Bike Clothing Guide – What to Wear Cycling

three cyclists hanging out near bikes

Clothing made specifically for cycling offers many benefits including comfort, safety, and improved performance. This guide will explain all the key pieces of apparel you’ll want to be outfitted with so you can maximize your biking experience.

Spandex… Or not.

Gone are the days when you need to dress head-to-toe in spandex as a cyclist. Sure, there is still plenty of spandex to choose from, but also a variety of materials and styles to fit your personal preference and style.

Let’s first take a look at the primary pieces of bike clothing every cyclist should have. After that we’ll dive into materials and price point differences.

Must-have cycling apparel pieces.

We realize #1 and #2 are not “apparel” per se, but you’ll want to factor your helmet and sunglasses into your overall “look”.

1. Bike Helmet

Wearing a bike helmet is a must! To get the right fit and style for you check out our Helmet Buying Guide for assistance. We’ve got helmets designed specifically for mountain bikers, recreational riders, and road cyclists. Many are equipped with advanced technologies like MIPS and ANGi which provide extra support in the case of a crash. Additionally, our Sena helmets offer Bluetooth connectivity allowing you to communicate hands-free while riding.

2. Optics

Biking gives us the awesome experience of receiving sun on our face and wind in our hair. Unfortunately, this wonderful experience can also make us vulnerable to dangerous UV rays as well as debris swept up in the air blowing around. Sunglasses are an easy way to ensure your eyes are protected. Glasses also provide wind and bug protection to keep your field of view clear and without tears! Additionally, in colder weather and/or if you are doing some hard-core mountain bike riding, goggles can be worn for extra protection.

3. Bike Jerseys (short + long-sleeved)

Cycling jerseys (short and long-sleeved) are designed to keep you dry, cool, safe, comfortable, and performing optimally. And they have pockets in convenient locations for when you are riding.

Here’s a list of features that most jerseys are designed with:

Pick and choose which options are most important to you and then get shopping!

  • Breathability – Fabric, as well as built-in ventilation in some jerseys, help keep your temperature regulated.
  • Wind Resistance – Jersey materials, along with aerodynamic design help keep you riding smoothly at any speed regardless of wind mph.
  • Moisture Transfer – Cycling jersey fabrics make sure you remain dry and comfortable by wicking away sweat and dampness from your skin and ensuring the jersey dries quickly as you ride.
  • Pockets – Many cycling jerseys feature a few precisely placed pockets that can carry food, money, your phone, and anything else you may need to grab easily. Pockets are typically inserted on the rear of the jersey and some can be zipped closed.
  • Visibility – Some bike jerseys are designed using bright colors and with reflective details to help you be seen day and night.
  • Hems + Grippers – Most road and performance jerseys will include a stretchy hemline around the bottom of the jersey and the sleeves to keep the jersey in place. The hems often feature grippers that make them stick even more.
  • Front Zipper – A full-length zipper on the front of bike jerseys allows cyclists to zip down or up to help ventilate and regulate temperature. Zip down for more airflow. Zip up for extra warmth and protection.
  • SPF Protection – Many bike jerseys are now featuring built-in SPF protection. You will still want to put on the sunscreen but the added protection will keep you from getting burned under your jersey.

What about jersey fit?

Many bike jerseys are designed with performance in mind and will be made of stretchy fabric, fit snugly, and have an athletic look. But you can also find many loose-fitting jersey styles designed for the casual cyclist that wants to wear relaxed clothing. Regardless of whether or not a bike jersey is made for performance or casual riding, almost all will include:

  • Collar to protect your neck from UV rays.
  • Wide-cut shoulders provide a more accurate fit for arms-forward positioning when riding.
  • Extra length in back so your rear is covered when you assume the forward-leaning position on the bike.

Biking in cold weather?

If you are cycling in colder seasons, it is all about layering. You’ll want to have a long-sleeved jersey and/or arm warmers. You can learn more about cold weather cycling apparel options on our Cold Weather Cycling Apparel Guide and our Guide to Winter Cycling blog.

Long sleeves in summer?

Many people equate long sleeves to cool weather. Not so fast! There are a number of long sleeve jerseys that are designed to keep riders cool, even in hot temperatures, while providing a high level of SPF protection. There are even warm weather sun sleeves that you can add to your existing short sleeve jersey for full sun protection.

