At the start of the summer a friend who is new to MTB asked, ‘What mountain biking clothing should I buy?’ We discussed it over a pint, which planted the seed for this article. What interested me is that none of the clothing is essential, so what order should you buy MTB clothing, particularly when on a budget.
MTB specific clothing won’t directly make you a better rider – practice and tuition is all that will do that – but it will make you more comfy. Being more comfortable you can ride for longer, and you will enjoy it more. So, if new to MTB, you will be more likely to head out on your bike more often riding for longer, getting that vital practice to help you improve.
What mountain biking clothing should I buy?
None of this MTB clothing is essential. You can ride in any sports gear, even a pair of jeans or even a suit if you wish – although I don’t recommend either. The aim of this guide is to help you decide what to buy first. So assuming you have a bike and a helmet, and assuming you are starting out with normal riding, this is the order I would buy mountain biking clothing.
When my mate asked, ‘What mountain biking clothing should I buy?’ My immediate response was padded underpants. Bike specific underpants will keep you in the saddle longer. They stop chaffage, help wick sweat away and give an extra line of defence between your bum and the saddle – it may feel comfy at first but will feel like sitting on a picket fence after a couple of bumpy hours if you are not used to it.
If you can’t get padded underpants buy Lycra cycle shorts, which are intended to be worn on their own. If like me you feel Lycra has its place, but that place is not on you – at least in public – then just wear a pair of shorts over them. I have two pairs of Tenn padded underpants from Halfords which cost under a tenner.
Obviously you will need to wear gloves when it is cold, however MTB gloves also help you avoid getting blisters and sore hands. Blisters can occur on the inside of your thumb where you grip the handle bars. Also not all grips are the same, mine are comfy for gloveless riding but I have ridden with grips that are much less comfy, and even some that are difficult to grip without gloves.
Gloves also give protection against bushes, brambles and the ground (if you fall off). I have a pair of fingerless Dare2b gloves and a pair of full gloves for the winter.
A lightweight waterproof jacket that will fit in a small cycle bag is almost essential. Even if riding in lovely weather with no chance of rain you can quickly become cold if you over exert yourself. Also if you have an accident, or your bike breaks having an extra layer available will make a big difference.
Of course hopefully none of the above will happen and you can just use the jacket when it rains or as an extra layer if the temperature drops. I would recommend going for a single layer waterproof, often these are called windshells. They do not provide top level water resistance and are not that breathable, but they are lightweight, windproof and will keep you dry for a while.
I have a Dare2b windshell that I have had for around five years which does the job.
Cycle Jersey (aka T-Shirt)
For a long time I cycled in cotton t-shirts, this is fine but you get a bit sweaty. A cycle jersey or any sports t-shirt that is breathable and wicks sweat away is better and will make you more comfy. The advantage of cycle jerseys over sport Ts is they are a little longer at the back, so when you are leaning forward your back remains covered, although personally I never have a problem with this.
Cycling jerseys often have a zip which runs part way down the front and is great for cooling down – or showing off a manly chest. Furthermore they often have strategically places pockets. Again I have a Dare2b jersey (starting to sound like I work for them!) but I also ride in a Salomon sports t-shirt that is just as comfy. I picked up the latter very cheaply at Sports Direct.
Cycling Technical Layer (aka Jumper)
Long sleeved and a bit thicker than a cycle jersey a cycling technical layer is basically a breathable jumper you can exercise in. Normally they are zipped all the way down, and have an elasticated bottom to stop them riding up. On cold days you wear one of these to keep warm (it’s not rocket science!), and coupled with a cycle jersey and/or windshell you have good flexibility for different conditions.
If you don’t have one don’t let it stop you going riding on a cold day. You can wear any jumper really, but something lightweight and breathable – such as a fleece – is best. I have a GORE Bike Wear Thermo which is very comfy and has convenient pockets. I also use it for running in the winter.
For a long time I rode in an old pair of trainers. However I found the pedals, mud, and generally abuse they received meant they never lasted long. I also found that they offered no ankle protection from errant brambles or self induced pedal injuries. I eventually upgraded to a pair of Teva Links Mid which I have found amazing. You can read a review here.
Buying MTB specific trainers will give you footwear that lasts longer, is more comfy, offers protection and is specifically designed to give you grip both on the pedal and when walking. They would be higher on this ‘What mountain biking clothing should I buy?’ list, but typically they are expensive. So when new to MTB save the investment and ride in a pair of old trainers – that you don’t mind ruining – until you are ready to fork out.
Mountain biking shorts
Having been riding a bike for over 30 years it was only this summer that I bought some MTB specific shorts. Previously I wore gym shorts with padded underpants beneath. I had no reason to upgrade until I booked a mountain biking holiday, I figured that spending all day in the saddle I should get shorts that are designed for the job.
I went for a pair of Dainese Hucker shorts which are comfy and very durable. In particularly they reduce chaffage, and keep air flowing in the areas that get sweaty. Although they might be a bit breezy come the winter!
I do not own any cycle specific socks. However I do have plenty of sports socks that wick away moisture and stop my foot from moving within the shoe. If you don’t have any sport socks I recommend getting a pair, but it certainly doesn’t have to be cycling socks.
Having said that, the long socks often worn by road cyclists would certainly keep the legs warm on a cold day, and they clearly must have benefits if the pros are wearing them.
There is other mountain biking clothing you could buy such as trousers, a highly breathable and highly water resistant jacket, a balaclava or hat that fits under a helmet. But if you are new to MTB it is unlikely you will be going out in poor conditions, and you will probably buy the above gear first anyway.
When my mate asked, ‘What mountain biking clothing should I buy?’ I am sure he didn’t expect me to write an article about it. Of course he ignored my advice and went pretty much all-in – spending a fortune – and this summer he has only been riding a handful of times and could have saved the cash.