Cycling can give you a feeling of freedom and adrenaline like no other. The rush of coasting down a hill, the burn of the pedals on a steep incline; seeing the world on two wheels is an unrivalled experience. To get the absolute best from it, though, you need the right gear.
Specialist cycling clothing and equipment is well worth the investment. But to the uninitiated, it can seem like a maze of jargon and technical features. To help, we’ve put together a roundup of the most common features you’ll see in your gear, and a breakdown of what the buzzwords actually mean.
An outer layer is important for all-weather riding, when defending against the elements can be essential. Cycling jackets have well thought out features built to enhance performance. Here are some key aspects to consider:
Lightweight – Reduce unnecessary weight by choosing a lightweight jacket to improve freedom of movement and comfort. The best jackets out there can weigh as little as 100g.
Wind resistance – Be it strong gusts or just your speed, wind is an unavoidable hurdle when cycling. Windchill can severely decrease the temperature so it's important to protect against it with wind-resistant or (even better) windproof fabric.
Waterproof/water resistant – Most cycling jackets will be either water-resistant or fully waterproof. Water resistance will protect against light showers, whilst a fully waterproof jacket will withstand heavy rain, with a waterproof membrane and taped seams. Find out more about waterproof technologies here.
Breathability – Breathable jackets allow sweat and unwanted moisture vapour to escape through tiny pores in the fabric. This is an important way to regulate your body temperature when pushing hard.
Dropped hem – A dropped hem is slightly longer at the back of the garment than the front. It provides back coverage when in the saddle, keeping out uncomfortable chills and breezes and trail debris.
Reflective detailing – Often, jackets will be equipped with reflective detailing to provide visibility in low level light for added safety. This can range from individual logos to a full reflective stripe, or even wholly reflective material.
Pockets – Along with side pockets, cycling jackets may feature chest/napoleon pocket or a stash pocket on the rear for easy access to snacks or valuables during your ride.
Elasticated or adjustable cuffs/hem – Keeps cuffs and hem tight to the body, to keep wind out and stops unruly fabric getting in the way.
Cycling jerseys are more technically designed than a standard tee. They often have a tight fit for aerodynamism and offer moisture wicking properties to keep you fresh and comfortable.
Moisture Wicking – Moisture wicking fabrics draw sweat away from your skin and to the exteriror of the fabric where it can evaporate rather than leaving you cold and damp.
Breathability – Much like a cycling jacket, jerseys or T-shirts are designed to allow sweat and unwanted moisture to escape.
Rear Pockets – Many cycling jerseys feature a three-compartment pocket system on the back. These pockets make it easier to efficiently transport energy gels, small water bottles or other accessories. An elasticated top offers an extra element of security for your gear.
Zip Fastenings – A zip offers a simple, one-handed way to dump excess heat. Zip fastenings often have a zip guard at the top, to protect your chin and neck from becoming caught in the mechanism. Jerseys feature either full zips or a half zip. Both are excellent ways to dump heat, but bear in mind that zips should be water-resistant for the best protection.
High Collar – Cycling jerseys commonly feature a high collar design, helping to protect the back of the neck from sun damage. It also helps cut out wind-chill.
Sleeves – Cycling jerseys come in short or long sleeve styles. Long sleeves are suited to colder conditions when an extra coverage is advantageous. However, it's also worth considering a long sleeve jersey to protet against the fierce sun. Take note of the material, as some mesh panels won’t provide sufficient sun protection for your skin. It’s always worth adding that extra layer of sun cream before heading out.
MTB Jerseys – Mountain biking jerseys are generally looser in design than road variants, so you’re able to wear cycling body armour beneath. All of the other technical features above can apply to MTB jerseys as well as road.
Cycling shorts or tights are built to boost your performance in the saddle and withstand the discomfort of it whilst doing so.
Seat Insert/Chamois Padding – A padded insert integrated into the rear of shorts or tights increases in-saddle comfort. You’ll find some inserts that have increased breathability and protection against the cold for diverse weather conditions.