>>> Shop all Cycling Jerseys

4. Cycling Jackets + Vests

Cycling jackets and vests are an asset when riding. They can keep you dry, warm, and protected from the elements. But, when it’s time to lose the extra layer, they fold up small so you can store them no problem in a back jersey pocket or small bike bag.

Cycling jackets and vests include many of the same features as bike jerseys like breathability, wind and water resistance, pockets, visibility, and more.

Additional features to consider when shopping for a cycling jacket or vest:

  • Waterproofness – If you ride in the rain often, a waterproof jacket or vest is made to offer you more protection than a water-resistant one.
  • Hoods: Some jackets have stowable or detachable hoods that are designed to fit over your helmet. Hoods can be great for added protection in rain and colder, windy weather. Try on the jacket with hood up over your helmet before purchasing to ensure everything fits!
  • Zip-off Sleeves: Get the best of both worlds with a “convertible” cycling jacket that allows you to zip off your sleeves when you warm up on your ride making your jacket into a cycling vest!

Don’t forget to check out our Cold Weather Cycling Apparel Guide and our Guide to Winter Cycling blog if you are looking for a jacket or vest specifically made to wear in cooler weather.

>>> Shop all Cycling Jackets + Vests

5. Bike Shorts, Bibs, or Pants/Tights

Just like bike jerseys, bike shorts, bibs, and pants/tights are designed to make sure your ride is comfortable and your performance is maximized.

closeup of the lower half of a person riding a specialized bike on gravel

Cycling shorts/bibs/pants are made to:

  • Easily move with your body (why spandex is often the fabric of choice).
  • Glide over the saddle with less friction.
  • Hold the padding (Chamois) in place exactly where you need it most.
  • Breathe and be moisture-wicking.
  • Provide essential protection to the nether regions with purposefully placed padding.
  • Minimize chafing.

One of the main design features of cycling shorts/bibs/pants is the Chamois.

The Chamois (pronounced “sha-mee”), is the padded area on bike shorts, bibs, and pants. Its main job is to keep your bum comfy on longer rides but it also reduces friction and wicks away moisture. Chamois’ come in a variety of shapes, thicknesses, and materials (including gel).

Is there an alternative to the tight-fitting spandex bike shorts?

Going into public with tight-fitting spandex shorts or bibs not your thing? You’re not alone. Luckily there are lots of great alternative riding shorts that have a padded snug-fitting liner under a looser-fitting outer short. These casual-looking shorts transition easily from the bike to the coffee shop or brewpub after the ride (view our men and women styles). 

Liner Shorts (sometimes referred to as cycling underwear) have a built-in chamois and can be worn under your favorite pair of regular shorts or pants.

Learn more…

Learn everything you could ever want to know about cycling shorts/bibs/pants over on our Cycling Shorts Buying Guide – including information about our 30-day Cycling Shorts Satisfaction Guarantee.

>>> Shop all Cycling Shorts/Bibs/Pants

6. Cycling Shoes + Socks

To finish off your cycling outfit, we need to address your feet! One of the surest ways to improve your cycling experience is to incorporate the use of cycling shoes and socks. You’ll improve your pedaling efficiency, gain more stability while riding, eliminate unnecessary stress on your hips, knees, and feet, and you’ll likely go faster exerting less effort!

closeup of a person's lower legs wearing cycling shoes and socks outside with bikes in background.

Our Cycling Shoe Buying Guide will teach you everything you need to know to inform your bike shoe and sock selection. Check it out here.

>>> Shop all Cycling Shoes and Socks

You get what you pay for…

As you’ll see while shopping for bike apparel, there can be a wide range of price points for seemingly identical items. If you dig a little deeper, however, looking at materials and features, you’ll discover some big differences.

Just like any other item, when you spend more, you get more. As the quality of clothing goes up, so does technology and engineering. You get better materials that will transfer moisture better and keep you more comfortable. You get better-designed padding that will sit better underneath you and lead to less discomfort. You get garments that are cut and fitted to move better with your body for more comfort. For the performance-motivated rider, you get materials and designs that are more aerodynamic and will reduce your drag as you ride your bike.

In the end, the more you spend, the better your experience. Riding a bike should be fun, but if you aren’t comfortable, it won’t be fun!

Now, go get outfitted!

Visit any of our ERIK’S stores to shop our amazing selection of cycling apparel. We’ll get you dressed up in style for your next bike ride! You can also peruse all of our bike clothes online at, order up what you like, and have it shipped directly to you.