Cycling Clothing and Gear for Safety and Comfort

It may not seem like a big thing, but the way you dress and the gear you tote along when you go for a ride can make a huge difference in terms of your comfort and safety.  This doesn’t mean you have to suit up like a professional racer, although there’s certainly nothing wrong with doing so if that’s your thing.  When it comes to what you wear and carry, one size doesn’t fit all.  Let’s have a look at the primary considerations when it comes to cycling clothing and gear.

The right clothing will help you ride more comfortably and safely.
The right clothing will help you ride more comfortably and safely.

 

Helmets

Most people focus on design, look and feel and choosing a helmet.  That's fine, but don't forget to go that extra step and make sure that the helmet you select fits properly.  This is critical.  When head meets pavement, helmet that fits just right will go a long way towards protecting you from serious injury.

The author on a winter ride.  For me, a helmet and glasses are must haves.

The author on a winter ride. A helmet and glasses are "must haves."

So how do you assure that your helmet is the right size and properly adjusted?  Think eyes, ears and mouth.  Your helmet should be level on your head. If it is, you’ll be able to see the front edge with your eyes.  The Y-straps should fit snugly beneath your ears.  Too much play here will likely result in a helmet that will come off your head in a fall.  Last, but not least, your chin strap should be tight enough (but not too tight) so that the helmet moves slightly when you open your mouth.

Bicycle helmets are designed as a “one-and-done” protective device.  Once they’ve absorbed an impact, their ability to absorb the next one is greatly diminished. If you fall and your helmet makes contact with the ground, you’re going to need a new one.  Either toss it in the trash or mount it on the wall as a reminder of just how important the right helmet can be when it comes to cycling safety!

Clothing Choices

When it comes to clothing, all the “cool” cyclists wear lycra, mostly because lycra does a better job of keeping us cool on those warm sticky days that are just around the corner.  You say lycra’s not your thing?  No problem.  As more people ride to work and use their bikes as transportation, the market is responding with a variety of new and innovative clothing choices.  Whichever route you go, focus on comfort, fit, carrying capacity and stowability.

These ankle straps serve double duty by making the cyclist more visible while  keeping errant pants out of the chain and sprocket.

These ankle straps serve double duty by making the cyclist more visible while keeping errant pants out of the chain and sprocket.

Most cycling jerseys, even those that don’t necessarily look like cycling jerseys, include pockets on the back that allow you to carry the basics such as an ID,  phone, tire levers, patch kit, multitool and more.  Pants with padded seats provide extra comfort on long rides.  Long pants should not be too loose or baggy or they might get caught in the chain.   An ankle strap, especially on the right leg, will help you avoid this problem without breaking the bank.  Consider one made of reflective material and you’ll be protecting yourself two ways.

Because conditions frequently change along the route, it’s a good idea to dress in multiple light layers. That way, you can always add or remove clothing as you heat up or cool off.  If you live in an area where rain showers are frequent, you’ll also want to carry waterproof gear.  When shopping, check to be sure that what you buy is easily stowable.  Many newer rain jackets and pants come with their own pockets that will keep the rest of your gear dry when stowed.

Last, but not least, consider buying clothing that has reflective fabric built into it. Cyclists are sometimes hard to see and such materials make it easier for motorists to identify us more quickly.

Shoes

Depending on how far you typically ride, you may wish to consider cycling-specific shoes.  You have a vareity of choices.  Shoes with cleats are nice on long rides, but they don’t work so well if you’re going to be doing some walking along with your riding.  They also require special pedals that may not be practical for you.

In cleats don't work for you, any comfortable shoe with a relatively stiff sole is a good bet.  Stiffer soles allow you to make better pedal contact.  If you find that it’s difficult to keep your feet firmly planted on the pedals, you might consider adding toe cages and straps.  These will allow you to pedal confidently regardless of which footwear you choose.

Accessories

Whatever else you carry is mostly a matter of personal preference.  Glasses are an important consideration.  So are a phone and ID.  Water is also critical, as is a bike lock if you plan to stop along the way.

If you ride at night, front and rear lights are a must have.  Consider carrying multiple lights.  They'll make you more easily identifiable as a cyclist, and you’ll never have to worry about the batteries wearing down on those extra long rides.  Last, but not least, always carry the tools necessary to fix a flat.  That way,  you’ll never be sidelined for long!

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Bob Sharpe is a League of American Bicyclists Certified Cycling Instructor and founder of Bike 5, a movement that encourages people to bicycle for short trips of five miles or less.  You can reach him directly through the Bike 5 page on Facebook.

This article is one of a 12-part series on the basics of riding on the road and covering the primary topics found in the League of American Bicyclists Smart Cycling course.

Read all 11 articles in Bob's Safe Cycling Series here.

Find more resources for better bicycling on our Bicycle Skills and Safety page.

 

Improving safety for Missourians who bicycle, walk, and drive is one of the primary goals of MoBikeFed's Vision for Bicycling and Walking in Missouri. Work to educate and inform Missourians about important safety and skills topics such as those found in this series on safe bicycling is an important part of that effort.

Your ongoing membership and generous financial support help turn our Vision into reality!

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