Gear Guide for the Beginning Cyclist

by Susan Otcenas

YOUR BRAIN

A Woman's Guide to Cycling Susan Weaver's A Woman's Guide To Cycling answers all your cycling questions. Learn how to buy a bike that fits your body and riding style, how to improve your fitness and technique, how to perform basic repairs, and most importantly, how to have fun doing it. Her enthusiasm shines through and makes you eager to get out there and RIDE!

You'll also want to take a look at Selene Yeager's Every Woman's Guide to Cycling covers everything you need to know, from buying your first bike to winning your first race.

BIKE HELMETS

BL_2038113

Bicycle helmets have been shown to reduce the risk of head injury by as much as 85 percent and the risk of brain injury by as much as 88 percent. Helmets should be replaced every 4-5 years due to degradation of the protective foam layer over time. Visit the Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute for more advice on selecting a skid lid and remember to always wear a helmet!

Where To Buy: It's important to have good fit in a helmet, so go to your local bike shop and try several different helmets on.

WS (Woman Specific features to look for): smaller sizes, rear "locking systems" designed to accomodate ponytails.

CYCLING JERSEYS

PI_11221235_0
TE_616

What's wrong with wearing a cotton T-shirt? Cycling-specific jerseys offer several advantages over casual wear such as t-shirts:

  • Technical fabrics provide moisture-wicking properties. They remove the sweat from your skin and bring it to the surface where it rapidly evaporates. This increases your comfort while riding and keeps you from becoming cold and damp when you come to a stop after a period of heavy exertion.
  • Back pockets provide a convenient place to store a wallet, gloves, energy bars, or even a lightweight jacket. The pockets are located on the back instead of the sides to prevent them from rubbing against your legs while pedaling.
  • Long front zippers allow you to adjust the ventilation while riding and regulate your temperature.
  • Extended tails cover your backside when you are bent over in a "tucked" cycling position.
  • Snug fitting jerseys absorb and evaporate sweat faster, don't flap in the wind, and won't snag on obstacles (like tree branches) as easily as loose-cut garments.
  • Bright colors & reflective piping make you more visible to other vehicles on the road.

WS: patterns cut for a woman's proportions, flared hips, minimal or no elastic at the bottom.

BICYCLING JACKETS

GB_JGOXYW_0
PI_11231303

Cycling jackets come in several variations. The proper jacket for you will depend on the type of riding you'll be doing. There is a trade-off between breathability, weight and packability, and water resistance. Fully waterproof jackets can be somewhat heavier and less breathable than their merely water-resistant cousins. For shorter rides where you might only get sprinkled on, a lighter-weight, more breathable jacket is often preferred.

Waterproof Jackets

  • Water-proof yet breathable membranes like Gore-Tex and eVent repel water droplets while allowing water vapor from your sweat to escape.
  • Pit zips allow for adjustable amounts of underarm ventilation when you start to overheat.
  • Back vents and adjustable wrist closures create cooling airflow up your sleeves and out your back.
  • A stowable or removable hood sized to fit over (or snugly under) a bike helmet is a nice feature but not a must-have.

Windshells

  • Lightweight, thin fabrics breathe well and allow the jacket to be stuffed into a jersey pocket, pannier or handlebar bag.
  • Reflectivity increases your safety when riding at dawn, dusk, or night.
  • Rear pockets allow for storage that doesn't get in your way while pedaling.
  • Convertible jackets like the Pearl Izumi Barrier Convertable jacket have zip-off sleeves and convert into a vest for added versatility.

WS: patterns cut for a woman's proportions, appropriate length sleeves.

CYCLING VESTS

LG_1028068

Vests are perhaps among the most under-appreciated items available to cyclists. Combine a vest with a pair of arm warmers, and you are ready to tackle most any all-day summer ride, from the crisp morning air to shady descents alongside mountain streams. Best of all, when the time comes to take the vest off, it'll fit easily into your jersey pocket!

  • Wind blocking fabrics keep the wind-chill effect from sapping your body heat.
  • Mesh back panels allow you to vent excess heat when you are exerting yourself.
  • Back pockets are convenient for storing items or for self-stuffing the vest into when it is not in use.
  • Reflectivity and bright colors help you be seen and be safe on the road.

WS: patterns cut for a woman's proportions.

