What Does The Ideal Cycle Touring Clothing Collection Look Like?

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I don’t know about you, but I don’t feel I’ve ever quite solved the cycle touring clothing quandry.

Walk into a bike shop or outdoor store and it isn’t quite as simple as finding the ‘cycle touring’ department and taking your pick. I inevitably end up wearing garments – such as trekking trousers, merino or bamboo T‑shirts, hand-made linen slacks, tailored cotton shirts, etc – that were never designed for cycling at all. These are generally supplemented with only a few cycle-specific accessories such as padded shorts, riding mitts, Buffs, waterproofs, and perhaps socks and shoes.

I get the impression that the market for clothing specific to the nuanced requirements of cycle touring must be so tiny – at least in the eyes of the manufacturers – as to not be worth bothering with. It’s a shame, because I really do feel that the industry is missing a trick. Most of us seem to get by with what we feel is sub-optimal clothing because we have no choice. It’s either functional but far too down the ‘sporty’ spectrum in appearance, or is more casual-looking but tends to fall apart once subjected to the rigours of the cycle touring lifestyle.

One British manufacturer bucking the trend is Janapar Grant sponsor Polaris, whose long-standing brand will be recognisable to many. Based on input and feedback from some well-known long distance riders, they’ve been developing a line of adventure cycle touring clothing, and this spring will be putting out the first of their new offerings, as well as outfitting the grant’s lucky recipient.

Their new lines will include a merino riding jersey and a windproof shell jacket designed specifically for touring use, as well as arm-warmers for nippy mornings, a Buff-style tube, and merino socks, with more to come for autumn/winter and for 2017. I’ve been trying out the jersey and jacket over the last few weeks and I’m pretty impressed with the balance they’ve struck between comfort, functionality and low-key appearance.

(These and future lines are available through their online store, which you can check out here.)

Traverse Jersey Lime - Background2

In the meantime, I really wanted to ask you what you’d like to see in an ideal clothing range for cycle touring.

Because the way I see it, there are some major gaps to be filled in this department. The most obvious example from my experience is a lack of trousers which are simultaneously comfortable and practical to ride in, socially acceptable to walk around in, and durable enough to last the long haul. I’ve lost count of how many pairs of ‘trekking’ trousers I’ve had either wear through on the backside or split at the crotch seams through the act of pedalling. The pockets empty their contents onto the asphalt with each pedal stroke, and there’s always a draught up my back because they’re not cut for the task at hand.

This hasn’t ever actually stopped me touring, of course. But if clothing designers such as those at Polaris are eyeing up the cycle touring community for size, fit and functionality, then to me it makes sense for us all to get together and let them know what we’re currently missing.

So let’s have a massive brainstorming session. Got ideas for the cycle tourist’s perfect wardrobe? Let’s have them in the comments, and I’ll pass them on to the people who can do something about it!

Comments (skip to respond)

79 responses to “What Does The Ideal Cycle Touring Clothing Collection Look Like?”

  1. Lots of capitalist juices flowing here. Everyone so obsessed with their image ‘when off the bike’ sipping lattes in some authentic hipster cafe. Each to your own i guess, although nobody gives s shit what anyone else wears tbh. I find my football training gear perfect footy shorts and socks, training pants which taper and look fine in any pub, turtle neck base or floaty t shirt, fleece top with a windproof and a beanie and buff. Ski gloves. No helmet either. That will cover all bases . Oh and seamless boxer shorts by Vaude imo the most important of all.… No pads

  2. Has anyone used the Corrine Dennis stuff? For example these trousers look good:


    Would be interested to hear some views, I am trying to not look like a MAMIL (mainly as I don’t go fast).

    1. They do look pretty good. I’d also be interested to hear some opinions.

  3. Chrome Industries union shorts are the best: a little stretchy, water resistant, cycling specific touches but look like regular shorts. In winter I pair mine with knee warmers until I begin to warm up. A little pricey, but oh-so-worth it.

  4. I also think that finding the right pants is the real issue, for everything else any reasonable quality hiking gear works fine.
    We are a couple of years down the line since this brainstorming session began, I have tried to find the adventure cycling gear made by Polaris that Tom referred to but it looks like it has been discontinued, if it was ever fully fledged .
    I am considering mountain biking and enduro long loose trousers as a an alternative for long term touring, they are rugged, some are fairly waterproof, and are designed for cycling, with strech fabric in a few strategic points, mesh vents and durable seamless cordura in the contact area with the saddle. Endura makes a few, the singletrack, the humvee and the firefly are three of their models. Any one has tired these for long touring?

  5. Re: touring pants, I like knicker-length pants made for yoga or rockclimbing, over loose travel/athletic underwear. My philosophy on fabric is anything synthetic that stretches silently and dries quickly. For cooler temps, kneesocks. A snap or velcro tab can be added to the hem to create true knickers of which Velocio himself would approve. Also, some of the newer jogging pants are made of fabric with a nice balance of breathability and water-resistance; the crotches are not robust enough for regular use on the bike, but may serve as a layering option. For feet, I cling to carrying two options: mtb bike shoes and aquatic sandals.

    1. Thanks Don! Any specific make/model of climbing pants you recommend?

      1. Prana uses their “stretch Zion” fabric to make shorts and pants. They keep tinkering so I have four pairs of the same model and they’re all different in weight and cut! But the fabric has evolved to be durable, flexible, and breathes nicely. They fit easily over bike shorts or liners as well.

