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I've been commuting to work this summer and have realized I need to build up my supply of activewear, but have so far been largely turned off by the price.

What are good sources of decent and inexpensive:

  • sweat wicking t-shirts (preferably nice enough looking to wear on their own)
  • quality socks, again moisture wicking and possibly with a little extra padding under the ball of the foot
  • padded cycling shorts
  • other necessities
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13 Answers

Nashbar has been my source for years. Several times a year they have big clearance sales and you can find excellent deals. They carry everything from high-end name-brand stuff to their own labeled products. I still have the original Nashbar jersey I bought maybe 20 years ago....

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We all like a bargain. Rich people don't get rich by paying top-dollar for everything and poor people sometimes have their purchasing decisions limited to what is in the bargain-bin. Whether rich or poor a lot of time can be spent hunting out bargains, however, all bargains are just another ploy to get some money from someone's pocket. Hence, rather than just scout for bargains it can pay to know a little bit about how a given product - in this case cycle clothing - gets to be marked down.

This answer takes that perspective into account.

Starting with what you see on the shelves, in the bargain bin or online, a lot depends on how tall or short you are. That is a huge factor in affordable bike-gear and here is why.

Most LBS suppliers bring in a certain amount with the start of each season in a mix of sizes - lots of medium and large and not so much x-small, small and x-large. Shops then purchase from the distributor so as to stock all of the sizes with the popular sizes in quantity.

Inevitably, as the season goes on, the popular sizes sell out leaving the less popular sizes, i.e. x-small and x-large. Then they go back to the distributor to re-stock. Somehow the distributor are always able to source the x-small and x-large sizes, however, they sell out of the popular sizes before the season's end (or not if that year's designs are not well received).

Hence, a popular item in a popular size will become very hard to find at some point. When this happens the shops with the x-small and x-large sizes left will have an unsellable product, taking up valuable shop-floor space. They then need to discount the product to get rid of it as soon as possible. Because the markup on clothing is high (and has to be because of the situation described), the shop can discount heavily the end-of-line items without making a loss.

Therefore, if you want discount cycle clothing it is best to be really tall or really short.

Another source of clothing that you might be interested in are places such as TKMaxx. Where do these places get their stock?

When a distributor brings in a new range of clothing they get a complete set of pre-production samples in all the sizes and colour variations. These samples are as good as the finished, production articles but not for retail - they are to show the retailers so that they can place their orders. The samples cannot be sold in competition with the retailers as that would upset the retailers. Instead these items have to be sold through a different channel. TKMaxx are the specialists in being able to sell such collections of one-off samples. They buy entire sample sets and sell them as seen at considerable discount. Therefore, you will want to keep your eyes peeled for whomever your favourite cycling clothing is distributed by and work out whom they offload the sample collection to.

The major online specialist cycle retailers - 'Wiggle' and 'Chain Reaction Cycles' in the UK only have so much latitude in how far they can go on prices. They do get specialist rates from the distributors but if they go below an acceptable price then the distributor can threaten not to supply them. In practice this works.

The big online retailers have costs and problems of their own. They only compete on one thing - price. Postage is at a preferential rate to them but it still costs, particularly when you buy all three sizes and return the two that do not fit.

Their own-brand directly-sourced without distributor clothing range is also a bit naff - akin to 'Woolworths Winfield' rather than 'Adidas' genuine originals. This may not matter to you, but people do sneer, myself included. Nothing marks you out as a cheapskate in the cycling world more than own-brand clobber from offshore, online-only retailers.

Also in the retail channel are grey imports. This is where a specialist cycle shop - maybe only dealing in high-end road bikes and apparel - goes to somewhere else in the world to get their goodies, bypassing the distributor.

This presents an interesting situation when things go wrong as the grey importer does not have the security of having a distributor to return faulty goods to. The distributor will see returned items as 'fakes' and not have anything to do with them.

In the UK there is 'Lidl' - a German supermarket that does cycle clothing from time to time. Funnily enough I am wearing some of their £10 SPD shoes right now. You have to wait for them to get a batch of cycle gear in and then it is not really quite as good as the real stuff. Many synthetic fibres are really bad for holding the bacteria that give you body odour, and I suspect that the Lidl clothing is of this ilk.

Given the many ways that the whole thing works, I highly recommend buying from your local bike shop if they have taken the time and effort to put a range of clothing together for their customers to try and buy. This is not the chain where head office have to approve every penny, this is the proper local bike shop where the owner manager is out the back or helping a customer, Allen keys in hand.

If you are wanting a deal and don't mind colours and a bit of shop soiling do ask them what have they got out the back that is in your size and that they are desperate to get rid of. They are bound to have something and, so long as they are not going to lose money on the sale, i.e. trade-price + taxman, you can probably 'take it off their hands'. This will still help the shop with their weekly cashflow, you will get to test the fit before you buy and everyone should be happy.

