So you've bought a used road bike (or you’re about to). Good for you! Hopefully, you’ll be out on the open road soon, enjoying miles and miles of fun. But before you set off, there are a few essential pieces of equipment that you need.
It doesn’t matter if you’re a beginner or a seasoned pro, good riding gear is key to enjoying road cycling. Proper road cycling apparel is designed to make riding more pleasant by keeping you cool and comfortable for long stints in the saddle. Certain gear can even enhance your performance, letting you go faster and farther.
This list aims to simplify the process of building up your gear collection by explaining the essentials. You'll not only look the part but have more fun and be ready to go on long-distance adventures, jump in group rides, or conquer your daily commute. This is the gear every road cyclist needs to keep in their closet.
If you’re curious about road cycling and want to learn more about the different bikes, riding styles, and tech available, check out our detailed Road Bike Buyer’s Guide.
It goes without saying: Protect your head! Helmet use reduces the odds of head injury by 50 percent, and the odds of head, face, or neck injury by 33 percent [www.helmets.org]. A good helmet should always be your first purchase. Ideally, we’d never fall off our bikes, but sometimes you can’t control everything that happens out on the road. If the worst happens, a helmet can save your head and even your life. Modern helmets are lighter, well-ventilated, safer, and better looking than ever. There’s no reason not to wear one.
What kind of helmet should you get?
In general, road cycling helmets are sleek, lightweight, and don’t have a visor. Helmets with visors are more common for mountain biking or commuter helmets made for casual riding. There is a style element to not having a visor on a road bike, but visorless helmets are preferred for a couple of reasons. Because you ride at high speeds on a road bike, you don’t want a visor to affect the aerodynamic efficiency or the stability of your head in the wind. Visors can also obstruct your vision in the lower riding position used by most road bikes.
Can you still use a helmet with a visor for road cycling? Sure. There are no rules governing style (despite what you might read on the Internet). If aerodynamics aren’t a concern to you, or if your position is upright, or if you just like the way it looks, by all means, rock the visor!
Standard road cycling helmets prioritize ventilation and light weight to help keep your head cool and comfortable. Standard road helmets are easy to find and will be useful for a variety of riding styles ranging from road racing, to long-distance touring, to gravel and cross-country mountain biking.
The POC Octal Aero has limited vents to make it more aerodynamic.
In the last decade, aero helmets have also become a popular option. Aerodynamic experts agree that the rider’s head is one of the biggest sources of aerodynamic drag. Aero helmets use smooth, streamlined shapes that are tested in wind tunnels to help riders cut through the wind more efficiently. This matters to competitive riders and racers seeking marginal gains to improve their performance. The downside is that most aero helmets prioritize aerodynamic efficiency over ventilation and weight. This might be uncomfortable on hot days, but some riders are fine sacrificing comfort for more speed.
What is MIPS?
You might notice that newer helmets use MIPS technology. MIPS (Multi-directional Impact Protection System) is a low-friction “slip-plane” layer added to the inside of a helmet. It reduces the rotational impact by allowing the helmet to rotate 10-15mm on your head during a crash. This can reduce harmful forces transmitted to the brain.
MIPS is a personal choice. There are studies supporting the effectiveness of MIPS, and as a rider who has suffered for years from the effects of concussion, I always ride in MIPS helmets to reduce my risk of further injury. But some riders feel that the MIPS layer detracts from the fit of helmets, or that it’s not worth the additional cost and weight.
MIPS is the most popular technology used by many reputable helmet brands, but there are a few alternatives like POC’s SPIN Technology, Bontrager WaveCel, and Leatt Turbine. The goal of all these technologies is to reduce rotational impact to protect your brain.
2. Cycling kit
You’ll see everyone from professional racers to casual weekend riders wearing what is called a “kit” while riding. A kit consists of two pieces — a jersey and bib shorts. Though not always made of lycra material, many riders will also refer to cycling kits as “lycra.” Kits are light, breathable, and designed for hard pedaling. They’re made of synthetic materials that dry quickly and stretch to move with you on the bike.
Newer riders might be intimidated by the snug fit of cycling kits, but rest assured, you don’t want excess material that can get in the way, rub moving body parts, snag parts of your bike, or flap in the wind. A trim kit will make you slightly more comfortable when pedaling, as if you're wearing nothing at all.
