Cycling Apparel to Keep You Cool on Hot Rides
When it comes to summer spins, a light, breathable kit can make all the difference
Heading out the door? Read this article on the new Outside+ app available now on iOS devices for members! Download the app.
My first cycling jersey was a Team PDM replica from Ultima. I knew next to nothing about cycling gear; I just thought it looked good on Sean Kelly. But the first time I wore it on a hot day, I began to realize its shortcomings. The thick, densely knit synthetic fabric that felt so luxurious on the clothes rack soaked up sweat and felt hotter and heavier than chainmail. And whatever designer thought a quarter-length zipper was enough ventilation for summer should be consigned to wear it while climbing Tuscon’s Mount Lemmon at midday in July.
I’m a proponent of the maxim that all clothing is cycling clothing. At the same time, it’s undeniable that hot-weather gear makes summer rides far more pleasant. I tend to manage by riding early in the morning when it’s cool. But that’s not always an option. Thankfully, a number of cycling apparel brands think differently than the sadist who created that old PDM jersey. There are now a number of pieces designed expressly for high summer.
Here is my ideal hot-weather riding wardrobe for road and mountain (most of these pieces come in both men’s and women’s versions). Some are in my own gear closet and have stood up to extensive use. Others are simply ones that I’ve been eyeing, based on 25 years of testing experience. All of them are suited for hard rides in hot weather.
Rapha Pro Team Flyweight Bib Shorts ($215)
These aptly named bibs are made from a sheer body fabric and treated with Schoeller’s UV-reflecting Coldblack to reduce heat buildup. The suspenders are a fine, lightweight mesh that won’t hold onto sweat, and the chamois pad (the same as in Rapha’s other top shorts) is perforated for faster drying. All that makes them ideal for hot days outside. In winter, they’ll double as your Zwift kit. A word of warning, however: all that emphasis on breathability comes at the expense of lifespan. Both saddle contact and regular laundering will wear the thin shorts material faster than standard fabrics. And take care with the mesh straps, which don’t have the same level of stretch as Lycra bib straps do; the stitching can rip if you’re not gentle with them.
MAAP Vector Pro Air Jersey ($170)
Stylish riders love this Australian brand for its creative graphics, like the bold color blocking found on the Vector Pro Air. But the brand isn’t only about style. To create the right mix of sun protection and cooling comfort, designers built the Vector Pro Air out of multiple different Bluesign-approved fabrics. The body is a denser micro-perforated mesh, which balances UV protection (UPF50+) and breathability, while the side panels are made from a see-through, netting-like material. Even the pocket fabric is perforated. The four-ounce garment is perfect for sweltering days.
Pearl Izumi Sun Sleeves ($30)
On sunny summer road and gravel rides I like arm sleeves them as much or better than a generous slather of chemical sunscreen. You can find sleeves from a lot of brands. Pearl’s are made of a thin, lightweight stretch fabric that offers UPF50+ sun protection and doesn’t feel hot even in direct midday sun. Even better: the price is reasonable, and they come in white and hi-viz yellow, in five sizes that fit everyone from stick-figure WorldTour racers to guys with linebacker arms.
DeFeet Evo Mont Ventoux Socks ($20)
Technical socks are notoriously expensive. If you’re going to pay $20 for a pair (a single pair!), you can do far worse than these. The vented grid knit is airy and lightweight yet manages to wear durably, thanks to reinforcement at the heel and toe. The thin fabric is great for hot days when you want a bit of extra room in the toe box. And while they come only in basic solids rather than stylish designs, there are six colors to match to just about any kit.
