So you’re looking to cycle work but are just not 100% sure on what to wear, given the stigma around cycle clothing and also around being the ‘sweaty one’ at the office.
It’s a common problem which many people have had trouble finding the answer to as choosing clothing that suits cycling to work often poses a new set of questions for beginner commuters.
Bike commuting can also seem off-putting with the thought of athletic-looking people riding around in skin-tight lycra, something than many of us would not let our nearest and dearest see us wearing, let alone our colleagues! But fear not, the reality for most regular bike commuters is far from the revealing lyrca-clad monstrosity you might have pictured.
It’s with this in mind that I wanted to provide you with my guide and tips for choosing the right clothing for your bike commute to save you embarrassment, frustration and confusion.
So, to start off, in brief, here are the key points for what to wear to cycle to work for just about every situation and type of job (no lycra needed!):
- Long-distance journeys: work clothes; casual cycling clothes if hilly/riding fast
- Short journeys: work clothes
- Hot weather: breathable work clothes with shorts or premium bike commuter clothing
- Mild weather: work clothes
- Cold weather: work clothes with waterproofs and thermals on top
- Wet weather: work clothes with waterproof clothing over, covered head to toe
- Formal workplaces with a shower: whatever feels comfortable
- Formal workplaces with no shower: premium, breathable bike commuter clothing
- Informal workplaces: whatever feels comfortable
- Electric Bike: work clothes
Now that I’ve laid out most of the key points in brief, let’s look at all of the above in more depth since there are a few further points to think about for each type of journey or job. In addition, some journeys will mean that you need specific gear or even bikes that complement the clothes, so we’ll also cover that in more detail shortly.
But before all esle, first I’d like to share some of my general bike commuter clothing tips in the next section.
Tips on Choosing the Right Work Clothes for Bike Commuting
In general, the right clothing for cycling to work really comes down to a few key factors. The main rules to remember are the following:
- Wear light, breathable clothing wherever possible.
- Looser clothes give more movement options
- Tighter clothes are less likely to get tangled in mechanisms
- Light colors show up any kind of stains from your bike!
Light, Breathable Work Clothing
This usually means things like cotton but polyester can also be good. No doubt you will already be aware of these kinds of fabrics and their suitability your local climate, so the same really extends to bike commuting.
You may find that polyester gets a little more sweaty than cotton, but it is cheaper since it is a synthetic fabric, compared to the natural, more expensive cotton.
If you don’t already have these, look into getting yourself some cotton work clothes as these will likely work well on many types of bike commute.
Looser Work Clothes
Going for looser fitting work clothing should mean you will feel more flexible and able to move more once riding your bike.
The only downside to this is that your pants can easily get caught or stained on your bike chain, so they are not ideal for riding in that sense. However, if you just use some simple kind of band, like these hi-viz snap bands, then you can both keep your pants tucked and add to your visibility, so a win-win.
Tighter Work Clothes
If you like to wear tighter work clothing, you will want to make sure that you have the higher-quality fabrics since these will be more likely to make you sweat when cycling to work.
The advantage of this kind of clothing is that it will be less likely to get tangled or caught in your bike chain or mechanism.
Work Clothes in Light Colors
These are the obvious choice for warmer weather or summer months, but they can be a little perilous when cycling to work. This is because bikes can easily get dirty or oily, so even brushing the leg of your pants along the frame of your bike can leave a visible and stubborn stain.
The obvious way to avoid this is to keep your bike immaculately clean, but that’s not always possible for most of us so look at wearing slightly darker pants, or even changing into shorts if the weather suits.
Bike Commuting in Work Clothes
This is definitely the most practical and preferred option since it means the least hassle and less time spent on changing clothes once at work.
Obviously, this will only be suited to those who meet the categories above, namely having a temperate climate with not too far to ride to work.
The other points to note, again above, are that light breathable work clothes make this easiest for you.
Other than waterproof over garments for cycling, as will be covered below, you can get away with very little change to your usual clothing using this option.
However, I would suggest looking into wrinkle-free pants (here for women’s) since your lower garments can get a little creased or wrinkled when riding for a while. Although some creasing might happen naturally when you sit during the workday, having these in mind can at least help you to get to work looking that bit smarter.