Kits come in different fits ranging from super-tight “race” fits to more relaxed “club” fits that will suit different needs and preferences. If you’re more self-conscious about riding in a snug kit, there’s nothing wrong with wearing regular shorts over cycling shorts. This will still give you the benefits of the padded chamois.
The biggest benefit of cycling-specific shorts and bib shorts is the addition of a padded chamois sewn into the bottom of the shorts. A good chamois will relieve pressure and increase comfort on your bike saddle. If you plan on riding regularly or doing long-distance rides, padded cycling shorts are essential. If you can only afford part of a kit, make it the shorts.
There is a difference between “shorts” and “bib shorts.” Shorts are held up with elastic around the waistband. Bib shorts use straps that go over the rider’s shoulders. Shorts will generally be less expensive than bib shorts and easier to put on and take off. Generally, bib shorts are more comfortable because there’s no elastic to dig into your waist when riding. Choosing between the two is largely personal preference. Most dedicated and performance-oriented cyclists will choose the increased comfort of good bib shorts.
If you don't know already, don't wear underwear under your cycling shorts! Cycling shorts are designed to be used alone as a single layer and the padded chamois is most effective when it is against your skin. This provides the most comfort and prevents chaffing. If you need even more chafe protection, chamois creams are available to enhance your comfort even more.
Cycling jerseys pair with shorts to complete the kit. Road cycling jerseys use zippers that allow you to easily put on and remove tight jerseys, and to unzip to increase airflow on hot days.
Storage pockets located on the lower back are one of the jersey's key benefits. Traditionally, there will be three side-by-side pockets that allow you to carry your phone, food, tools, or any other essentials. Placing pockets on the lower back prevents items from interfering with your legs or arms as you pedal and it makes them easy to access from the riding position.
The cycling kit is the base for all other cycling apparel. As you ride more, you’ll come to understand what additional pieces you need for your local climate. If you need more warmth, you can add arm and leg warmers, vests, and jackets to your kit. If you’re riding in a hot climate and need more sweat control, many riders swear by adding a moisture-wicking baselayer beneath their jersey to improve cooling.
3. Clipless shoes and pedals
If you’ve been researching road cycling, you’ve probably come across clipless pedals or the term “clipping in.” If you’re looking to get more serious about road cycling as a sport, clipless pedals are worth considering.
The naming convention may be confusing. You “clip in” and "clip out" of “clipless” pedals. The clipless name came about because competitive riders in the past relied on toe-clips to keep their feet attached to their pedals — a small cage with straps. The first modern pedals came out in the ‘80s and used a cleat that locked into a binding-like mechanism on the pedal. Because these pedals kept your feet attached without toe-clips, they were called “clipless.”
Clipless pedals improve efficiency, allowing you to apply power throughout your entire pedal stroke. The majority of your power will come on the downstroke when you push on the pedals, but you’ll also be able to apply some power as your foot moves through the horizontal and upward portions of the pedal stroke. This lets riders “spin” rather than “mash,” which is a more efficient way to ride (and it’s better for sensitive joints).
Clipless pedals require a clipless shoe to function. These shoes have a compatible cleat bolted to the sole. This cleat clips into the clipless pedal and is retained by the binding of the pedal. Compared to flat pedals, clipless turns your entire shoe into a stiff pedaling platform. For road cycling, this will improve power transfer and foot comfort.
Plus, clipless pedals and shoes ensure consistent foot placement on the pedals. With a clipless pedal, you clip in, and your foot is in the same place every time, and it stays there.
Modern clipless pedals come in a variety of styles. For road cycling, most riders will choose road-specific pedals that have a wide platform for good power transfer and require a road specific shoe with no lugs for walking. It’s still easy to walk in road cycling-specific shoes, but traction will be limited if you have the desire to run or venture off-road in your shoes. Plus, these pedals are usually single-sided.
Riders who want a bit more versatility can look to dual-sided mountain bike clipless pedals and shoes. These are designed around smaller cleats that can be recessed between shoe lugs that allow for easier walking. This style of clipless pedal and shoe is popular for gravel and cyclocross riding as well.
