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How to Get a Complete, Comfortable Cycling Outfit for Under $300

As if getting a $1000 bike isn’t bad enough, you then have to buy clothing and accessories!

A cool jersey to keep you comfortable? Just $35. Special shoes just for riding? Those are usually $150 or more. A helmet to keep you safe? Another $100, if you don’t mind!

Bib shorts to safeguard your nether regions? Can’t skimp there, so you better shell out $120. Can’t forget socks, either. Those will be $10 per pair!

It all adds up to more than the cost of your bike!

It’s never going to be cheap, but there is one simple rule that lets you make the most of your money – Spend money only where it matters.

See, some items are absolutely essential, while others are just nice to have. So here’s your guide on where to spend and where to save:

sidi cycling shoes

Cycling Shoes

When you make the jump to clipless pedals, proper cycling shoes become a very important part of your wardrobe. At upwards of $200, they could easily be the most expensive item you buy. But look on the bright side – a good pair of road cycling shoes from a brand like Sidi will easily last 10 years or longer! (So it’s worthwhile to buy the best shoes you can afford.)

My first recommendation is to buy your shoes at a bike shop where you can actually try on different models and sizes to find the perfect fit.

Expect to pay $50 to $100 for low- to mid-level shoes, but there are some very good shoes in the $150 region. At around $220 and up, the shoes are awesome.

For the sole, you want something stiff, typically nylon or carbon fiber. Make sure the shoe’s sole does not bend like a running shoe would do.

For the upper, I recommend a shoe composed of Lorica and/or mesh. Lorica is a synthetic material that is tougher and more supple than leather, and it’s very easy to maintain. Some mesh vents will aid in comfort on hot days.

For the closures, you’ll want Velcro straps and/or ratchet closures. These are quick to get started and easy to adjust on-the-fly. I would definitely avoid shoes with laces!

(Tip: If you have a good idea of what shoe you want and are looking for a supreme deal, keep an eye on Sierra Trading Post – they have some good shoes for 50% off, if the size is right.)

cycling socks

Socks

Compared to regular socks, cycling socks are ridiculously expensive – about $10 per pair!

You don’t need cycling socks though. You just need athletic socks.

To save money here, just look at your local discount store to find some athletic socks on sale. These should be about 80% polyester and look nice and stretchy, like the expensive socks.

I usually find 3-packs of athletic socks on sale for $3. $1 per pair sure beats $10 per pair!

You will be fine if you follow this one golden rule: avoid cotton socks!

voler bib shorts

Bib Shorts

Next, you are going to need a pair of cycling shorts. These are the most important piece of clothing for comfort in the saddle!

The main difference between cycling shorts and regular spandex shorts is the pad in the crotch, called the chamois. That little pad makes a huge difference in comfort when out on the bike.

But you can’t get just any shorts. You want bib shorts, which are the shorts that look like they have suspenders on them. Trust me, they are way more comfy than regular shorts, and they solve the issue of Plumber’s Crack!

Prices on these shorts will range from $40 to $240 each, so plan to spend $40 to $70 per pair.

Here are your options for budget shorts that are still nice:

Nashbar bibs. At $40 regularly (but get them on sale,) they’re fine for starters. They aren’t great, but they’re infinitely more comfy than jean shorts!

Performance Bike elite bib shorts. For $60-70, these are actually really good shorts that have won Bicycling’s editor’s choice award.

Voler bibs. If you sign-up for email updates from VeloWear.com, you will have the chance to get some Voler bib shorts for about $55. These are a good short at a great price.

The other option again goes back to Sierra Trading Post. Sometimes they have expensive name brand bibs like Castelli on sale for $40.

performance classic jersey

Cycling Jersey

The cycling jersey can be found in shops for $35 to $120, and while it’s an important part of your outfit, you can get by with a cheap jersey.

There are two things you want from a jersey: comfort, and pockets. Even cheap jerseys are fairly comfortable (i.e. they wick sweat away) and have the standard three rear pockets (for carrying a spare tube and some food.)

That makes this a great place to save money. The majority of my jerseys are either Performance Bike or Nashbar brand, purchased on sale for $15-20 each.