Specialized S-Works Vent Shoes ($425)
The first thing you’ll notice about the S-Works Vent shoe is how light it is (the brand claims just 223 grams per shoe in a size 42). Turn it over and you’ll see why: a Swiss-cheese sole designed for maximum airflow. Don’t worry, it’s still stiff enough. The shoe boasts the same no-stretch Dyneema upper found on the regular S-Works, but with mesh fabric panels for even more ventilation. The plastic toe bumpers feature still more vents. The wide size range (36 to 49) includes half sizes from 38 to 47 so you can get exactly the fit you need for whatever sock thickness you’re running or however much your feet swell in heat. The principal complaint I’ve seen is that the white version, which is the only color you should buy for a hot-weather shoe, suffers from some yellowing on the Dyneema portions. At this price, I’d recommend them only for people who do most of their riding in hot weather (or made a pile on bitcoin.) Still, if hot, painful feet are a problem, these are worth a look.
Aero Tech Delta Tee ($50)
Polartec’s Delta fabric is engineered with a mix of hydrophobic and hydrophilic yarns to speed sweat evaporation. You can find it in some cycling jerseys, but surprisingly few tops for mountain biking. Aero Tech’s new Delta Tee is more form fitting than most mountain bike jerseys, but it’s still casual enough to wear with baggy shorts. The slightly longer tail is designed for full coverage on the bike, but my favorite feature is the two zippered storage pockets. They’re just spacious enough for keys or a phone, and they sit on the hips where they won’t interfere with the center-back pockets on cargo bib liners. The angled zippers also play nice with hip packs if you’re going that route to carry stuff. The only downside is that it only comes in a men’s fit (though we do appreciate that it comes in a wide range, from small to 5XL, which fits guys up to a 50-inch chest.). And Aero Tech took a page from Henry Ford on graphics: You can buy it in any color you want, as long as it’s blue.
Fox Flexair shorts ($130)
Baggies are designed mostly with two goals in mind: style and protection. This means that in hot weather you’re wearing one more layer than you need—and that layer is thick and burly, designed to fend off branches and rocks. Fox’s Flexair splits the difference as well as any short I’ve used, with a four-way stretch-woven shell that is lightweight and quick drying but still resists snags. Laser-perforated sections on the thigh offer a bit more airflow. The chamois-padded liner is removable if you want to use a different short, which I recommend. I still haven’t found an inner short on a baggy that matches a good pair of bibs for comfort. And the zippered pockets provide some secure storage. My only real gripe is the ratchet waist closure, which seems over-engineered and can be bothersome if you ride with a hip pack.
POC Essential Mesh gloves ($45)
There are cheaper gloves, like Giro’s Trixter. There are lighter gloves, like 100%’s Celium. But I’m now on my fourth season with the POC Essential Mesh and they’re still going strong, while other gloves have split stitches in the fingertips or worn holes in the web between thumb and forefinger. There’s nothing unusual about these. They feature a perforated synthetic leather palm with no padding; a stretch-mesh back, and silicone prints on the index and middle fingers for grip. They’re just well-made and have all the features you need. Terrycloth nose wipe? Check. Pull-on, with no bothersome closure tab? Check. Five sizes and six colors? Check and check. Because I’m a cycling fashion Philistine and wear full-finger gloves on the road, I find them great for that too.
Giro Empire VR70 knit shoes ($250)
There’s a bit of a contradiction in the idea of a hot-weather mountain bike shoe. Hot-weather shoes prize ventilation. Mountain biking shoes need to be armored to fend off rock strikes and add durability for hike-a-bike sections. The balance is always going to tip toward robustness. But Giro’s Empire VR70 Knit comes as close as any shoe I’ve seen to also being suited for hot weather. The breathability comes mostly from the lightweight knit upper, a construction technique borrowed originally from running shoes. The high ankle cuff helps keep out dirt and gravel. But the knit itself wouldn’t provide much support, so it sits in a bonded TPU exoskeleton with a lace closure. A molded heel cup and rubber toe bumper provide anchoring and protection. The Easton EC70 carbon sole is reasonably stiff but still walkable, and the Vibram rubber outsole has good grip for hike-a-bike. Those with small feet take note: the VR70 is only available down to size 39.