BIKE GLOVES

GB_GGPOWL
LG_1481063
  • Padded palms reduce the amount of road shock transmitted to your hands and minimize pressure on median nerve in palm which can cause numb or tingling fingers.
  • Tough fabrics help you avoid "hamburger hands" when the inevitable happens and more than rubber meets the road.
  • "Grippy" fabrics provide you with a better grip and more control than bare sweaty palms.
  • Fingerless design exposes your fingertips to give you a greater "feel" for the road and increased dexterity for shifting gears and adjusting your clothing. In cold weather, use full-fingered gloves or wear a thin, full-fingered liner glove under your fingerless gloves.
  • For cold winter riding, lobster gloves keep your fingers warm like a mitten but allow enough flexibility to shift.

WS: patterns cut to fit a woman's narrower hands and wrist.

BEANIE / HAT

PI_9304
  • Sculpted fit comes down over your ears without getting too low on your forehead.
  • Warm / windblocking fabrics provide additional warmth and protection from cold winds.
  • Low bulk and a snug fit allow you to wear the cycling beanie underneath your helmet.

WS: Ponytail port allows your hair to pass through and results in a more comfortable fit.

ARM / LEG WARMERS

CA_7104
SU_99952U
PI_14371006

Arm warmers and knee/leg warmers come in handy when the weather starts out cold but warms up during the day. You can easily strip them off and stuff them in a jersey pocket, handlebar bag or pannier.

  • Gripper elastic keeps them from sliding down your arms or legs.
  • Warm / wind-blocking fabrics provide additional warmth and protection from cold winds.

WS: Smaller sizes - shorter lengths and smaller openings at the upper arm and leg.

BIKE SHORTS / KNICKERS / CYCLING TIGHTS

TY_610016
PI_11211114
CA_2636

Once you ride in a pair of cycling shorts, you'll never ride without them again! Baggier shorts with lycra liner shorts are available for those who wish to avoid appearing in public in close-fitting garments.

  • Chamois pad is primarily designed to quickly absorb and evaporate sweat, but also provides a layer of padding between your fanny and the saddle.
  • Au Natural. The only thing you wear under cycling shorts is your birthday suit. Underwear seams and elastic leg openings can chafe sensitive crotch-area tissue. Besides which, underwear is usually made of cotton, which retains moisture and defeats the purpose of having a moisture-wicking chamois.
  • Snug fitting design eliminates loose, bunched-up clothing between you and your saddle that can chafe skin.
  • Smooth/stretchy fabric reduces saddle friction.

WS: patterns cut for a woman's proportions, baseball stitched or seamless chamois.

CYCLING SOCKS

SG_HMB
DF_MTL

Keep your feet comfortable by keeping them dry. Cycling socks are made of thin, snugly-fitting, sweat-wicking and evaporating fabrics. Bicycling can also be a great excuse to wear fun socks!

WS: smaller sizes.

CYCLING SHOES

GO_2028094

Pedal pressure on the foot through softer-soled shoes and sneakers can cause foot pain, toe-tingling, or numbness. Stiffer-soled shoes minimize possible foot pressure problems and increase the efficiency of energy transfer between your legs and the bike. If your bike has clipless pedals, cycling shoes are required so you can attach the appropriate cleats for your pedals.

WS: smaller sizes, constructed on a women's last.

BIKE SADDLES

TY_21043

Finding a comfortable saddle can be one of the more difficult tasks for beginning (and experienced) riders. It is a matter of personal preference and experience — you may go through two or three saddles over the course of several months of riding before you find one you really, really like.

In additional to saddle construction, proper adjustment is critical. You need to have your seat post at the correct height, and the seat properly aligned in three areas: fore-aft on the rails, tilt-angle (should be level or nose-down 1-3 degrees), and aligned length-wise with the top-tube of the bike. Pay attention to how your saddle feels as you ride, then experiment with different adjustments until you get it dialed in. Or, pay a visit to your local bike shop and have them help you with the adjustments.

WS: slightly wider seat for women's wider sit bones, cut-outs to relieve pressure on sensitive areas.

WOMEN'S BICYCLES

2008 Terry Isis Pro - steel

There are several manufacturers of bikes specifically designed for women. For details, see our Women Specific Bikes page.