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People who are new to biking or people who don’t bike at all might wonder what the difference is between mountain bike apparel and road apparel. These outfits, typically called kits, vary greatly between the two different sports. It’s similar to how people wear different styles of clothing for downhill skiing vs. Nordic skiing vs. freestyle skiing. Sure, you can wear one to do the other, but you may look and feel somewhat off, in addition to not performing up to the level you could. Having the right apparel helps you elevate your riding, whereas having the wrong gear can slow you down and make you uncomfortable. Let’s explore the differences between these two styles of riding and the associated gear.
Road biking kit – A road biking kit typically consists of a matching spandex jersey and padded chamois shorts. The jerseys are often short sleeve, fitted, have a ¾ or full-length zipper, and have two to three elastic pockets in the back. They often have reflective accents so cars can see riders more easily. Since road riding typically includes more hours in the saddle, road biking chamois are often slightly more padded than mountain biking chamois. The shorts may contain the same reflective accents as the jersey, for better visibility on the road. The chamois short is the main short worn, without another pair of shorts overtop.
There are different types of road biking jerseys, race fits which are typically tighter and more fitted, and club fits which have the same features and style, but which are looser and a more relaxed fit. Many serious road riders wear the more fitted style for increased aerodynamics and reduced drag from loose fabric. Regardless of the fit, these garments are most often made out of moisture wicking materials.
With road riding, it is very important that cars can see you so having clothing with reflective materials is helpful. If your clothes don’t have any reflective accents built in, riders may choose to wear reflective vests or other articles. Road riders don’t typically carry backpacks, so the jersey pockets allow road riders to carry a cell phone, small wallet, and a snack. Many road riders carry their fix-a-flat kit in a small bag mounted under their seat. Also with road riding, you’re typically in the same position for hours (or what can feel like hours), so while it’s important your apparel move with you, you’re making fewer dynamic movements than while mountain biking.
Mountain biking kit – While some race-focused cross-country mountain bikers may wear a kit that more resembles a road kit, many mountain bikers wear looser fitting moisture wicking jerseys and shorts. The jerseys may sometimes have one pocket, but often don’t include any pockets, as many mountain bikers carry a backpack or waist pack. These jerseys don’t typically have any reflective accents, as riders are most often cycling on single-track or double-track trails, away from traffic. Different than road biking, mountain bikers typically wear a padded chamois short with a looser fitting short overtop. The looser fitting short typically has a front fly similar to a pair of jeans and may include a few pockets in various places. While aerodynamics are not as critical for mountain biking as road riding, you don’t want your clothing to be so loose that it gets caught on your bike or anything else, so gear is generally relaxed and slightly fitted.
With mountain biking, you’re up out of the saddle, in the saddle, moving all over, so it’s imperative that your apparel moves seamlessly with you while you’re riding. You don’t want to be restricted in the shoulders when you’re going up and over rocks or have sagging shorts that get caught on your seat. Moisture wicking apparel is immensely helpful too. Wearing gear that can properly handle your sweat and keep you cool and dry will make your biking experience that much better.
Like we said, you can technically wear just about anything when mountain or road biking, but if you want to be comfortable and have a good time, we highly recommend investing in some proper bike gear. It would be like doing yoga wearing jeans, you’re just going to have a bad experience. To help you get set up for success, check out our high performance mountain bike apparel here.