  6. A friend and I are heading to South America for a year in a week’s time, so I’ve been panicking about my final clothing set-up — the ideas on this thread have been inspirational, so thank you! 🙂

    I too have spent ages trying to work out what The One Pair Of Trousers should be, and I was struck by inspiration in Tesco of all places; perusing the baked goods I spotted someone in riding boots — and JODHPURS!

    I now have a pair of my own that are warm, lightly shower resistant, comfortable and flexible, (being made for sitting astride a horse which is much wider than my bike!). They don’t flap around the ankle, are reinforced in the important areas and can be dressed up if necessary.

    I’m looking forward to testing them out on the road — and I’ll let you know how they fare!

    1. What a great idea, Emily! For a couple of trips in Argentina, I wore Bombachas — ubiquitous workwear for Argentines, designed for riding a horse, too. And cheap!

      1. I like the sound of these!

    2. I too have been trying out jodhpurs! I decided to buy some recently as I thought that they would be a good alternative to cycling tights for the winter, and cheaper. And they are, as you indicate, designed for riding (albeit a horse…)! You can get ones that are fairly high waisted too, which I prefer for cycling.

      But it is a bit of a minefield trying to find ones that are good quality and fit well, etc., as there are so many different makes and types. (And then there’s breeches as well.….) I bought one pair that shrank (Shires Wessex) so returned them, which was a pity as I liked them a lot. I then bought some Harry Hall ones, which I haven’t washed yet and have only worn for cycling once, so I can’t tell how good they are but they were certainly very comfortable for cycling in. If you pick the right style they don’t look too obviously like jodphurs. I actually removed the knee patches on mine but I think if I bought any more I wouldn’t bother.

      I have only seen the subject of jodphurs mentioned for cycling once, on a forum somewhere, and am surprised that more people haven’t come up with the idea of wearing them for cycling.

  7. As a 61 year old who has come late to “touring”, I too have had the problem with finding the ideal cycling trousers, particularly for warmer weather. As a dressmaker, I thought surely I can make my own, but it’s very hard to find a suitable pattern (although I shall continue to look and try some out) and I’m not skilled enough to design my own, although I know exactly what fabric (cotton or at least cotton rich) and features I’d want (pretty much what Lesley and others have said). 

    However, being someone who buys nearly all her clothes in charity shops, I am always on the lookout for these ideal trousers, and recently I found a pair! They were on the £1 rail too! They are Marks and Spencers very basic cotton trousers, with a part elasticated, part drawstring waist (not too low) have a zip fly (as opposed to being pull-on) and two slash pockets. (I actually only learnt that term when I did some googling.) They were lavender — I dyed them olive green. I had recently watched a video on Youtube about adding a zip to a slash pocket for security so I did that. I also added some tapes on the inside of the legs, and loops for these to tie through on the outside, so that I can roll them up securely. The fabric for some reason is beautifully cool, and also very comfortable regarding movement, perhaps partly because it is very smooth and so does not pull on the legs at all. They are pretty much perfect! The only thing I don’t know is how long it would be before they wore through on the seat. I should probably have go at strengthening the seat before this happens.I had a look on the M and S website but couldn’t see these particular trousers, so I’m guessing they are a style no longer done. I shall have a go at copying the pattern (again using Youtube) without taking them apart.

    And then would you believe it but I found a very similar pair of BHS cotton trousers (fabric not quite so smooth but OK nevertheless) for — 50p!! Again I’ll be dyeing them and adding a zip to the pocket.

    I have also found at least 6 M and S women’s shirts in charity shops, either cotton or linen or a mix, the sort which are loose and have ties on the sleeves for keeping them in place when rolled up. Once I’d found one I kept looking and when I see another I buy it. I can wear anything from size 8 to size 14 in these and have paid from £1 to about £4.50 for them. I am completely converted to wearing these shirts for warm weather cycling. I prefer to stay slightly covered on my arms and shoulders, having had skin cancer, and find these are ideal. 

    Wouldn’t it be great if a clothing manufacturer really did get together with a bunch of touring cyclists and come up with the ideal cycling trousers? There’s obviously a market for them.

    I’m just about to do a short blog post on my trousers, by the way.

    1. I love this! Thank you for the write-up and the inspiration to us all! Lizzie’s follow-up blog post is here for anyone else interested 🙂

      1. Thank you Tom!

  8. Kent Greenough avatar
    Kent Greenough

    Hi Tom,

    New to the site and bicycle touring but have sailed for decades. For clothing check out railrider.com for great and durable clothing. I have used them for over ten years, the Jammin Shorts wear like iron, dry even in salt water environments, plus they make lighter ones for really hot climates, same for their line of pants and shirts. 

    Thanks for a great site.


  9. I’m up against a different version of this problem. Years ago, I used to do long tours on a low budget. Now that I’m a geezer I like to do shorter days (blending in lots of fishing) with nice hotels and nice restaurants in the evening. Cycle clothes are easy, but they don’t work well in the nice restaurants. And nice clothes look pretty awful when they come out of my panniers. Anyone dealt with this? Any suggestions about good nice clothes that will pack well in a pannier without looking terrible when they’re unpacked?

