The last few years have seen a boom in clothes that work well on the bike but also look normal when you're off it, so you can sit in the pub or at your desk in your riding gear without people think you're waiting for the start of a Tour de France stage. Here are some of our favourites.
Casual cycling clothing uses cuts and materials that are comfortable on the bike, but don't make you look like a Lycra gimp down the pub
Shirts and jerseys feature high necks and long backs but usually lack the classic rear pockets and shiny fabrics
Waterproof and weather-resistant jackets are cut looser than cycling-specific equivalents so there's room for civilian clothes underneath
Trousers, jeans and shorts usually have high backs, a crotch designed for sitting on a saddle and often a reflective ankle revealed by rolling up the leg
Sneaker-styled shoes are walkable; a couple of manufacturers even make office shoes that are comfortable on the bike
Let's get this out of the way: you don't need special clothes to ride a bike. If you're nipping to the shops, or riding any fairly short distance, then whatever you're wearing will be just fine. For a ride of up to around five miles any old clobber will do unless you're determined to crack Strava segment records on the way.
But there are plenty of situations where you want to ride for longer but not have to faff about changing clothes. Meeting friends at a country pub, say, or a longer ride to the office on a Spring day. That's where dual-purpose clothing comes in: you can ride bike comfortably while wearing it, and you'll still be comfortable at work, the pub or even at a nice restaurant.
Dual purpose gear differs from both regular clothes and sportier cycling gear in a number of ways.
Classic cycling gear (which really means cycle-sport gear) fits tightly because if you want to go fast, your biggest enemy is the air. To cut through it, you want clothing that flaps around as little as possible, and that hugs your (hopefully) lean and lithe body.
Dual-purpose gear is less figure-hugging, though careful tailoring usually means the fit is more sharp-suit skinny than grunge-band guitarist; you still want as little flapping in the breeze as possible, especially round the ankles.
Even though dual-purpose gear isn't skintight, it's still cut and shaped to fit properly when you're on the bike. That means jackets and shirts with longer sleeves, cut to fit when you're reaching for the handlebars, and a longer back. Dual-purpose trousers are similarly tweaked, with high waistbands, a built-in bend in the knee and often a strengthened crotch to cope with wear from the saddle.
There are other details that mark a dual-purpose garment, such as ways of cinching the trouser cuff to keep it out of your chain, and vents in jackets to keep you cool in warmer weather.
One of the things that's enabled the boom in dual-purpose clothing is the development of some very clever fabrics. There are breathable, water-resistant fabrics that look and feel like cotton, for example, and stretchy cotton blends that repel water — very handy for trousers.
But one of the fabrics you'll find a lot is a variant of a textile humans have been using since the Bronze Age: Merino wool. Merino's very fine, soft fibres make it comfortable against the skin, it still insulates when it gets wet and it takes a lot longer to get smelly than synthetics with similar properties. You'll find it on its own in jerseys, shirts, tights and undershirts and in blends with synthetics in jackets and socks. Look out for SportWool, a combination of Merino and polyester that's soft and warm, but easier to care for than 100% Merino.
The whole point of dual-purpose clothing is that it doesn't look like cycling kit. The available styles cover a vast range, from simple t-shirts to classy dress shirts, from jeans to suit trousers and from casual Harringtons to super-smart jackets. Some manufacturers have even teamed up with top fashion designers to offer complete suits.
The Endura Hummvee Hoodie is a smart leisure option for when you need a warm layer to keep out the chill. It's comfy, not too heavy, and means you can stay loyal to branded bike clothing without standing out on civvy street. Best of all, though, if you need to hop in the saddle, it's built to offer a bit of performance there, too.
The Hummvee Hoodie is a prime bit of bike kit that fulfils both the aesthetic and practical provisions of a cycling hoodie almost perfectly. It's made of what Endura calls 'cotton touch, melange wicking fabric' (actually 100% polyester), with a full length front zip, two decent-sized front pockets and a hood that's capacious enough to go over a bike helmet.
When it comes to technical performance, the Hummvee is a marked step up from your typical fast fashion/merch hoodie. Although not fleece-lined, the fabric is suitably thick and provides excellent heat retention. It's also fairly breathable, although that's only relative to other similar products. This is still a fairly chunky bit of kit that will have you warming up quite quickly if you're wearing it on the wrong day.
The Endura SingleTrack Merino T-shirt is a fantastic bit of technical kit that works wells as an extra layer on colder days, but is most in its element as a casual outer in summer. With handy on-bike styling and the benefits of merino, this could easily become one of your wardrobe favourites.
