Why Do Cyclists Wear Lycra?

You don’t need to wear cycling clothing to go for a bike ride and we understand that cost of dedicated clothing can be off-putting.

Cycling brands dedicate time and resources into researching fit, comfort and materials to create clothing that works with you when you get out on the bike.

So – what are you paying for with cycling kit, and what should you look for when buying?


Cycling jerseys are designed to wick sweat away from your skin, absorbing it in the least smelly way. Without good wicking properties, sweat will rest on your skin, so that if you stop riding to check a map, enjoy some cake, or embark upon a long descent, you’ll soon find yourself feeling chilly.

Of course, running and gym wear also uses fabric which pulls sweat away from the skin. The difference with cycling jerseys is that they are designed to work with your body when you are riding. A quality jersey will have a silicone gripper, or elasticised hem so that when you lean forwards, your jersey stays in place and you don’t risk a triangular burned patch when riding in heat.

Though not everyone wants a skin tight garment, pretty much nobody wants loads of extra fabric flapping about whilst they ride. Jerseys for cycling are cut to fit quite close to the body so that sudden breezes don’t present a parachute risk. How tight a jersey will be varies by brand and model – but generally look for Altura and Endura for relaxed fit, Castelli for super tight, and Gore for something in the middle.

The other benefit of a cycling jersey is the addition of pockets. These are there for you to store inner tubes, multitools – anything you want readily available. If you invest slightly more, you’ll probably get a waterproof zip pocket, which is helpful for carrying a mobile phone.

If you aren’t comfortable in traditional cycling kit, some brands have created wicking, close fit t-shirts with pockets which will give you most of the benefits without going all out for ‘the look’. The Merino Short Sleeved Polo from Vulpine is one example of this option.

Shorts and bibshorts

Good cycling shorts should not make you feel like you are wearing a nappy. The pad, known as a chamois, is there to give you a little comfort from your saddle. However, it should fit fairly close to your skin and should stay in place both on and off the bike. Thickness of the pad varies – shorts for ‘endurance’ riding with have more padding that ‘race’ inspired shorts.

The chamois should definitely have no seams and you are not meant to wear underwear with cycling shorts – you just need to wash them after every wear.

There are three options with shorts – lycra waist shorts, lycra bib shorts, or baggy shorts with lycra waist short insert.

Lycra is a common choice because it is quick drying, and it doesn’t move around as you ride. For an extra layer or protection (and modesty), MTBers tend to wear baggies over the top, but they still agree  that lycra is best underneath.

Waist shorts are the convenience option for road cyclists and a good pair will have a quality chamois as above, leg grippers to ensure they don’t ride up, and will fit on the waist as normal shorts. Bib shorts are one step up, and include straps to go over the shoulders.

Bib shorts provide greater comfort, because there is no waistband digging into your stomach as you ride. Not only that, the chamois is kept completely in place as the shorts should move around less, and there is no chance of exposed skin if your jersey does ride up.

Men can usually adjust the bibs for a comfort break, and women’s bib shorts often have a crafty soloution – Gore provide a zip at the waist, Pearl Izumi have a tucked in bib section, and Hincapie provide a clasp that meets across the chest and undoes for toilet breaks.

Mountain bikers usually opt for baggy shorts, with a lycra insert with a chamois still, and this option is also a good one for commuters who want a little more coverage – the Endura Humvee is one of the most popular choices.


The key components are the jersey and shorts, but a few accessories will help out. Firstly, a base layer will work with your jersey to keep sweat away from your skin – keeping you dry in summer, and trapping warm air between the two layers in winter to keep you warm. In truth, a base layer can come from a cycling or running brand – it just needs to fit snugly and must be made from quality material designed to cater for sweaty skin.

Cycling gloves or mitts are also an essential item. Though you could simply wear normal gloves, those designed to be worn on the bike have a few features that set them apart. One of the most crucial additions is padding on the palms to prevent fatigue from road vibrations, as well as durable material which will deal with friction from handlebars.


When buying cycling gloves, you should look for those with a ‘brow wipe’ often made of terry cloth. This is partly for wiping sweat from the brow, and though brands often refer to this use, this section is also designed to be a snot wipe, for those nose-weepy-days.

So there you go. No, you do not need cycling kit to ride a bike – but gear designed specifically with the bike in mind will have features to keep you comfortable for longer.