    1. majchers avatar

      We all have a tendency of adding to the problem. But sometime things are very simple if not less than that. Just see Darren’s videos or visit his web site:
      or this:

    2. Lassi Lehmusvuori avatar
      Lassi Lehmusvuori

      For fancy clothes: by a piece of plastic (plumming?) tube. Fill it with socks, undies etc. Roll your fancy clothes round it. Maybe use a plastic bag and lace to keep it together. Then put the roll in a drybag and fasten to a rack. People use to roll table cloths round a wooden stick to keep them strait. Should work on clothes as well.

    3. Stéphane avatar

      À white linen shirt looks classy even when rumpled. It is also a very functional piece of clothing if you travel in hot and sunny climates. I also carry yoga pants. Have been to three star restaurants dressed like that.

  10. My biggest concern living in Australia is staying cool in the sun. It’s all about covering my arms but being ventilated. Current favourite shirt is from Ex Officio. Ideally the sleeve would be totally mesh underneath, and would have a flap that could cover the backs of your hands (I take my gloves off when it’s really hot, or on big climbs).

    I wear standard cycling knicks, but through on a pair of lightweight zip-off pants when stopping in towns. 

    I’d love some slightly more casual looking shorts, but I really don’t want to be essentially wearing two pairs, and I can’t go without the chamois. My ideal would have longer material on the top of the thigh (for sun) than underneath — or maybe just mesh below.

    The part I haven’t really solved is the head. I sometimes wear a legionnaire’s hat (no helmet) but it still leaves parts of my face pretty exposed, and can get hot.

  11. Iain Plumtree avatar
    Iain Plumtree

    Back in the ’80’s Polaris made pollycotton cycling trousers with a butterfly seat seam to prevent rubbing, articulated knees and pockets set on the side of the thighs to ease their bulk when cycling. Until mire recently Polaris made real touring shorts. Slightly baggy, again pockets set to the side of the thigh with slanted zips and mesh outer pockets for storing things such as a sweat towel.
    Both designs got dumped as Polaris moved to the semi racing touring kit. Their trousers of current design would be ok if only their ankle designs where not so complex as to effectively prevent them being shortened to one’s personal needs. The knowledge is there with companies such as Polaris and Endura but the touring market of the more traditional kind is just too small for them.
    As to foot wear I have begun to move away from clipless back to old flat pedals with wide cages and trainers of the style often called ‘approach’ shoes which are quite stiff, good for walking and waterproof. On tours of weeks I find them a good compromise and mean I can have days in towns without needing a second set of shoes.

    1. Lassi Lehmusvuori avatar
      Lassi Lehmusvuori

      Approach shoes for summer and trekking shoes for the bad and cold weather.

      The only big problem with touring clothes are pants. Normal shirts, jackets etc are good. I upgraded to materials like merino wool, linen, hemp and gore tex when I had some money. Just make sure they cover wrists, neck and back.

      For pants I have this idea: jeans- or suitpants-style cut with low waist in the front and high at the back. Non-stretch polyester-cotton as the main material, because it can be waterproofed with wax. At the back I would use synthetic stretchy material from waist to about knee height. It gives space to move, but does not wear out against the saddle as easily. Suit pants can also be opened at the seams and sewed and cut to measure.

  12. I also noticed that nobody(?) mentioned SPD / clipless shoes. And again — a lot of us uses those despite some disadvantages. There are some nice, light models available nowadays (i.e. Shimano MT34 MTB SPD). Can someone debate on this pls…?

  13. I have not read thru all of your lines guys I must admit, so correct me if I am wrong, but looks like nobody here mentioned riding in… sandals! And if you follow long distance tourers in the internet you can see a lot of them wears sandals, mostly either by Keen or Teva. And on daily basis too (if in warmer climates). Myself I wear Teva Terra FI 4 which are simply great!

  14. The real issue for me is the cold, wet weather stuff. Merino wool is the given as a base…It’s the soft-shell that’s doing my head in. The consensus seems to be that the breathable/waterproof softshell fabrics like Gore, Event, Neoshell are largely marketing blurb. I’m leaning towards Paramo because it works with wicking (like Merino wool) rather than some “miracle” material. Any thoughts?

    1. Cold and wet? In my experience, ventilation is at least as important as the breathability of fabric – cuffs, armpit zips, chest/back vents and the like. But in general I’d just do my best to avoid that weather altogether!

    2. Not sure if this post is still active but you mention Paramo — fantastic for walking and running but it doesn’t lend itself well to higher pressure water. When cycling into the wind and rain it will work it’s way through the material and the forward motion is literally pushing the water droplets through the fabric. Paramo is fantastic gear though and would be easy to repair on long tours as it’s not relying on a sealed breathable membrane. Just don’t expect 100% dry.

  15. Check out Ground Effect clothing, http://www.groundeffect.co.nz.
    They have some solid options.

  16. Well I guess it depends on the location. Here, inScandinavia, I use the following for year-round touring: Always chamois cycle shorts (I am too old to have bottom pain). Merino Long John leggings on top of cycle shorts. If winter waterproof (rain gear) trousers. The combo for footwear is Italian Scarpa. “Approach shoe” with very stiff sole (anything else paralyses with pain, again because I am too old). If winter, rain cover for shoes or gaiters. Upper part: thin base layer, merino. Insulating layer also merino. If winter, rain gear or shell jacket. Gloves and wrist cuffs. Head and neck protection (buff). Skii goggles. If you are located inland in the winter somewhere in Scandinavia it gets really wet and cold. Good day to all you tourers out there.