As a cyclist whose background is mostly in drop-bar bikes, whenever I see a short-sleeve top that doesn't have a zip, my first thought is 'baselayer'. And certainly, Endura's SingleTrack merino T-shirt could fulfil a role as 'just another layer', with its soft merino-infused fabric (it's 15% merino wool) and stretchy nature perfectly happy to sit next to the skin.
But the real beauty of this tee becomes apparent in warmer times when you simply want to cycle, and cycle simply, because the SingleTrack Merino T-shirt is superb as a standalone layer teamed with just a pair of shorts.
The Endura Hummvee Shacket is a lightweight but very versatile reversible jacket with impressive performance that's ideal for commuting. With the option of two reversible sides – an almost Barbour-esque ripstop jacket or lumberjack-chic flannel shirt – Endura's Hummvee Shacket sets out to offer versatility.
The jacket side is the obvious practical star of the show. Its windproofing, as Endura claims, is very good. Then there's the Shacket's lightweight insulation, which works a treat, too.
Findra's Caddon jersey is an all-British offering, designed in Scotland and manufactured in the UK (although the merino is New Zealand's finest). With a dropped back, thumbholes and a drawstring cowl neck, it's a stylish, lightweight and soft option for both on and off the bike.
The Caddon is Findra's mid-layer offering, although its lightweight weave means it would work equally well as a baselayer. Interestingly, it weighs a few grams less than the baselayer we have also reviewed. During the winter it was tested much more as a baselayer, but it looks good enough on its own during a cake stop in a warm cafe.
The Vulpine Men's Omnia Cycling Jeans are comfortable on and off the bike, practical, and fit very well – in fact tester George found himself wearing them more than his regular jeans.
George writes: "The first thing to note about them is that they don't look any different to a normal pair of jeans, at first glance, anyway. Just below the knees there are two more seams than usual, there's an extra panel on the crotch, and on the waistband, an additional loop. The Omnias achieve the freedom of movement vital for riding through a 98% denim and 2% elastane fabric mix, which helps them keep their shape well like non-cycling jeans, but also have some stretch that lets them move comfortably with the pedal stroke, with little resistance.
Helping with comfort is the diamond gusset, with its soft cotton inner. This single panel runs across the crotch to midway down your thighs, removing the high concentration of seams and thick material you get in this sensitive area on regular jeans, making these much more comfortable to ride in.
Rapha's Technical Trousers really are a do-it-all piece of kit, ideal for the urban rider. Rapha describes these as 'a pair of hard-wearing trousers for riding around town, commuting and travelling', and calls the fit 'slim', but I'd say they're closer to the relaxed end of the slim spectrum, which makes for more comfortable riding. They're a progression from Rapha's (now defunct) Randonnee trousers, and feature the same style waist, cut higher than a standard pair of trousers so that there's no unsightly gap when you're leaning forward on the bike.
Looks-wise, they have the appearance of – and sit like – a classic pair of chinos, but to wear they feel totally different, much lighter and more comfortable with none of the bulk, plus they come with an added element of stretch to make them more suited to physical activity.
The relaxed fit and stretch of the material makes for a really comfortable riding experience. There's no feeling of restriction and there's plenty of give there if you feel the inclination to really hammer on the pedals. On that note, overheating due to more strenuous riding isn't too much of an issue either – sure you can build up a bit of a sweat, but the breathable qualities of the material allow you to cool off pretty quickly.
Pearl Izumi's Rove trousers are stretchy, comfortable and thoroughly unrestrictive in the saddle. They look smart and have some excellent hidden reflective elements, too. But despite some claimed weatherproofing, they're a bit lightweight for year-round riding.
The four-way stretchy fabric – which consists of 70% organic cotton, eco fans – is extremely accommodating, although the quite narrow, straight legs are bound to cling to most cyclists' thighs. The main downside to this, as you'll spot in the pictures, is that you get a touch of the old VPLs if you're wearing padded shorts underneath.
2020 Pearl Izumi Rove Trousers front.jpg
In the saddle, though, that clinginess is not a bad thing because it offers unrestricted movement that actually seems like a good second best to Lycra. The cut of the trousers is helpful, too, with a nice high back and a forgiving waistband.
The Specialized RBX Adventure Over-Shorts are good quality touring/adventure shorts that are ideal for riding and general larking about. They're comfy on the bike, neutrally styled off it, and work well with Lycra.
These shorts are a fairly classic length and style: with an 11in inseam they sit just above the knee, and they're constructed from a twill-weave cotton/nylon fabric that has 8% Spandex in the mix for a bit of stretch.
Endura's Hummvee Chino shorts are a more tailored take on the traditional baggy. But it's not just about appearances: with a detachable padded liner and great in-the-saddle comfort, these shorts are equally classy when it comes to performance.
