There is no shortage of barriers to entry when it comes to cycling—which for the purposes of this discussion, we’ll define as riding a bike for riding’s sake, not just riding to get from A to B. There’s the bike, which can easily approach used car level prices and require a mechanic’s mentality to take care of (or more cash to have it done by professionals). Then there’s the fitness. Tackling rides in the 50-100 mile category requires some serious stamina and there is no more humiliating feeling than having to come off of the saddle to walk your bike on a killer climb. Last, but not least, there’s the spandex. So much spandex.
If you can get past all that, it is worth it. The challenge, fun, and overall experience of a great ride is tough to beat. You’re not going as fast as a car, so you can really soak in the scenery and be present in a place. You’re also not going as slow as a runner, so you don’t get stuck looking at the same tree for 30 minutes. Cycling also tends to be a much more social activity than other athletic pursuits. There’s usually coffee before the ride and a beer after.
But back to the spandex. Unless you have a Hemsworth-brother physique, throwing on a pair of cycling bibs and a jersey is going to make you at least a little self-conscious. But here’s the thing about cycling apparel: It works. Function trumps form in this case. You do not want to be out for a multi-hour ride with out a comfortable chamois protecting your junk. And when you are desperate for that energy gel or water bottle, you don’t want your hand to be swimming around in a jersey’s too-deep pocket as you try to fish it out.
Form doesn’t have to completely get shafted, though. In recent years, as cycling has been embraced by a cooler crowd and not just a bunch of carbon-fiber obsessed hedge funders trying to buy the world’s most expensive bicycle, new apparel brands have come to life with a more refined aesthetic that mirrors what discerning guys are wearing in their non-cycling lives. So if watching the Tour de France has you yearning to push the pedal to the asphalt, these brands will keep you looking sharp along the way.
Started in 2004, London-based Rapha was one of the first brands to bring elevated taste and design sensibility to cycling clothes. The jerseys and bibs all had a clean, minimal aesthetic instead of a bunch of loud graphics. It was a style that harkened back to those worn by cyclists in the first half of the 20th century. But it wasn’t just about looks. Rapha gear is built to perform on the toughest of rides, which is why it’s worn by the cyclists on Team Sky in the Tour de France.
Started in San Francisco by a former bike messenger, Cadence’s original claim to fame was inventing denim designed specifically for cyclists. Since then the brand has evolved to also offer more performance-oriented attire that still incorporates a punk rock approach, such as a jersey featuring work from noted skateboard artist Todd Bratrud.
3. MASH SF
San Francisco-based Mash was one of the first to start putting out videos about fixed gear cycling in the mid 2000s that rivaled the raw spirit of the best skate videos. Since then the brand has matured but that spirit remains firmly in tact. Mash has expanded from urban fixed gear riding into cyclocross and regulary collaborates with Italian bike builder Cinelli on some of the freshest-looking frames out there. The company also works with artists like Erik Otto to create cycling kits in conjunction with Castelli. The jerseys, bibs, and accessories always manage to catch your eye without being overly loud.
With a cheekiness that is uniquely Australian, Attaquer brings a streetwear mentality to cycling gear. These are definitely for the rider who wants to stand out from the pack (or peloton as the case may be). It’s more Adidas Yeezy Boost 750s than Adidas Stan Smith, but fortune favors the bold and Attaquer’s designs are certainly bold. They are artistic and cool as well, just know that if you show up to a group ride in one of these kits, you better be able to throw the hammer down.
5. TENSPEED HERO tenspeedhero.com
Just for the awesome name alone, Tenspeed Hero deserves a spot on this list. The Chicago brand has established itself for its colorful and interestingly patterned apparel. (It’s also been called the “Aperol spritz of cycling wearables,” and while I have no idea what that metaphor means I still like it.) The gear tends to skew a bit younger and it’s easy to see a hipster appeal. But it also just comes across as fun, which is a spirit that should never be lost in cycling, or any sport for that matter.
6. SEARCH AND STATE
Manufactured in New York City’s Garment District, Search and State has a well-curated line of cycling apparel. They don’t make a lot of stuff, they just make the right stuff. Every detail down to the zipper on a jersey (Search and State’s are made by premium zipper company Riri) is sweated over to make sure it serves a purpose. And anything that doesn’t serve a purpose is quickly jettisoned.
7. MANUAL FOR SPEED
If people pay attention to professional cycling at all, it’s to the Tour de France and not much else. But Manual For Speed celebrates the stories of pro cycling at all levels all over the world. They also produce, in collaboration with Castelli, some of the best tongue-in-cheek cycling kits you’ve ever seen. One recent MFS kit is inspired by the movie Tron. You’ll either love it or hate it, which is just how Manual For Speed wants it. We happen to love it, especially the blacked-out crotch.