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Thanks for the good insights--could I suggest moving the "at your LBS" portion of your answer to the top? It's something I didn't consider (specifically that they may have old stock in the back)--and I think it's a better chance of being useful info than "save money by being huge or tiny" :) –  STW Jul 6 '11 at 20:44
    
I hear you... On reflection I could have structured the answer a bit better, at the time though I had seen the other answers and wanted to take the reality of what you find in the LBS and take it back up the retail/wholesale chain providing insights that are more trade than consumer. A lot of answers that I post on SE are a bit 'first draft' and sometimes only when you have put an answer down does it become apparent that 'back to front might be better'. I will try and add a brief summary at the top... –  ʍǝɥʇɐɯ Jul 6 '11 at 21:27
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Join a cycling club. Most have sponsors and you'll get a full cycling costume (with advertisements) for free or almost free.

I'm currently a member of 2 cycling clubs. My 2 summer & winter outfits (14 pieces of quality clothing total) costed me about € 250, and a some hours cycling with the club. One club will pay back € 100 as soon as I have completed 10 tours with them (so the cost will be reduced to € 150).

And you get a lot of tips on bike stores and sales in your area.

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Mountain Equipment Coop has very reasonably priced and quite durable clothing. They're Canadian, but they have an online presence here.

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Wait for the sales in your local bike shops for cycle-specific clothing. Cycling knicks etc are expensive but bike shops often have 50% or more off in sales, and frequently a bin of 80% off remainder stuff that might be a year or two old. These are great for gloves as well.

I also buy polypropylene underclothes in bulk when there are really good sales, then keep it long after it's become a bit worn (it still works). While it can be expensive I am still wearing stuff I bought in a sale 10 years ago. So I have no idea where you get it cheap today :) Likewise polarfleece jumpers - I have two that I've been given by friends because they're a little grubby, and one I bought in the same sale as the polypro. Yes, I look daggy on my bike, but I'm also warm and comfy. My main point here is that this stuff lasts ages so don't be afraid to spend a little more for the first set while you wait for a sale.

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http://www.chainlove.com/ and http://www.bonktown.com/ are both deal at a time sites with some pretty great prices on cycling gear. Not clothing specific but there is a fair amount on there. Chainlove is geared more toward mountain biking, Bonktown is more for the road.

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Those are terribly dangerous sites. I've since ordered ~$300 of gear from them. Everything from energy supplements to lights to clothing. Oh god, the next deal is almost up... my budget hates you for showing these to me (but I'm getting well supplied) –  STW Jul 6 '11 at 20:45
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Deal Extreme has a large selection of bicycle clothing. I haven't bought any myself, but I am seriously considering it given the low price. The reviews on the items seem to be quite favorable.

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My local supermarket (Tesco) sells cycling tops and shorts. Reasonable quality and pretty cheap.

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Nashbar, Performace Bike, and Campmore are good mail-order sources -- they carry expensive stuff, yes, but also some that's reasonably priced.

Aside from bike shops, some stores dealing in outdoor wear (eg, Cabela's) may be worth checking out for suitable stuff. In particular, suitable socks and cold-weather wear may be found there.

Plain old cotton T-shirts are good at sweat-wicking in warmer weather, though in cool or rainy weather they're less than ideal. You can buy them by the bag full at Wally World or that fancy French place -- Target.

For socks I only use ones made from Coolmax -- the fiber is excellent at sweat absorbing, doesn't get clammy, and provides a modicum of padding even when wet. It's often hard to find exactly what I want (styles change rapidly, and the low-rise style I like is especially rare), but places like The Sock Company usually have a decent selection. (It's also often hard to tell, on reading the internet description, how thick a sock is, etc, so I always order just one pair, and if I like them I re-order another 6-8.)

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Sportsdirect if you are in the UK. karrimor tights and ski socks got me through winter lots of stuff for 10 and 5 quid so can't be bad to those prices

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Edit since my original answer was from work, I have this to add...

  • First thing is Spring Sales! Most people are fair weather cyclists, so bike shops often have spring sales with decent discounts.
  • Off-season buying and closeout sales. I've found some of the best deals by buying winter stuff in the summer and summer stuff in the winter. I've also found real gems on the closeout racks.
  • Bike shows and exhibitions. One can often find good deals at these types of events.
  • Factory outlets/Company Stores. I'm lucky here. Both Nike and Adidas have company stores in my area; but, there are outlet stores in many locations.
  • Online, I can offer this, but other answers have the online world pretty much nailed down. http://www.biketiresdirect.com/apparel-category
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Search ebay for "cycling jersey" and you will get a TON of results that don't cost much at all.

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bikejerseys.com has been my goto for bib shorts. The 6-panel Santini and Nalini are very practical, relatively inexpensive, and last a long time. Not crazy about the 90's web design, but at least you know they're not blowing cash on an expensive website!

If you're in the Lehigh Valley area in Pennsylvania, the velodrome in Trexlertown has a giant twice-a-year flea market of everything cycling-related called "velofest". The next one is May 5th. Great for stocking up on consumables and worth it even if you have to drive a few hours.

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