It’s no secret that cycling can be an expensive sport. The motorcycles themselves can extend into the five figures. And then you have to get dressed. Road and mountain travel clothing is full of price inflation: $ 250 jerseys, $ 500 pairs of shoes. Perhaps the craziest example is Assos’ new JohDah winter jacket for $ 725.
All clothing is bicycle clothing. You can and should ride in anything that makes you comfortable. Technical riding apparel exists for a reason, however. Shorts with chamois pads reduce chafing, especially on long trips. Lightweight jackets offer some protection against wind and rain, but can easily be stowed in jersey pockets when not in use. The same jerseys with their named pockets also offer storage space and are equipped with full-length zippers for temperature management.
That doesn’t mean you have to spend top dollars on a quality bike kit. There is a wide range of cheaper apparel choices, and the sacrifices in functionality and performance are small. Here are some of the best cycling clothing bargains – items that are affordable and work well regardless of price.
(Photo: Courtesy The Black Bibs)
The Black Bib ($ 40)
Bib shorts are the basis of every kit. I use them for road bike and mountain bike tours, alone or under shorts or pants. However, good ones are usually expensive, which makes the Black Bibs even more impressive. I’ve endured chafing on lots of cheap bibs over the years. But I haven’t heard a single person – from former professional racers to new cyclists – speak a bad word about it. They are manufactured by the retail arm of Starlight Custom Cycling Apparel that designs clothing for cycling teams and features the same gender-specific, double-density CoolMax chamois padding as the brand’s Alpha bibs. They also feature a highly compressed Lycra for a proper, bundle-free fit and muscle support. What impresses me most is the wide range of sizes: XS to 3XL for women and XXS to 4XL for men.
(Photo: Courtesy of Bontrager)
Bontrager Circuit and Anara ($ 75)
There are a couple of cheaper jerseys: Pearl Izumi’s Timeless Quest ($ 55) or the dirt-cheap Decathlon Triban Essential ($ 10). But I like the slightly more expensive Circuit (for men) and Anara (for women) who boast Lightweight, quick-drying fabrics that don’t pill when washed, a slim (but not race-safe) fit that doesn’t flap like a sail, and thoughtful features like a security zip pocket. Often, jerseys are only available in a few colors, but the Circuit in ten and the Anara in eight. All models have minimal Trek / Bontrager branding so you can avoid the rolling billboard look.
Buy circuit buy Anara
(Photo: Courtesy Castelli)
Castelli Pro Seamless ($ 30)
Castelli is known for its premium (and often expensive) garments, but it wins the affordable award in this category. The Pro Seamless is a knitted warmer (for arms or knees) made of a stretchy, sock-like polyester-Lycra material that is slightly lighter than conventional thermal nonwovens. Even so, it’s surprisingly warm and the price is hard to beat. The seamless construction prevents irritation or chafing, and the curved cut on the knee warmer won’t clump behind your joints when you pedal. This product does not have an elastic gripper but is available in two sizes that provide adequate coverage.
Buy arm warmers Buy knee warmers
(Photo: Courtesy of Endura)
Endura Pakajak ($ 70)
Scotland-based Endura is known for its bad weather gear, but also for its simple, durable designs. The fan favorite Pakajak is all that and one of the most affordable windshells you can find. There is no magic. Endura does just the right thing: A lightweight ripstop material that has been treated with a PFC-free DWR finish, a full-length zipper, a long tail to protect against spray mist on the rear tire and mesh slits under the arms. It’s windproof and waterproof so it can withstand showers (albeit not with downpours). It also packs tightly and fits in a jersey pocket so you can take it with you on every trip.
(Photo: Courtesy of Giro)
Giro Trixter ($ 20)
I drive with full finger gloves all summer, also on the go. I like the extra grip on the brake levers and I don’t like palm padding that almost all half-finger gloves have. So don’t think of the Trixter as “just” a mountain bike glove. It can be put on without a bulky wrist fastener, the fabric back is light and well ventilated. The microfiber palm has a good grip and a touchscreen compatible thumb and forefinger. Bonus: It comes in five colors and six sizes so you can find one that suits your style and needs.
(Photo: Courtesy of Shimano)
Shimano RC300 ($ 120)
Street shoes are subject to one of the worst cycling equipment price inflations (Sie, Lake, and Sidi). That’s why I like Shimano’s RC300, which is often listed as the RC3. The fiberglass-reinforced nylon sole isn’t as stiff as carbon fiber, but some research suggests that the stiffness of the sole alone isn’t a key performance factor, even with maximum sprinting effort. The RC300 offers several advantages for booting. Unlike many shoes at this price point, it has adjustable cleat adjustment front and rear to accommodate the location of the metatarsal cleats, which many riders find more comfortable. It’s also available in standard, women’s, and wide lasts in sizes 36 to 52, which means it can fit a lot of people. Inexpensive street shoes sometimes sacrifice comfort, which is partly due to cheaper fastening systems. However, the Boa L6 of the RC300 covers the entire metatarsus with a single micro-adjustable dial that doesn’t lead to hot spots. The synthetic leather upper is not adequately ventilated. So if you’re going to ride in hot weather, consider the white version. It shows more dirt but doesn’t absorb as much heat as the black one.
(Photo: Courtesy of Specialized)
Specialized Rime 1.0 ($ 110)
The Rime 1.0 is designed for versatility on and off the bike. The nylon composite midsole is stiff enough to keep your foot from wrapping around small mountain bike pedals (a large cage pedal helps even more), but it’s not so stiff that hiking and cycling sections are painful, and the street shoe style will not scream for “bike nerd” in more casual situations. There’s a chunky outsole for the grip and a rubberized toe for stone chip protection. Specialized didn’t think about the fastening system: it’s just shoelaces and a metatarsal strap. And while the shoe is suitable for all two-hole clipless pedal systems, it comes with a tread lug insert so that you can ride it with flat pedals and later upgrade it to clip-ins.
(Photos: Courtesy Specialized, left and Lazer)
Specialized Align II ($ 50) and Lazer Chiru MIPS ($ 65)
These are two of the most affordable helmets, rated five stars by Virginia Tech’s prestigious helmet testing laboratory, the only independent company in the U.S. that tests both linear impact and rotational energy management. The Road-ish Align II and the mountain bike-oriented Chiru MIPS both have MIPS liners and one-hand quick adjustment systems. They are also available in three sizes and a range of colors.
All helmets sold in this country must meet the same Consumer Product Safety Commission standards, and the Align and Chiru tests are as good or better than helmets that cost hundreds of dollars more. So what’s the catch? These are heavier than high-end versions, the fitting systems are not as elegant and they have fewer vents. But that’s about it. Loving the look and fit can save you a ton of money.
Buy align Buy Chiru
(Photo: Courtesy of Tifosi)
Tifosi Dolomite 2.0 ($ 70)
Every pair of sunglasses I received from this underrated company was durable, comfortable, and offered clear, distortion-free optics for much less than you would pay for fancy brands. The Dolomite 2.0 comes with three sets of polycarbonate lenses – one for sunny days, one for cloudy conditions and one for night driving. The full-wrap design provides excellent wind protection for fast road or hill descents. But the aesthetic isn’t racy enough to look weird on a bike. And if full wrap bothers you, the classic looking Swick (from $ 25), more can be your speed. Both are also available with corrective lenses (the surcharge varies) via the Tifosi Rx program.
Main photo: Felix Pope / Stocksy