Your feet take a beating when you commute by bike. Approximately one to two percent of your body's heat is generated through the legs, and losing warmth from your toes can have a significant impact on how you perform. Whether you just finished a spin class or finished a century ride, keeping your feet warm is essential. But cycling socks are more than just a fashion statement or a simple piece of gear - there's some science behind them.
How They Work
Cycling socks are designed to keep your feet comfortable and dry while keeping out debris and other things that might harm you. The socks do this by maintaining a barrier between your skin and the socks, which are made from different materials depending on what type they are (see below). Cycling socks are usually made from synthetic or natural materials such as nylon or merino wool. The materials wick away moisture from the surface of your skin to keep your feet dry, reducing friction between your shoes and the skin that can cause blisters and hot spots: a major issue for cyclists.
Cycling socks have a few main functions:
- Padding:The most obvious function of cycling socks is padding, which protects your toes from rubbing against the inside of your shoe during pedaling. Cycling socks also help keep your feet comfortable by providing cushioning on top of the pedal spindles and around the ball of your foot (where it can get sore when standing up). The padding makes it easier for you to ride all day without feeling tired feet at the end of your ride!
- Moisture management:Cycling is an aerobic exercise that can get very hot and sweaty. If your feet get too hot then it can cause discomfort, blisters and even heatstroke. Cycling socks help keep your feet cool by wicking sweat away from the skin and moving it into the outer fabric of the sock where it evaporates more easily. This also helps prevent odors from building up, which is a nice bonus for all you commuters out there.
- Temperature regulation:Cycling also means exposure to cold weather conditions, which means keeping your feet warm is just as important as keeping them cool. A good pair of cycling socks will insulate your feet from external temperatures while still allowing moisture to escape through breathability in the fabric, preventing overheating on warm days or freezing on cold ones.
- Keep You Comfortable: They keep your feet comfortable while riding. Cycling socks are made from different fabrics that ensure they don't rub or irritate your skin while riding. The right sock can make all the difference between a day on the bike that leaves you feeling fresh and energetic, or one where your feet hurt every time you pedal down an incline.
- Cycling Socks Prevent Blisters:Cycling socks also protect against blisters by providing padding between your foot and shoe/pedal. This can be especially helpful if you have sensitive feet or suffer from chronic blistering problems.
What Features to Look for
Cycling socks are pretty much like regular socks except they're made out of thicker fabric and have padding in key areas to protect your feet during long rides. They also tend to be made out of synthetic materials instead of cotton because cotton absorbs sweat and can cause blisters on longer rides.
Cycling socks come in a variety of different heights from ankle highs up to over-the-knee (OTK). The most common is knee high socks which provide coverage for your lower leg and keep your legs warm without becoming too hot or sweaty. You'll also find some long socks options that go up to mid-calf or even over the knee (OTK). Riders who wear full length compression tights often prefer ankle high or OTK socks because they help keep their tights in place and prevent them from getting caught in the chain ring or pedals.
Cycling socks are made from different materials with different properties. Some are made from wool, cotton or synthetic blends. Each material has its own characteristics and will affect how your feet feel on longer rides. Wool is great for keeping your feet warm in winter and cool in summer, but it can be prone to overheating if worn in hot weather. Cotton is great at absorbing sweat but can be prone to friction and chafing if worn without any padding underneath. Synthetic blends offer a good combination of breathability and moisture management without the risk of overheating or chafing that comes with pure wool or cotton fabrics alone.
You want a sock that fits well and doesn't bunch up under your shoe or knee pad. There are two main types of sock length: ankle-length and over-the-calf length. For most people, ankle-length is best, though some people prefer over-the-calf length because it protects their shin from rubbing against the top tube on their bikes.
Breathability and moisture control
If your feet are wet, they'll get cold fast. And if your feet are cold, it's hard to pedal efficiently. Cycling socks with wicking properties move moisture away from your skin so it can evaporate more quickly (and keep your feet drier). This means that you'll be more comfortable at all times during your ride, even if it's raining outside.
Sizing and fit
Cycling socks should be snug but not constrictive, with some room at the toes. The fit varies based on what type of shoe they're used with, but generally speaking they should be tight enough so they stay up without slipping down over time. Some brands offer cycling socks sized by shoe size while others use European sizes (smallest being 39). If you're using cycling shoes with integrated sock-liners, these may also have their own sizing system — so check before buying.
Next time you're shopping for cycling socks and you find a pair that is a perfect color, priced affordably, and appears to be comfortable, don't buy them. Research what makes a good pair of cycling socks? If, after all that, you still want the socks, that's fine. There's more to picking out a good pair of cycling socks than how they make you look when wearing them.