If you’re new to cycling, you may be overwhelmed by all of the sport-specific apparel available to you. Buying a bike is a big purchase, but the costs of padded bib shorts, jerseys, helmet, pedals, lights, etc. start to add up quickly. But socks? Do you really need cycling-specific socks?
Foot comfort is one of the most important aspects of any outdoor adventure. After years as a backpacking and canoeing guide, I created a hierarchy of needs: First, water. Second, feet. Third, food. If you’re well hydrated, your feet are happy and dry and you are well fed, it’s hard to have a bad day. For most activities, keeping your feet happy means a well-fitting pair of athletic socks made from a wicking fabric like merino wool or a synthetic fiber.
But cycling? Do your socks need to do any more than that? To find out we spoke with Brad Sheehan, CEO and Designer of Velocio Apparel. One of the first things you’ll likely notice in cycling socks is that they are incredibly thin, almost like “liner socks” that were popular in the outdoors 10-15 years ago. “Keeping socks quite thin is important as any added bulk creates opportunities for increased friction in the shoe and adds to build-up of heat and moisture,” says Sheehan. “We focus on creating socks that are very lightweight and breathable to try to minimize hot spots and reduce sweat buildup in the shoe.”
But heat management and reducing friction are problems that aren’t unique to cycling. However, the way we ride bikes changes how the problems arise. “Given that cycling is ‘no impact,’ padding is non-existent or very minimal,” says Sheehan. “If it is incorporated, it’s done in high-pressure areas, like the achilles—considering that you’re pulling up on the shoe as much as you’re pushing down—and the forefoot, where you can have some movement inside the shoe.”
Like other types of athletic socks, cycling socks also use compression to keep you comfortable. “Compression is a big factor in our socks,” says Sheehan. “This may not differ greatly from some activewear socks, but compression is an important characteristic in keeping your feet cool and comfortable throughout the ride. Compression helps with circulation and helps minimize swelling throughout the day. Given that cycling shoes need to fit fairly precisely to work well and to be supportive if your feet begin to swell, compression helps quite a bit.”
So, with all we know, do you need to buy cycling socks? In our opinion, while cycling socks will surely make for a more comfortable ride, you may be able to get most of the benefits with those thin merino hiking socks you already own. Prioritizing comfort and moisture management is important, but getting sport-specific socks can be the last upgrade of your kit. If you are still riding in cotton socks though, make the investment and reap the benefits.