Get the most out of your kit with the least abuse on your wallet.
As your wallet is most likely well aware, cycling is a very equipment-dependent sport. From the bike itself, to the individual components it’s draped in, it’s pretty easy to make a dent in your paycheck every month just keeping it in good running condition. To make matters even more stressful on your finances, your bike is only part of the equation. Apparel can be just as important in its ability to either make or break your riding experience.
A poor-quality kit can make a ride miserable, while the proper threads can make the miles feel almost effortless. But, notice how I used the words ‘poor-quality’ rather than “affordable.” While cycling apparel can definitely get a bit pricey, there are certainly options out there that enable any rider to maximize the bang for their buck. Thankfully, I’m here to point out the essentials for a worry-free kit that won’t break the bank, along with some standout options to help you complete your highly capable, but still highly affordable, cycling wardrobe.
I’m not going to go into why a good set of shorts with a well-tailored chamois is the single most-important foundation of any good cycling kit—it would involve too many horror stories involving some pretty sensitive areas, and some horrible metaphors involving sandpaper and bleach. Long story short (pun intended), the bib short is the interface between your most sensitive contact point on the bike, and you’d better make sure it’s a comfortable one.
So first off, a well-tailored chamois is of paramount importance. While some might think padding takes precedence, padding is the last thing you’ll be thinking about when you’re wearing what feels like the adult equivalent of a diaper. A properly tailored chamois is designed to meld seamlessly (pun not intended, although the less seams in this area the better) with the shorts, making for a pair that fits—and moves-with the contours of your body instead of just providing a saddle-specific equivalent of a memory-foam mattress pad.
Secondly, bib shorts are a must as opposed to bib-less shorts as they do a much better job at keeping the chamois where it’s supposed to, limiting the chance of any unfortunate migrations that may cause some Class 5 chafing.
After these two requirements, fabric performance becomes your main concern. What we’re looking for here primarily is moisture management. A good pair of bib shorts will wick away sweat to keep you dry on all but the hottest days.
Regardless, it’s definitely worth budgeting a bit more for a good pair of bibs. Spending money in this category will earn you the biggest dividends when it comes to improving your riding experience. That being said though, there are still options that provide plenty of comfort and performance and don’t require dipping into savings. Case in point: the Capo Pursuit Bib Short. Featuring Capo’s Anatomic-L HD Carbon chamois, it incorporates varying thickness densities to provide a an exceptional amount of padding, with minimal bulk. Several years ago, the chamois featured in the Pursuit bibs would have been comparable to some of the most high-end chamois on the market. But now, it just makes for one heck of a deal.
Another pair of shorts we’d like to salute for being a stellar bargain, are Pearl Izumi’s Elite In-R-Cool Bibs. Mineral-infused In-R-Cool fabric actually lowers your body temperature by five degrees, along with speeding moisture transfer and dry time. The anatomic P.R.O. Seamless 1:1 Chamois is light and thin while providing ample comfort and blood fl0w thanks to Pressure Relief Technology.
After bib shorts, shoes are the largest deciding factor in the role apparel plays in your ride experience. While fit is paramount here, quality construction, adjustability, and weight play a factor as well.
After finding a shoe that fits, be sure to choose a model with a sole that allows for efficient power transfer. While this is relatively easy to do with the plethora of shoe options out there, finding an option that also happens to be light while still sporting an agreeable price tag becomes quite a bit harder.
Why does shoe weight matter though? For one, it’s rotating weight, which means you’re expending energy to lift your foot (and obviously your shoe as well) every single pedal stroke. While a few grams most definitely won’t even be noticeable after just one pedal stroke, after a few thousand, those extra grams really start to add up.
Offering a great fit that keeps seams off your skin, solid construction—and a nice lack of heft to boot, the Mavic Ksyrium Elite Road Shoe is one of the best deals out there—offering the performance and features of shoes over twice the price.
While really the most important piece of kit, it’s third on this list only because, thankfully, you can get plenty of safety and performance out of a helmet at a price that won’t lighten up your wallet too much. Giro’s Savant Helmet offers everything you should look for in a helmet—great protection, plenty of fit options as well as plenty of ventilation—plus it’s nearly as light as Giro’s top-of-the-heap Aeon, but less than half the price at just $80, leaving some leftover green to put into the ol’ bib short budget.
While certainly not as important as the bibstraps they cover up, the jersey is still an important piece of kit. The right jersey will make the difference between feeling like you actually went for a bike ride instead of a swim when you finish your ride. Proper fabric selection will accomplish this, so be sure to look for a jersey that features a fabric with solid moisture-wicking credentials. Storage is also an important concern, so make sure your jersey has ample pockets, but more importantly, that those pockets are well supported—the last thing you want is to develop the dreaded saggy jersey syndrome. Proper fit will also help in this regard, so size wisely.
A standout jersey that ticks all of the right boxes aside from the one labeled ‘expensive’ is the Gore Element Adrenaline II Jersey. Featuring 100% soft, stretchy, breathable polyester construction, the Element II Jersey utilizes a ventilated surface to allow for both excellent breathability and moisture management.
For another option that looks and performs great, but won’t break the bank, be sure to check out this Capo Fonda Jersey. Constructed from a lightweight polyester with proven moisture management properties, the Fonda Jersey will keep you comfortable year-round.
No kit is complete without some cycling-specific eyewear, and Tifosi makes some the best-valuse shades anywhere. Tifosi Podiums offer a wide, optically clear field of view with a lightweight, comfortable frame that practically disappears when you put it on. Plus they look cool. Oh, and did we mention they are well under a hundred bucks?