What to Wear When Bicycling

Some tips on what to wear when you are out on the bicycle.

Now that spring has arrived, it is time to dust off that bicycle and get out for a ride. Make sure you do a favor for your bike and yourself by 

This time I'd like to cover "What to Wear?"

Remember, bicycles are more than just recreational, they are utility and commuter vehicles too. You may need to be dressed for work or the theater, but here are some suggestions ...

Wear a helmet. If you fall off your bike, you are just about guaranteed to hit your head. You might not fall off your bike very often, but when you do, a helmet can save you a lot of grief. Helmets are inexpensive (much less than a trip to the hospital), comfortable, fashionable and help keep your head cool in hot weather.   Add a balaclava, head band or ear muffs when the weather gets cold.

Just in case you were wondering, I've averaged falling off my bike about once a year. Through the years, I've broken two helmets, cracked my right clavicle twice and dislocated my left thumb. I can assure you I would have suffered some nasty head injuries if I hadn't been wearing a helmet.

Gloves are essential for any bicycling. They cushion your hands and provide some protection in a fall. In cool weather, they keep your hands warm.

I recommend wearing either clear safety glasses or sunglasses when riding. They protect your eyes from UV damage, bugs, road grit, low hanging branches, pollen and dust.

Dress in layers. If you are out for any length of time, the weather can change and your level of exertion can change. A comfortable shirt is a good first layer.  Cotton may feel great when it is dry, but it turns evil when it gets wet. I prefer some of the moisture wicking synthetics, such as a polyester blend for warm weather or a long sleeve polypropylene shirt for cold weather riding. I've heard there are some wonderfully soft wool blends but I haven't had a chance to try them yet.

In cool weather, you will probably need an insulating layer. Polyester fleece is my favorite. A jacket with a full length zipper makes it easy to shed once you get too warm. Next is an outer layer to protect from the wind and occasional rain. There are some great breathable and waterproof jackets.  There are also some marginal ones. Again, a full-length zipper makes it easy to change as conditions change.  Pick a bright high visibility color. Lime green is super visible. Reflective striping or a reflective vest is a good idea if you are out in the dark.

The same layering applies to your legs. I find my legs stay comfortable in cool weather with regular long pants. I add rain pants in wet weather or wind pants below about 20 degrees. Shorts are best for most riding.

Wear comfortable shoes suitable to the weather. Due to my wide range of riding conditions I like hiking shoes. I add plastic shopping bags for fashionable protection from the rain and switch to waterproof insulated winter boots when it is really cold.

Perhaps one of the best pieces of advice comes from my Norwegian ancestors. (Yes, the Norwegians thought of this first.)

"There is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing."


* The role of Spring is being played by Summer.  Spring had already stepped into the lead after the untimely demise of Old Man Winter.


Here is a summary of what works for me. You may want to shift the temperature range to suit your comfort level.  I have thick skin.

  • Above 50F — T-shirt and shorts.
  • Below 50F — Add sweat shirt, maybe jacket.
  • Below 40F — Add jacket, ear muffs and full gloves.
  • Below 32F — Change to long pants.
  • Below 30F — Add scarf, change to mittens.
  • Below 20F — Add wind pants and change to thermal boots.
  • Below 10F — Add balaclava and extra socks.  Change sweatshirt to fleece jacket.
  • Below 5F — Add sweatpants under wind pants.
  • Below 0F — Add face mask and ski goggles. I've ridden as low as minus-9 degrees.

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Colin C. March 25, 2012 at 12:37 PM
A physical therapist at a well known, local clinic recently told me that the most injuries they see are a result of bicycling accidents--by far! And you Dave, an expert and still one bad fall a year? Hummmmmm. I have a couple of bicycles for sale.
Dave Peterson March 25, 2012 at 01:33 PM
Colin, I apologize for not being clear about the kind of fall I usually have. They are minor slips, mostly on wet wooden bridges, wet pavement or wet leaves. In 47 years of riding, I've only needed two trips to the emergency room. The point I was trying to make is that I would have been at the emergency room a few more times if I hadn't been wearing a helmet. I may not be an expert cyclist, just dedicated (some may say fanatical). Keep in mind I ride every day, in all weather and total up over 3500 miles a year just commuting to work. The benefits of regular exercise far outweigh the relatively minor risks of injury. Ask the physical therapist about the effects of lack of exercise and excessive weight. By the way, my limited observations at physical therapy (related to a lower back disc problem that was relieved by cycling) were most of the older patients were women with osteoporosis working in the pool with their new hips and the younger patients were high school football players and gymnasts rebuilding strength after knee surgery. Life is risky. Ask mountain climbers, stunt pilots, ski jumpers, fire fighters, coast guard rescue crews or any other people who do seemingly extreme activities and I expect they may say it is because they love what they do and it challenges them almost every day. Just to put it in perspective, even in a bad year, 99.9988% of the time I am on a bike I am not falling. -- Dave
Mark March 25, 2012 at 01:57 PM
Good article Dave. I used to be of a mindset that a helmet wasn't really needed if I was just riding the trails, but 3 falls (wet leaves, wet wooden bridge and obliviously-chatting-oncoming-rider who decided to swing out into my lane to better converse with her friend) have convinced me otherwise. Now I just wish there was a moisture-wicking synthetic fabric that didn't smell like absolute %&*# when one sweats in it.
Dave Peterson March 25, 2012 at 04:56 PM
Mark, Thanks for wearing a helmet and setting a good example for other riders. Depending on your willingness to come in contact with various chemical agents, stick deodorant works and some shirts have antimicrobial agents built in. If you want a more natural approach, rub down with charcoal before dressing for the ride. I hear Adidas has some silver thread fabrics that eliminate odors too. Try getting at least one really expensive high-tech shirt and just wear it all the time. Even if you stink, you will know that it is a high quality stink, and in Spring-time pheromones are a powerful thing. Pepe le Pew knew how to "stun" the ladies.
Mark March 25, 2012 at 10:50 PM
Interesting thought about the pheremones. So far the only things attracted to my Eau De UnderArmor are Redwing Blackbirds and Canadian Geese - and their intentions seem more hostile than amorous.
Josh West March 27, 2012 at 10:53 PM
I learned my lesson last week. Although I normally wear sunglasses when biking, on that one occasion I just forgot to bring them. That resulted in some insane bug getting in my eye causing corneal abrasions and an infection, followed by a visit to urgent care, pricey eye drops and antibiotics.
Eva Edwords March 30, 2012 at 06:08 AM
wearing sun glasses , helmet, best and good track suit and shorts are best to wear while cycling.


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