The Beginner’s Guide to Cycling Kit (And Why It’s So Expensive)

The Beginner’s Guide to Cycling Kit (And Why It’s So Expensive)
Image: MAAP

If you’re one of the hundreds of thousands of people worldwide who took up cycling and riding during the pandemic, you might be starting to understand why people turn to lycra. Cycling in jeans or regular gym clothes only works for so long, until you want to start riding further or going faster. To understand more about how to pick your first cycling kit, and why it’s so expensive, I talked to the founders and one of the designers of three Australian cycling brands: Norman, Attaquer and MAAP. Here’s what I learned (there’s also a handy glossary at the end of this story).

Bib shorts

There are some things you can skimp on when you’re looking at cycling gear. As long as a bell is loud and works in the rain, it’s fine to just spend $5, and there are some great budget racks and panniers. You could even wear basically any t-shirt until you get ridiculously serious about riding — I was doing more than 100km a week (though only up to around 55km at a time) in an over-sized exercise shirt and jeans for most of last year. But when you start getting serious, you can’t skimp on your bibs.

Stevan Musulin, one of the founders and head of product for Attaquer, agrees.

“I think the bib short are more critical than the jersey, if you’re unsure where to invest the money. You want a really high quality chammy that’s going to be supportive and keep you comfortable so you can start doing longer distances,” he said.

“It’s important that it fits well and isn’t loose, because if your bib shorts are loose then the chammy can’t do its job properly because it’ll move around and won’t be supported. Then you’ll get chaffing and discomfort, you’ll lose circulation, and your legs will feel like concrete in them.”

For Oliver Cousins, co-founder and co-CEO of MAAP, the bib shorts are the cornerstones of his brand.

“To me, that’s the core foundation of any cycling kit,” Cousins said. “I think we put a lot of work into that style for men and women, and then we have different tiers and purposes for every choice.”

Base layers: do you need them in your cycling kit?

Yes. I never really understood the point of wearing a shirt under your shirt until these, but it’s to reduce chaffing. Thermal ones will also help keep you a little warmer (but not too warm), while summer ones are so light they’re barely there, yet moisture wick and add protection.

Socks

Socks are one of the most overlooked items for any sport, but they’re a key part of your gear. All your energy is going through your feet, and if they’re not properly being supported, then you’re going to get sore. A good pair of cycling socks will have more support over the arch and ball of your foot, as well as where the laces might dig in on proper cycling shoes. Meanwhile, walking or running socks will have more support on your heel, which is less necessary in cycling socks.

Mountain biking

A person wearing a blue and black mountain biking cycling gear
Image: Norman MTB

If it turns out your interest lies more in mountain biking than cycling, then there are a few differences in the apparel, according to Jacinta Karras, founder of Norman MTB.

“Road cyclists are much trendier than mountain bikers, the sport is much more mainstream and there is representation of many apparel brands in the market around the world,” she said.

“Mountain biking has only a handful of notable apparel brands to choose from so the choice for outfits is limited. I would also say that the representation of male and female as a ratio differs hugely between sports. I know that in Australia about 70% of MTB riders are male and 30% are female which really alters the way brands design, communicate and plan for their collections.”

Mountain biking shorts often don’t have chammys because, depending on the style of riding, the riders spend half their time without their bum on the saddle, so the padding would just get in the way. The tops also tend to be baggier to fit padding under them. It’s a whole different style on every level.

Can you get a cycling kit for all seasons?

A model wears a long sleeve Attaquer jersey
Image: Attaquer

Every brand has something to suit the milder months, but it’s summer and winter that can pose the biggest challenges to our commitment to cycling. Both MAAP and Attaquer have long-sleeved summer jerseys. I’ve taken Attaquer’s for a test ride and I’m very impressed with it. Surprisingly, though, it took a while for the SunSmart look to catch on.

“I think we might have been one of the first to market to do the summer long sleeve jersey, and it actually didn’t perform particularly well at the time. So, we just kind of didn’t really introduce any new colorways,” Musulin said.

This past summer it’s gained popularity, though he’s still debating whether to release summer-weight bib-tights.

Meanwhile, MAAP is planning on expanding their summer range soon.

“I think one of our best sellers recently has been a long sleeve summer jersey. Yeah, it could sound a bit like an oxymoron, but it was something we didn’t have in our line, and it was actually requested through our customers in Southeast Asia. Now it’s something we’re starting to develop in our bottoms as well. So, I think within six months, we’ll launch some [summer long-length tights],” Cousins said.

