Can You Wear Lycra/Spandex on a Mountain Bike?

Mountain biking is a rugged sport that requires endurance, agility, and passion.

It’s a great hobby if you want to shed a few pounds, see the sights, and keep your heart healthy!

Group mountain biking is also one of the most popular outdoor activities for friends, families, and Sunday clubs!

However, bikers need more than their willing minds and bodies to maximize their experience. Proper equipment plays a critical role in your overall performance.

If you already have your mountain bike and helmet ready, ensure your clothes are equally suitable for your next ride!

Read on if the sport is something you picked up recently and want to know more about its basics and how you can improve your game.

Can I Wear Lycra for Mountain Biking?

mountain biking suits

Yes, it’s best to wear clothes made of lycra for mountain biking activities.

Most athletes prefer lycra, often called spandex or elastane.

It isn’t exclusive to bikers either. It’s also used for swimming, diving, running, skiing, and other sports.

It’s stretchable, durable, and lightweight, and despite all its versatility, lycra remains fairly affordable.

Cyclists are advised to wear lycra for four main reasons:

  1. Fit
  2. Technicality
  3. Aerodynamics
  4. Aesthetics

Below we will discuss each of lycra’s admirable properties listed above.

Fit: Why Lycra Fits Better Than Most Fabrics

lycra fabrics

Before buying your bike or helmet, you must have put it on or ridden it first. Why? We test-drive different things to see if they are a good fit.

Like most things, how your kit fits are essential.

  • Lycra hugs the body nicely without cutting circulation off anywhere.
  • Its skin-tight fit provides fewer gaps or space between the skin and fabric to catch or get caught in any of your bicycle’s moving components, such as chains or pedals.
  • Most cyclists consider spandex a second skin, with its tight fit still providing breathability and stretchability.

It is ill-advised to wear anything too loose or too tight when cycling.

  • Fabrics that are too loose increase wind resistance and reduce speed.
  • Materials that are too tight may decrease wind resistance, but it also reduces a cyclist’s flexibility.

It is also dangerous to wear something that hinders blood circulation, especially during activities that increase heart rate and blood flow.

It can lead to cramps and shortness of breath. It negatively impacts your blood pressure, which can domino into worse health conditions later.

While these are the risks you face wearing things that are too tight, don’t let that deter you from wearing lycra or spandex.

Clothing made of lycra isn’t constricting, provided you get it in the correct size.

Remember, opting for baggy or loose clothing can affect your performance and safety.

Clothes that aren’t tailor-made for riding, such as cotton, don’t dissipate waste-heat appropriately. It can lock in the heat your body is expelling, causing more moisture.

cotton fabrics

Cotton retains moisture instead of allowing droplets to bead off it, like fabrics made from rubber compounds.

They may provide more breathability, but they possess counter-productive factors that are discouraged by professional cycling committees, including the Union Cyclists Internationale (UCI).

In fact, there are more “technical rules” out there you should know.

In case you want to join the pros and participate in commissioned events, you should familiarize yourself with them.

Technicality: Are There Cycling-Specific Clothing Commissioned By Officials?

Yes, there are things like “UCI-compliant” clothing you will have to observe during commissioned events, like Tour de France and other events that offer prizes.

“UCI-compliant” clothing

However, if you aren’t riding professionally, you could observe them anyway for a better overall riding experience. These guidelines are in place for a reason, after all.

You can leisurely ride in whatever clothing you want.

You can ride bear-bottom if you want, especially up on a mountain where no one would see you!

Still, there are official guidelines that can help you ride more efficiently and safely.

While they vary, here are some of the most common professional rules for shorts and jerseys (which are preferable for professional races):

  • Must be explicitly made for cycling.
  • Must provide the cyclist with sufficient flexibility.
  • In-seam must have padding, cushioning, or come in a thicker texture.
  • Must provide riders with friction and moisture resistance.

Why Should I Abide By Their Criteria for My Clothing? 

cyclist’s clothing

It isn’t illegal to bypass these guidelines on your personal rides. Besides wearing a helmet, there aren’t Federal laws that strictly regulate a cyclist’s clothing.

Local ordinances and Federal laws aren’t keen on regulating how cyclists dress, as long as it doesn’t affect other motorists on the road.

If you ride your bike dressed in highly distracting or potentially view-obstructing clothing, you may be stopped by law enforcement.

The authorities will only stop you if you wear something that potentially poses a threat to yourself or others.

However, this may vary per county. Your area might not be as strict about Distracted Driving laws, but it’s always best you check relevant regulations before road riding.

In states like Pennsylvania and Wyoming, bikers are legally required to wear reflective (HI-VIS) clothing at night. It would be a good idea to wear it on darker mountain sides as well.

cycling reflective (HI-VIS) clothing

However, you should limit its use to nighttime and areas with lower light (rural areas), especially if they are unnecessarily distracting.

Outside of commissioned events, there aren’t any legal reasons pushing cyclists to abide by any clothing criteria.

It is best to abide by them for your safety and other practical reasons.