Compression Clothing – Compression shorts or tights have a number of benefits over regular cycling legwear. Much like flatlock seam construction, compression wear will also help prevent chafing against skin and is generally more comfortable. It also inmproves your aerodynamism. Compression helps to decrease the risk of injury by reducing muscle vibration which can lead to sprains. It also lowers the build-up of fluids, leading to soreness. Finbally, compression clothing increases the circulation, which in turn improves oxygen levels and decreases blood toxins. All oft this means a faster recovery time.
Flatlock Seams – Flatlock seams keep the stitches from rising above the level of the fabric, avoiding chafing or friction for the wearer. Flatlocked seams offer much improved comfort to standard stitching. This method of stitching also reduces unnecessary bulk on your shorts or tights.
Bib Shorts – Another variety of shorts, the bib shorts, typically has all the features of regular cycling shorts, in an alternative design. They extend further up the body and have braces over each shoulder, keeping the shorts securely in place. Bib shorts help to eliminate the waist chafing that is sometimes caused by regular cycling shorts. They also ensure the seat insert/chamois padding stays in place, reducing the risk of saddle sores.
The most important piece of kit you need when on two wheels: a helmet offers invaluable protection should you take a spill. Over 18,000 cyclists were injured on our roads whilst cycling in Britain, in 2016 alone. This jaw-dropping statistic should be a huge reason to wear a helmet, if you were at all on the fence about it.
First things first, it’s important to understand the differences between cycling helmets. Broadly speaking, they can be divided into five categories, road cycling, mountain biking (MTB for short), commuting, triathlon and urban. Each type of helmet will have features attuned to the activity in question.
Road Cycling | Road helmets are constructed for smoother terrain than their MTB counterparts. They have a higher number of vents to increase airflow.This works on the assumption that should you fall from your bike, there’ll be less roadside debris to enter the vents and injure you.
Mountain Biking | With extra risk comes extra features. MTB helmets offer more vital protection around ears and the back of the head. In comparison to road cycling helmets, MTB helmets have less vents, to avoid any potentially harmful items entering the helmet, though some top brands have found designs that balance extreme ventilation without compromising protection. It’s also worth noting that mountain biking helmets will often have visors to protect eyes too. If you’re looking for the next level of protection, opt for a full face helmet to defend your ears and jaw. The only downside? They are understandably heavier and less breathable. It's all about choosing the right balance between weight, strength and levels of defence.
Urban | Urban helmets are the most spherical of all the helmets you’ll see on our list. Giving off more of a retro vibe, the urban helmet features less vents than most other helmets, so breathability is at a minimum. They do however still offer essential protection whilst not being the most technical.
Commuting | The commuter helmet is spotted daily traversing the UK roads. Aerodynamics and speed aren’t the key specification on these helmets, hence the spherical shape. You’ll also find fewer vents, as commuting doesn’t demand the same intensity as speedy road cycling or mountain biking. Check out styles with hi-vis or reflective detailing to add safety during a low-light commute.
Aero | These helemts were originally designed for triathlon competition, with their unique shape focused on enhancing your aerodynamics. The elongated rear of the helmet, referred to as the teardrop, ensures the flow of air extends beyond the cyclists’ head, reducing turbulence and drag. The jury’s out on whether visors make much of a difference on aero helmets, but if you do have a visor you’ll probably be slightly more streamlined.
Now let's get down to the nitty gritty...
Certifications – Although there is no precise law requiring a helmet to meet specific safety requirements, there are a couple of standards that you can look out for. “EN” represents a European safety standard, but if you’re looking for something more rigid, a “Snell Foundation B90” sticker (or higher) is a lot stronger than your standard EN.
MIPS – Relatively new to the cycling scene, MIPS, or Multi-Directional Impact Protection System, is a game-changing safety feature found internally in some helmets. Put simply, MIPS technology allows the exterior of the helmet to move freely of the internal MIPS system. This means, during a collision the rotational impact (twisting) to your head will be significantly reduced.