  17. Hi,
    maybe some climbing trousers could fit for some of you.
    I´ve seen them with zippers, but it shouldn´t be a problem to sew a zipper in the pockets if you don´t find them with.

  18. I like to wear a pair of board shorts or thin ‘trekking shorts’ from decathlon over my cycling shorts. I also loved a pair of cotton ‘cycling’ trousers I found in the sale at Aldi, they had reflective strips on the hem that you could turn up when riding at night. I like to wear a collared shirt on top, you can open the front (depending where you are) and have the sleeves down or rolled up. I had a very thin merino wool jumper that looked quite smart and went well with shirts that was good too (a great charity shop find). Low hiking shoes and a pair of sandals on my feet. I’m not too fussed about how I look on or off the bike but it’s nice not to be too revealing or look out of place when you do reach civilisation.

    My girlfriend wore cycling shorts and a knee length cotton dress with leggings when it was cooler. And a merino wool jumper too. She says a thin scarf is always good for extra warmth and jazzing up and outfit.

  19. Don’t think anyone’s mentioned these, but we use Shimano MT91’s for excellent cycling and pretty good hiking. Waterproof too.…

  20. Simon Silvester avatar
    Simon Silvester

    I am an all weather mountain biker thinking of a few short tours. Lycra tights are essential in British winters worn with padded undies and over shorts with pockets for camera. Merino socks and Ecco make brilliant shoes and sandals that last. I have so many different wicking base layers, if it is cold I like a tight fitting merino blend vest then a looser base layer and always a buff I can pull up to make a balaclava. I would recommend a Rohan micro grid fleece for off the bike expensive but lasts forever and is light and warm. Keeping dry is impossible at times but must keep warm.
    This is an amazing website, thank you.

  21. For rain, i wonder if anyone has tried touring in colder rain with: 

    1. cuben fiber laminate rain chaps for a bottom layer (narrow leg, under 3 oz) over any pant/tights option.
    2. Match with vpl sock high sock (eVent > gortex) over a nuwool sock
    3. ultralight trail runner with a stiffer orthotic insert
    4. Zpacka challenger rain coat with optional 4- inch length addition to bottom hem to cover chap exposed area and bottock region, and optional pit zips (eVent jacket in dark blue w/nylon exterior and cuben fiber taped seams). Hood seems to fit a helmet. 

    Ill try this in wisconsin this week and let folks know if i get rain and it works well.

  22. Veronica avatar

    I like to cycle in clothes that I can also wear on days off the bike so I don’t have to take as many. I almost always cycle in a shirt, merino or linen, which I do mainly for sun protection. Wool and prince make a nice merino shirt that looks smart off the bike as well but it’s not so good in hot weather. Although expensive, I like outlier pants, never tried their shorts but my boyfriend loves his. As a female I can get away with wearing unpadded Lycra shorts or leggings on the bike with a baggy shirt or merino T‑shirt without look like such a fool. Light linen pants are okay too, covering up beats sunblock in my opinion. Always a sunhat, sometimes I wrap my whole face in a sarong to avoid the sun.. Maybe a non conventional choice but my desert boots lasted a whole year of touring in Asia. Forever searching for the perfect light linen trouser that doesn’t have seams that irritate me, above the knee shorts that are comfortable and sylish (maybe I should try outlier) and a wide brim hat that will stay on my head while cycling.

  23. Endura Urban Softshell Pants are ok. They are designed for bicycling! Maybe rethink the material and ad straps to avoid them getting stuck in the chainrings? Loose fit teeshirts are a good choise, because you can wash the smell off. Bamboo tees? Or merino with some polyester for machine wash? Warm cotton or merino shirt with a zipper, collars and shaped so it covers your back, wrists and neck when you ride hands on the drop bars. Goretex jacket with the same specifications. Goretex trekking shoes that leave your ankles free. Waterproof ankle warmers because otherwise your socks water your shoes from inside out. Baggy shorts from a material that dryes fast. Bicycle glowes with gel pads. Double jersey hat under the helmet when it gets cold. Merino long johns and shirt in the winter. They also work well inside the sleeping bag. I have been riding with this stuf both on tour and to work the year round. And the weather can get pretty interesting in the winter in Finland. I cant say I have solved all the problems on what to wear when bicycling, but these seem to work and look good enough.

  24. One last thing to prove my wifes point. I have often packed shorts and longs for bicycling an a pair of jeans for the day off the saddle. If I would have packed two pairs of shorts and two pairs of long pants for bicycling, I would have doubled the amount of my riding gear but ended up with the same amount of stuff in terms of weight and size.

  25. Hi Tom!

    I told about my idea of bicycle pants that dont look like bicycle pants to my wife who just happens to be a clothes designer. Material, fit, waist line, pockets, ankle strap etc. She said those are all good ideas. She also said most men seem to have the same problem with clothes. We allways try to find the most durable shoes, pants, jackets… Then we ware them. Every day. All the time. Until they brake. Why do they brake? Because EVERYTHING BRAKES! And it happens alot faster without care and maintenance. Solution? You should have several comfy shorts and longs that look good both on and off the saddle.