These shorts are the smartest lower body option in Endura's respected Hummvee range and come in either navy blue or grey as tested. The Chinos sport a more tailored cut than other Hummvee shorts and are made from tough and slightly stretchy cotton fabric. They also come with a detachable liner featuring one of Endura's 300 series padded inserts.
Osloh's Lane Jeans are very high quality, and have a wealth of bike-specific features. In spite of that they're not obviously bikey, and you can wear them out and about without getting a second glance. They're comfortable both on and off the bike and fitted very well. They're not without their issues, but they're easy to recommend.
The Lane jeans are available in either black cavalry twill or the indigo denim we have here, which is a 12oz fabric with 1% elastane. They're noticeably heavier than the Resolute Bay J1 jeans I've also tested and the fabric isn't as stretchy, but it's stretchy enough, and the jeans fitted very well.
You have plenty of cycling jeans to choose from. Rapha, Vulpine, Swrve, and even Levi's themselves make denims for the bike. Resolute Bay is trying to make the ideal cycling jeans, aiming to marry fashion with comfort and practicality. Its jeans are well on the way to achieving it.
The cut is slim, not spray-on skinny and not 90s pop rock bands, but somewhere in the middle. Loose enough that you've got room to move, but not too much excess material. Importantly, they look like 'normal' jeans when you're off the bike.
The major difference from your average high street jeans is the crotch gusset. This features a flat panel instead of the junction of seams you'd usually find. These seams are the primary reason most people find jeans uncomfortable to ride in, as they end up between your 'sensitive areas' and the saddle. The flat panel design here, often found on other cycling trousers too, removes this discomfort. The seams and joins are still there but they've been moved out to the periphery. The overall effect is that the jeans are a whole lot more comfortable to ride in.
The successor to Rapha's well-regarded Touring Shorts, these are made from stretch fabric and have a high back for on-bike comfort. They're pricey, but attractively styled and comfy with or without cycling shorts underneath.
Simple, slightly 'mod' trousers which are cut long for leg extension when on the bike and tightly at the ankles so as not to catch in the chain. The back is cut higher than the front and again, there are no seams at the crotch. A tiny hint of lycra delivers that crucial stretchiness.
We like the men's version too. They're are a well made, robust and good looking pair of cycling jeans that perform well on the bike and look good off it. The thing that tends to set cycling-specific trousers apart from regular ones is the reinforced crotch. Here Velocity has used a diamond shaped piece of material that covers the seams at the top of the inside leg and through the crotch – typically the areas that wear out quickly when riding in normal jeans. If a clothing maker gets this wrong it can make the trousers look a little strange when you're off the bike. Happily, here it's relatively subtle, so they look good off the bike too.
The Galibier Colombière Insulated Jacket is ideal for on- and off-bike adventures, either in the wild or about town, and Galibier has made real strides in combating overheating when pedalling hard.
An insulated jacket for on and off the bike, this works better than anything of its kind that I have tried before, with features such as lightweight panelling and a zip-off hood that reveal the thought and attention to detail that has gone into this product.
Overall, this is an excellent everyday jacket, whether the day includes riding a bike or not. But those Roubaix side panels are a revelation when it comes to preventing overheating when you do ride. For the money, I doubt you'd find a better casual winter cycling jacket – you may not find better spending considerably more
Pearl Izumi's Rove Barrier jacket may well be the ultimate commuting jacket. It's comfortable, ultra-water resistant, lightweight, stretchy and looks fantastic. The fact that it even undercuts a lot of its main rivals in price is simply a bonus.
The Rove Barrier might be 88% recycled polyester, but it is far from rubbish. In fact, as an all-round, general use cycling jacket for a broad range of conditions, it's probably the best garment I've ever tested.
Commuting and leisure cyclists have never been better catered for when it comes to technically focused outer wear. But the Pearl Izumi Rove Barrier is the best I've tested. It looks fantastic, it feels great to wear, and it gives you enough protection from the elements without risking uncomfortable heat build-up. Factor in the quality, design, value and even some eco credentials with that recycled polyester fabric, and you've got perhaps the ultimate commuting jacket.
The B'Twin Warm Reversible Urban Cycling Jacket is a really versatile option for keeping warm in cooler temperatures, either on or off the bike thanks to its reversible shell. It's ridiculously visible in bike mode, good looking in pub mode, and offers some weather protection. It feels great to wear, though the fitment at the waist is a bit odd.
This urban riding jacket is the perfect garment to wear any time – with its reversible shell, you've got two choices: put it in riding mode and take advantage of its PPE EN1150-certified fluorescent exterior and massive high-vis elements. Then, when you get to your destination you can flip it inside out and the subtle dark blue colour will allow you to blend in with Joe public.
