Cycling apparel isn’t for those who want to blend into the crowd. From bright helmets to skin-tight jerseys and tights, you’re sure to stand out on the road. And the same goes for the kinds of socks cyclists wear – sometimes you can even tell that someone is a cyclist just from their tan lines.
But what’s the deal with those long cycling socks? Are they required for every bike ride? Can they ever be too long? (Spoiler alert: they can be.) We’ll dive into all of those questions below.
Why Do Cyclists Wear Long Socks?
It primarily comes down to three reasons: comfort, protection, and aerodynamics. Taller socks will help protect a rider’s legs from the sun and any debris that might come off of the road. It also protects their feet from their shoes (and, conversely, their shoes will be protected from their feet).
Additionally, some socks brands claim that they can save a rider over 12 watts of power through aerodynamics alone. This likely won’t matter as much for the average cyclist and athlete, but some riders will take any possibility of even a slight advantage during the race. (Source)
Of course, no pair of socks will be able to replace optimizing a solid training plan. If you happen to have the money to shell out for trying a pair, though, it’s unlikely to hurt your riding.
Do People Wear Socks with Cycling Shoes? Do You Have To!
Most cyclists will wear socks with cycling shoes. Choosing to forgo socks means your shoes will have to do the work of absorbing any perspiration which can cause the shoes to wear out much faster than they otherwise would. It can also create more friction between the shoe and the foot which can ultimately lead to blisters or other issues.
In other words, while you technically don’t have to wear socks with cycling shoes, you probably should. Your feet and shoes will thank you later. After all, buying a new pair of socks is significantly cheaper than replacing cycling shoes that have degraded from friction and sweat.
What Socks To Wear for Cycling?
The short answer: whatever socks feel most comfortable for you. However, your standard everyday socks may not cut it. You’ll want to look for socks that are geared specifically towards activewear. Socks that are meant to be worn with cycling shoes are generally thin and lightweight and made out of great moisture-wicking materials.
If you opt for a pair of cycling-specific socks, they’ll likely feel a bit different than the socks you normally use to run in. That’s because running socks will have a bit of added cushion to help with comfort on the run. Cycling socks, on the other hand (er, foot?), will be very minimally designed. They’re meant to limit the pressure points between your foot and your shoe, making it so you don’t lose tiny bits of energy from your foot moving around in the shoe (Source).
On a side note, find out Why Do Runners Wear Long Socks? Which Socks Type To Use !
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Are Cycling Socks Meant to Be Tight?
Cycling socks should fit snugly against your feet. They shouldn’t be so tight that it becomes uncomfortable, though. You don’t want your feet to be unnecessarily compressed during your ride. Different brands will fit your feet differently, so if you have the funds to do so, you should try out as many as you can. Once you find a style that works, you can stick with that.
You’ll also want to make sure they’re tight enough to stay above your shoes and not start slipping down. No one wants to be dealing with socks that slide down after every pedal rotation. The fabric should be light enough that it’s still breathable so you don’t overheat.
Why Are Cycling Socks Different?
Cycling socks vary depending on the kind of riding you’ll be doing. Road cyclists may opt for taller, thinner socks that promote aerodynamics and temperature regulation. Mountain bikers will choose socks that are rugged enough to withstand the terrain they’re riding on and help cushion them against dirt and rocks.
In addition, cycling socks are often made out of synthetic materials rather than cotton (Source). This helps promote those sweat-wicking properties and they’ll also last longer than natural materials. There are plenty of brands on the market, so you’re sure to find the socks that fit your feet and your style.
How Long Should Road Cycling Socks Be?
For a training ride, cycling socks can be as long as you find comfortable. Some cyclists will line them up with tattoos or to create fun tan lines. Generally speaking, though, most cyclists will find a sweet spot somewhere between four and six inches long (Source).
You can play around with different heights until you find a style that sits comfortably on your calf muscles and shins. Going above six inches is generally a bit too much, though. No need to bust out the knee-high socks – and in some races, you might not even be allowed to.
Why Does Uci Regulate Sock Height?
Sock heights have been enforced by the UCI (Union Cyclist Internationale) for years, and the reasoning seems to come down to rider advantage: the longer the sock, the more aerodynamic the cyclist. The UCI tries to make the field as equitable as possible (doping issues aside), and sock height is one way they can regulate the sport and provide some consistency between riders.
The newest regulation states:
“Socks and overshoes used in competition may not rise above the height defined by half the distance between the middle of the lateral malleolus and the middle of the fibula head.”(Source)
The rule book includes a helpful graphic to mitigate confusion. And yes, they do measure any socks in question.
Most triathlon races won’t have sock height requirements and some triathletes skip the socks altogether to speed up their transition time. However, it’s always a good idea to check out the rule book prior to any race so you don’t have to make last minute adjustments.
Things to Keep in Mind
At the end of the day, the best socks to ride in are the ones that make you happy and comfortable. The more comfortable you are, the longer you can ride, and that’s the ultimate goal. Keep trying out different socks until you find the pair that works best for you.
Also, check out our post titled “Why Do Cyclists Wear Gloves? Should You Wear Them!“