  26. For me, style is not the most importance. What I need the most is protection. So i choose high-quality clothes which are suitable for the weather, and of course are comfortable for cycling.

  27. I bought long pants for touring from Corinne Dennis http://www.corinnedennis.co.uk/
    A comfortable cyclists cut, lightweight and quick-drying, although the colour did fade in the sun pretty quick. I eventually had them cut down to shorts in Laos.

  28. Pricey but good quality and originally designed for stylish urban cycling…never worn the pants on a long ride but very comfortable and well designed…

  29. Thanks so much for sharing! I definitely agree that there needs to be more attention in the department of cycling clothes. Plus, I’m very particular about what I ride in. The stuff I wear has to look good when I am riding, or just walking around. For me, style is of the utmost importance.

  30. Kate Cooper avatar
    Kate Cooper

    Hi , I have ridden 4500 k in Northern Europe , in one pair of Solomon GTX trail running shoes and have never had wet feet . I take a pair of thongs ( flip flops ) to wear on hot days after riding . I agree with Lesley that leggings are great , you can get endura warm leggings with no padding which are warm on and off your bike Just add a light tunic for off bike and wear this with bike shorts on a hot day . In the end , I would say just go and you can always buy a new look in an op shop for a few dollars on the way , stop worrying and enjoy the ride ! Kate

  31. Andy ZE avatar

    Merino wool base with a long-sleeved shirt and eVent jacket. Trousers are thin Craghoppers cargos, full length because I am an old dad and I come into fashion every ten years or so! Normal boxers underneath or padded shorts if I am suffering from butthurt. Shoes are Merell approach shoes, but it is grim if there is a lot of rain. You have to stop every hour and tip the water out and squeeze out the socks, so this area needs work. Used to wear a Tilley T5 but lost it. Now wear a baseball cap.

    My bike is fitted with a Rohloff hub and a chainguard so I have less worries than most about what to wear.

  32. Hard to beat merino or bamboo for next to skin. Polyester does stink quickly but the better quality polypropylene is leagues better (haven’t used daily on tour for months admittedly, but I have some good base layers that survived years of training for ultra running). I can’t get past the idea that cotton holds water and dries slowly but perhaps this works in hot dry climates.

    Cycle commuter clothing must be close to what the tourer requires. Howie’s, swrve, outlier etc. do subtle and functional clothing that’s pedal friendly. Rohan good option too, though I need ankle clips with their trousers.

    I prefer no chamois unless a rock solid saddle so underwear with no seams in the wrong places is important! Often what works for running is not the best for cycling in.my experience. UniQlo current faves but had success in M&S before.

    Enjoying the feedback in these comments.

    1. The Helly Hansen Dry baselayers are in a league of their own, as far as synthetics go…

      1. Good to know they’ve beat the ‘smelly helly’ nickname. Should be pretty durable too, I’ve had a pair of the Helly Warm tights for 10 years. Will keep them in mind for the future if I ever get through the current pile of baselayers I’ve amassed.

  33. Ucanbikexc avatar

    I always have two loose fitting shirts, that are long sleeve sun block 50
    rating, that I alternate day to day. Mosquitoes cannot bite through the shirts. These shirts have 2 front closing pockets where I store my I‑phone, ready for a picture at a moments notice. In Canada you can ride hundreds of km’s on the same road so GPS stuff is not really needed at times. In the cool mornings I wear arm warmers underneath. I wear lycra shorts with tights and/or knee warmers and pull on a set of lightweight shorts if I am going to walk into a public place that will not like me in lycra.

  34. sunglasses, buff, t‑shirt, commando under polyester shorts, cheap running shoes. All’s good, for the summer at least.

  35. Graham W avatar

    Interesting to read of other’s experiences. Over the years of trying everything I still seem to always end up back with long sleeved men’s cotton shirts and cotton cargo pants orcargo shorts and soft hiking types shoes or ankle boots on my feet. And a Tilley hat of course, always a Tilley hat 🙂

  36. doug peterson avatar
    doug peterson

    Andy’s suggested bottom detail for pants is excellent. Personally I like & use cargo pockets but think that rear pockets are needless. I’ve been using rock climbing shorts for a few years now. They add an extra panel in the crotch to provide more room for the climbers, and this is in your sit area on the bike. So you’re not sitting on that place where 4 panels come together as in regular hiking shorts. 

    On the question of tops, I like full length zippers BUT they must be something substantial. Too many cycling tops use tiny toy zippers that easily jam and don’t last. Especially when layering up, a full length zipper makes dressing much easier. 

    So far my favorite shoes are Teva sandals (and their variants). They vent well & dry reasonably quickly after a soaking. They have served as the only shoes I need on many trips. These are not cycling specific (no cleat mounts) but just general purpose sandals. With hiking weight wool socks they are perform well.

  37. Andy Smallwood avatar
    Andy Smallwood

    Hi Tom,
    On the pants front I think the cycling clothing manufacturers could copy some design ideas from the motorcycling world. On my motorbike I wear a pair of heavy cotton, cargo style, kevlar reinforced jeans. Of course for cycling the material could be lighter cotton or a synthetic fabric, and the cargo pockets and kevlar would be done away with.

