Why on earth do road cyclists, mountain bikers and cycling commuters all need different types of kit? And what are the differences between road cycling clothing, MTB kit and commuter cycling gear? Won’t any old waterproof jacket do?
Cycling kit, although it shares features with lots of other exercise kit, is specifically designed to deal with the particular needs of cyclists. As well as needing to be breathable, comfortable, and move with the rider, there are some specific additional elements.
For example, jackets and jerseys will tend to have lower or ‘dropped’ back hems, to keep the lower back covered when leaning forward towards the handlebars. All riders will be exerting to a greater or lesser extent, so wicking, breathable fabrics are used for base layers and tops. And of course, riding in the UK means a waterproof garment or two is essential!
The different types of riding have their own environments and priorities. For commuters, this can mean having kit that helps you stand out in the urban environment, or that’s versatile and practical enough to look good off the bike as well as perform on it. For mountain bikers, kit needs to be tough, weatherproof, and allow plenty of freedom of movement for moving about on the bike lots. Road cyclists need kit that’s supremely comfortable for long distances and helps keep wind resistance to a minimum.
Find out the what and why behind the main differences between road, mountain bike and commuter cycling kit in our quick demystifier.
Road Cycling Kit
Road cycling tends to be fast, requiring a steady level of exertion bar some peaks and troughs for climbs and descents. Road riders will ride in a bent forward position, and tend not to move about much so they cycling action is very repetitive.
Wind resistance is a big concern for road cycling, so clothing will be cut to minimise surface area and reduce the amount of loose wind-catching material - hence close-fitting lycra, and jackets and jerseys with an athletic cut.
- Lots of venting keeps the head cool, and road cycling helmets are designed to for this to work in that bent forward position
- Clothing is cut tight to reduce wind resistance, and to fit the riders body as they are bent forward over the bars.
- Lycra is favoured for it’s close cut, and the stretch which allows it to move with the rider. It’s often combined with technical fabrics and membranes to provide windproofing, water resistance and waterproofing.
- Road jerseys and jackets will have longer backs and shorter fronts than other cycling jerseys, as they tend to be leant further forward and lower down than other cyclists when riding. Bib tights and shorts, which have shoulder straps, means they stay up and in place.
- Jackets and jerseys will also have longer sleeves, often cut and shaped to fit the bend in the arms riders adopt when on the drops.
- Padding is important for comfort, so shorts or tights with chamois pads, and padding on mitts or gloves, minimise bumps from the road on these contact points.
- With wind resistance comes windchill, so many jackets, jerseys and tights will have wind resistant membranes on front panels.
- Exertion is fairly steady, so layering is key to maintaining a comfortable temperature.
- Glasses are used to protect eyes from wind, sun and any grit thrown up from the road.
- Leg and arm warmers provide warmth, and are easy to layer and remove. They are often used to warm and protect the knee and elbow joints until the riders body begins to warm up.
- Cycling caps that can be layered under helmets can give additional warmth, have a peak to shield the eyes from glare from the sun, and can be made of insulating or waterproof material.
- Mitts are the glove of choice for warm weather riding, with padding on the palm for comfort.
- In colder weather, long fingered gloves, with wind proofing and waterproofing are the popular choice.
Shoes & Pedals
- Getting the most power from pedal stroke to bike is the priority, and the stiff soles on road cycling shoes are designed to do this efficiently.
- The cleats on road shoes which attach to road specific pedals also increase efficient transference of power, and are more comfortable to use over long distances.
Mountain Bike Kit
Mountain biking, as the name suggests, usually involves a lot of climbing and descending, which means intense peaks of exertion on the uphills, and less exertion and exposure to cooling airflow on the descents.
Mountain bikers also tend to be much more dynamic on the bike than other types of cyclists, often standing up out of the saddle, and moving forward, backward and side to side as they negotiate technical trails. The environment they ride in also often necessitates protection from impacts, falls, knocks and bumps.
Muddy wet conditions are pretty much ubiquitous in the UK, and mountain bikers need kit to deal with it. They also tend to need kit that works well when off the bike, for example when walking or checking trail sections, or pushing up steep climbs.
- Mountain bike helmets are vented like road cycling helmets to keep a cooling flow of air over the head.
