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Women shopping for cycling clothes

The right clothes for bike riding can enhance your performance and make your experience more enjoyable. When you factor in variations in weather and terrain, there is more to consider beyond comfort or fashion when deciding what to wear when biking. How should you dress for riding in the heat or riding your bike in the rain? What type of cold weather cycling clothing should you buy?

For answers, we turned to Jonathan Dwyer, PT, DPT, a physical therapist with Bryn Mawr Rehab, part of Main Line Health, who is also an experienced road and mountain biking enthusiast. 

Generally speaking, what should one look for in bike commuting gear?

Cycling clothing should be reasonably form-fitting without being restrictive, and made of fabric that will wick moisture away from the skin. Loose-fitting, sweat-soaked clothing can chafe the body or get caught in a bike’s moving parts. Ideally you want clothing that will allow you to maintain an adequate body temperature and stay dry. Your best bet is to wear light layers, which will allow you to quickly adjust to changing weather conditions as well as your own fluctuations in body temperature during your ride.

When it comes to cycling clothes for hot weather, what advice would you offer?

Aside from wearing clothing that wicks sweat, it’s important to consider your sun exposure. Summer cycling is not always about cycling in extreme heat; often you will catch a lot of rays, regardless of the temperature. Clothing with SPF protection, such as a lightweight long-sleeved shirt can be useful (and remember your sunblock). It’s also important to protect your eyes from glare by wearing sunglasses.

What about riding a bike in the rain? Are there specific rain clothes for biking or can I just throw a raincoat over my clothing?

Cycling-specific rain jackets are lightweight and offer both rain protection and ventilation to prevent overheating. They are designed to hang lower in the back to cover you when you lean over the bike, whereas a normal raincoat will ride up and expose your lower back to any rain and mud spraying from the bike. Cycling clothes typically have reflective properties as well, to make you more visible—which is especially important in bad weather.

Can you recommend what to wear biking in winter?

Most recreational cyclists are not riding outdoors in the dead of winter, but for those who do venture out year-round, I suggest dressing in layers and factoring in the wind chill you will generate from riding. A lightweight balaclava, or ski mask, can keep your face and neck warm, and it fits comfortably inside a helmet.

Aside from maintaining a comfortable body temperature, how else can cycling-specific attire improve your ride?

Cycling shorts with good padding can make the ride a more pleasant experience, whether you are male or female. There are a variety of foam and gel chamois inserts to help protect against soreness and chafing. It’s also worth mentioning that being properly fitted on your bike will help ensure the right pressure on your bottom, hands and feet.

Cycling gloves can make a difference, especially when mountain biking, by offering padded shock absorption for the hands as well as warmth and protection from scratches. On that topic, eyewear is also very important. I wear sports safety glasses every time I bike in wooded areas, to keep bugs, twigs and other debris away from my eyes. 

Finally, good cycling socks are worth the investment to ensure warmth, dryness and a proper fit to prevent blistering.

Any final advice to offer?

Yes. While it is always tempting to shop online, there are advantages to shopping local and supporting brick and mortar bike shops. You can try stuff on and get pro tips for cycling in our area. A big retailer is not necessarily attuned to our local weather, terrain or cycling culture. I recommend tapping into the local resources and seeing what they recommend.

Main Line Health serves patients at hospitals and health centers throughout the western suburbs of Philadelphia. To schedule an appointment with a specialist at Main Line Health, call 1.866.CALL.MLH (225.5654) or use our secure online appointment request form.

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