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The title says it all.

However, should I vary the fabric through the year? Should I go with lycra in the summer and wool in the winter? And maybe, should I wear cotton?

I do 2 types of riding. Commuting and endurance cycling.

There are optimal fabrics for cycling and for athletic gear in general. What should I look for regarding cycling clothing?

October - April = Typically wet and cool/cold. We don't get much frigid weather, but it does occur for short periods.

May - September = Usually warm and dry. We don't get a lot 90+F temps, but do at times. Out on the coast it can be cool and damp this time of year. East of the Cascades, hot to very hot and dry.

Can this be converted to a community wiki? It has become apparent that the optimal fabric is personal choice and climate determined. Personally, I prefer merino wool and lycra/synthetics; but others find cotton to be their optimal choice.

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@wdypdx22, you need to define the weather conditions where you ride. Optimal for one condition may not be optimal for another. –  Moab Jul 13 '11 at 14:59
    
@Moab - I provided the conditions in my usual cycling territory. –  user313 Jul 14 '11 at 23:29
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7 Answers 7

up vote 1 down vote accepted

Lycra is an amazing clothing fabric for any weather above 55°F. It sheds heat quickly, wicks moisture away, and evaporates that moisture extremely quickly. I recently finished a 12 hour, 190mi ride in 90°F temperatures completely comfortable and dry. I challenge anyone to find a clothing material that can come close to lycra's effectiveness in that regard.

It's also an excellent in the rain, as long as temperature is not a factor. Again, moisture evaporates surprisingly quickly, so as soon as the rain stops, you're dry again.

The only time I wouldn't wear only lycra is during the cold, especially if it's raining as well. I still wear it under more protective clothing, though.

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One caveat. If you try good merino wool clothing, you will find it more comfortable in most cases. But it usually far less durable. –  zenbike Jul 13 '11 at 5:32
    
+1 for lycra and other synthetics such as underarmour and craft products. Probably 90% of my cycling wear. –  user313 Jul 14 '11 at 21:49
    
Another +1 for lycra... In several of my spring training rides for a May century, I got utterly soaked several times in rain/hail storms. Lycra dries right out just from body heat and the cycling breeze... –  user313 Jul 14 '11 at 22:27
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Wool, particularly Merino wool, is tough to beat. It's partially hydrophilic, cooling you by wicking sweat away from the skin while also retaining warmth when wet. It's lightweight, soft, and has natural mild antibacterial and antifungal properties that reduce the amount of funky odors.

The main downside compared to synthetic fabrics is probably cost, especially for cycling-specific apparel.

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I like merino, but cost is only one downside. A bigger factor for me is the care and durability of wool clothing, vs. good lycra. No cycling clothing of quality is exactly low on the high maintenance list, but wool tops most quality Lycra manufacturers by quite a bit, in my opinion. At least partially because if you forget, or screw up once with Lycra, it's usually not the end of the road for that garment, but it often is for wool. Definitely most comfortable, but not the easiest by a long stretch. –  zenbike Jul 13 '11 at 5:26
    
Is merino comfortable in the heat? I know my merino socks are great, but I'd be hesitant to wear a full wool garment during the summer. –  Stephen Touset Jul 13 '11 at 14:29
    
Yes, though of course you'll want thinner material and lighter weight wool in the summer than in the winter. Wool absorbs sweat but traps it internal fibers rather than against your skin - you get evaporative cooling without the clammy stuck-to-your-body feeling. –  lantius Jul 13 '11 at 20:38
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+1 for merino. I 3> my merino wool jerseys. –  user313 Jul 14 '11 at 21:48
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@hhhh / @lantius smaller fibers also makes merino wool much less itchy. One of the main advantages of merino wool over other wool. I actually wouldn't wear wool at all if there were no merino. –  jilles de wit Jul 19 '11 at 8:01
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I am a cotton man year round, I guess it depends on where you live and just how stylish you wish to look.

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I gave this answer an upvote. However this answer only applies to hot and dry environments. –  user313 Jul 12 '11 at 23:14
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Downvote, because cotton is a horrible, horrible fabric for anything but brief trips. You will sweat, and cotton will become damp and clammy. –  Stephen Touset Jul 13 '11 at 3:11
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@Moab - I disagree, but I've heard this from other people as well. I have a friend who cycles insane distances in cotton. Would you care to expand on this, and explain why cotton works for you? –  Neil Fein Jul 13 '11 at 6:32
    
This is a question of preference since they did not state weather conditions and various other facts, cotton is My preference and is optimal for me. I did state it depends on where you live, If you disagree, post Your preference and what works for You. –  Moab Jul 13 '11 at 14:49
    
There are always folks who eschew the mainstream.... I read an interview with an engineer and mountain-bike racer who races in blue jeans... Works for him. –  M. Werner Jul 13 '11 at 18:41
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I no longer cycle 12 months/year, limiting my cycling to weather that's reasonably comfortable with nothing heavier than a light long-sleeve jersey and lightweight tights (possibly augmented by a "sauna suit" when it seems a better option to get wet from the inside rather than the outside). Socks are always Coolmax. Glove liners under my fingerless cycling gloves in cooler weather.