I highly recommend Performance Bike jerseys, like the Classic jersey for $30 (which can be found on sale for $20.)

arm warmers

Arm Warmers

Arm warmers are basically long sleeves that aren’t attached to a shirt. Putting them on will instantly convert your short sleeve jersey into a long sleeve jersey for those cooler days!

These are not necessary by any means, but they come in handy for cool days, and they are a much better investment than long sleeve jerseys.

Arm warmers can be found on sale for $15 or so – check Nashbar polypro arm warmers and Voler arm warmers.

pearl izumi cycling gloves

Gloves

Gloves aren’t required, but most people will find that they increase comfort. They are also important for safety purposes, since they prevent scraped palms when you fall.

Gloves are easy to find on sale for $10-17, and they usually last a few years. Try PricePoint first, but even Performance Bike and Nashbar have good sales sometimes.

Look for light weight, good palm padding, ventilation, and a terry cloth thumb (for wiping sweat from your brow and snot from your nose.)

I’m a big fan of AXO gloves for mountain biking, and Adidas or Pearl Izumi gloves for road biking.

tifosi sunglasses

Sunglasses

Sunglasses are a crucial element of the cycling kit, as eye protection is very important. However, it’s not necessary to get $300 sunglasses from Oakley or Rudy Project. Those glasses provide great performance if you can afford them, but a cheap pair will provide similar eye protection.

Nashbar brand sunglasses can be found for $20, and sometimes name brand glasses (such as Bolle or Tifosi) can be found for $50 or less. Be sure to get a pair with multiple lenses, such as clear, brown, and smoke.

(See my sunglasses lens color choices article for more advice.)

bike helmet

Helmet

Again, safety is of the utmost importance, so I suggest getting a helmet to protect against head injuries.

Luckily, all helmets sold in the USA have to meet the same safety standards. That means a $30 helmet will protect your head as well as (if not better than) a $250 Giro Ionos like the pros wear.

The differences in price are due to style and ventilation mostly. Expensive helmets usually have cool carbon accents that look nice, lots of vents to keep you cool, and perhaps better straps for a little more comfort.

When I started racing, I got a $150 Giro Boreas (top of the line) helmet for just $50, since I got a red one on closeout. (White, gray, and black helmets usually get sold fast, then the other colors might go on sale pretty cheap.)

However you do it, you can stick with a helmet for $40-50 and you’ll be fine – plenty safe, and still stylish (even if it’s pink and turquoise.)

 

On a strict budget?

If you follow my advice, you can get a great cycling outfit at a decent price.

But if you are on a very strict budget, here is how I would allocate it to get your entire outfit for under $300…

Shoes – $90
Socks – $3
Bib shorts – $65
Jersey – $30
Gloves – $20
Sunglasses – $30
Helmet – $60

That’s a grand total of $298. (And yes, I factored shipping and handling into some of those prices.)

It doesn’t get much cheaper for a complete kit. You could probably cut that down to $200 if you try, but I think this is a good compromise.

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4 Comments
  1. Remember that you don’t have to buy all of this at once. Shoes, socks, gloves and helmet are what I consider the essentials for a starting rider. The bibs and jersey’s can be brought as you go along, you’ll just end up washing your first jersey and bibs a lot. The arm and leg warmers can be brought when it starts to get cold. As for sun glasses, a cheap pair will work until you can get some that fit. I still don’t have any since I have to wear prescription lenses.

  2. @Ed

    Yeah, I started with very few cycling-specific items and used stuff I already owned, like work gloves, cotton socks, etc.

    But it wasn’t long before I got sick of gently hand washing my only pair of cycling shorts every single night!

  3. Aerotech has some great and extreemly affordable ‘made in america’ cyclewear and also offers jerseys,bibs and shorts in sizes for larger folks.

  4. @Rich

    Aerotech is great because they’re based in Pennsylvania! (Like me!)

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coach levi
Hi, I'm Coach Levi. I'm a USA Cycling Certified Level 3 Coach as well as Level 1 Certified with Precision Nutrition. Want to feel better, ride faster, and look great? Let's work together!

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