I'd really recommend the B'Twin jacket as it does everything so well, and the price tag of £49.99 makes it an excellent purchase if you do a lot of urban riding and want to be seen night and day. It’s an exceptionally versatile urban cycling jacket that's good across a wide range of temperatures
Shimano's Transit Hardshell Commuter Jacket is great for urban commutes with a very good and relaxed on-the-bike fit that doesn't look out of place with casual clothing. The waterproofing is excellent, but the jacket can be a little sweaty if you have a big climb to tackle.
In normal times, my commute to the road.cc office is not the longest. Just a few flat kilometres through Bath doesn't require any Lycra, and the lack of traffic on my cyclepath route means I'm happier with something that I can wear to post-work drinks rather than something fluoro-yellow. This casually styled jacket from Shimano fits that perfectly. And It's waterproof too. Handy, because it rains in Bath sometimes.
The Vulpine Portixol is a rain jacket rather than a packable shell, and as such is aimed more at the commuter than the hardcore roadie. The more casual, urban styling underlines this, but it matches technical hardshells in its performance.
Under its new owners, British brand Vulpine has been working on new designs and reworking some old ones. The Portixol jacket was originally a stripped-back, race-orientated shell that has been given an urban makeover, re-emerging with side pockets, an extendable flap, a two-way zip and a contemporary style that successfully blends fashion with on-bike functionality. Crucially, it retains the foul-weather capability that we praised the old version for in 2016.
The Resolute Bay Reflective Cycling Jacket is impressive. It's a high-quality design, offering superb protection against the weather, excellent breathability, and some strong cyclist-specific features, and the fit works really well both on and off the bike.
One thing that tends to plague commuter cycling jackets is that they're either too cycling-specific or not cycling-specific enough. The Reflective Cycling jacket aims to balance the two – and succeeds.
Rapha's Hooded Rain Jacket II is a fantastic waterproof jacket for about town – on the bike and off it. The first thing to point out about the jacket is that it's brilliantly waterproof and breathable, with a hardiness that belies the shots that you see of it here. The fabric is thick, almost softshell-like, and that adds real resilience.
Galibier's Bédoin jacket is designed as a casual jacket that you can wear on and off the bike. It's a really nice quality option for casual riding and just knocking about when it's cold, and it's great value to boot.
Galibier uses the same full-membrane, three-layer fabric as the Mistral foul weather jacket, so it's a technical bit of kit, but the cut is more casual for day to day use. It's a lot more roomy than Galibier's on-bike gear, and the cut is squared off so there's no dropped tail.
The Tracey Neuls GEEK Reflective Black Cycle Sneakers are quirky and stylish shoes that are comfortable on and off the bike, smart enough for office wear, and have the added bonus of being entirely reflective. They're not a cheap option, but they are a designer shoe with the quality to go with that.
Rather unusually, they are designed for both walking and cycling, rather than favouring cycling with just a nod to the odd bit of wandering about town on foot. The outsole is grippy rubber, with a metal shank for extra rigidity, and the fairly flat sole has a small raised heel, making it much more akin to a normal everyday shoe than a cycling-specific design.
The Tracey Neuls are genuinely comfortable shoes for wearing on and off the bike; they allow for effective pedalling, look smart enough to wear with office clobber and have that reflective bonus. They're well-made, high-quality designer shoes, and worth the investment. The London Design Museum called them 'beautiful shoes for an active life' and that's just what they are. If you're after smart city cycling and walking shoes that add to your after-dark safety arsenal, they're well worth considering.
Many, many riders swear by mountain bike style double-sided SPD pedals for commuting, and the walkable recessed-cleat shoes that go with them. The Giro Petra VR Shoes are designed for those times when there's going to be a fair bit of walking as well as riding, and when a more low-key looking shoe may be the thing. But they're still technical. Officially in Giro's 'dirt' section of the company's website, the Petra VR is more a touring or casual shoe, rather than a technical mountain bike shoe. They lace up, have a Vibram sole, and feature a removable plate under which lurks SPD attachment points, but they are styled much more casually.
Quoc Pham makes a wide range of stylish shoes that look as good off the bike as on it. The Weekend shoes have a sole and footbed made from eco-friendly Bloom foam, with mounting points for two-bolt cleats. They're 100% vegan-friendly, and snug with conventional laces kept under control by a Dual Lace-Lock system.
There's an alternative to a clipless pedal systems or shoes for clips and straps, and it's the combination of flat pedals and super-grippy shoes that's been honed to perfection by mountain bikers over the last couple of decades. Five Ten started out in rock climbing shoes, before bringing its sticky rubber sole technology to bikes, and its shoes are super-popular with the dirt set. For round-town riding, they have the big advantage of being easy to walk in, so you can hop on and off the bike at will.
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