Practicability includes efficiency, and quality lycra helps provide you with more riding efficiency than any other fabric.

Aerodynamics: How Can Lycra Help Me Ride More Efficiently?

Cycling Jerseys Men Short Sleeve Biking Shorts Clothing Pants Bicycle Jacket Outfit
Click image for more info

In cycling, especially during races, aerodynamics plays a huge role!

Cyclists use many techniques to ride more efficiently. Techniques such as regulating peddling to help conserve energy. However, it is always best to wear proper gear to really optimize efficiency.

Aerodynamics measures the interaction of air movement and the objects that pass through it.

The surface of objects breaks through the air, and depending on its surface area (SA), provides greater or lesser wind resistance when breaking through; the lesser the area of an object that is passed through the wind, the faster it goes.

It’s why you see cyclists duck down to increase their speed.

Wearing clothes or anything else that increases your surface area in the slightest can significantly impact how aerodynamic you are, decreasing your overall riding efficiency.

Wear body-fit or skintight clothing that clings to your body sufficiently to minimize wind resistance and maximize aerodynamic functions.

If lycra’s more favorable functions aren’t enough to convince you, did we mention it helps show off your muscles?

That’s right. Lycra’s body-hugging quality makes it comfortable yet aesthetically pleasing.

You can show off all your best features without compromising comfort and safety.

Aesthetic & Aerodynamic Clothing

Although lycra is great looking on the body, we all know its aesthetics are secondary to the aerodynamic function it provides.

lycra clothing - aesthetic & aerodynamic clothing

Luckily, cyclists rarely have to choose between style and comfort in opting for lycra clothing.

The flexibility and durability of the fabric allow manufacturers to come up with various styles in plenty of colors.

If you look at Souke Sports’ selection, you will see just how versatile lycra can be.

Souke Sports Men’s 4D Cycling Shorts  are form-fitting and stylish. They come with padded lining that helps protect sensitive areas.

Souke Sports Men’s 4D Cycling Shorts
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The Souke shorts also come with a chamois sewn in, so it’s ready to wear for leisure and competitive riding. While it’s all black, its accent lining comes in various colors.

Ladies have more options to choose from, with more manufacturers coming out with various colors, prints, and designs.

Baleaf’s Ladies 4D Compression Cycling Shorts  provide more stylish options for spandex. They also help prevent chafing from excessive moisture build-up.

Baleaf’s Ladies 4D Compression Cycling Shorts
Click image for more info

Women must have sufficient moisture and heat resistance between their legs, where thinner skin is prone to breakage, risking different infections.

While we’re sure you already know, it merits repeating:

  •  Aerodynamics and functional features are more important than how clothes look.

Fashionistas need not worry! You rarely have to choose between the two. Prominent brands provide users the opportunity to have both, so you never have to trade one in for the other.

Where Can I Get Good Cycling Clothing?

We have mentioned a couple of reliable and affordable brands already, but there are many more with great options out there.

Take a look at Sigr, POC, Giro, and Bernard.

Sigr and POC  are produced in Sweden, but you can purchase them online.

Sigr Cycling Clothing 2019 - Eurobike 2018

Giro and Bernard are also available online and you can spend less for their shipping as they are both locally manufactured in the US.

Giro MTB Apparel: Ride

You can visit Giro’s main brick-and-mortar shop in Santa Cruz, California! It has shops nationwide, and you can hop on the store locator on their website to find the one nearest you.

While you explore each of their options, just remember the basics:

  • Buy them in the correct size.
  • Don’t put aesthetics at the top of your priority list.
  • Opt for clothes that provide sufficient cushioning, preferably with a sewn-in chamois.
  • Remember, tight is good, but suffocating is not.
  • Never wear baggy clothes for long rides.
  • You can wear loose clothing, but it will use up more of your energy over time.
  • Cotton isn’t suitable for races, as it retains moisture.
  • Too much moisture on your clothes weighs you down and reduces your speed.

Pro-Tip

More prominent brands hold themselves accountable for factory defects and often sell clothes with warranties.

While these money-back guarantees are limited, it is still better than getting stuck with products with holes in them.

Knock-off lycra shorts that cost a few dollars may be tempting, but they might not be 100% spandex.

Please don’t wait until race day to figure this out.

Final Mile

Remember, buy nice, so you don’t have to buy twice.

Don’t settle for cheaper equipment that might hinder your performance.

Lycra is one of the better racing and rough-trail riding materials.

Still, there are mixed-rubber fabrics of inferior quality that may be sold as “spandex” on the market, so always choose kits from reputable manufacturers.

You aren’t only paying for the name, contrary to popular belief. You are paying for durability, quality, and aesthetically-pleasing clothes.

While branded options come at higher prices, they may also come with a warranty. Clothes don’t always come out perfect during fabrication.

Brands like Assos (Mille series) and Rapha (CORE collection) are pretty much the top-of-the-line options for cycling shorts.

Still, plenty of more affordable options for cycling shorts and bibs provide the same outstanding quality lycra.

We think the

Pearl Izumi Bib  is a decent place to start if you want to dress like the pros!

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