Female road cyclists – What should I wear?

This is me during the 2008 Gong Ride - nothing matched!!!

When I first started riding I had just a few items of cycle clothing and I wasn’t too fussed about what they looked like or even how they performed. Now, three years on I’m much more focused on both the appearance and the function of my cycle wear. So I thought I’d share what I’ve learnt in the past three years about dressing for riding from head to toe. I’ll start at the toes and work upwards.

Socks

They may seem unimportant but if you’re going to spend many hours wearing them, they need to be comfortable and look good as well. Most of the time I now wear proper cycling socks that cover my ankles but don’t come too far up my leg. I used to wear ankle socks that just peeped over the top of my shoes but I find the proper cycling socks more comfortable because they are fairly thin. That doesn’t mean I wouldn’t wear shorter socks on a really hot day. I also wear the same socks in winter because my long knicks go over the top of the socks and seal me up so no draught gets in.

And earlier this year - much more colour coordinated!

Shoes

If you’re going to ride a road bike you need to wear road bike shoes with cleats that clip into your pedals. I did this from day one and have never looked back. I have a few friends who started out with sneakers and pedal clips but they have all moved to clip-in shoes. I was really nervous when I first started wearing clip-in shoes and I fell off a couple of times but I’m really happy I took the plunge. I’ve just got some new road shoes which are lovely S-works road shoes (stay tuned for a review soon). My original ones were Shimano and lasted me for three years and I’ll now keep them for my wet weather riding. In winter I wear shoe covers that look a bit like booties that cover my shoes and ankles. In cooler weather I wear toe covers on my shoes to stop the cool breeze coming through.

Knicks

You can read my longer blog post on bib knicks if you want to know about my preference for knicks. However, I do recommend that you wear good quality knicks. Many people start out wearing other exercise shorts but invariably end up with well-fitted knicks. I have long fleecy knicks for winter, ¾ knicks for autumn and spring and short knicks for summer. Sometimes I wear long compression tights over my short knicks for some extra warmth. The benefit of the tights is that they are easy to remove if you get too hot. Most of my knicks are black and some have coloured or white panels. I find the ones with panels down the side are more flattering than others.

Undergarments

In cool and cold weather I wear thermal tops under my cycling clothing. The thermals I have are both short and long sleeve and I bought them at Kathmandu. They are not bulky but keep my warm. In the between season weather I wear a camisole under my jersey to keep me warm. In warm weather ie. 20 degrees or more I wear just my bra under my jersey.

Jersey

Most of my jerseys are short sleeve and are proper cycling jerseys with three pockets at the back. I wouldn’t wear any other type of top because I always use the pockets for items like my mobile phone, cleat covers, food and a tissue. Some are full zip but most have just a short zip in the front. The ones with the full zip are preferable because they are easy to remove which is particularly important when you are wearing bib knicks and need to go to the loo. In winter I wear a long sleeve fleecy-lined top which also has three pockets in the back. In the between seasons weather I wear arm warmers with my short sleeved jerseys. These are great because you can take them off when you warm up.

Gloves

I wear short finger gloves for the majority of the year, long finger gloves in the coolish weather and warm toasty gloves in the middle of winter. All my gloves are specific road cycling gloves which have gel inserts in the right places. My current gloves are Specialized (both short and long finger) and they have worn well despite many visits to the washing machine.

Headband

In winter I wear a fleecy headband that I bought from Kathmandu around my head and ears to keep me warm. In summer I wear a lighter headband around my head and ears, mainly to keep the hair out of my eyes and to catch the sweat. I also wear a bandana sometimes also to catch the sweat and keep the wind out of my ears.

Glasses

I recommend that you definitely wear glasses because on the odd occasion that I haven’t, I’ve usually ended up with an insect smashing into my face and getting in my eye. Not very pleasant. My first glasses were el cheapos from Anaconda – they broke. My second ones were better quality from BBB with interchangeable lenses, but I soon got sick of changing the lenses for those early morning rides that start in the dark. I now wear Rudy Project glasses with photochromatic lenses. They change colour according to the amount of light so are ideal for those rides that start in the dark and finish in the sunlight.

Helmet

My first helmet was a hand me down and I wasn’t too fussed at the time about either the colour, appearance or the quality. I’ve now graduated to a Bell Volt helmet (white and silver which goes with lots of colours) which I’m quite happy with. I recommend that you buy your helmet in Australia so it has an Australian approved sticker. I learnt this one the hard way. You need an Australian approved helmet if you want to race. Don’t buy a cheap helmet – your head needs protecting with the best you can afford.

So I suppose if you’ve read this entire post you’ve got the idea that I have lots of cycling gear and you wouldn’t be wrong about it. I always get my gear out the night before an early morning ride so I can just put in on without thinking about it when I’m still half asleep. I’d love to hear from other women about their own cycling gear choices.

3 comments

  • Personally, I can’t live without my Craft summer weight long sleeve base layers. I’ve already had one pre-cancerous mole removed from my arm so it’s better for me to cover up then rely on sunscreen.

    I wear the Kathmandu thermals in winter as well. As much as I’d like to, I can’t wear the merino base layers that everyone raves about. I bought a cheaper one as an experiment and as soon as I put it on, I started to get itchy. Then I tried on one of my boyfriend’s better ones (a good Kathmandu one) and I still itched. Oddly enough I can wear merino wool socks though.

    For winter, I’ve got a fleece-lined skull cap to keep my head warm. This winter, I bought myself a buff, meaning to use it to cover up my lower face on those really cold mornings but have mostly worn it on my head. Still, it has to be pretty cold for me to break out either of these. Most of the time, I wear a cycling cap – getting a nice collection of them now.

  • great article.
    I’m 4 months into cycling and just begun to realise how ‘fashion’ uncoordinated I look on the bike. The reason partly because I’m a student on a budget. My wardrobe is slowly changing for the better though! There’s a hilarious looking jersey coming for me from ebay – with black/white/grey ribcage print on front & back – that’ll replace my red sleeveless cycling jersey (recently realised no one wears them, but Netti must’ve thought people do). Now I know that skeleton jersey’s not going to look pro at all but at least it matches my other items of clothing & the bike…and since my everyday wardrobe is black & rather goth, I wouldn’t feel like another person on my cycling weekends wearing all colours of the rainbow.

    As for my shoes…they’re looking disastrous. Old addidas sneakers covered in paint…being a poor student sucks!

  • This past winter was the first one where I rode 2-3 mornings each week in the dark and cold and I found the best option was to dress in layers with a short sleeved jersery with a gilett vest and arm warmers, as long as my jersery had decent sized pockets the warmers and vest could be removed and stowed in the pockets as the morning warmed up. Long sleveed jerserys were a waste of time for me.
    Long tights over my bibs were good for most mornings, I found them better than leg warmers.