You might not have spent a great deal of money on your cycling socks compared to your bike and other kit, but some of us will have spent quite a bit of time thinking about our socks. The fact you have ‘cycling’ socks should probably emphasise my point. Socks are important. Play the sock game.
In Summer everyone can see your socks so factors such as length, and colour are very important. In Winter your socks are normally hidden under tights, but some feel the need to wear socks on the outside and this is a matter for debate in itself. The main consideration for Winter socks though, is whether they’re warm enough to get to the end of your ride without losing your toes.
Cyclists in general can be quite vain. Rightly so I think. We put in quite considerable effort to maintain our fitness so we can keep up with our mates. With that fitness comes the bonus that we often have quite shapely and well defined legs. This is just as well because the de rigueur clothing for our sport or hobby is form fitting lycra.
In Winter, tights and leg warmers keep our legs warm and supple. In Summer the cycling bib-short is the perfect platform for displaying our hard work. What better way to compliment those figure hugging shorts (which should also be an optimum length by the way, but more about that later) than to wear the perfect pair of socks.
There are four key areas that we need to look at. These are; materials, length, colour and what I’ll refer to as special features or unique selling points. Let’s start with materials.
Generally cycling socks are made of polyester or a similar synthetic material. This is because they are expected to get sweaty. Cotton absorbs sweat so that’s no good. Polyester wicks sweat away from the skin. This means you’re less likely to get chafing, blisters and fungal infections. They may be blended with lycra or elastane to make them nice and snug, and to further reduce movement and friction.
Merino has become popular and especially in socks designed for cold weather. It can also be interwoven with more elastic materials to improve fit. It’s also good at wicking sweat, staying warm when wet (think rain and overshoes), and has antibacterial properties.
For some great merino socks check out my preview/review on the MAAP Dot and Type socks. I’ve also seen bamboo charcoal fibres being used, in socks. If you saw my review on the Polaris bamboo base layer you’ll know bamboo fibres also produce quite a warm material with good wicking and anti-bacterial properties.
There are also several companies making socks containing a waterproof membrane. Whilst waterproof socks are great in heavy rain, they need to be worn sparingly as even the better ones will have you sweating. Sweat and poor hygiene can cause fungal infections like athlete’s foot, so look after your feet and look for socks with anti-bacterial properties.
Length is a tricky issue as there are many schools of thought. Bradley Wiggins tends to wear socks halfway up his calf and although his sense of style is unquestionable off the bike, some think his socks are too long. I think there’s a bit of function over form so he can’t really be blamed because it seems to work. The Velominati, those ‘keepers’ of cycling etiquette, state in Rule 27 that you must wear socks and that they shouldn’t be too short or too long.
The UCI rules once stated that socks must be no higher than the mid-point between ankle and knee. This was to prevent aerodynamic gains and seems to have been dropped in the current rule book. The GB track pursuit squad in 2014/15 wore no socks at all! A generally acceptable length is around 5 to 6 inches, that’s 12.5 to 15 centimetres. For women the rules tend to be eschewed in favour of slightly shorter socks of around 2 to 4 inches, 5 to 10 centimetres. I’m not sure why this is, maybe they have shorter tibias? Maybe it’s just limited options from clothing manufacturers?
Colour is yet another battleground. The strict traditionalists will say they have to be white and refer you to one of their cycling heroes. In modern times the greats haven’t always worn white socks. I refer you to Team Sky who often wear black, but not always. I’m pretty sure white isn’t as popular in the wet or muddy races either, they’re very hard to keep clean!
Our friends in charge of the rules state that any colour is fine, but they must match the rest of your kit. If you have a retro bike and/or a retro kit then plain socks is the only way to go, there’s still a lot of choice out there though.
I like quite plain kits, but socks give you just enough room to have a nice splash of colour and originality. From what I’ve seen cycling jerseys and shorts seem to be getting more colourful so should we stick to plainer socks in that case? Maybe a nice plain white. If you like a bit of colour check out my preview of ‘This is Cambridge’ A Bloc and Hors Categorie socks.
To justify their expense over ‘regular’ socks some brands have a USP (Unique Selling Point), or special feature to appeal to the cost-conscious cyclist. Special materials like lycra or spandex are included to give a better fit. Polyester or nylon socks are often touted for their quick drying properties. Don’t assume that wool is just to provide warmth because thinner wool is used in summer socks to keep you cool and wick sweat too.
Taller socks sometimes give a compression fitting to stop veins and blood vessels from dilating and reducing blood pressure and blood flow which effectively helps improve recovery. Some socks have extra padding or hard wearing material around the heel area as well as maybe your sole and toe. Mesh panels are included in various places to help cool your foot down. Anti-microbial or anti-bacterial properties are popular; of course socks made from merino or bamboo charcoal fibres have natural anti-bacterial properties. I’ve also seen socks with reflective material to aid night visibility.
If you’re still confused then here’s some key suggestions to help you:
Do you have plain kit? Then you can afford to go for socks with a more ‘interesting’ pattern. If your jerseys and shorts have a complicated pattern or lots of colours, your socks should be plainer. You can’t go wrong with white or black depending on the colour of your kit and bike’s contact points.
Long or short? 5-6 inches is most common for men. Triathletes or time trialists may go longer searching for aero gains. If you prefer shorter then don’t go too much shorter unless you’re female then you can go as low as you like apparently. Maybe men are just more vain, but feel free to try something a little different if it makes you happy.
Make sure you a buy a size that fits well. Any bunching of the material will lead to friction and that’s bad news as you’ll get sore patches and blisters. Forget ‘the rules’, if you feel comfortable and your feet are happy then that’s worth more than extra watts or aero gains. That’s why some refer to it as “sock doping”. You should be out there pushing your body to its limits but there’s no prizes for unnecessary suffering. Your feet are a contact point and are just as important as your saddle area and hands.
Look after your feet. Try and avoid excess sweating. Dry out shoes properly if they get wet from rain or sweat. Keep your feet clean and use clean socks whenever possible. If you do notice anything unusual get it sorted as soon as possible before it causes you problems.
If you do want some nice socks, but you still don’t know where to start, or maybe just can’t make your mind up, and your partner doesn’t care enough to do it for you, the Foot Revolution might be able to help you. Foot Revolution promises to deliver high quality, eye catching cycling socks from leading boutique brands to your doorstep every month. The monthly subscription gets you, or any cyclist who is difficult to buy presents for, a new pair of specially selected socks for $15 a month. They even ship the socks for free, worldwide.
I don’t know about you but the idea of getting someone else to do the hard part and to just open up a fresh pair of socks every month has a certain appeal. That’s almost pro level stuff. You could even get each of your family members to get you a subscription and end up with several different pairs each month!
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