If you’re just getting into cycling, welcome! With this article, we hope to guide you through some gear and clothing choices to get you rolling with the minimum amount of fuss. We’ll talk about necessities (and a few luxuries) for both mountain biking and road/gravel riding.
What to put on your feet is a crucial decision in mountain biking. The sport is dynamic, requiring a flexible yet secure connection to your pedals. You’ll be standing on the pedals often, learning to drive the bike with your feet while coasting, and possibly hiking steep or rugged sections of trail. That’s a lot to ask of a cycling shoe, but no matter which option you chose from our line, we’ve got all the ladies covered and the fellas too.
Flats or clipless? If you’re totally new to cycling, it’s probably best to start with flat pedal shoes. These are designed to work with a flat (or “platform”) pedal that has small metal pins protruding from its level surface. The pins interact with the specially-designed rubber on the bottom of the shoe, allowing you to feel connected to the pedal, but you can easily step off when things get rowdy. With this setup, you can focus on the trail in front of you without being distracted or nervous about how to disengage from a clipless pedal. You can use this system for the rest of your MTB life or switch to clipless later on if you wish.
On the flip side, if you’ve been road biking in clipless pedals and you’re totally confident with them, you may want to try mountain biking in them from the beginning. You’ll want a set of shoes designed for mountain biking, though, since you’ll need some grippy tread on the bottom for walking and an upper ready to handle some dirt and abrasion. But most importantly, MTB pedals are vastly different from road pedals with “entry” on both sides for faster engagement to the pedals.
If you’re just learning about clipless, the shoes have a cleat on the bottom that locks into its corresponding pedal, much like a ski binding. The cleat that you’ll install on the bottom of the shoe comes with the pedals you purchase, so you can buy shoes before deciding on a clipless system. A twisting movement of the foot from the heel releases you from the spring-tensioned system, so it takes a bit of practice to do this quickly and reliably in challenging terrain. Get some practice in before you go send it on the trail. Just know that these pedals are only safe to ride with their intended clipless shoe. (By the way, as any smart person would, I’m sure you’re wondering why you “clip in” to clipless pedals. Here’s a quick read to understand this weird terminology.)
Now that you’ve got the right shoes, it’s time to think about the other two contact points between you and your bike: Your rear end and your hands. Let’s dive into these a little bit.
Shorts with chamois pad: The chamois (pronounced “shammy”) is a specially-shaped synthetic pad that protects your sensitive bits from excessive pressure and friction caused by your bike seat. I promise this is totally worth the initial odd sensation of wearing one. Even when you’ve found the perfect bike saddle, the chamois provides a vital layer of comfort that you’ll want for longer rides, especially in the heat. By the way, it’s crucial that you don’t wear underwear beneath your chamois — it’s meant to be worn directly against the skin. If you’re prone to your shirt or jersey riding up your back, or you don’t like elastic around your mid-section, you can get bibs, which are a chamois short with shoulder straps to keep the garment in place. This keeps your back covered and helps you ride in comfort. For the ladies, our drop-tail bibs make nature breaks easy.
Baggy short: These go over your chamois, providing additional protection along with pockets, water-repellent fabrics, and stretch for ease of pedaling. Smart construction keeps aggressive seams out of your chamois area, too, something you won’t find in your average pair of Old Navy shorts.
Gloves: There are two compelling reasons to wear gloves while mountain biking: protecting your hands during a crash and creating a barrier between your sweaty palms and your handlebar grips (a slippery combo). For these reasons, most people wear full-finger gloves while mountain biking. We’ve got options for every season and fit preference. We even make a pair of gloves that work well for trailbuilding and riding. Shape what you shred!
Okay, now that you’ve got the critical areas covered, what about the rest of your body? Let’s chat about jerseys, protective gear, and options for cooler temperatures.
Jerseys: You can certainly ride in a t-shirt if you like, but a jersey will offer much better temperature regulation. These high-tech fabrics breathe, wick sweat, and dry quickly, which is a massive improvement over that soggy, heavy cotton t-shirt. Plus, MTB jerseys have a casual look and fit that you can wear to the post-ride coffee shop or restaurant — minus the pit-stains.
Protection: Knee and elbow guards have come a long way in terms of comfort and impact protection, and many riders wear them all the time. They can be worth their weight in gold when you’re learning the sport. Read here for a guide to choosing them.
