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Cycling clothes and shoes


Do you need special cycling clothes or can you use your jeans or ordinary shorts? Some say you can wear any clothes for cycling. The truth can be a bit different, sometimes. Good cycling clothes can save you a lot of problems. And in some countries you will not be allowed or it would be impolite to wear shorts (think of Iran), even if it's hot.

In cycling shorts in front of Angkor Wat Cambodia
In cycling shorts in front of Angkor Wat Cambodia, 2003

Do you need to buy special bicycle clothing? It depends how big your budget is and how comfortable you feel with it. I use special cycling shorts but normal t-shirts. And I have SPD sandals! I like sandals but most people prefer shoes. And bicycle clothing is usually not cheap.

As for bicycle shoes, SPD or not? Maybe clips? Some people like it, some don't. If this is your first journey, make some training rides, preferable with some hills. Then you will understand how much comfort SPD (the click system under your shoes) will offer. I find SPD comfortable but I have met others who don't care.

So what is the absolute minimum to pack? For a journey that will take longer then a few weeks I make the following separation:

Additionally you should not forget that special cycling clothes and shoes are not everywhere easy available. You may want to bring SPD shoes or sandals with overshoes. You will be able to buy specialized cycling clothes during your journey in western countries and maybe in some Asian cities (Bangkok, Hong Kong, Penang) but don't count on it. Shoes can be outside the western world a problem since the sizes are limited. If you have big feet, buy your shoes at home.

South Thailand 2012
South Thailand 2012

In Asian and African countries you will be able to buy cheap clothes. If this is your target destination, bring as little as possible.

Warm areas

The list of clothes is quite short since you will be able to find cheap clothes on the way:

  • 2 t-shirts (1 for riding)
  • 1 long arm thin shirt
  • 2 shorts (1 for riding, this can be cycling shorts)
  • shoes and flip-flops or sandals
  • socks and underwear

I have never carried a raincoat. I find it useless since I sweat a lot. If I cycle in tropical countries it is never cold and I get wet anyway. However, if you cycle in Europe, a raincoat is more useful.

Cycling in Angkor
Always cycling shorts, cycling sandals, never a cycling shirt or helmet.
Here in Angkor, 2010

Cold areas

I have never enjoyed cycling in the cold. One of the reasons is that I sweat heavy. Therefore I am never able to dry my clothes unless I can find decent hotels with heating. However, sometimes you have to pass a cold area.

For cycling in late autumn or winter I would recommend :

  • thick long armed shirt or long arms cycling shirt,
  • 2 t-shirts
  • long cycling trousers and thermal underwear
  • travel trousers
  • additional underwear
  • thick socks and good cycling shoes
  • beanie, scarf or hat
  • waterproof jacket and/or fleece
  • long trousers or jeans
  • gloves
  • overshoes, I cycle with cycling sandals and use overshoes which was always enough to keep my feet warm

I prefer not to bring jeans since they are heavy and difficult to clean and hard to dry, even in hot countries. A good choice would be travel-trousers with removable pipes. If it's getting too cold, use thermal underwear.

cycling clothes, sometimes jeans and t-shirt are enough, like here in Lijiang China
Sometimes jeans and a t-shirt are enough, like here in Lijiang in 1997

But what is the truth about cycling clothes? Many long distance cyclists use cycling shorts and SPD shoes. Others simply use ordinary clothes and not even toeclips. My recommendation is to cycle some serious distances before you leave. SPD shoes/sandals are very comfortable once you're used to it. Cycling trousers can be used under normal trousers. In warm countries a normal t-shirt is more then enough. In the cold a cycling shirt is recommended.

Helmets

The discussion to use a helmet or not is sometimes very difficult. It's the kind of discussion I do not want to go into. That said, there are some rules and regulations (and in some counties laws) that makes a short discussion about helmets necessary.

Shoes

The choice for shoes is for many people not very difficult. The prefer shoes over sandals. I do prefer sandals, in hot climate they are easy and keep your feet cool while they give you maximum comfort in cycling (yes in climbing too)

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