How to Dress for Cycling and Mountain Biking

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How to Dress for
CYcling & Mountain BIking

For some people who want to get into road or mountain biking, the clothing associate with the sport can be intimidating. We don’t want that to be the case, so we’ve thrown together this cycling fashion guide to help you find quality clothing and look good out on the saddle. This guide will primarily cover cycling clothing (shoes, helmets, and sunglasses will be covered in other guides).

Cycling Bottoms

Bike-specific shorts and bottoms have a purpose: They prevent chafing that is likely to occur if you ride for long distances in regular shorts or pants. Additionally, they help prevent saddle sores through the use of an integrated, specially-designed pad called a chamois (pronounced SHA-MEE). Be aware that not all chamois are created equally, and the quality of the chamois contributes to the price.

Here are your options when it comes to cycling bottoms:

Tight-fitting road cycling shorts are typically made from Lycra, so they stretch and compress, enabling movement while reducing air resistance.

Mountain bike shorts are typically baggy. Many come with a removable base layer that has an integrated chamois (often called a liner). Some people like to ride with road shorts underneath the baggies when the liner isn’t up to snuff.

If you mostly ride around town and don’t feel comfortable in the skin-tight cycling shorts, mountain bike shorts are totally acceptable to wear. Or just throw a liner or road shorts under your regular clothes.

Bib shorts
While most cycling shorts are higher in the back to account for the bend of a bike rider, many cyclists prefer the security of bib shorts. These are cycling shorts with integrated straps that go over your shoulders like suspenders, similar to a wrestler’s singlet.

Bib shorts just give you an added sense of security and help you ride more comfortably on the bike, so you don’t have to worry about flashing your plumber’s crack to passing motorists. Usually, the upper portion of the bibs is made from a porous, jersey-like material to help you stay cool.

Tights and Capris
For cooler weather and for those who like more compression, tights and capris tights are the way to go. Just make sure you get cycling-specific tights, as any old compression tights won’t have a chamois to protect your sensitive tissues.

Some cycling tights include stirrups to keep them from riding up your calves while you pedal. Some are fleece-lined for winter riding. You can also find bib tights for the same added security and coverage as bib shorts.


Cycling Tops

What makes a cycling shirt a cycling shirt? When it comes right down to it, it’s the material, the cut and the pockets. The material is designed to keep you cool. The cut is designed to provide coverage on your back while allowing you to easily reach forward to hold the handlebars.

Road Cycling Jerseys
Road jerseys are form-fitting to reduce drag. They typically feature elastics around the waist hem and the sleeve hems. Most have quarter-zip or full-zip closure in front that allows you to adjust the air flow into your torso to regulate body temperature. Many include pockets in the long back where you can stash snacks or other items you’d like to access during your ride.

MTB Jerseys
Like MTB shorts, mountain bike shirts are typically baggier than road jerseys. With that said, there is a range of styles in mountain biking. Many all-mountain or XC riders wear slimmer-fitting shirts with more of a tee-shirt cut. As you move along the spectrum toward downhill riding, the shirts start looking more like motocross jerseys. With that said, you’ll see a wide variety of cuts and designs in the mountain bike world, and you can wear whatever you feel most comfortable in.

Cycling jackets are usually made of thin nylon or polyester. Their main job is to provide an extra layer of protection against cool wind, but you can find some that are also made to keep out water for those days when you get caught in the rain. Most cycling jackets are longer in the back to provide more coverage when crouching. Many have zippered vents to help you regulate temperature.

Cycling Socks

Cycling socks are made from breathable materials and feature a sturdy cuff to keep them from bunching up around your ankles. Polyester and Merino wool are the preferred fabrics for cycling socks. Wool has the added advantage of not trapping odors like other materials. Look for socks with mesh panels to help keep your feet cool. Some may also have compression panels sewn in for added support.

The more important question is how tall your socks should be. In recent years, long socks have been popular. But every few few seasons the styles seem to change, so it's a good idea to get a couple pairs of both longer and shorter socks.

Headset bearings

How do you ride? Are you a recreational road cyclist that enjoys getting out to ride for a casual 20 miles or are you more of a free rider who is always on the lookout for the biggest drops?

A bike headset with caged bearings works just fine for the weekend warrior or the cyclist that gets out a couple of times a month. If you're a serious, daily rider, a headset with sealed cartridge bearings will offer greater longevity and better performance. Aggressive road riding requires predictable steering, and a high-grade cartridge bearing provides just that.

For most, stainless steel bearings are perfect. For racers and really hardcore enthusiasts, ceramic bearings are the way to go. They spin faster and smoother, giving you more responsive steering.

Headset Diameter

The diameter of your steerer tube and head tube will dictate the size of the headset. You will find headsets in four different diameters:

-- 1-1/8-inch (most common)
-- 1- inch (typically older frames and forks)
-- 1.5 inches (downhill bikes)
-- Conical (1-1/8 top cup / 1.5 bottom)

Most current frames and forks (which are almost always threadless) require a 1-1/8-inch headset. 1-inch headsets are usually threaded to match their older counterparts, but there are quite a few in the threadless configuration as well. Conical headsets are for a tapered headtube. This type of configuration allows weight savings with increased stiffness. The technology of a conical headset was launched in 2009, so only the latest frames will offer this as an option.

Headset configuration

Internal: This type of threadless headset has cups that fit into an oversized head tube. Head tube sizes for these range from 44mm to 45mm inner diameter. When the cups are pressed into the head tube, the bearings sit inside the head tube, creating a lower stack height.

Integrated: This type of headset is used when the bearing cups have been bonded into the frame. Bonding the headset cups into the frame has become common practice for larger frame manufacturers that deal primarily with carbon fiber. Using an integrated headset allows a headset to be installed without the use of expensive tools that are only found at bike shops.

Standard press-fit: This is the most common type of threadless headset used with standard headtubes. The cups are pressed into the frame while the bulk of the headset sits outside the tube. Cup stack height is an important factor to consider, as a higher stack height could raise the riding position.


Really good headsets can cost upwards of $300. You're paying for high-tech, lightweight materials like carbon or titanium, along with sealed ceramic bearings and quality finishes. In many instances, you're also paying for the brand, but that's not a bad thing. For many cyclists, it's worth it; certain brands are well-known for their high-quality engineering and performance.

For those interested in something more affordable, a headset in the $50-$150 area will still provide more than enough performance. Most good brands offer headsets in this range, and you can find plenty that are durable and lightweight. And if you don't ride too often, you could find others for less that will hold up for years under lighter use.

Headset installation

Improper installation of a headset can damage the headtube and the headset itself. There are tools that allow you to insert the headset without having to pound it into the frame with a hammer or wrench. Most people won't install too many headsets, though, and probably don't need to spend the money on such a tool. So to help you avoid damaging your new part, we recommend that you have your headset installed by a professional bike mechanic. A bike headset that has been installed and maintained properly should last through many years of riding.

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