Why Do Cyclists Wear Lycra / Spandex? Benefits & Potential Hazards!

If you have ever driven past a peloton of cyclists, those tight, clingy shorts have certainly caught your eye, especially if you are not a cyclist yourself. The shorts might seem funny and with limited padding, you wonder if they make a difference or improve performance.

The question you should be asking is, why do cyclists wear Lycra/ Spandex? Materials like Lycra / Spandex offer a high level of comfort and flexibility over polyester and nylon, which improves the range of motion available to the cyclist. The material is also known to be very effective in preventing chafing and handles moisture very well. Furthermore, its texture allows for improved aerodynamic performance.

Other clothing materials tend to hang loosely from the rider, which creates wind resistance and slows down the rider significantly. This means more effort is put into pedaling to break through this resistance, ultimately leading to more energy consumption.

Examples Of Lycra/ Spandex Clothing Cyclists Use

To get you started, here are a few examples of cycling clothing that you could rely on for your next cycling journey. These are predominantly made from Lycra/ Spandex to ensure you are aerodynamically proficient:

Souke Sports Men’s Bike 4D Padded TightNylon/ SpandexWinter
Troy Lee Designs Shock Doctor ShortsNylon/ SpandexSummer
BALEAF Men’s Road Biking TightsNylon/ SpandexSummer
sponeed Men’s Padded Bicycle PantsNylon/ SpandexSummer
Nylon & Spandex Cycling Bottom Wear Examples

Why Do Cyclists Wear Tight Clothing?

There are a couple of reasons that cyclists choose to wear tight clothing. While we will dive deeper into these in the following section, it all boils down to a combination of comfort and speed.

One of the main goals of cycling is to preserve as much energy as possible for the finish when all the action happens before the line.

As a sprinter, you want to avoid being tired before the final sprint. However, a general classification (GC) rider would want to attack or defend against attacks in the final few kilometers of a climb. Essentially, the rider with the most energy left before the finish could lift their cadence to a higher level than the competitors, which ultimately makes them gain time.

Tight clothing, as you will see in the next section makes all of this possible and reduces things like drag or lack of movement, which could cause you to use more energy than you need to.

What Difference Does Lycra/Spandex Make When Cycling?

Being aerodynamically efficient makes a massive difference on the road. Specialized is one of the top brands in the cycling industry and has performed numerous tests using its wind tunnel in Morgan Hill, California. Thanks to some of these tests, we could find the main reasons that cyclists prefer wearing tight clothing:

1.      Aerodynamic Efficiency

During the test performed by Specialized, the aero research team identified the differences in speed between casual clothing and form-fit clothing. The tests included things like winter clothing and the types of clothing that people in European countries often wear for a large part of the year.

Here is a table showing some of the findings:

Clothing TypeWind Tunnel SpeedTime Lost
Fit Form Clothing31.25 MPH0
Winter Clothing31.25 MPH+83 seconds
Summer Clothing31.25 MPH+91seconds
Bike Tunnel Test – Differences in speed between casual and form-fit clothing

During the test, they found that winter clothing was around 83-seconds slower over 25 miles, with a wind of 31.25 MPH being used throughout the wind tunnel for the tests. This does not seem like much, but when you factor in that Jonas Vingegaard won the latest iteration of the 2022 Tour de France by 2 minutes and 43 seconds, which is 203-seconds, you can see that it cuts almost halfway into the winning margin.

2.      Range Of Motion

Another major reason for fit-form clothing is the improved range of motion the rider will have. Baggy shorts and even t-shirts tend to hang loosely, which often impedes the motion of movement. Instead of lifting your legs high enough to generate the optimal level of force to maintain cadence on your pedals, your pedaling will suffer.

With fit-form clothing like Lycra or Spandex, it will form around the leg and your arm. This means that the clothing would essentially move the same way that you move when you are pedaling.

It could reduce most of the friction and this might not make you faster, but you wonโ€™t be fighting against your clothing and using valuable energy.

3.      Breathability

While not one of the main reasons for wearing Lycra or Spandex, the material is much thinner than some of the others like nylon and polyester. (Source)

This means that air could pass through the clothing more efficiently and cool you down. In cold weather, it might also keep you warm for longer. Unfortunately, many cyclists on the pro circuit will wear jackets in the rain.

4.      They Stay In Place

Many Lycra and Spandex cycling clothes will have some form of padding to help with the uncomfortable nature of some of these seats. Nothing can be more frustrating to a cyclist than having to constantly readjust their clothing for more comfort.

The Lycra and Spandex will efficiently stick to your body and this will keep it in place.

5.      Prevent Chafing

The nature of fabric has proven to provide superior performance when it comes to chafing prevention.

Why Do Gymnasts Wear Lycra/Spandex?

Now that you have an idea why cyclists wear tight-fitting clothes, the question remains why do gymnasts also opt for these types of clothing? They donโ€™t need to worry about wind resistance or being slow through the air.

1.      Range Of Motion

However, the other benefit of tight clothing is the range of motion benefits they provide. Gymnasts need full freedom and range of motion when performing, which means any hindrance could cause them to miss a step. Since many of the exercises require precision, a snag in clothing could lead to serious injury.

2.      Cramp Prevention

Another reason for wearing tight clothing is to prevent muscles from cramping in the middle of an exercise. Working almost the same as strapping over certain muscles, would help to keep the muscles warm throughout the exercise. If you take a slight break, you could also continue due to the muscles being warmed up.

Potential Dangers Of Tight Clothing

A study published in 2013 reviewing tight clothing over sustained periods has proven nerve entrapment could occur. This could cause spinal nerve compression, which many people refer to as meralgia paresthetica. Essentially, it cuts the flow of blood to the muscles and reduces oxygen. Not only does this hamper recovery, but could cause muscle death over the long term. (Source)

Backing up this study, a 2020 study from the University of Toronto found that tight workout gear can affect the performance of women on cognitive tasks. (Source)

Finally, a 2016 study on the effects of tight bras has revealed that wearing tight clothing over the breasts for sustained periods could lead to an increase in breast cancer. However, no conclusive evidence has been put forward and the American Cancer Society backs the fact that tight bras do not lead to an increased risk of breast cancer. (Source)


An extreme triathlete who have competed in dozens of triathlons including IronMans and Extreme triathlons.

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