So what should you be wearing when going mountain biking?
While different mountain biking disciplines do have their own style trends in clothing, for most riders the essentials are typically as follows:
- Riding Shorts – most prefer knee-length baggy durable shorts.
- Quickdry breathable top – longsleeve, shortsleeve or 3/4 sleeve are all popular.
- Flat Soled shoes with grippy rubber sole and as rigid as possible – for use with flat pedals.
- Optional – another layer in case of colder conditions such as a windbreaker.
- Optional – chamois, a padded inner short that can be worn under baggy shorts for added comfort.
- Optional – longsleeve base layer such as a Merino top when riding in cooler conditions.
Beyond these clothing essentials mountain bikers wear some or all of the following gear:
- Helmet – either half-lid or fullface.
- Sunglasses or goggles.
- Gloves – full finger gloves provide great protection.
- Kneepads – a common painful contact point during a crash.
- A compact backpack or hip pack containing water, snacks, and bike tools / spare tube etc.
Let’s expand on what we’ve covered so far.
The Clothing Essentials:
While cross-country (XC) riders and racers often opt for form fitting Lycra clothing for the aero and heat/sweat shedding benefits, as well as weight minimisation, the majority of casual mountain bikers or riders more interested in trail riding, Enduro, or downhill typically wear knee-length baggy shorts which are reasonably breathable, and tough enough to withstand multiple crashes over time.
These riding shorts often come equipped with zip pockets to avoid losing keys and other items while riding.
The most popular types of mountain biking jerseys are made of polyester rather than cotton, to allow for sweat to wick away from the body while riding and evaporate quickly, staying feeling dry and not tending to get too smelly (within limits of course!)
They’ll also often feature a mesh fabric weave to ensure maximum breathability to help keep you cool while riding.
Other natural fabrics like Merino wool are also becoming popular for their ability to keep the rider dry and comfortable, and surprising cool in warmer conditions too.
Longsleeves obviously provide most protection from the sun, while short sleeves (or even sleeveless!) provide most cooling, at the cost of little skin protection during a crash.
3/4 sleeves offer a mix of the two, and it’s a style that has become very popular with the rise of the Enduro mountain biking scene.
The right shoes
Mountain bikers are either going to be riding clipless pedals (which ironically means your special mtb shoes clip onto the pedal), or flat pedals typically featuring grubscrews or other grippy metal pins.
For flat pedals you ideally want to wear mountain bike specific shoes like fivetens which have a more rigid platform to their construction than flexible sneakers, and perhaps more importantly have a flat and extremely tacky rubber sole, which sticks to the pedals pins far better than other casual or sports footwear.
Windbreaker or weatherproof layer
Often mountain biking involves riding out into the wilderness or other exposed remote areas for hours at a time, and if there is any chance the weather could turn you’ll want to take a windbreaker or similar layer to throw on once a cold wind picks up, or temperatures drop.
Nothing puts a damper on your fun mountain bike ride like getting freezing cold and wet while out on the trail.
Pronounced “shammy”, this padded undershort can make longer days in the saddle much more comfortable, helping prevent chaffing or pressure points leading to discomfort or saddlesores, of particular importance on all day or multi day rides.
Merino base layer or similar
A popular choice across many outdoor sports is the addition of a baselayer, usually a relatively fitted longsleeve top – these are often made of fine Merino wool.
Merino does a great job of wicking away moisture, and keeping you warm even if the fabric is wet – and perhaps surprisingly is quite pleasant to wear in warmer temperatures as well.
When combined with your other riding gear and windbreaker or other compact jacket this provides fantastic flexibility to match the conditions as you ride, from sunny to cooler or even bitterly cold fronts – keeping your ride enjoyable!
The Gear Essentials:
These range from highly vented light XC helmets with the least head coverage, to trail helmets with more solid construction and deeper coverage over back and sides of head.
At the upper end of the spectrum we have fullface helmets normally worn with goggles, providing the maximum protection to the entire head and most of the face – definitely recommended when visiting a bike park or other downhill trails.
Beyond the purpose of blocking UV light from sensitive eyes, eye protection while mountain biking goes a long way to keeping your eyes safe from stones, branches and other debris or trailside features.
This was something I learned all too quickly during one of my first forays on a downhill bike, as a hanging thin branch which I did not even see at speed hit me directly in the eye, ripping out my contact lens which thankfully spared the surface of my eye itself.
On almost every ride since I have worn either sunglasses (with interchangeable lenses for clear, colored, or dark lenses), or goggles when wearing my fullface.
While some riders prefer to go gloveless, most prefer them to help keep a solid hold of the grips and help prevent running into issues with sweat and slippery grips.
The other main benefit is the hands are usually involved in fending off the ground during a crash, and gloves help prevent too much damage to the hands when landing on stones and other rough terrain.
One of the common contact points with the ground during a crash, knees can take some painful and ride ending hits.
Kneepads come in a variety of types from very lightweight and pedal friendly through to burly downhill specific pads providing substantial protection around front and sides of the knees.
Compact backpack or hip-pack
Carrying some water, energy dense food, tools, mini pump, spare tube and keys etc is popular with a lot of riders, myself included.
I definitely find this super useful every ride, as typically I’m riding a long distance to get to the hills or bike park, and need to keep water and food intake going, or change clothing layers as the days riding goes on.
There are of course other options if you’d rather not carry anything on your back.
These include special tool mounts within the frame or headset, water bottles on the frame and a raft of ingenious ideas.
What to wear for summer riding?
Much of what we’ve covered so far is suitable for summer mountain biking wear – you just need to give emphasis to breathable clothes, wicking away that inevitable sweat and keeping you cool.
If you’re riding outside of the forest in the open you might also want to think about long sleeves for sun protection.
What to wear for winter riding?
Cold and wet conditions give us plenty of challenges on a mountain bike, not the least of which is keeping as dry and warm as possible while riding for hours in the winter elements.
Thankfully a variety of brands have us covered , particularly ones founded in regions that face challenging weather more often than not.
Endura is one brand that immediately comes to mind, which was started in Scotland , and has an awesome range of wet weather riding gear, from waterproof riding shorts, breathable rain jackets and a whole lot more.
Also worth looking at are waterproof socks or shoes if you’re going riding in some super wet conditions.
A fitted skullcap Merino beanie also goes a long way to keeping your head warm and dry under your helmet.
Insulated winter riding gloves are also available, though I tend to just use the same gloves year-round.
What to wear mountain biking at night
Most night riding does end up taking place during the winter due to limited daylight hours, and no other options for after work rides, so we can take most of the existing tips and winter riding wear suggestions , and simply add a thermal if temperatures plummet at night in your region.
I actually just got out for a night ride event at the bike park recently and had a fantastic time despite there being super cold conditions – I highly recommend you get out there if you’ve got a good set of lights for some night riding of your own!
Just keep in mind what you wear will likely change the entire experience one way or the other!