Change of Shoes for Bike Commuting
Something you might like to change is your pair of shoes since I have found that formal work shoes really don’t work well with cycling. Using different shoes for your bike commute usually comes down to two main options, as follows:
- Leave your work shoes at work, under your desk or in a drawer, ride in a different pair
- Find a comfortable pair of shoes that you can ride in and work in
If you do plan to leave your shoes at work, then that only needs a quick change of shoes under your desk, or somewhere equally discreet, when you arrive at work. I say this because I know many people feel conscious of taking shoes off in an office, so you could do this in the bathroom once you arrive at work.
You will probably also want to get a shoe bag to keep the shoes from getting any dirt on them, but you can also just leave them under your desk if you have space and feel happy with that.
In terms of shoes for cycling to work and working in, I’ve found that the Clarks Tri Verve Lace in black work well for me as they are both comfortable and discreet (Editor’s note: these are currently unavailable both in the US and UK at the time of publishing). The closest equivalent for women would be the Clark’s Women’s Low Top Sneakers,
I’ve also bought a pair of the Clarks Triactive Run for summer, with the closest women’s equivalent being or perhaps the Clark’s Women’s Tri Spark, although the white sole is more conspicuous. I shoulad add that I am aware that both of these shoes look decidedly sporty and so some people might not feel that they are suited for their needs.
Another nice yet functional pair of shoes that double both as work and cycling shoes are the specially designed Quoc Weekend Sneakers. These have antibacterial properties and also a watertight outsole, making them a solid choice for any bike commuter.
Added to the above, I’d recommend either taking a spare pair of socks to work each day, or keeping a change of socks in your drawer again. This gives you option to change out your warm, and perhaps a little sweaty, socks once you get to work, although you will probably want to do this in the bathroom at work.
One last thing to suggest is that, when wearing your usual work clothes on a shorter bike commute, you might also like to change your underwear for active undergarments if you find that you get a little sweaty in the nether regions.
For the female bike commuters, Vulpine’s women’s merino ‘boyshorts’ are a quality option that will do nicely on a ride to work.
Casual Bike Commuter Clothes
This is where we diverge from the usual lycra and head for the more modest and infinitely more appealing casual cycling look.
There are more and brands out there that offer these kinds of options, with a few standout options for bike commuters below.
Casual Bike Commuter Jacket
A good men’s commuter jacket is the Gore Bike Wear Soft Shell Urban Cycling jacket.
For women, their Women’s Windstopper Active Shell jacket is a great option.
You can also check out the full range of Gore Bike Wear to see more options, including some more conspicuous but safer reflective cycling jackets.
A stylish alternative option for female cycle commuters is the Rapha Women’s Commuter jacket.
Casual Bike Commuter Tops
For women, Vulpine offers a comprehensive range of women’s bike commuter tops, with the jerseys and polos looking especially stylish while also having the usual technical features in this range.
Baleaf also has both long-sleeve and short-sleeve performance cycling t-shirts for female riders, as well as dresses, all ideal for moderate temperatures. These garments have UPF30+ protection, making them a great option for summer riders.
Wearing a top with sun protection is a good idea, which the Baleaf Men’s out long sleeve performance shirt does very well on. This comes in many bright colors and has UPF 50+ UV sun protection.
Catella is another brand offering some really nice casual commuter clothing, currently only for men. They’re great for dog lovers, too, since their logo is the silhouette of a pooch!
A standout for the casual commuter is their technical Vista polo. This is stitchless, reducing rubbing or abrasion, and has 4-way stretching, wicking fabric to help with hygiene issues.
Casual Bike Commuter Pants
Vulpine is a style-conscious brand that provides all kinds of casual bike commuter clothes, but their standout options are in the bottoms. Their rain trousers (men’s only) are a perfect option as these let you cycling jeans
For women’s bike commuter pants, check out the Columbia Saturday trail pant since they are both stylish and have water and stain-resistant properties, meaning that they should be a low-hassle option for any female bike commuter.