Layers: Once the temps drop, you don’t need to stop riding! You just need the right gear. Baselayers for him or for her create a warm foundation under your summer jersey during the fall, then you can transition to a warmer jersey over that layer. Once temps really cool off into winter, you can opt for an array of jackets, pants, gloves, and hats that will also be useful for hiking, running, snowshoeing, or cross-country skiing when the trails are blanketed with snow.
Clipless pedals are the name of the game in road riding, with the need to deliver continuous power to the pedals. However, if you’re completely new to cycling and the clipless pedals make you nervous, there is no shame in road biking while wearing flat pedals and shoes! Don’t let those pro-racer wannabes guilt-trip you. That said, road biking is where most people are able to learn to ride in clipless shoes. We’ve got everything from a versatile entry-level shoe to dedicated race shoes, so there’s something for everyone. A gravel shoe will leverage a mountain bike pedal most of the time. And it’s entirely acceptable to use an MTB pedal and shoe for comfort and ease off the bike too. You do you.
Shorts/bibs: For the longer mileage usually ridden on road and gravel bikes, your chamois selection (what’s a chamois?) becomes even more important. You can begin to consider high-tech options that limit seams and provide all-day comfort while offering more compression support and durability. Looks may become more of a factor too since a baggy short isn’t generally used while road riding. However, if riding around in form-fitting clothes keeps you from trying road or gravel, don’t let that stand in your way! Grab some MTB or BikeStyle bottoms and get out there.
Jerseys: These are designed specifically for dropbar biking, where a slimmer fit minimizes fabric flapping at higher speeds, plus you need those pockets in the back to carry tools, snacks, and your phone for the ‘gram. With our pocket bellows, you can undoubtedly take a lot with you if needed. The elastic hem (around the waistband area) keeps your jersey close to your body and prevents your pocket goodies from moving around while you ride. Moisture management is even more important, since being sweaty when the wind hits you is a recipe for discomfort. There are several different fits of jerseys to dial in how racy or relaxed you want to ride but maintain performance.
Gloves, layers, and other options
Gloves: Half-finger gloves are a more common choice for road riding since they strike a balance between protection and airflow. A bit of padding will also be comfortable for new riders, since holding the handlebars for long periods might be a new experience. The more you ride, the more your hands will adjust to the pressure. A good bike fit can also improve most hand, foot, or saddle pains. A solid pair of warm gloves will keep you riding through more months of the year too.
Warmers: For cool mornings or evenings, you can augment your basic kit with leg- and arm-warmers. These light and packable options stow in your jersey pockets when they’re not needed. The same goes for a featherweight, breathable wind/rain jacket.
Vests: A vest is another fantastic addition to your wardrobe because it does a great job of keeping your core warm in fluctuating temps without the total coverage of a jacket. Many riders will say a vest (or gilet in the Commonwealths) is one of the “must-haves” in a riding kit.
Essentials: Once the cold season really sets in, smart layering with warm jerseys, jackets and tights keep you toasty while preventing you from being overdressed. There’s a complete guide on how to layer for different riding conditions here. Shoe covers can be a lifesaver, saving you from sitting at home eating gobs of chips because frozen toes would otherwise ruin a great ride. Similarly, those winter gloves and hats are a must, since road riding is more likely to expose you to the elements — plus you’re generating airflow through your own speed. It may seem like a lot of gear, but remember that riding year-round is a fantastic alternative to binge-watching Netflix and expanding your waistline!
Now that you’ve got some good ideas on what you need to get started, how do you determine your size? Check out our size chart, which also includes shoes. When you see a mention of “fit,” that is how the garment will sit on the body. A “form fit” will be the closest fitting pieces, then progressing to a looser fit as you go through the range of “semi-form or fitted,” “standard,” and “relaxed” fit at the other end of the spectrum. The fit shouldn’t change the size you would want.
Cycling shoes use European sizes, so that’s the number you’ll want to remember when you start shopping. Some of our shoes are available in half-sizes, but for those that aren’t, consider the sock thickness you prefer, and keep in mind that human feet tend to swell a bit in warm weather or near the end of long rides. These details will help you decide whether to size up or down if you fall between sizes.
One last note on one aspect of fit: your chamois short or bib shorts needs to fit snugly. Not where it’s cutting off circulation, but a solid hug. You might be tempted to size up, thinking they’ll be more comfortable, but beware. A chamois with a loose fit will move around too much and bind up in the worst places, making you want to ride back home in the first few miles. Aim for a size that seems pretty snug, because it will feel just fine once you’re pedaling.
If you have any other questions to get you started riding more, hit up the comments section below, and we’ll do what we can to guide you to keep you hitting those pedals more.