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I do understand why I'm wearing cycling pants all the time. I'm totally used to the pockets in my back of my jerseys and jackets. I understand where my gloves and helmet help. And I could continue going through my wardrobe but there's one more thing I'm seeing all the time: Socks. What's so special about road cycling socks compared to other socks? Ok, they have to make sure my feet don't swim in sweat, but that's no specialty over other kinds. What else?

If it's about other riders laughing at me when I'm on my road bike, well, I can live with that. I simply laugh at them when they finish the track -- just when I'm done showering. ;-)

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Some sock materials don't get as sweaty and don't get (quite as) clammy in the rain. But from what I've seen, cycling socks aren't usually made from these materials (at least not the best of them) and the main selling point is being a billboard for some brand of bike components. –  Daniel R Hicks Sep 17 '12 at 21:18
    
Mine have pictures of bicycles on them, but any sock that wicks sweat will do just fine. Thin "hiking" socks are good for riding as well. –  Neil Fein Sep 17 '12 at 22:26
    
Often sports socks are much more expensive than regular socks. –  Mike Samuel Sep 18 '12 at 3:03
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See rules 27 and 28 for more information about socks (velominati.com/the-rules/#27) –  Kibbee Sep 18 '12 at 16:41
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I wear only CoolMax socks. They pad well, don't mat, handle the sweat, stay warm in the rain, and wear like iron. I look for styles that are low cut. For me, most bike-specific socks are too thin and sweaty. –  Daniel R Hicks Sep 19 '12 at 2:30

4 Answers 4

up vote 17 down vote accepted

Other than wicking sweat and drying quickly, there's nothing special about them. Any high quality athletic sock marketed for another sport will be comparable.

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Just one thing I didn't see addressed in the other answers: Cycling shoes are very low-volume - which means they are supposed to fit very snugly and not have a lot of room for your foot to move around. This is why cycling specific socks are so thin - they are designed to maximize moisture transfer off of your foot (to keep your feet comfortable) while not creating extra pressure due to extra material and/or padding.

Plus they're usually slathered with brand names and they match the rest of your kit. So, they're totally necessary if you're going to look pro. And as we all know, looking pro directly translates into going faster ;-).

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For those concerned, socks are clearly addressed by Rules 27 and 28. –  Kevin Oct 30 '13 at 14:11
    
Of course, one could simply buy a larger shoe, and use thicker socks. And I've rarely seen cycling socks made with CoolMax, which is the best for removing moisture. –  Daniel R Hicks Oct 30 '13 at 15:05
    
Another thing I didn't think of earlier is that cycling socks tend to be woven to maximize airflow from the vents that are built into most cycling shoes. I know I notice a big difference on hot days (here in west Texas we get some real heat in the summer) when I use a good cycling sock versus a sock geared for running or other sports. Regarding materials, most cycling socks I see are either wool or synthetic, both of which wick moisture very well. –  Kevin Oct 30 '13 at 16:25

The reasons why I stopped using regular cotton socks and started to ONLY use bike-specific socks for long rides (always wearing clipless cycling shoes):

  1. They are snug around the ankles and avoid dirt entering the sock. This snugness usually doesn't go away with repeated washing;
  2. They are easily cleaned by washing, no matter how dirty, filthy or otherwise rotten they are (you know what I'm talking about);
  3. They dry easily, even during a ride (unfortunately not all shoes behave the same...), or while hanging from the barends overnight, or while taking some sunlight over a lawn during a picnic;
  4. They are somewhat anatomic, that meaning mostly the areas around the heel and around the toes;
  5. They have the proper length: not so short to allow dirt infiltration and crank/chain bruises, not so long as to look like soccer socks or get tangled with said crank/chain;
  6. They are clearly bike-related, usually because they have some bike-related logo (I only buy socks with logos from brands I like and/or use myself, and go to work wearing them occasionally);
  7. I'd rather leave my money at the LBS than at a soul-less department store;
  8. Why would a biker NOT use bike-specific socks if there ARE such socks being sold at all?
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Definitely cotton socks suck (though I still wear cotton shirts while cycling). I wear only CoolMax socks now, but not too many bike socks are CoolMax, and most bike socks are too thin for my taste. –  Daniel R Hicks Sep 19 '12 at 2:32

The only difference I can think of is that some running socks (for example) are thicker and slightly springier under the heel and the ball of the foot.

This may be useful when you're pounding the pavement, but probably doesn't add much if you don't have the impact (and would apply as much to elliptical machines as to cycling).

I doubt they would waste a significant amount of energy by compressing on the downstroke, it just wouldn't give any particular benefit.

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Looking at modern running shoes - they're designed to return as much energy as possible back for the next step ... absorbing socks might be countereffective, there, too. –  johannes Sep 18 '12 at 0:40
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Yeah, I doubt that a cyclist can lose much energy from compressing his socks. Better to pick socks that are comfortable for you and not worry about energy loss. –  Daniel R Hicks Sep 19 '12 at 2:31

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