Casual Bike Commuter Shorts
Although you can get away with dress shorts for shorter rides, if not a close fit, these can cause you to slide or slip around on your saddle, meaning some chafing or rubbing if the material is not soft. As such, below are a few recommendations for you.
Something simple like these EzRun 3D padded mountain biking shorts will be fine for most male bike commuters. You could also get away with dress shorts for shorter journeys.
For the female bike commuters, REI seemingly has the widest selection of bike shorts for female cycle commuters. Standout options in their shop are the DaKine, Patagonia and their own REI Outlet options.
Urban Cycling also offers two types of women’s casual cycling shorts, both of which being technical and well designed to cater to your needs.
Beroy also have women’s mountain bike shorts that should be great for most riders.
Premium Bike Commuter Clothing
So this is stated as being premium since the products are of high technical quality and are very focused on bike commuters or similar.
The first brand of note here is the Swiss brand, Katusha with their range of bike commuter clothing (currently only for men). They produce some high-quality bike commuter clothes that balance style with function.
For instance, their dedicated button-down bike commuter dress shirt has reflective webbing on the hem, making you more visible yet without really being noticeable to others. It also has elastane for some added flexibility, a big help when riding.
This is exactly the kind of functional clothing that suits commuters down to the ground since it does everything you could ask and more.
Agu have some of the best technical clothing options for commuters, especially when it comes to rain. And, lady riders will be pleased to know, they cater equally well for women as they do men.
For example, they have a very stylish trench coat for female riders that is part of their ‘everyday riding’ range for cycling.
This brand might not be on the super-premium price point but they have options at a range of price points, hence placing them here.
Particular standouts are Endura’s cycling shorts, which again mainly only cater for men.
Perhaps the priciest on this list, ArcTeryx offer highly specialized bike commuter clothing for men and women.
The standout product in their range being the Keppel trench coat.
Their products will cost more than others but they should not disappoint given its design specifications for bike commuters, making it a pretty impressive product all-round.
Waterproof Bike Commuter Gear for Rainy Days
Having a high-quality waterproof commuter jacket is obviously a must, along with waterproof over pants (or here for women’s) and waterproof shoe gaiters, like these by Kratarc (but they run small so go up at least one size, maybe 2!).
I recommend shoe gaiters if you are wearing your normal work shoes since these are going to last longer and keep the water out more effectively. If you are wearing slimmer cycling shoes, then go for some
You can read more in an earlier post about the topic of essential bike commuting gear, with sections on each of the waterproof garments above.
See elsewhere on this blog for more general tips on how to bike commute in the rain.
By long-distance bike commute, I mean journeys of 8 miles or more each way on a commute.
Since there are still quite a few different types of routes within this, let’s consider commuter clothing for each type of route and riding style in the sections below
Long but mostly flat and relaxed route
You can wear your usual work clothes on this kind of bike commuter route. This is because you will not be building up much sweat and should not get too hot along the way.
This kind of journey should mean minimal hassle as you will be able to keep wearing your usual clothes and ride in most weather conditions without much of an issue.
A touring bike is well suited to this kind of ride as it will allow you to carry quite a few bags on the racks and also cover a lot of ground.
To suit this kind of route, look into getting some good quality panniers so that you don’t have to carry any bags on your back.
Bike Commuter Clothing Tips for Different Journey Types
Below are some further tips to help you on bike commuter routes of different types.
Bike Commuting with a Long, Hilly Route
Depending on the frequency of the hills, you will probably want some cycling clothing for this and to take a change of clothes in a spare bag.
However, you could also wear work clothes if you were to find an alternative route with fewer hills as these will make your body temperature increase quite rapidly.
The other option to complete this kind of bike commute in just your normal work clothes would be to combine your route with other forms of public transit. This could then reduce the
An electric bike is an ideal option for riding all the way on a long route with hills. Check out this post for more on how to make long-distance bike commuting work for you.
If you want to mix your bike commute with different transport modes, the Brompton folding bike is the best option given its quality, size and speed of folding. This makes it easy to hop on and off and fold away in a few seconds – and it rides well, too!
