It’s definitely possible and perfectly reasonable to ride your road bike in more or less any type of socks that you like. Surely all socks are fairly similar and having a specific pair of road cycling socks can’t really be all that necessary? Have you seen the price of road cycling socks when compared with a regular pair of socks or even compared with a standard pair of sports or athletic socks? They are really expensive, so is it worth paying out for road cycling socks? Do you really need to have specific road cycling socks or will more general socks do the trick? I decided to investigate:
So, are road cycling socks worth it? The main advantage of road cycling socks is that they are specifically designed for the purpose. They will keep your feet supremely comfortable and they are designed to wick away moisture to keep your feet dry. Winter cycling socks will keep your feet extra warm and all cycling socks will reduce the risk of chafing or blistering quite considerably. Compression cycling socks help with blood flow and many riders find that their feet feel fresher, and recover from a ride quicker when they are worn. It’s possible to road cycle in any pair of socks but a standard pair of socks or even a pair of sports socks won’t do the job quite as well as a specifically designed pair of road cycling socks.
What are the best socks for cycling?
Apart from when we are cycling, we tend to wear socks to keep our feet warm and also to help prevent get blisters and make walking around more comfortable. To a certain extent, cycling socks do the same thing – they improve your comfort when on the bike and, depending on the type of socks, keep your feet warm or work really hard to wick away sweat and keep your feet cool. However, a standard pair of cotton socks won’t really do a great job on the bike. You might not notice a huge problem with them, but once you have tried a pair of purpose-designed road cycling socks the chances are you will never look back.
Road cycling socks have three important elements that make them effective for the purpose for which they were designed: Cushion, compression, and materials.
Bike Sock Cushion
The amount of cushioning in a cycling sock is, to a certain extent, up to personal preference. A good cycling sock will provide added support on the key pressure points such as the ball of the foot. However, if you have too much cushioning in a cycling sock it can mean that your cycling shoe becomes too tight or your feet simply get too hot.
To a certain extent, the pedal action when cycling is relatively low impact and so a lot of cushioning isn’t really a high priority. So, most cycling socks tend to be relatively thin and tight-fitting.
Bicycle Sock Compression
A certain amount of compression can help with reducing the build-up of lactic acid, it can also help with the flow of blood and oxygen. The result of this is that a compression sock can help to keep your feet feeling fresh and energized for longer. Also wearing a compression sock can help with recovering more quickly from a long ride. Compression socks are also extremely comfortable as there’s no room for movement so any issues with friction or rubbing are very minimal.
Cycle Sock Material
Broadly speaking, cycling socks fall into two categories depending upon the materials they are made of. They are either summer or racing socks that are designed to be comfortable lightweight and most importantly to wick away sweat and moisture. Alternatively, winter cycling socks are designed to keep your feet warm on cold winter days. Keeping your feet warm can be a bit of a problem because cycling shoes are extremely rigid and allow for very little movement within them. This means that circulation and keeping your feet warm becomes a bit of an issue as the temperature drops. Both when trying to keep your feet cool and dry and also in winter when trying to keep them warm you will find that a good quality cycling sock makes a big difference when compared with trying to cycle in a standard sock.
How do compression socks help when cycling?
Compression socks and compression stockings fit relatively tightly around the body. They are usually tighter lower down towards the feet and ankle and then there is less compression the higher up the leg you get. The compression effect helps improve circulation and in particular, promotes blood flow from the extremities of the feet back up to the heart. Compression socks and stockings are intended to improve performance and to aid faster recovery after a ride. Other benefits include:
Preventing build-up of lactic acid – Lactic acid builds up when enough oxygen can’t be delivered quickly enough to hard-working muscles. Compression stockings and socks help with blood flow and so the blood is more freely oxygenated. Compression socks and stockings also can help flush out lactic acid from the muscles which can build up after a workout.
Provide extra support – Cycling puts a lot of strain on your muscles and providing extra support through compression socks can prevent discomfort and swelling. In fact, if you wear compression socks after a ride as well your recovery will be quicker your muscles will feel less sore and I will be less fluid retention.
Provide superior comfort – Compression socks are also extremely comfortable as their Tight Fit means that there are no pressure points that could potentially rub on your skin and cause soreness or chafing. They are also usually designated as left or right and so provide a perfect fit for each foot.
What are cycling socks made of?
Amazingly there has been a huge technological development in the materials used in cycling socks over the last 20 years or so. Prior to this natural fibers like cotton were used in cycling socks but these have a number of problems. Cotton, for example, soaks up moisture and is prone to wrinkling up making the likelihood of getting blisters or hotspots quite high.
Synthetic fibers do a much better job and a good cycling sock will usually be a mixture of manmade fibers – often nylon to give the fabric bulk and its stretchy quality mixed with Olefin (polypropylene) which is water repellant and gives the fabric it’s wicking and quick-drying properties.
Synthetic fibers can also be woven much more tightly together than natural fibers and this density allows the fabric to better conform to the shape of the foot, wick away moisture better, and also repels dirt and bacteria. The high thread count also means that in comparison with a natural fiber a synthetic fiber will hold its color better and look newer and fresher for longer. This is a great thing as cycling socks do tend to get very grimy very frequently and need frequent washing.
Synthetic fibers are also able to have antibacterial agents woven into them which again helps keep the sock fresh and your feet feeling good.
Winter cycling socks, on the other hand, are often made of merino wool. This is great for keeping feet warm and also has good natural wicking properties as well.
Do I have to wear socks with cycling shoes?
It’s perfectly reasonable not to wear socks with cycling shoes however you will probably find that it is significantly more comfortable, particularly on longer rides, to wear socks rather than to go with bare feet. Cycling socks will help to support your feet as well as offer some protection to your ankles if you have a crash. In very hot weather a pair of cycling socks actually help to wick away sweat and keep your feet cooler than wearing no socks at all. In winter a good pair of cycling socks is vital to keep your feet warm and comfortable.
Of course, it’s perfectly possible to cycle with any pair of socks on. However, in the broad realm of things, a pair of cycling socks are relatively inexpensive and, as they are specifically designed with cycling in mind, you will find that they come with a number of benefits. If you are only riding for short rides relatively infrequently then you can probably manage perfectly well without a pair. However, if you are looking to improve your performance or cycle for long periods of time and really total up the miles then a good pair of cycling socks would be a worthwhile investment. They will help you with your performance keeping you comfortable during the ride and also helping with your recovery.