Beginners advice: What clothing to wear on a bike ride

Victoria Hazael's picture

Beginners advice: What clothing to wear on a bike ride

Do you need special clothing to start cycling? Cycling UK’s Victoria Hazael explains how of course you can cycle in your normal clothes but there are choices that would make your first cycle ride far more comfortable.

Although you may find lots of articles on the best clothes and kit for women's cycling and be tempted to go out shopping before you've even sat on a bike, you really don't have to. What you wear and feel comfortable to wear cycling differs from person to person. A lack of specially designed cycling kit should not prevent you from riding a bike. After all, if you look at somewhere like the Netherlands or Denmark where cycling levels are much higher than ours in the UK most people are just cycling in their normal clothes to get around.

When you are starting to cycle you do not need to spend a fortune on the latest lycra. My first advice is to look in your wardrobe and wear what you have

Victoria Hazael, Cycling UK digital and content manager

When you are starting to cycle you do not need to spend a fortune on the latest lycra. My first advice is to look in your wardrobe and wear what you have, then see if you like cycling (I really hope you do) before investing in kit.

Tips for wearing normal clothes

Choose some comfy clothes that don’t restrict the movement of your arms and legs. Cycling in clothing like jeans, or tight fitting dresses or trousers can restrict how you use your muscles. Some clothes have thick and bulky seams which can rub and make you sore. Also don’t wear something with too tight a waistband either. You need to be able to breathe!  

Make sure your trouser legs are not wide or flared as these can catch and rip. If you do have wide trousers and don’t have an alternative in your wardrobe, use cycle clips, longish strong socks or a hairband to secure them. This isn’t such an issue on bikes that have chainguards, mudguards and skirt guards, like many bikes do in Denmark and the Netherlands - but most bikes sold in the UK don't.

Try and wear simple leggings or jogging bottoms that taper at the ankle. Clothes for running or other sports may also be suitable.

Depending on the weather, anything from a simple T-shirt or vest will do on your top half. If it’s cold, layer it up with a long-sleeved thin hoodie or cardigan, this is better than a jumper as you can unzip or unbutton if you want to cool down a little bit. Once you are cycling you will warm up, so wearing one thick jumper means you can’t take a layer off or put another one on. Layering is the key to being the right temperature whether you are cycling on a hot sunny day or cold and wet day. 

If it’s raining, a simple thin waterproof coat that isn’t too long will keep you dry. More expensive cycling jackets are breathable and have a longer back to cover your back and bottom when you lean forward to ride.

Shoes

Ditch the flip flops, sliders or sandals without secure straps that may fall off and go for trainers with velcro - or if they have laces, make sure they are tied up safely so they won't get caught if they come undone. I opt for tying them in a double knot just in case. A shoe with a stiffer sole will make it easier to pedal, but for a beginner's ride you really don't need cycling shoes.  

Padded shorts

Some people wear padded shorts every time they cycle. For me personally, I wear them if I am cycling a longer distance outside of my local neighbourhood (anything further than 5 miles). If you find you are sore on a cycle journey less than 5 miles, I’d suggest you also look at adjusting your saddle height and/or angle to make your bike more comfortable.    

If you are going to buy one piece of cycling kit, the first piece of clothing I’d recommend are some padded shorts or leggings.

Padded shorts are sometimes called liners or chamois – this refers to the padded part. For women, it's important to get a chamois that's designed for women, as it will be more comfortable.
Padded shorts come in all kinds of designs and price brackets from liners that look just like normal knickers to full on lycra bib shorts.

There is no best option, just what is comfy for you and your body shape. There are brands that cater for larger sizes now, too. Whereas a few years back it was difficult to find women’s padded shorts in a size 16+.  

If you don’t want to wear lycra, you don’t have to, you can wear a padded short or liner underneath normal baggy shorts, leggings or even a skirt.

However, there is one rule about padded shorts that beginner's often don't know and that is: don't wear underpants. You don't wear knickers under a swimming costume as that would chafe, so don't do it with padded cycle shorts. 

If you'd like more information on preventing soreness, you can attend our free saddle sores clinics, taking place throughout the Women's Festival of Cycling, or read our guide to saddle comfort.  

Mitts or padded gloves

Some cyclists wear mitts even in the summer, unlike gloves they aren’t for keeping your hands warm, they are for comfort, as you will be leaning and channelling some body weight through your arms to the palms of your hands as you grip the handlebars. You won’t need these on a short ride, but again they make things more comfortable on a longer ride. I find I use them if I am riding for longer than 45 mins, I don’t pop them on if I am just cycling to the shops or work – again this is personal preference.

When you begin to cycle, work up to longer distances and find out what is comfortable for you on a bike, soon you will know which piece of kit you’d like to try.

What is cycling clothing and when will I need it?

Cyclists who travel long distances or cycle fast and work up a real sweat will find cycle clothing offers them more comfort. Cyclists wear lycra as it moves with your body, in the right size shouldn’t cut in or chafe your skin too much. It will wick away sweat and also keep you warm. It dries quicker than a fabric like cotton too (as does merino wool which cycle clothing if often made out of). Lycra offers a closer fit so unlike wide trousers it doesn’t get caught in the chain or get covered in oil.

Cyclists wear bib shorts ultimately to keep their pad/liner/chamois in place, as the more it moves around the higher the chance on a really long ride you will get sore. Bib shorts are for more serious cyclists, so you don’t need to invest in a pair for a short beginners ride.

There is also a difference in style, design and fabrics for what to wear when you are mountain biking and what to wear bikepacking in the winter

Whatever you choose to wear, the most important thing about going on a cycle ride if you are a beginner is to enjoy yourself. Cycling is a fun way to get around and you don't need to be super fit or fast to enjoy the benefits it brings. 

How Cycling UK can help

There’s lots of advice on women’s kit choices on the Women’s cycling advice section. Where we explain whether you need a women's specific bike, have impartial advice and test bikes, clothing and accessories.

If you are just starting cycling, Cycling UK has projects like Community Cycle Clubs and the Big Bike Revival that offer support and advice. There's also our Facebook group Cycling UK's Women in Cycling or you can access the hive mind of more experienced cyclists by posting a question on the Cycling UK Forum

If you find you like cycling longer distances, you will find plenty of support and camaraderie by joining one of our cycling groups and clubs.  

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