- They’ll tend to be formed to sit lower around the back and sides of the head, to give more overall protection and coverage in case of crashes.
- MTB helmets also often come with a peak, which shields the eyes from sunshine and helps fend off low hanging branches and brambles.
- For downhill or technical enduro racing, or on uplift days, full face helmets inspired by motocross are chosen as they provide even greater protection, including the jaw and face.
- Mountain biking clothing tends to have a loose or baggy fit, to allow freedom of movement on the bike. As wind resistance isn’t really an issue, this doesn’t affect performance.
- Mountain bikers often wear impact protection like knee and elbow pads, and looser clothing allows these to be worn underneath.
- Baggy shorts are usually worn with padded lycra shorts or tights to provide comfort when riding. Waterproof shorts are ideal for winter riding.
- Jackets and jerseys will have a dropped tail, but it won’t be as long as in road equivalents, and mountain biking has a more upright riding position.
- Wicking fabrics are essential for getting sweat away from the skin on those tough climbs, so it doesn’t cool the rider down on the windy descents.
- Waterproof jackets for mountain biking tend to be cut lower all round than on road cycling equivalents, to protect against the mounds of mud and water that gets thrown up by the front and back wheels.
- Mountain bikers tend to ride with a rucksack which provides additional insulation on the back and means extra layers can be carried easily.
- Glasses are worn year round for protection against mud, grit and rocks that can be thrown up by the tyres.
- For protection against crashes and scratchy undergrowth, full-finger gloves are usually worn. These can have additional padding on the back for extra protection.
- For the winter, waterproof and insulated options are chosen.
Shoes and Pedals
- MTB shoes for clipping in will have a recessed cleat and large elevated tread to make walking off the bike in muddy conditions easier.
- Clipless MTB pedals and cleats will give plenty of float (the side to side motion of the foot) to allow the rider to move their weight around when standing up. They will also have an open design to prevent the mechanism getting clogged up with mud.
- Some mountain bikers ride with flat pedals, which usually have protruding pins with provide grip. The corresponding shoes have tacky soles and a tread pattern that locks in with the pins.
Commuter Cycle Kit
Commuter journeys taken by bike can vary wildly, from short urban journeys to long countryside rides, and everything in between and around. For long rides, a lot of commuters choose to use road cycling kit and bikes. For other commuters, riding hybrid bikes, there’s an increasing amount of specifically designed kit available.
Cycle commute journeys tend to be fairly short, and will be stop-start as the rider navigates urban and suburban roads, traffic, and traffic junctions. The rider position on the bike is generally the most upright of all the three types of riding. Visibility on the road is a big concern for a lot of cycle commuters, and versatility and style is another.
- Ventilation isn’t as big a consideration, so shell or skate style helmets are often used.
- Some commuter helmets designed for commuters have inbuilt lights, which increases visibility in traffic. There’s also a variety of high-viz helmets available.
- A lot of commuter kit is about layering weather protective clothing over everyday clothes, so loose fitting waterproof jackets and trousers are popular.
- Commuter kit is often loose fit, but cut with a feminine shape.
- Standing out and being visible in traffic is a priority for a lot of cycle commuters, so high-vis colours and reflective patches are features of a lot of commuter kit, like these highly reflective jackets.
- Other commuters like versatile kit that looks like normal clothing off the bike, is suitable for work or the pub, but performs well on the bike. This will tend to have stretch in the fabric, water resistance, and include merino wool. Rapha, Giro New Road and Vulpine are well known for producing products of this kind.
- Waterproof accessories, which tend to be high-viz, include helmet covers and shoe covers
- Full finger gloves are the popular choice, and in particular waterproof or insulated gloves for winter riding.
- They’ll also usually feature wiretap technology so they can be used with mobile phones and touchscreens.
Shoes and Pedals
- Every and any type of shoe gets used for commuting, and wide commuter pedals give a steady platform for riding in traffic.
- Being able to unclip quickly if needed is a priority, so pedals with cleats that release easily are popular. Pedals like the Shimano ClickR pedals are specifically designed for commuters.
- Touring shoes are popular with commuters who like to clip in, as they have a recessed cleat so they can be walked in like normal shoes. There are also shoes coming out designed for commuters with these features, that are designed to look like normal shoes so you can get away with them at work, like the Giro Civilia shoes.
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