventilation, and will be cut to hang lower at the back. This gives coverage when you’re riding, where the aim is to get your back to run parallel with the bike’s crossbar. Any extra accessories can be stashed in the pockets at the back, along with inner tubes, flapjacks and sunglasses – you’ll be surprised how much you can cram in.
To reduce drag, the jersey should hug as close to the body as possible. Being a strange, bordering-on-masochistic lot, cyclists might see squeezing into a jersey a size too small as a badge of honour, but we’ll leave that to you. What we will say is that, for all the talk of comfort above, cycling is a sport that encourages pain and suffering. As three-time Tour de France winner Mr Greg LeMond famously remarked, “It doesn’t get any easier, you just get faster.” Think like that and you’re well on your way to claiming that fabled shirt.
Or try these
The wind and rain are not your friends. Going headlong into the former can make it feel as though you are pedalling twice the distance and even blow you off course – or entirely off your wheels – while the latter will simply get you wet.
A cycling jacket should be designed to repel wind and rain, but without compromising breathability. It needs to be snug and lightweight (you should know the drill by now), but also easily packed down to stow in a jersey pocket. And to avoid getting hit by motorised vehicles, reflective detailing wouldn’t be amiss.
If there’s little chance of rain, but the breeze is picking up, try a windproof gilet to help you cut through it.
Or try these
Unless you live in Australia, where helmets are mandatory, what you wear on your head is up to you. Whether or not you choose to wear a helmet, you should wear a cycling cap. Softer and thinner than a baseball cap, with an elasticated rim to keep it on your head, a cycling cap will shield you from wind and keep rain or sweat out of your eyes. There are those who stress that a cap should never be worn off the bike, but since it will also hide helmet hair, we won’t judge.
In the winter, gloves are essential for offering protection from the cold. In extreme temperatures, look for a pair that are windproof and well insulated. Some pairs even work on smartphones, which is very useful when trying to jab at Google Maps or Strava. In summer months, a fingerless pair should suffice, saving your hands from the wear and tear caused by clinging onto handlebar grips for long hours.
Or try these
And don’t forget…
Don’t think you’re going to get away with the invisible socks you wear with your more pedestrian shorts. Instead, you’ll need some thick socks to limit the punishment your shoes will put you through – and to keep your toes toasty in winter. Dancing on the pedals is also likely to make your feet sweaty, so opt for socks woven from a wicking material. And make sure the colour matches the rest of your kit.
And finally, while you shouldn’t wear pants under bib shorts, if you’re riding to work, you shouldn’t be caught short when you get there. Like a Lycra-clad Don Draper, every cyclist worth their salt should have a desk drawer stuffed with underwear. We’ll point you in the direction of these boxer briefs by Sir Paul Smith. The designer himself once had aspirations of a pro-cycling career, and that his trademark stripes bear more than a passing resemblance to the regalia of the UCI world championship is no coincidence.