When it comes to winter, you’d be forgiven for thinking a puffy jacket is the answer to all your woes, but Cousins says it’s actually about the layers, which MAAP’s aesthetic is based around.

“I think traditionally, you’d go out in the middle of winter with one really thick, heavy jacket, thinking that that’s the best protection that you can get during your ride,” he said.

“But I think that sort of mentality has started to shift into more of a layering system that Ha [Nguyen, Senior Designer] is trying to develop. As you heat up during your ride, you’re able to take off those layers and regulate your body temperature, which also allows you to manage your moisture management. We do that by designing product that is packable and lightweight.”

Also, for the Australian climate, it’s key to have a good gilet to protect from that cruel wind.

Why are they so expensive?

There are some cheap and cheerful brands out there, but the reason why Attaquer and MAAP are so expensive is because they make their clothes in Europe.

“It’s the cost of the materials and the manufacturing. We’re manufacturing majority of our product in Italy,” Musulin said. “So, as you can imagine, costs around our factory in Italy are significantly higher than what they are in China. Then it’s the fabrics as well, using Italian fabrics, using Swiss fabrics, where these guys are at the at the forefront of performance.

“They’re not just copying fabrics from other suppliers. They’re there. They’re introducing all of the new innovations and all the new technology. But at the end of the day, you get a really high performance garment that’s going to last you a long time.”

MAAP is the same, sourcing fabrics primarily from Italy, France and Switzerland.

“I think with a better fabric you’re gonna get better moisture management and better warmth, longevity, and performance over time. The best fabrics are going to give you the best comfort on your ride and make you feel happy, and then obviously ride longer if you’re if you’re out there enjoying yourself,” Cousins said.

Sustainability in cycling kits

The MAAP offcuts logo
Image: MAAP

Sustainability is huge for cycling brands, because cyclists and mountain bikers tend to be more eco conscious than, say, motorists.

MAAP has a new range made primarily out of fabric offcuts, while Norman MTB has a focus on repairing and giving back.

“Sustainability is the driving force and core of our brand, our business and the decisions we make,” Karras said. “We are just about to launch a one tree initiative whereby we have partnered with our dear mates at Keep it Cool to plant one native Australian tree for every purchase made by our direct customers and our wholesale partners. We are dedicated to giving back to our planet through this initiative alongside ensuring we choose sustainable fabrics and accessories with the lowest carbon footprint possible.

“We are dedicated to repairing our garments, if a garment doesn’t perform or a customer would like to repair a crash area, we are happy to do that repair and encourage that over repurchase.”

Tips for new cyclists buying their first kit

For Musulin, the important thing is the fit.

“The main thing you’re looking for initially is comfort and fit. The fit is important because if it actually looks good on you, you’re going to feel better. You don’t want it loose and flapping around,” he said.

The second is fabric.

“There are a lot of good fabrics from around the world, but the key leaders are still Italy and a lot of Swiss fabrics, that’s where the manufacturers doing the main innovative stuff are coming from.”

According to Cousins, you don’t have to do everything at once.

“It’s just what makes you feel comfortable on a bike,” he said. “When I first started cycling, it was a big mental shift to go from riding in casual clothes to riding in dedicated cycling kit. So, I don’t think you have to jump into it all in one fell swoop.

“I think the most important thing is just your bib shorts… as your riding progresses and you’re spending longer hours on the bike, that’s probably when you really need to step it up and start wearing cycling specific clothing.”

He also suggested finding a local cycling club so you can build a community and become more comfortable on the bike. Not everything is about speed, sometimes it’s just hanging out with mates.

Glossary of handy cycling terms

Bib shorts: Also known as bib knicks, these are padded shorts with suspenders. The purpose of the suspenders, or “bibs”, is to take the pressure off your hips. If you’ve ever run a half marathon in compression tights, you’ll know that hip tendon pain you get from the waistband cutting in too much – the bibs are to prevent that, as well as provide compression on your abs. I find it also helps my posture a bit, depending on the pair.

Chamois: Also known as a chammy, this is the padding in bib knicks. It can be made out of a range of materials, usually some kind of foam, and it’s important that it’s the right shape and size for your body, and that it stays in place. Even the most comfortable saddle gets sore after a few hours. While there are some items of cycling kit that are unisex, this is not one of them, and you should be instantly wary of anyone who suggests otherwise.

Gilet: A little cycling vest to keep your torso warm.

Bidon: I didn’t use this anywhere in the article, but it’s what a lot of the fancier brands will call a water bottle and I just think it’s neat.

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