Everyone loves riding in the sunshine, it's what makes all that hard work on the turbo during winter worth while. The late nights, warm conditions and chance to top-up the tan ensures that the number of cyclists out and about drastically increases this time of year. Heading out to the road or trails in summer rarely fails to bring a smile to the face, motivating people to ride further and faster than they'd even consider on a dreary day in February. Summer is the time when cycling hype in the UK is at its peak - experiencing the 'Wimbledon' effect of people watching TV highlights or following a sport on social media and immediately heading out to do said sport non-stop until the end of the media attention. We've all done our best Serena Williams impressions on the park tennis courts, and cycling is no different. Therefore, the summer is the perfect time to start out if you're a beginner (as many are in the same boat), take up a new discipline, build some trails, ride the high peaks or improve your TT times. Furthermore, you're guaranteed to meet more like-minded, bike-brained buddies in the summer, leading to more sociable and enjoyable riding experiences.
However, it's not all ice-tea and roses. Riding in summer isn't without its challenges, especially in the wardrobe department. Although it appears to be finally settling down and the weatherman keeps whispering tales of '3 month heatwaves', the British weather is still its unpredictable old self. This leads to summer actually being one of the harder seasons to pack for. Even if you leave in a zipped down short-sleeve jersey and bib-shorts, halfway round your route, when the heavens open, you'll suddenly be very cold and the ride suddenly becomes more chore than cheerful.
So, in terms of cycling kit for the summer, it pays to be cynical. Of course you'll need light, breathable garments but it's also important not to overlook the Pac-a-mac waterproofs. 'Fail to Prepare, Prepare to Fail' is the mantra to apply to your summer riding clothes. The level of technology out there is amazing and continually improving, ensuring that if you buy and pack smart you're never likely to suffer from over-heating or rain chill. Use this guide, personal experience and a little dash of common sense and you'll discover the ultimate clothing solutions to keep you rolling in comfort and happiness all summer long. With the right choices, you can be ready for a breezy dawn start, a baking hot afternoon and a cool ride home in a summer shower with no problems at all!
What to consider for your summer kit
With the huge array of clothing options on the market designed to be worn in a variety of different weather conditions, it's worth considering a few different factors when buying kit and selecting what attire to ride in. The first consideration is the kind of riding you plan on doing - this may seem obvious, but you'll need very different clothing for a steady caf� ride compared with what you'd need for an after-work shred session at the trail centre. The other major consideration is our old friend the weather, with the forecast of the day obviously having the biggest impact on whether you need to prepare for sunburn or sogginess.
Alongside developments in bike tech itself, technical cycle clothing has maybe been the biggest benefactor of innovation and trickle-down effects over the last few years. Where previously you might just be relying on a cotton t-shirt, baseball cap and boards shorts to keep cool, you can now get ultra-light and breathable summer clothing that has been specifically designed for high intensity exercise. The materials used for warm weather cycle clothing are not only lightweight, they also work to wick the sweat away from the body to the outside of the garment where it can quickly evaporate, regulating your temperature far more efficiently. Nylon, polyester and lycra are the major materials used for this type of clothing, with naturally occurring fibres such as Merino Wool also proving popular due to its quick-drying and odour-resistant qualities.
Showers, wind and humidity
Catchy band Earth, Wind And Fire's less successful cousins (not really), rain showers, winds and high humidity are the major causes of joy-destruction on a summer ride.
High Humidity/Temperature - Aside from cycling specific sunglasses, caps and riding accessories, clothing for really hot days utilises clever technology such as mesh panels to improve ventilation, ultra-lightweight jerseys with long zips and plenty of vents and UV-resistant material to protect the rider from damage from the sun.
Shower Proof/Wind Proof - In the summer, items such as lightweight race-capes are ideal for keeping you dry if the pressure drops and the heavens open. Easily transportable and light, these garments are incredibly versatile pieces of kit. Just make sure you take it off when the sun returns, or you'll be vulnerable to the 'boil in the bag' effect and you'll be sweating buckets within minutes. For the early morning or late night summer rides, a soft-shell wind proof jacket is the perfect option to keep you comfortable without over-heating.
Cycle clothing fit is all down to preference - mountain bikers may want something a little bit baggier to leave a little extra space for armour and pads. Roadies may prefer to go with the tighter fitting options so that they're as aero as possible. Regardless, it's worth checking things like zip length, collar size, the length of the tail and the tightness or adjustability of the sleeve cuffs. These features determine the conditions the garment is most suitable for in terms of weather, with certain additions such as stretch fabric and UV protection the major things to watch out for on a good summer jersey. As you'd expect, most brands will offer women's specific kit with tailored fits.
