Cycling’s popularity is on a steady rise. But being a cyclist doesn’t stop with just owning a bike. There’s a whole slew of gear designed to help get you the most out of the sport.
Your position, kit and contact points all contribute to your overall comfort. And there have been huge advances in sports apparel technology that cover us from head to toe. But there’s one simple item that’s often overlooked that can go a long way in improving your performance: socks!
And not just any socks. Cycling socks. Loaded with tech, they add comfort and performance benefits while even adding a touch of style to your kit.
Of course, couldn’t you just wear the socks you already have in the drawer? Sure you could. But you’re not going to want to. Even if you’re not a hardcore cyclist, there are certain advantages to gain if you opt for a pair that’s purpose built. And because they’re relatively affordable compared to other items of cycling gear, it’s worth investing in a few pairs of good quality cycling socks.
When shopping for the right cycling socks, there are three things to keep in mind: fiber, fit, and fashion.
Fun fact: the soles of your feet contain a super high density of sweat glands. Like, 60,000! We’re not even kidding.
Sweaty feet, in addition to being generally uncomfortable, are also blister-prone. That’s why serious cycling socks are made of sweat-wicking, quick-dry synthetic materials, like nylon or polyester. Their moisture wicking properties direct sweat from your soles to your shoes’ outer, which help cool your feet. Mesh vents also contribute to a cooling effect.
A seamless design, high thread count, and antibacterial properties combine to reduce odor and skin irritation. This boost in breathability and comfort makes for an overall more pleasant cycling experience. The high thread count also gives them a longer lifespan and helps them retain their color longer. And they’re easier to wash.
On the other hand, cotton socks tend to retain moisture. This makes them expand, which leads to rubbing, which leads to blistering. So they’re less than ideal for cycling.
However, if you’re looking for something made of natural fiber, Merino wool offers similar moisture management performance and is naturally resistant to odor buildup. They’re breathable and also help keep your feet warm during colder biking conditions. But they’re also on the pricier side, and their moisture management isn’t as effective compared to synthetic material. Still, it’s a hella of a flex.
First, a quick word on cycling shoes. Unlike running shoes that are designed to have some bounce, cycling shoes are meant to be stiff, because you lose energy if your foot moves inside your shoe. That’s why cycling socks need to be snug as well.
Socks used for other sports like football, basketball, or running are padded to help with shock absorption. In cycling, it’s the bike that absorbs the shock, not your feet, which need to be in a stable position in order to pedal efficiently.
Your socks should provide comfort through improved contact with your cycling shoes and also provide improved tactile feedback. This highlights the importance of selecting the right socks and shoes. Get this combination wrong and you’re looking at blistering and nerve pain caused by excess movement.
Cycling socks are meant to fit snugly on your feet for these same reasons. They exert less pressure on your feet, promote blood flow, and reduce swelling that occurs during exercise. In short, they’re super comfy, especially for long-distance rides. The close fit and flat-seam toes prevent chafing, keeping your feet blister-free.
Performance is one thing, but there’s no reason you can’t look good doing it. There’s a long standing debate as to how you should wear your socks. In the end, it really comes down to a matter of preference, and in many cases, practicality.
Mid-crew length socks are the most common, hitting that sweet spot of not too high, not too short. If speed is what you’re after, higher socks might give you a small aerodynamic advantage. That and shaving your legs. Mountain bikers often opt for higher socks as well, but for a different reason—it helps protect their legs from rough terrain like underbrush or gravel. High socks can also reduce injury in the event of a crash.
Longer socks are also more visible, allowing you to make more of a statement with all that real estate to flaunt your personal style. And why not show a little calf definition?
Whether you’re just starting out or a hardcore enthusiast, sporting the right pair of socks could make a huge difference on your next trip out. Ride safe!