Image Credit: Pas Normal Studios
Our editors independently select these products. Making a purchase through our links may earn PLEIN AIR a commission.
Oh, hello sunshine! It’s about time you showed up. With warmer days ahead, it’s time to kick it into two-wheel drive. For cyclists, there’s no better time to gear up and conquer the roads than the early days of spring, especially once the roads actually start thawing.
After getting my first taste of warm weather this year, I was giddy about dusting off my road bike and slipping into my favorite cycling kit. I’ve been daydreaming about jumping back on my bike since booting up for the slopes (just don’t tell my Ikon pass.)
To me, there’s just something about cycling that gets my heart pumping–the cardio, the fresh air, the sunshine, and of course, the endless outfit combinations.
From leisurely coffee rides to intense interval training, you can elevate your ride experience and go the extra distance with the right cycling apparel. So, whether you prefer a rugged gravel trail or a smooth paved road, I’ve collected my ride-or-die pieces of cycling apparel that focus on performance, fit, and style. Don’t let the endless options overwhelm you–while there are so many brands and styles to choose from, I’ve put in the miles of research to bring you the very best pieces to add to your cycling wardrobe.
Quality > Quantity
In shopping for cycling apparel, let’s not forget the power of quality over quantity. Yes, you’re going to want a different colored jersey for every day of the week, but let’s start with high-quality basics. The architecture of a cycling kit is built from the inside out, meaning that the most essential pieces of kit are the ones closest to the skin. So, a jersey and a pair of padded bib shorts are the most important pieces of outfit before you start layering and accessorizing.
When picking out a jersey, I would suggest starting your collection with a short-sleeved option. While long-sleeved jerseys are great for chilly days or early-morning rides, what tends to happen is you’ll overheat once you start getting into your workout. I suggest pulling on a short-sleeved jersey and layering with arm warmers and a jacket…but more on that later.
Each apparel company tends to use its own terminology for its innovative technical fabrics and cutting-edge styles, but what’s most important when shopping for a jersey is the cut and the material. There are two types of jersey cuts: athletic and pro. Athletic is a bit roomier and allows for more airflow, while pro is meant to hug the body for better aerodynamics. Personally, I always opt for a pro cut jersey, like this one from Maap, because I prefer a low-profile silhouette–plus, I feel faster and more streamlined with the tighter the fit.
Cycling apparel has so many delicious fabrics to choose from, but typically jerseys are made from either polyester or merino wool. Synthetic fabrics prioritize keeping you cool, which is perfect for hot days on the bike, but when it comes to staying warm on early-spring rides I always turn to merino wool, like this one from Pas Normal Studios. Unlike its synthetic counterparts, merino wool excels at retaining body heat, making it the perfect choice for those chilly rides where warmth is top-priority. Merino is naturally odor-neutralizing and sweat-wicking, so this jersey is an all-weather staple–even in the summer months.
Next up: padded bibs! While they’re a bit goofy looking, a quality pair of properly fitted padded shorts make a world of difference in the saddle. Padded shorts provide cushion and support, ultimately helping you stay comfortable on your bike. What I love about these Rapha bibs is that the padding (aka chamois) is created specifically for the female body. The pads in all of their women’s specific bibs are size-specific, meaning their size varies in accordance with the size of the short. And the most thoughtful innovation of all…all of their chamois pads have a pH-neutral topsheet for complete comfort and zero irritation, which means no underwear needed. Pair these bibs with a lil Chamois Butt’r Her and you’ll be riding chafe-free all day.
IMO, women-owned Velocio can do no wrong. I’ve recently added a pair of their utility bib shorts to my collection for those days when I need extra cargo space for spare tubes and snacks. Not only are these bibs super comfortable and padded to perfection, but their more inclusive sizing range is paving the way for more women to get on bikes. The price point is high but these bibs are an investment worth making, especially if you’re looking for quality and performance that will last many seasons of riding. Plus, Velocio has rolled out FlyFree: a pee-break-friendly design that doesn’t require removing your helmet, jersey, or other layers. Need I say more?
Layer Up to Get Down
With a pair of bibs and a jersey as the kit essentials, there are a few layering options you’ll want to invest in depending on what terrain you’re riding and what elements you might encounter. I like to layer under my jersey as a way to regulate my temperature on both cool and hot days. I love this mesh base layer from Maap because of its moisture-wicking, featherlight material that helps regulate body temp. It’s also antibacterial, which helps keep your pores clear while sweat collects under your jersey.
While a base layer under your jersey is a nice touch, my go-to layering piece is a windbreaker, like this sleek number from POC. A windbreaker is great for breezy, chilly days or for staying warm on big descents after a sweaty climb. For days when you need a little extra warmth around the torso, I opt for a packable, lightweight gilet (aka vest.) My favorites are the United Colors Chroma Insulated Unisex Gilet and the House Wind Vest from climate-neutral apparel company OrNot.
You’re going to thank yourself for packing layers for longer rides, so if you’re feeling like a jacket is overkill, or you want even more warmth under your jacket, I highly recommend investing in a pair of arm and leg warmers. To be fair, these are only necessary in early-spring and late-fall when temps drop below 60°F. I like these arm warmers and these leg warmers from Assos of Switzerland because they also provide UV protection.
Alright, you’ve got your layers dialed–now it’s time to accessorize.
Obviously, a helmet is the most important accessory (safety is sexy), but don’t stop there. From funky caps to quirky socks, stylish sunglasses to chic handkerchiefs, there are so many ways to add a little flare to your outfit. I typically dress in monochrome, so adding a pop of color to my ride with fun water bottles is my go-to technique. I love the bottles from Fingercrossed and the selection Le Club offers online.
Regardless of your riding level, investing in high-quality cycling apparel that fits properly can make the difference between a mediocre ride and an exceptional one. So, whether you’re a seasoned pro or just starting out, purchasing quality pieces that will make your ride more comfortable and enjoyable is worth the investment. Happy riding!