Cycling is red hot right now - but you'll need more than just a bike to get started.
Bicycle sales have exploded across just about every category since the coronavirus pandemic began, including road, mountain, gravel grinder and even E-bikes. Working from home, limitations on travel, and closures or avoidance of fitness clubs and gyms has led many to pursue fresh air and outdoor exercise, especially as we move into summertime. To help readers out, I’m presenting a series of guides with tips for women who are ready to expand their horizons and trying something new. For those interested in getting into any kind of cycling, I previously presented a Buyer’s Guide to Road Bikes and a Buyer’s Guide to Mountain Bikes.
Next, I’m tackling the key gear, clothing and accessories you need to go along with the bikes, which in most cases can be the same for whatever style of riding you do. My final piece covers must-have gear like helmets, shoes, pedals and more.
I have a soft spot for women-specific and women-focused brands, and no one has been doing this longer in cycling than Terry Bicycles. With the exception of saddles (Terry is renowned as a bike seat specialist and also makes first-rate men’s models specifically for the male anatomy), their entire catalog is for women, and I love their stuff. They have a wonderful selection of shorts, tops, gloves and more. They’ve been joined by several other companies focused on the growing category of women’s cycling. Rather than smaller versions of men’s stuff, these brands tend to have useful features like bibs you can drop easily, a wide range of sizes for women of all shapes and builds, tops with built-in sports bras, longer backs to cover up and so on. They also typically look much better, with both nicer patterns and colors and more flattering cuts.
One such company I recently tried is Tonik Cycling, which makes tank tops that do double duty for cycling and yoga, jerseys, sport dresses, cycling jackets, and active skirts - but surprisingly, no shorts. Tonik’s motto is “Performance Apparel For Real Women - We Fit The Body You’ve Got.”
A similar brand is Machines For Freedom, another woman-only cycling apparel specialist. One of their signatures is the Essential Short, designed to have the advantages of a bib without the straps, using a high yoga-short style waistband to keep them from slipping, and plenty of padding, designed for long distance riding, Like many of their products, it’s available in seven sizes from X-Small to XXX-Large. You won’t find that in the big-name brands. Machines For Freedom also makes a super light SPF 50 long sleeve sun protection jersey that’s pretty cool, outerwear, jerseys and has lots of unique prints.
Wild Rye is a woman-owned brand in Idaho specializing in good looking and affordable mountain biking apparel for women. They offer fun patterns in highly functional below the knee shorts, lots of tanks and jerseys, and high-waisted yoga banded stretchy padded shorts that are becoming an increasingly popular choice for female cyclists - these are also perfect for road cycling.
Finally, there’s Liv, which I described in my road bike buyers’ guide as the world’s largest women-specific bicycle brand, making a big slate of road, mountain and urban/fitness bikes for women, from entry level to high-performance/pro quality. Liv has women engineers designing gear for women, and also makes a comprehensive line of clothing and accessories. These are mostly more performance-oriented traditional bike wear, with a focus on shorts, bibs and jerseys, plus technical outerwear for foul weather riding, but they also have a full series of more causal mountain bike designs, and all are high quality.
For most clothing, the important things are fit, style and comfort, though as you move into outerwear you also want to consider more performance oriented technical fabrics like Gore-Tex products, or other quality breathable waterproof and windproof fabrics. Most newcomers to cycling are not going to need true foul weather winter riding gear but will still be faced with occasional rain or wind or cooler temps. I’m a big fan of lightweight cycling vests, which provide just the extra layer you need when it’s a bit chilly, like early morning, or when it is windy. For rain protection you want a full jacket but one that is light, highly breathable - especially in warm weather - and very packable, ideally stashed in your jersey back pocket.
All the bike clothing companies above make good vests, but for jackets I have found the very best to be the ShakeDry models from Gore Wear, the clothing arm of the renowned fabric making company behind Gore-Tex. Aimed at active sports, paper-thin ShakeDry is the company’s lightest fabric that is totally waterproof and windproof, and it is also extremely breathable. Its name refers to the fact that it is so hydrophobic that water beads on the surface and after you take it off you can almost completely dry it with just a shake. I use a ShakeDry jacket for hiking as well and haven’t found anything that competes, comfortably weathering the heaviest rain in the warmest climates. Gore Wear makes a few different women-specific jacket models, with details like long cuffs and a dropped tail for protection from water kicked up by the rear tire, zipped pockets, reflective highlights of safety and a feminine cut. The C7 is the top of the line jacket but there are less expensive versions as well.
What sets Liv and Terry apart from all the other women focused brands is the extent of their range, which offer true one stop shopping. Both include hardware, clothing and gear, such as high-performance road and mountain bike shoes, saddles, helmets and gloves, all made for women. While I especially love my Terry gloves, this is one of the least differentiated pieces of clothing for cycling - you will definitely want gloves, but as long as they fit and the padding feels comfortable to you, they are fine. If your hands are prone to being cold or you regularly will ride in cooler weather, consider also investing in a pair of full finger cycling gloves. These also offer more skin protection for mountain biking when you will inevitably end up putting a hand down to break a fall.
Buying essentials like helmets, shoes and pedals gets a little more technical, so I will cover that in depth along with some other desirable bike gear in the next piece. In the meantime, check out my Road Bike Buyer’s Guide here and Mountain Bike Buyer’s Guide here.