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Style Advice

The best activewear for cycling

The best activewear for cycling

You can count on a global pandemic to put some perspective on the ways we spend our free time. In the past year, many of our favourite hobbies have become a no-go, and we’ve been forced to find new ways to have fun both indoors – please, no more banana bread – and outside. After all, there’s only so many times you can walk around the block each day. 

One such activity that covers outdoor fun and exercise all in one is cycling, which saw such a boom in 2020 that many retailers literally ran out of bikes. Of course, cycling itself is nothing new. And as those who cycle seriously or commute by bike already knew, and newbies would come to find out: what you wear to ride a bike matters more than you might think. 

If you picked up the hobby as a means to explore the great outdoors or to avoid public transport, you may have been understandably hesitant to dive straight into the lycra shorts look. But don’t fear: there are minor adjustments you can make to create a more cycling-friendly wardrobe without sacrificing your personal style. To help you navigate the lycra landscape, we picked the must-have pieces for each kind of cyclist so you won’t be accused of having all the gear and no idea.

For the city cyclist

Those who opt to cycle as a way to get from A to B face more of a challenge when choosing what to wear than other kinds of cyclists. You need to pick an outfit that works for wherever you're headed, but is still safe and easy to cycle in. The key: stretch fabrics, shorter silhouettes, and footwear that perfectly blends function and style. Sounds like a challenge? Well, you might be pleasantly surprised.

On top

When cycling relatively short distances, what you wear on top doesn’t matter too much as long as it’s not restrictive or likely to highlight any sweat marks – looking at you, grey t-shirts. You might want to carry your shirt with you to put on once you arrive, but the main thing to think about is whether your top half is prepared for the elements. 

Sporty cycling tops don’t translate so well in social settings, so picking a jacket like this one by Wax London ticks the boxes for both functionality and everyday style. It looks like a smart chore jacket but features a smart vent on that back that opens when you reach forward, so it won’t feel stuffy and will allow for more comfortable riding. It’s also waterproof without being technical and falls short enough that it won’t get in the way of your seat or legs. In short, it’s the perfect choice for casual riders, and you’ll still get plenty of wear out of it on days when you leave the bike at home.

On the bottom

As anyone who’s tried to cycle in skinny jeans knows: comfort is key when it comes to pedalling. Sure, you’re not speed racing and you’re probably sticking to cycle lanes, but you’ll still need trousers that don’t restrict your movement, without making a huge change to your look. Simply opt for a pair of jeans with some stretch – they’ll accommodate your transport choice while fitting into your day-to-day wardrobe with more ease than lycra shorts.

On your feet

Obviously, the shoes you choose will depend on your plans, but if your footwear of choice has little to no support in the ankle or grip on the sole, you might want to pop them in a backpack and pull on a pair of trainers. Look for a style that fits into your everyday style of dressing but still has a practical, sporty element. 

You might think of cycling as a low-impact sport, but you still need to protect your feet and ankles – plus, investing in waterproof shoes that will take the spray from puddles and passing cars means you can keep your favourite pairs clean.

For the commuter cyclist

We don’t blame you for favouring cycling over cramped buses and trains. But while your average commuter can dress for the day ahead, you’ll want to avoid working up a sweat in your office clothes. So if it’s more than a quick 15-minute ride to work, don’t double up your day clothes for your commute. Invest in watertight, practical gear that will make all the difference.

On top 

Since you’re not suffering the stuffy public transport commute, a lightweight, weatherproof jacket that’s easy to throw on and off will have you covered in just about any weather. It’s loose enough to wear over a sweatshirt in cold weather without feeling restrictive, and it’s light enough to wear over a tee when it’s warm enough to lose some layers.

On the bottom 

Unless you wear a suit to work, cycling in slightly smarter trousers or jeans is probably appropriate warm-weather commutes. But when the elements aren’t on your side, a pair of waterproof trousers over the top can save the day – and your outfit. Size them up and make sure they can slip easily over your normal trousers without feeling restrictive, and you won’t have to worry about wheeling through puddles or dodging the spray from passing busses.

On your feet

Commuter cyclists’ shoes take an even harder battering than their trouser hems. Even on dry days, they pick up all the dirt of the road, and it’s easy to scuff them on pedals and pavements. A GORE-TEX trainer looks casual so you won’t feel self-conscious wearing them with your everyday outfit, but they’re weatherproof and hardwearing against adverse conditions on the road. So even if you wear trainers to work, keep them clean in your backpack and invest in some cycling-specific footwear to take the heat. 

For the weekend cyclist

Getting on your bike to explore the great outdoors with friends or family is a great way to pass a Sunday. But since you’ll probably end up going further than the average city cyclist – and even some commuters – what you wear should still be considered. We’re not advising you to don full lycra for the occasion, but look to pieces that are comfortable and durable while still suiting your normal style.

On top

A weather-proof windbreaker with an elegant, simple design will provide you with the function and warmth you need for a day out on two wheels, without feeling like performance gear. Since you’re out for a casual ride, picking something that fits seamlessly into your day-to-day style of dressing means you’ll get more wear out of it even when you’re not cycling.

On the bottom

A practical pair of pants that have the appearance of chinos but the durability of functional outdoor gear is the perfect mid-point for weekend cyclists. The diamond-shaped gusset on these Gramicci trousers was originally designed for climbers, so it allows for a greater range of movement that makes them really comfortable to ride in. They’re ideal for getting on and off the bike over the course of a weekend and provide an element of practicality that won’t be found in your regular wardrobe. 

On your feet

The beauty of cycling as a casual hobby is that, once you’ve got the bike sorted, it’s practically free. So while you can (technically) cycle in almost any shoes, you’re likely to endure the same issue of dirt and puddles as city cyclists – especially in winter. So to keep your favourite footwear in pristine condition, consider investing in a pair of hardwearing technical trainers. They will endure bad weather and provide the comfort and support of a trail shoe, while still working with your everyday outfit.

For the serious cyclist

Picking the right kit can be one of the more daunting prospects for cyclists who decide to take their hobby a little more seriously. The purpose of cycling gear is to streamline the rider, so if you want to look the part, be prepared for lycra, padding, and compression-wear. Not quite ready to invest in the top-end styles? No worries. There’s plenty of performance gear that ticks the boxes at more reasonable price points. 

On top

As a keen cyclist himself, Paul Smith can be relied on to design high-functioning gear with a hint of his signature flair. This cycling jersey features all the technical elements you might expect from big-name cycling brands, but with added style and colour contrasts that feel a little less serious than your usual bold lycra.

On the bottom

If you’re going to invest in anything for more advanced cycling, bib shorts are a must. They provide the secure fit and comfortable padding you’ll need for long, hard rides, but you can throw any top or sweatshirt on top if you’re not quite ready for the full lycra look.

On your feet

Socks might seem like one element of your cycling outfit that requires minimal thought. But, as with running, the socks you wear can affect your ride. A pair of performance socks that have a comfy heel and toe and a thicker, padded fabric will be less likely to rub or feel uncomfortable in your shoe. They’re also made with sweat-wicking materials that expel odours and will prevent your feet from feeling clammy.


Words: Ella White