Though the nights are long and the visibility is good at this time of year, that shouldn't lead to complacency. Being ultra-visible to the other users of the road/trail can only be a good thing and can be achieved fairly easily in the summer months. Obviously reflectors and high-visibility clothing are the key elements to ensure an effective, unnoticeable presence when out on the bike. DayBright lights are fantastic new products that make sure you're shining brighter than a diamond day and night and are a definite purchase for the regular rider. Even in Summer, it's good practice to always head out with a spare light as you never know when you'll be delayed or stuck somewhere and need it to get you home!
The absolute staples of any cyclist's wardrobe are the ultra light, short sleeved cycling jerseys designed specifically for warm weather riding. A successful summer jersey does the simple things well - tight fitting but with enough stretch to cool quickly and wick moisture away effectively, the summer jersey should be light and breathable, featuring long zips and mesh like material to promote a good airflow around the body. Furthermore, there ideally should be up to three pockets on the back to hold essentials such as spare tubes, tools and emergency Mars Bars. More expensive options may offer water-resistant pockets, laser cut sleeves and cuff grips to hold the garment in place. Material wise, mesh is king. Mesh is fast drying, cool and wicks well, making it the best option for summer. The only downside to mesh? Unless you fork out for top of the range items then the UV protection of mesh is low, meaning you'll need to apply sunscreen under your jersey to avoid a Froome-esque sunburn mishap. Never forget the vital equation, sunburn + ib short chafing = overwhelming sadness.
More layers?! In summer!? Madness! I hear you cry. Though it may seem counter-intuitive on paper, a summer baselayer is no where near as crazy as you think. Winter options such as merino are obviously too insulating for hot days so it's down to our old mate mesh to bring the chill. Mesh baselayers aid the wicking of moisture away from the skin and keep you drier, cooler and more comfortable as a result. For summer riding, sleeveless options tend to be a little better as they fit under tight jerseys more comfortably.
Gilets & Jackets
Slightly less important than other garments in the warmer months, a lightweight jacket or gilet is still a must for summer rides, especially in Britain where the weather changes moods quickly and without much warning. Look out for easily packable items as carrying space is often at a premium during hotter days on the saddle due to the amount of water and nutrition you need to prevent bonking. Handy to chuck in a back pocket and use an extra layer either at the start of a ride or for that lengthy chilly descent, a lightweight, breathable jacket or gilet is a great go-to item for changeable days. Adding some extra warmth and shower protection without the weight, heaviness and heat of a full-waterproof option, most summer garments in this category will pack up to pocket size and may feature removable sleeves, mesh panels for higher ventilation and excellent windproof designs that keep you warm on long descents. Versatility is the name of the game here, with the lightweight jacket/gilet combination continuing to be useful as a mid-layer in Winter or a lighter top-layer in spring and autumn. An alternative to the options above is to invest in some light-weight arm-warmers for the colder moments during the morning or late evening. Arm-warmers can be put on and taken off quickly and often without having to stop which makes them an intelligent choice for the speed orientated, gram-saving riders amongst us.
Bib-Shorts & Summer Legwear
Cycling shorts/bibs are offered in a variety of styles with the two most prominent being either bib-shorts or standard lycra or 'baggy' style bike shorts. Designed specifically for either road or mountain cycling, you can choose from a range of products that have been engineered to be most effective in the warm weather. Shorter length, lighter weight material and more ventilation points are crucial to a good pair of summer shorts whilst the straps on bib shorts will also be thinner on summer garments to keep your upper body cool as well. It's vital to make sure that the Chamois pad in your shorts is suitable for you. A comfortable pad can make or break a good ride and become even more imperative when its hot in the summer and you're more prone to chafing to have a pad that isn't causing you any groin grief. As with the upper body, warmers can also be utilised effectively in the summer to keep you warm on descents or when the weather drops. As with arm-warmers, leg and knee warmers are easy to carry, light and can be put on/removed with very little stopping time.
Additional Summer Accessories
Besides the essentials listed above, there are a number of other accessories and clothing products that can improve your summer cycling experience:
- Sunglasses - Cycling sunglasses keep the dust, dirt, wind and midges out of your eyes, with the added benefit of making you look the part.
- Cycling caps - Usually worn under the helmet, cycling caps help to keep your face cool and protected from the sun.
- Short-finger mitts - Short finger mitts help to prevent road/trail buzz, reducing fatigue in your arms caused by vibrations from the road.
- Shoes/Socks/Overshoes - For summer riding lightweight and breathable shoes are a must. New innovations such as Giro's knitted shoes have built upon the mesh/ventilation technology that keeps your feet cool when the heat is on. Summer socks need to be thin, breathable and fast drying with integrated technology to promote quick cooling. Overshoe wise, you probably won't want anything to heavy duty as you'll get too hot. Endura Oversocks and the Castelli toe-thingy's are both excellent examples of versatile summer footwear should the heavens open.
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