    The main design feature that I would certainly take from these pants and adapt them to long cycling pants is the closure system at the bottom. There is a zip on the outside of the ankles that opens to halfway up the calf for easy “entry”, and a velcro flap so that the bottom can be pulled in to prevent the bottoms flapping around, thus negating the need for clips, elastic bands, etc. The other great thing about these pants is that once off the bike, you un-hitch the velcro flap and re-attach it to a wider point and they look like a decent pair of pants for walking around in.

    Make them zip-off and you have a very versatile bit of kit. I wouldn’t have them padded as they’d need to be washed everyday then. I’d just wear a pair of padded cycling pants underneath.

    My motorcycle waterproof bottoms (no good for cycling in — I’ve tried this “boil in the bag” option) have the same closure system at the ankles. I think there’s some mileage in this design feature, although there are probably some cycling clothing manufacturers already making these (ideal, in my opinion) cycling pants.


  38. tommaso savoia avatar
    tommaso savoia

    Hello. Due my seasonal job I only travel in last autumn and winter, so I use do wear my outdoor dress, but my outdoor dress are, in their majority old or less used casual dress. I wear a wool pullover zipped at the neck as the first layer, a cotton shirt and a thin fleece on the top. If needed I add a waterproof from Decathlon. Underwear padded pants by Endura, in coldest periods ski leggings, and cotton trousers that I used to work until few years ago (they are lasting on the saddle from two year). Two pairs of mountain socks and lightly waterproof low hiking shoes from Decathlon (Arpenaz 100). I use neither pedal clips and toeclips. I admit that in the morning often they are still wet unless a windy night out of my tent. https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10153808934789357&set=a.10153808934264357.1073741831.843774356&type=3&theater
    greetings Tommaso

    1. tommaso savoia avatar
      tommaso savoia

      I was forgotting a well deserved mention for my transparent glasses. 4,95 € and they served me very very well in the rain, in the night against lot of overhanging branches. Unluckily I lost my oakley sunglasses, but I don’t mind, I had found abandoned, I hope someone else can now enjoy with them continouing the chain.

  39. I don’t know much about cycling specific clothing available in the UK, but here in Germany and in the US you could drown in it. I never wear long pants — ‘trousers’ — when cycling. That’s so old dad style. I was also surprised to see while in the UK in January/February with absolutely freezing weather manic urban cyclists riding in shorts! Is that some supposed macho Bit thing? In any winter type of weather I wear cycling specific tights to keep my legs warm and if I should be foolish enough to go out in the rain I wear cycling specific rain gear — pants and top. In summer — wherever you find it — I wear knee-length shorts. On top I have a light-weight cycling specific, wind resistant jacket, long at the back, zip pockets backside pouch and a few yellow flashes. And if it gets real hot I just ride with shorts a T‑shirt and sandals. Other than in serious traffic or rain or sun I don’t often use a helmet. Balaclava hats are wormer in winter.

    1. Speaking for myself I never wear shorts, but as a kid I was forced to wear shorts to school come hell or high water. Not something I ever thought about until later on in life where I realized how cruel it was. I can’t really speak for other cyclists in the UK, but on the whole I don’t think it’s down to machismo, more no sense…no feeling.

  40. Hey Tom,

    I’m a big fan of merino layers for the top half, along with a windproof gilet and then a shell. The bottom half is always more tricky but I’ve settled on Haglofs Lizard shorts, worn over merino boxers. They are tough, light, dry quickly, have three zipped pockets, have enough stretch that they don’t ride up (or down) when pedaling and come in some subtle colours that can look fairly casual. For when it’s colder, they also make a pair of Lizard trousers which I take for off-bike wear but which I’ve ridden in with surprising success. The only issue is that neither are cheap.

    What I really struggle with is wet weather gear for the legs and feet. I’ve tried waterproof shorts over leggings, waterproof overtrousers and waterproof socks, and even a set of short gaiters to add to these in an attempt to keep my feet dry, but nothing seems to work other than sitting out the heavy rain…

  41. Forgot to mention cycling shorts without shoulder straps, so it’s easier doing what you have to do in a restroom or in the woods.
    I learned this the hard way on a winter tour in Sweden, where I needed to get all my clothes off to go to the toilet.

  42. Merino cycling Jersey with pocket. Handy when you need to get stuff while cycling (e.g. camera). Knickers, the don’t get caught in the chain. Merino socks.
    Normal shoes. I have never bothered using cycling shoes og shoes with stiff soles. It’s more important to pick a pair the dries fast if (when) they get wet. Goretex socks and Sandals Work too.
    Rain is the Most difficult bit. You tend to get wet no matter what you put on. The trick is to avoid getting cold as well. I use a light breathable (not goretex) rainshell and cycling shorts + winter cycling Legs or light rain trousers. 3 layer goretex tend to get soaked on the outside and that will get you cold in the wind because the water does not leave the jacket. I use a cap or similar to avoid getting rain in my eyes as well.
    In general I avoid synthetic shirts because they stink after a day in the saddle.

  43. Just to be the outlier here, cycling specific clothing (Assos lycra bibs, Vulpine Merino tshirts, merino/bamboo base layers from Icebreaker and Costco!, merino arm/leg warmers) when on the bike and a separate set of very lightweight, quick drying ‘normal’ clothes for off the bike. Some of these cycle tops might double as ‘normal’ clothing as I’ll pick plain cycle tops not something advertising some Tour de France team.