There is a small learning curve to riding in clipless pedals. It’s a rite of passage for newer riders to tip over at a stop sign or light after forgetting to unclip. Often, you do it once, and you never forget to unclip again.
If you’re more comfortable riding in flats and regular shoes, that fine! Ride what you like. But if you start doing longer, harder rides, clipless shoes and pedals can greatly improve your experience.
Sunglasses not only protect your eyes from harmful UV rays, but also from dust, bugs, and other debris kicked up by bikes and cars that can injure your eyes. Also, due to the speed of road cycling, your eyes can get dried-out and irritated without glasses.
You don’t need cycling-specific glasses, but they have convenient features like interchangeable lenses for different light conditions, and a tight, sporty fit so they stay put. Some high-end glasses also have lenses designed to improve clarity, enhance your vision, and accentuate debris, cracks, and undulations in the road like Oakley’s Prizm series.
5. Bottles and cages
Backpack-style hydration packs worn by runners and mountain bikers aren’t as popular in road cycling. Most road riders prefer their back pockets for storage and also like to have their backs ventilated for better cooling.
Road bikes have bottle cage mounts on the inside of the front triangle. Most bikes can carry at least two bottles, which should be sufficient for most rides in the 1-4 hour range. Get two bottles and two cages for your new bike. If you buy a bike from The Pro's Closet, we include a free bottle so you're halfway there! If you need more water, you can also carry a third bottle in your middle jersey pocket. Colorful cages and bottles are also a great way to personalize the look of your bike.
Gloved or gloveless, it's up to you, but try riding with them first.
Our instincts compel us to extend our hands when we fall. This makes your hands one of the most vulnerable parts of your body during a crash. Hopefully, you don’t fall, But if you do, gloves will keep you from skinning your palms if you hit the deck.
Cycling-specific gloves have very thin leather or synthetic palms that afford dexterity and feel without sacrificing protection. They will provide more grip and control, especially with sweaty hands. Most riders choose to ride in cooler fingerless gloves during the hot months and warmer full-finger or thermal gloves in the cold months. The backside of cycling gloves are breathable and often have an absorbent wipe around the thumb useful for wiping off sweat or your nose.
Some gloves feature gel inserts on the palms to relieve pressure and increase comfort. This can be useful for riders with hand pain, numbness issues, or anyone doing long rides on rough roads. Gel inserts aren't for everyone, so you might have to experiment with different glove options to find the right pair.
Experienced riders sometimes choose to ride without gloves. For some, it just feels better, and others think it's stylish. I recommend that all newer riders start out riding with gloves just for the added protection. I’ve crashed plenty of times, and gloves have helped save my skin every time.
7. Flat kit
You’re sure to encounter a flat tire eventually. Glass, sharp stones, thorns, and other road debris can ruin your ride if you don’t have a flat kit at the ready. A flat kit doesn’t have to be big or elaborate. Most spares and tools can be strapped to your bike using a small saddlebag. Some riders simply carry their flat kit in their jersey pockets.
Tubeless tires are much less prone to punctures, and they often seal small punctures with sealant. Most road bikes, however, come with traditional clincher tires and inflated rubber inner tubes. If this inner tube is punctured, you will have to replace or patch it to continue riding. Tubeless tires that are unable to seal themselves will also require an inner tube.
This instructional video from Park Tool explains how to change a flat. A basic flat kit consists of at least one spare inner tube and an inflation device. If you struggle with removing and installing tires by hand, a tire lever can help. The Inflation device can be either a compact hand pump or a CO2 inflation device. CO2 is popular because it’s compact and quick. Some riders prefer small pumps for their reusability and reliability. For longer rides or bad roads, you might want to carry two tubes. But most riders will carry just one to avoid the added bulk. A basic kit like this can be left on your bike and is ready when you need it.
A small multitool is a good addition to your kit. Use it to adjust any of the components on your bike mid-ride. At a bare minimum, a multitool should include:
These four bits will be enough to fit most of the hardware found on a road bike. You will be able to perform basic repairs like straightening your handlebars, adjusting your levers, and adjusting your derailleurs.
A more complete multitool might include more bits or a small chain-breaker in case you need to remove broken links from a chain. A spare quick-link for your chain can also save your ride.
What essential road biking gear did I miss? What can’t you ride without? Let us know in the comments!