Most of the time I just wear a lightweight cotton tee shirt and standard "spandex" cycling shorts. I used to cycle in jogging shorts but decided as I got older I needed a bit better padding.

Back when I was cycling in the winter I'd use, depending on the temp, Goretex jacket and pants, long underwear (standard Sears issue), windproof undershorts, heavier Coolmax socks, rubber booties. Ski mittens over glove liners on my hands. Never could find a balaclava that fit my beard and I don't do scarves, so the face was always a problem.

(This is Minnesota, with most of the cycling being back and forth to work 10-25 miles one way on country roads.)

[I'll add that I never quite got into the ice bike thing -- didn't use studs and could only cycle on days that the roads were clear.]

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I've only worn cotton.

-5C .. +10C: Bike shoes, jeans, cotton shirt. Outer-wear: poly zipped waistcoat, gortex rain jacket or lightly quilted (not duvet) snow jacket, bike gloves, ski mitts carried in pannier.

Below freezing you don't get wet. It doesn't snow hard enough to get your pants soaked. A snow jacket will keep your body dry. A simple jacket will keep you warm (except in strong winds, when you wouldn't be out) at temperatures down to -8C, even when you're biking slowly because of snow. Being warm outside in winter is one of the things about biking that feels super-human.

Ski gloves and a long-sleeved poly fleecy under your waterproof quilted snow jacket and on top of your shirt-sleeved cotton shirt, in temperatures below freezing including snow storms.

+15 .. +30C: Bike shoes, cotton 'cargo shorts', cotton shirt.

My main complaint (2000 miles in 4 months) is that I'm wearing through the seats of my various cotton jeans and shorts, at an accelerated rate.

So: the above is for cold and dry, cold and icy, cool and dry, and hot and dry.

For cold and wet I have a goretex anorak which remains wind-proof when wet and which, if zipped, will keep my body warm in above-zero temperatures for as long as I keep biking.

For hot and wet I asked a question: Summer rain jacket recommendations

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The above is commuting 18 km (approx 55..70 minutes) each way weekdays in Toronto, starting in February this year. –  ChrisW Jul 13 '11 at 4:42
    
'poly' = polyester –  ChrisW Jul 13 '11 at 4:44
    
At one time I commonly wore cotton. I gave it up for strenuous activities after getting into the early stages of hypothermia while on a spring hike in the mountains. I will occasionally wear cotton for short commutes/errands when the weather is dry and warm. –  user313 Jul 14 '11 at 22:05
    
I find cotton is good for commuting. It washes well/easily, and maybe doesn't have the odor-absorbing properties which people mention elsewhere. Even if I perspire on the way to work, I arrive clean if a little damp. Cycling for an hour and hiking in the mountains are very different activities. For one thing I find I generate more heat on a bike than I do on foot. Note that my outer layers (above) are synthetic (and waterproof). Also the cotton I wear isn't elasticated/T-shirt cotton. The one time I've been at all cold was when it was ... –  ChrisW Jul 15 '11 at 1:27
    
... raining so hard that I was cycling slowly (deep puddles on the road and no eye-wear). –  ChrisW Jul 15 '11 at 1:29
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Breathability is the key. So I prefer polyester and when its cold, hiking underwear, a soft-cell jacket (or a fleece for short rides), mitten gloves and soft cell trourers when its too cold. Cotton no way, wool not recomended

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Cotton....Gets wet, stays wet...

There's a wide variety of cycling gear for a variety of situations. Depends primarily on the weather. In warm, weather, a simple jersey and cycling shorts pretty well does it. Good lycra shorts breathe, provide protection, and improve upper-leg circulation as well. Jerseys have evolved over 100 years. They are utterly functional and well-suited to the task. You don't have to buy expensive "team" gear; I have 20 dollar Nashbar jerseys I bought 30 years ago. As it gets colder and/or more inclement, you need more gear. Cycling gear should breathe, it should "wick" perspiration away from the skin, and outer garments should provide some wind protection. Depends on how cold you want to go.

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Nashbar existed 30 years ago? –  Stephen Touset Jul 13 '11 at 3:11
    
1973 in fact... I ordered my first items around 1976. –  M. Werner Jul 13 '11 at 18:39
    
Add that to the list of things I did not know (but now do). –  Stephen Touset Jul 13 '11 at 18:54
    
I made my first order from Nashbar circa 1978 when I lived in a small town. These days I have so many options locally that I have not been a Nashbar customer in several years... –  user313 Jul 14 '11 at 21:52
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protected by freiheit Feb 2 at 1:21

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