    I’m cycle touring because I love cycling and anything that makes it less comfortable seems frankly silly to me. I’ve tried baggy shorts and I still don’t even wear them mountain biking never mind touring. Zip off’s always seem to be designed for walkers and not cyclists. The zips on the thighs end up restricting and who needs all those pockets?

    IME, concentrate on finding good quality cycle clothing that wicks, doesn’t smell, dries quickly when washed and fits. Then keep your off the bike clothing for completely off the bike so it doesn’t end up covered in all the crap that gets thrown at you cycling for 8 hours a day.

    Make sure everything is easy to wash and quick to dry, preferably overnight.

    I’ve ultimately little time for people who have a problem with other people dressed in lycra cycle clothing. I’m on a bike, or have just got off one. ie. I’m a cyclist. Get over it. They can frankly take their hangups elsewhere.

    1. Mark Royden avatar
      Mark Royden

      100pc agree. I set off around the world in Sept and will have similar brands as you mentioned for the bike and a change for evenings. Why don’t cyclist want to look like cyclists? Comfort and washability are the main drivers for me, if people think I look odd, great!!

      1. What will you do in countries where your skin-tight cycling shorts and bare legs are illegal? Just asking…

        1. So agree. Tom. As a woman on the road, I don’t want to ‘look like a cyclist’ because that will garner much unwanted attention in a large part of the world. I want to be able to talk to local folk without scaring or shocking them by looking like something from Planet Zog 🙂

    2. I have nothing against people on lycra. I just don’t find it comfortable for myself, and I also notice people find it less “aggressive” when I talk to them in non-revealing clothes in shiny colours. Despite how much I love cycling, when I’m touring I consider myself a traveler that happens to be on a bike, not the other way around, and the choice of clothing helps.

      My Indian colleagues at work (in Germany) would go with us swimming on the lakes with long sleeve shirts and long trousers, and would never wear a swimsuit themselves. You can imagine what they think of you in their country if you show up with your stretchy-revealing short pants…

      1. Totally agree that bicycle touring is travelling first and cycling second.
        And unless you are cycling in a functional clothes loving country as f.e. Germany, most cycling outfits makes you so look like someone from a sports team that accidentally got lost away from cycling treks..
        And if it is other way around if cycling is first, then maybe it could be called cycling trip? Well just a suggestion.. Indeed, as not a native english speaker, I havve always wondered about those terms..
        And as I am searching clothes myself right now, I am in exactly in the same dilemma functional over casual.. It is especially hard with trousers as I am slim and tall (180cm) and most of functional trousers are made for women up to 170, even in German market where I live right now. But why???

    3. Great shout re Vulpine they have stuff that looks great off the bike and is functional on the bike too. 

      I suspect no one has taken cycle touring as a category of it’s own to develop is probably due to what is going on here in these conversations, there is no one clear view as to what makes great cycle touring clothes. It depends on where one is going and what the cyclist priorities are.

      I’m cycling across Canada for 3 months so I’m bringing cycling clothes for on the bike with a few cross over shirts (merino tees), and a few items for civilian clothing when in cities.

  44. My opinions follow the guidelines already set up by Lesley. My main choice criteria is versatility (good on and off the bike), discretion (no shiny colours), durability (easy to wash, resistant to tear,…) and finally cost.

    For shoes: trekking shoes, the low ones not covering the ankles. If possible, in full brown or black to be more discreet and use them as emergency shoes if taking part on a more formal event (like not being rejected when going with locals to a bar with a strict dress policy). Unfortunately, current designs find attractive to add flashy bright details in otherwise quite subtle models, so choice is limited.

    Upper part: most important for me is long sleeves for sun protection. Material is not so relevant as each has trade offs (quick drying but stinky for polyester, comfortable but heavy and slow drying for cotton, warm & light but expensive and not so durable for wool, etc.) External layers using the proven “onion principle” to adapt to the weather, mostly outdoor/trekking stuff as the cycling clothing, although maybe more suited, it’s less versatile and visually quite aggressive. My trick for shorter trips is to accumulate all my old clothes of the previous months and use them for the trip. As they get disgusting dirty, they get downgraded to cleaning rags for the bike before being finally disposed of. Added bonus is that the luggage gets lighter as the trip progresses. My decommissioned office shirts do a great job: I need to buy them anyway, they have long sleeves, and with the buttons on sleeves and front area they are endlessly customizable depending on weather conditions. Plus most people in other countries wear shirts, not t‑shirts, so you mix better in the crowds.

    Bottom part: I personally dislike cycling shorts and I’m lucky of my ass not being picky with saddles, so I usually cycle with plain normal shorts. The polyester type is lighter and could be also used as swimsuit. For longer trousers, the trekking type are light, quick drying and can be had in brown or black for inconspicuous looks. Mine have also an adjustable cord at the bottom, if you want to save them from getting trapped in the chainrings.

    A hat is compulsory for me to bring, with a strap for the neck. Very touristy looking, but it won’t fly away in a quick downhill or windy day.

    Bike gloves are one of my few cycling-specific musts. Best padding possible (the expensive ones) and a reasonable amount of “towel-type” material on the top area to dry out sweat on those long climbs. For winter I like cross-country ski gloves, much warmer and long lasting than the cycling specific ones, while not losing much sensitivity. 

    Sunglasses are another must, the bigger the better for protection.