Vents – All helmets offer some degree of ventilation. As the name would suggest, vents aid airflow throughout the helmet, reducing sweat and moisture within the helmet.
Lining – Some helmets will come fitted with a padded/non-padded lining containing antibacterial properties helping you to stay fresh. If you’re consistently on high intensity rides, it may also be worth considering a helmet with removable lining so you’re able to wash it frequently.
Visor – Visors are more commonly seen on mountain biking helmets in comparison to road biking helmets. This is due to MTB riders sitting more upright in the saddle paralleled with road cyclists who are more at a 90-degree angle. Due to the unpredictable terrain found in MTB courses the unobstructed field of vision offered by a visor offers is preferable to sunglasses.
Helmet Lights – To add extra visibility when riding in the dark, you may choose to use a helmet light as well as the lights that attach to your bike itself. Helmet lights may come with a mount that fits to your helmet. If so, it will either be a hard plastic fixing, a rubber mounting strap or an adhesive. Helmet lights can be useful as they match the turn of your head and your gaze.
Fastenings – Most commonly, helmets feature under the chin fastenings, which can be adjusted with buckles at either side of the clip. Alongside a chin strap, some helmets will come with a dial on the rear of the helmet, which can tighten or loosen the fit of the helmet around the head. The dial can often be used with just one hand for ease, but is valuable in keeping the overall fit secure.
Although you may overlook a simple pair of socks, the right ones can be a blessing. Socks made for cycling ensure you’ll get features specifically made to counter any discomfort you may come across.
Comfort/Body Mapping – Body mapping refers to when fabric is designed thicker or thinner in specific areas to keep certain parts of the body warmer, or in the case of socks, prevent rubbing and blisters. In socks, body mapping is most likely to be found around the toes and in the heel.
Flat Stitching – As seen in jerseys and legwear, flat stitching and seams reduce the amount of abrasion caused by normal stitching in socks. This is another preventative measure to reduce blisters.
Mid Foot Band – A band in the middle of each sock to keep it secure and in place.
Anti-Odour – A feature that pairs well with moisture wicking. Anti-odour technology works by neutralising the bacteria that feeds on sweat and produces unpleasant smells. It is often fully integrated into the fabric and can come in synthetic or natural compounds. Look for sustainably and responsibly produced treatments with non-PFC chemicals.
Moisture Wicking – Much like jerseys and legwear, socks are also moisture-wicking to draw sweat away from skin. This is an especially important feature in socks as sweat softens the skin, leaving it more prone to unwanted blisters.
When cycling your hands bear the brunt of the elements.. A reliable pair of gloves will keep you warm and protect your hands and fingers from drying out in the cold, reduce blister-causing friction on the handlebars, and prevent pressure on your ulnar nerve.
Weather Protection – If you’re cycling year-round then a pair of gloves that are waterproof, windproof and breathable will stand the test of time and erratic weather.
Touchscreen Compatibility – Like most contemporary gloves, cycling gloves will often feature touchscreen compatible fingertips on both the index finger and thumb, enabling you to quickly access your phone or smartwatch.
Suede Wipe – A soft part to the gloves, be it on the palm or finger, to wipe away sweat or moisture from the face.
Reflective Stitching – With safety features in mind from head to toe, hands don’t go amiss either. Reflective stitching can be found throughout gloves to add another level of visibility when road cycling.
Moulded Cuffs – Most useful when mountain biking, moulded cuffs are tight around the wrists for security. They also prevent dirt or debris entering the glove and obstructing your hands whilst riding.
Articulated Knuckles – “Articulated” is a term in clothing for a pre-curved design that mirrors the natural position of the body (in this case the fingers) and allows for more natural freedom of movement. Areas with articulated knuckles give less restrictive flex, enabling you to grip handlebars with more precision.