As I always say to bike commuters, get some pannier bags to clip onto the rear rack. This gives you much more flexibility in terms of carrying
If you plan to pack a change of clothes, a garment folding board and garment pouch should help you to do this quickly and easily on a regular basis.
Riding fast on a long bike commute
If you plan to ride fast and intensively, then cycling clothes are really your only option since wearing work clothes would likely mean them getting covered in sweat by the time you get to work.
However, cycling clothing does not necessarily mean the skin-tight lycra outfits many people think of. There are many stylish urban cycling garments that will help you to ride to work without feeling like you are dressed like a fool.
A road bike is likely to be your only option here given the need for speed and distance.
By a short bike commute, I’m talking about anything up to 3 miles each way, usually taking around 20 minutes, depending on the route.
Work clothes suit here since you are unlikely to really break a sweat.
Brompton folding bikes are a great option for short commuter journeys since they have the pedal power to go fast but fold up quickly and easily both at home and work, or even on public transportation.
I have a short, flat commute and currently use the Specialized Sirrus, which I find a good, reliable ride at a moderate price point, meaning that I am not terrified about it being stolen.
When I say formal workplaces, I’m thinking of anywhere where it is common to wear a suit or look casual at all times.
With a Shower
The trick here is to wear whatever feels comfortable on your bike commute and have your formal clothes either folded neatly in a pannier bag (again, using the garment folder and garment pouch mentioned above), to have your clothes left at work and hanging in a discreet way. Is there some kind of locker or cupboard for this, or perhaps you can rig something up under your desk for this purpose?
I should add that the fact that you have showers at your workplace is likely to make the culture that much more understanding since many more people will be using than just yourself. The only thing you might find is that you don’t want to stand out too much in cycling clothes, so arriving a little earlier than other commuters can help you to fly under the radar in that sense.
This really depends on your type of ride since you could be wearing any kind of clothing. A few tips are the following:
- Bikes with step-through frames are great for wearing suits or skirts
- Touring bikes carry the most bags but can have a heavier frame
- Brompton folding bikes are great for stowing under a desk and for city riding, especially when combining this with other types of rides
- Hybrid bikes might also suit some riders
- Road bikes are less appealing since they mean a more aggressive, but definitely faster, riding style, making a change of clothing more likely on your commute.
A rear rack and two pannier bags to have enough space to carry all your clothes – see my video below for more on getting the right size panniers for your ride.
With No Shower
So, you work in a formal workplace environment that does not have showers. Fear not, you can still make it work.
The options above for premium, breathable bike commuter clothing will be best suited to you as they can help you to stay cool while riding in formal clothes. If you combine this with an e-bike (more on this below), then the chances are that you won’t really feel too out of sorts when you arrive at work.
In this kind of workplace, blending in is key, so here are a few more dedicated tips on how to bike to work without a shower.
A few other points to note here are that avoiding hills and taking your time will be most beneficial to stay cool, so look into making your route work for you in every way possible.
Electric bikes are the go-to option here for sweat-free cycling. Quality bikes like the Berleen 5.G Move or the Agattu 3b Move both have good batteries and a step-through frame, making it much easier to get on and off in formal clothing. They are both unisex bikes so will work for male and female cyclists.
The other obvious option is a Brompton electric bike. This would allow you to carry your bike with you everywhere (including into the office) and not have to worry about it getting stolen outside. You would likely want to arrive early to avoid feeling conspicuous to your other colleagues. Bromptons have a low frame and a nice upright
A good lock for your bike to protect it, like the maximum protection Kryptonite New York Fahgettaboudit.
How to bike commute in a suit? The best way to bike commute in your suit is to ride a bike with a low, step-through frame, or a quality folding bike like a Brompton. Then, find a route that has few hills to avoid overheating. If you can’t look at using public transportation to help you.
This should then mean that you can get to work without needing a change of clothes, or feeling sweaty and unhygienic. Remember that folding Brompton bikes offer the best flexibility when it comes to combining different transport modes given their tiny size when folded.
You may also find an electric bike with a step-through bike particularly helpful as this will not only reduce the effort when riding, particularly up hills, but also will mean you can cover more ground without getting hot and bothered in your suit before work.