Know how to dress for mountain biking? Making sure you know what to wear mountain biking, and all the right gear and clothing for the right conditions, is absolutely crucial in.
It can be the difference between enjoying a testing three hour ride or having to turn back halfway through because you’ve not come prepared.
So, once you’ve navigated your way through the mountain bike wheel size debate, know how to buy your first mountain bike and learned how to clean a mountain bike properly it, the next question is one as old as the hills themselves: ...but what should I wear?
Of course, the answer to the question varies massively depending on what kind of mountain biking you’re going to be doing and what the weather conditions are like at the time. Let’s take a brief run-through of all the possibilities...
How to Dress Mountain Biking | What To Wear Mountain Biking - Cross-Country
Cross country mountain bikers spend as much time riding uphill as they do riding down. Riding cross country will take you across everything from singletrail to relatively rough trails to paved roads connecting the climbs and descents.
There are some things you’re going to be wearing while cross-country mountain biking no matter what the conditions. Here we’ll run through all those pieces of gear and also what you should add when the weather takes a turn for the worse.
So, here's what to wear mountain biking, or how to dress when you're riding cross-country:
Helmet: Compulsory in pretty much all organises races and an essential for general safety when you’re riding just for fun. Good cross country lids are lightweight, open-face and well-ventilated, making them more comfortable and less sweaty.
Sunglasses: Sunglasses are essential for those gloriously clear days when you’re riding into the sun, and without them not only can you strain your eyes, you can be forced into a poor riding position which can lead to further injury. The glasses are also great for stopping your eyes from watering at high speeds and preventing mud, dirt and whatever else getting into your eyes when you’re riding.
Lycra riding jersey: When it comes to the shirts and shorts of the cross-country jersey, it’s worth remembering that this is all just personal preference. If you want to head out in the comfort of an old pair of t-shirts and shorts, go for it, but many cross-country riders opt for aerodynamic lycra jerseys to minimise the wind resistance while they’re powering uphill. Lycra is designed to stretch as you move for the ultimate drag-free ride!
Lycra bib shorts: Bib shorts are the best for outright comfort when riding cross country. The padding will keep you happy on the saddle, you won’t have to yank any material up or down and you don’t have a waistband to worry about either. Just remember, if you want to get best use out of the chamois - the padding on the shorts - you should be riding commando!
Gloves: Necessary for protection, grip and comfort, a good pair of mountain bike gloves will fend off the cold winds while also protecting your hands from branches, thorns, rocks, the ground and anything else you decide to throw them at. An absolute essential.
Socks: We would recommend socks that reach up above your ankle for any form of mountain biking. It’s another piece of protection against the bumps and bangs of the trail. Tight-fitting and breathable are the other requirements.
Shoes: Shoes is another subjective area when it comes to mountain biking. There are two main options:
- Clipless: Despite being called clipless, these are shoes that actually clip into your pedal. Smoother pedalling means slightly better pedal efficiency, your position is sorted for you and you don’t have to worry about pedal slips.
- Flats: Regular shoes and regular pedals. These are good for beginners – or anyone else right up to experienced pros – who may want to put a foot down or out if they come across a gnarly trail feature at high speed, and they also teach better general positioning.
Clipless pedals are ideal for cross country riding as it optimises your pedal pushing, and you shouldn’t encounter too many obstacles that require you to get your feet down. Once you get used to clipping and unclipping on your XC bike, you won’t look back!
Some cross country riders also like to wear overshoes; which provide even more aerodynamics and keep your feet warm and protected.
Thermals: When the days get cold, it’ll be your thermals that keep you out on the trails for those extra couple of hours. Thermal cycling tights are ideal, as you can sub them in directly for your bib shorts, or you can get leg warmers or arm warmers that are easily removable which will do the job nicely.
The Jacket: Arguably the most important piece of clothing in the mountain biker’s wardrobe, during the winter at least, is the jacket. It’s got to be waterproof, it’s got to be wind resistant, it’s got to be breathable, and if it ticks all of those boxes, it’ll be the garment that keeps you crisp and dry even when it’s wet, wild and windy!
How to Dress Mountain Biking | What to Wear Mountain Biking - Trail Riding, Enduro or Downhill Riding
There’s always going to be an element of uphill riding involved in trail riding, but enduro, and particularly downhill, are a whole lot more focused on flowing through the berms, roots, rocks and obstacles on the way back down the mountain.
Because the demands of the disciplines are significantly different to those provided by cross-country, trail riding calls for more extensive safety gear and accessories, and while the downhill gang may have been wearing lycra back in the early 90s, the modern look has certainly changed since then...
So, here's what to wear mountain biking, or how to dress when you're riding the trails:
Helmet: If you’re just doing some general trail riding and not taking on anything too savage, an open face helmet should be more than enough for your riding needs. If you’re getting serious and taking on dirt jumps or gnarly downhill tracks though, you’re going to want a full face helmet for extra protection.
Sunglasses or Goggles: As you’ll likely be flying down the trail and through the mud faster than those riding cross-country bikes, goggles are recommended for downhillers and those wearing full face helmets. Avoid the taboo of wearing goggles with an open-face mask though and stick to the sunglasses if you’re not rocking the full face!
Riding jersey: Trail riding jerseys are all lightweight and all breathable... But never lycra! Whether it’s a riding t-shirt or something with longer sleeves, you’ll find these are loose, breathable, often inspired by the bright colours of motocross, and an awful lot easier on the eye.
Riding shorts: Again, avoid lycra here. Trail riding shorts tend to be looser and baggier while maintaining the breathability and padding inside to keep things comfortable. You can also get trail riding trousers which fulfil the same requirements.
Body armour: Body armour comes in various shapes and sizes, from the full on “stormtrooper" set up of shin pads, knee pads and full upper body protection to lighter, more discreet upper body armour and simple knee and elbow pads.
The heavy duty armour is more for downhill, while anything less is commonly seen on the trails, particularly some form of light elbow and knee protection. We should also note that it’s a bit of a cultural taboo to wear body armour on top of your riding clothes in mountain biking, so avoid if possible!
Gloves: Even more essential for maintaining grip and avoiding injury than they are for cross-country!
Socks: Again, above ankle and tight fitting is ideal.
Shoes: While clipless is preferred by a lot of trail riders, there are still many including top professionals who swear by flat pedals. If you’re just getting started in trail riding, we’d recommend flats as they teach you more lessons and give you more chance of escaping injury!
Thermals: Standard, breathable, marino wool base layers will work well here for ensuring you stay at the right temperature while remaining comfy, and removable leg and arm warmers are also good.
Breathable jacket: Say it with us: lightweight, waterproof, wind resistant, breathable! Check, check, check, check. This is an essential for the wet and windy trails!
For both cross country and trail riding, you should also bring a suitable, lightweight mountain bike rucksack or hydration pack with you that’s well fitted, and stack it with a spare inner tube and a multi-tool so you're always prepared.
This will give you room to carry those base layers and jackets should they be needed, give you somewhere to store the dirty gear after your ride and even provide you with some back protection should you take a tumble on the trails.