    1. Forgot to mention, darker colours are supposed to attract mosquitos, while they are more tolerant to less than perfect washing. You need to find the balance. Absolute no-goes for me are white (dirty from the first minute of your ride) and black (attracts heat, quickly shows noticeable sweat circles)

      And why, oh why, do manufacturers produce most of their “technical shirts” in short sleeve and with patterns even your grandfather would find ugly…!!?? No chance to find a model you could also wear to work (at least not in Finance!).

  45. Shoeless avatar

    Hi Tom,

    Love your site and enjoyed your film.

    Could you spare us the years of looking and let us in on your stiff enough but light enough hiking shoe?

    Shu Less

    1. My long-lasting favourites are Meindl Lugano — you can get them from Rutland Cycling, so I guess I’m not the only cyclist to go down this line ???? Several other online suppliers. Not cheap, but worth every penny. Hope this helps, Shoeless!

  46. Hi Tom!
    We have been long-distance touring for a very long time, and this is the eternal dilemma. I prefer to ride in clothes that look ‘normal’, and cycling kit often looks anything but. Technical fabrics do not work on tour — even if you can wash them every day, they discolour and stink after a very short time.
    At the moment, I ride in shirts that I make myself from non-iron cotton men’s shirts from charity shops — I make the collar into a ‘mandarin’ style by removing the fold-over bit (which is the bit that always looks rough first), and adjust the rest of it to fit me neatly with a nice, long tail to keep the back covered on the bike and things street-decent when I wear stretchy cotton leggings. Long sleeves for sun protection can be rolled up as required. Effectively, a tunic-style shirt. Merino sweaters and/or t‑shirts can go on top or underneath. The non-iron cotton stays smart for a long time — I can usually get about 5 months of constant daily wear and wash before it either fades out or disintegrates from sun exposure!
    As far as the bottom half is concerned, I haven’t found anything that really works for me other than stretchy cotton leggings — below the knee or full length. The problem here is the complete lack of pockets; my next project is to try putting some in myself — just enough to zip in a little cash when walking around town. However, leggings don’t go everywhere, and it would be nice to have a pair of trousers that are:
    1. long enough in the leg to pedal in without riding up
    2. narrow enough at the ankle to be out of the way
    3. pockets that are deep and zipped, and out of the way of the ‘articulation’ points (cargo pockets are not the answer — I agree, Eileen!)
    4. long enough in the back to keep you covered when in pedalling position
    5. not too high at the front that they roll when in pedalling position.
    6. the fabric is tough enough to last more than a couple of weeks
    7. the fabric maintains its looks — we all know the look of tech trousers when they’ve been washed, and the seams have shrunk down a bit, the fabric has bagged out a bit, and those pocket flaps have curled up… Fabric that has the nice properties of non-iron cotton shirts — but a bit thicker. Need to keep the bugs out too, which leggings don’t.
    I have tried to create something along these lines for myself, but haven’t succeeded too well yet!
    Shoes — given up on cycling shoes. I now wear Meindl Comfort Fit trekking shoes, which are wide and comfortable for me, and the soles are reasonably stiff. They have a number of styles — gore-tex lined or plain leather, wide comfort-fit or regular. In hot weather I wear them with those low-cut ‘invisible’ cotton socks. They are not cheap, but my last pair lasted 18 months on the road — 19,000 km (with re-stitching in Peru) and a further 12 months of daily commuting to and use in my work as a gardener. I add a pair of gore-tex socks as required. Unlike trainers, they don’t stink.
    I’ll be interested to see other ideas!

    1. Thanks so much, Lesley. That’s exactly the kind of contribution I was looking for. Completely in agreement about the trousers and your points there.

      Also this: “Technical fabrics do not work on tour – even if you can wash them every day, they discolour and stink after a very short time.” – so true.

    2. Outlier pants meet all your specs other than zipped pockets.

  47. Living in suburbia(Cherry Hill, New Jersey) I wear calf length shorts(black, Grey, or tan) a fluorescent orange/radiation tallow T‑shirt, Orthopedic(diabetic) light walking shoes(ankle length) a Walz Cycle cap and a Giro brain bucket(helmet)

  48. Hey Tom, I’m in the process of gearing up for my first long cycle trip. Generally I’m happy with the outdoorsy stuff for the top half – I imagine bike-life will be less demanding of that than backpacking, and I’m all in with the merino layers. Mostly I’m lacking a pair of decently cut pants that won’t fall apart, and without cargo pockets (apparently a pair of pants cannot be considered fit for the outdoors unless they are laden with extra pockets) As you say, this is where something made for lots of saddle time would be great, but it also needs to be the One Pair of Pants! A pair of all purpose shoes (for cycling and some longer hikes) that are “socially acceptable” are also hard to come by. Weight is a factor for me that makes many outdoor/trekking specific things appeal over cycling kit.

    1. Agreed on both counts. I’ve recently found a pair of light hiking shoes that are stiff enough for cycling, but not without years of searching. As for the One Pair of Pants, I still don’t think they exist!

      1. Are these shoes the Meindl’s as noted elsewhere or another brand? Ta.

    2. Something I’ve always wondered is why more people don’t hike in leggings. Wool leggings reinforced with 10% or so of a more durable fiber are AWESOME on the trail, and I’ve had some good experiences biking in mine as well. They are warm, move with you, and aren’t made out of parachute material (which has always bothered me). They also don’t have 50 million pockets.

Something to add?