Best Socks For Road Cycling: A Magnificent Feet Of Research

Wow. This one is going to test my writing chops. How I’m going to wrestle a blog post out of this subject I do not know. Better kick on.

To be honest I don’t give my feet much thought when cycling. This extends beyond sock choice.

My only real issue in the foot area actually manifested itself through knee pain and an under-developed set of right quadriceps (more under-developed…). The issue (and solution) was foot-related.

As part of my new bike and bike fit process in 2013 I bought Speedplay pedals and set the float up to pretty much maximum. This (and the well-fitting bike) sorted the knee.

Back to feet.

Unlike my hands, where I seem to really suffer with the cold, I am able to live with discomfort down there (at the end of the legs, not ‘down there’).

I’ve never used overshoes to keep my feet warm in grizzly weather. I’ve also not used overshoes in order to become #moreAero.

What Cycling-Specific Socks Do I Own?

Now there’s an interesting sub-heading if ever I wrote one.

I’ve actually got two pairs (fascinating). Prepare to receive some information about them.

[Hit it!]

1. “Standard” Rapha Socks

I say standard but they’re actually quite smart (mine are navy blue). And good at what they do (being socks).

I received them as part of a birthday present from this blog’s best supporting actors, my sister and her husband.

Rapha navy blue socks
Behold the socks!

The main part of the gift was a Rapha Core Jersey (my favourite cycling jersey according to this post). If I had to guess, I’d say the socks were a top up gift, in order to hit the moneyspend they wanted to get to for the present.

Which is pretty much the level of analysis I would apply when buying a pair of socks.

For a long time, Rapha was the brand that ‘real cyclists’ loved to bag on. All mouth and no trousers. Style over substance. My experience is exactly the opposite, both with these socks and the core jersey.

Rapha sock on foot

Whilst the reality is that I don’t go out of my way to buy and wear cycling-specific socks, these Rapha foot coverings have come the closest to persuading me to change that (hard line) stance.

2. dhb (Dan) Merino Winter Socks

Now I think about it, my other cycling socks were bought in a similar way in a similar way to the Raphas.

I’d received some Wiggle vouchers for Christmas and had identified the main thing I wanted to buy (these GripGrab leg warmers were on offer).

dhb merino socks

Buying a set of merino wool socks (similar to these ones) allowed me to use up the rest of the voucher without adding too much of my own money (remember – Yorkshireman, deep pockets, short arms).

Anyway, they shrank.

They are warm though (as you’d hope and expect from merino). Just a little bit too ankle socky and tight on the foot-y.

If I could be sure they wouldn’t shrink (I can’t discount that my washing machine incompetence was the cause), I think I’d buy another pair.

What Factors Should We Be Considering When Buying Bike Socks?

Hell, should we even be wasting valuable brain juice on the subject?

(I’ll leave that question hanging.)

When I started writing this post (I commence scribbling before I know what I’m going to say), I would have said that for most people, the key criteria when buying cycling socks would be looks. Or at least colour.

Then I actually looked into the subject (did an internet search) and realised that there’s more to this sock thing than meets the eye. Maybe there are marginal gains to be had…

But back to appearance.

For the most part I just pick the first pair of socks that comes to hand that is a light or bright colour (essentially anything that doesn’t look like a work sock). This possible says more about my lack of thought than a particular desire for sartorial elegance.

Other velo-dandies will, I’m sure, select a sock that coordinates with the fluoro-camouflage kit that they’re sporting this ‘season’.

Rapha basic socks
I always wear socks pulled up righty tighty…

I don’t know. Some people like to ‘show a bit of personality’ by going a bit more outlandish on smaller clothing items, whilst remaining conservative when it comes to the bigger garments.

That’s why you wear that comedy tie to work (that no one else realises is ironic) and why I wear a pair of bike cufflinks as a wink and a palm tickle to other secret bikemasons.

To mini-conclude, how a sock looks on your sculpted cyclo-calf clearly is important. But if high performance is what you’re after (?), what other sockfactors make a difference?

Let’s start with the material.

What Are Cycling Socks Made Of?

Good grief, what a question.

We’ve ‘discussed’ my mini merinos.

In addition to keeping your feet warm (when used for socks), merino wool is apparently good at allowing water vapour to escape the local microclimate near your foot. As a result, the socks don’t get wet, causing discomfort and further heat loss.

Since merino socks, all else being equal, don’t get as moist as other materials, they don’t provide a conducive environment in which bacteria thrives. So they’re less susceptible to becoming smelly socks.

All of which sounds like a screed from the international Merino sheep federation.

Cotton Cycling Socks

Not that I’ve had a particular problem, but apparently cotton fibres retain moisture in the sock, trapping it against your skin.

As a result, you’re cotton clad feet would be colder in winter and run the risk of blisters in warmer temperatures.

Cotton also appears to be less durable than alternative materials. It stretches and ‘bags’ easily (whatever that means).

Hmm, after a doing a bit of research (if we can call it that) into cotton, I’m starting to re-think my whole sock ‘strategy’.

Bamboo Cycling Socks

I went through a phase where every Christmas morning seemed to involve the arrival of a new pair of bamboo work socks….

In other news, you know when you think a section of a blog post will be easy to write?

Mention bamboo. Sprinkle in the odd ’eco friendly. Add a few ‘anti-bacterials’ and call it done.

Then you realise the only element of this blogsection that is eco-friendly and anti-bacterial is the can of worms you inadvertently just opened…

Turns out bamboo socks are not eco-friendly (unless they’re made from bamboo linen, which feels unlikely) and there are questions over their anti-bacterial creds as well.

Seems you’ll have to look elsewhere for your optimal cyclosock fabric.

Polyester Cycling Socks

So… it would appear that, contrary to my initial assumption, man-made fabrics are the best for performance cycling socks. Who knew?

Turns out that polyester (other elaborately-named-man-made-fabrics-that-do-essentially-the-same-thing are available) socks are more breathable, durable and better at wicking away moisture (aka sweat) than cotton.

Because such fabric tends to be harder wearing (that wool, say), they can be woven more thinly (is that how we’d say it?) and they therefore tend to be good for lightweight summer socks.

Man made fabrics also tend to be good for slightly more complex sock constructions. So you’re more likely to see grippy cuffs (to keep them in place on your calves) and extra material in the bits where they get more abuse or in order to ward off blisters.

Shoes Electric

Now all of the info above is fine but, as you know, I like to think outside the shoe box.

I’m therefore most concerned about static generation and the risk of unexpected electric shocks. I wouldn’t want one of these to upset the delicate electric motor that I’ve got hidden away in my bottom bracket…

Again not a topic oft-mentioned in the velo literature. I’ve had to research fashion websites and transpose some knowledge across domains.

Solutions if you’re experiencing static, sock-driven or otherwise:

  • ‘spritz’ yourself with some water; or
  • attach a (metal) safety pin to yourself.

You’re welcome.

What About Compression Socks?

I don’t think there is such a thing in cycling circles (possibly because they wouldn’t comply with UCI rules – see below). Maybe you’d where them on the plane home from your next Grand Tour, I don’t know?

Next!

How Much Do Cycling Socks Cost?

Given that my ‘MO’ when buying socks is to:

  1. wait until Christmas and hope that my mum buys me some; or failing that
  2. buy a 5-pair multi-pack from M&S

I struggle with the concept of even buying socks on a single pair basis.

No matter. This is the world we must accept as a velocipede with panache.

The upper end of the price range is reasonably easy to define. We just check the websites of Assos, Castelli and Rapha.

The most expensive sock (pair of) I’ve found to date (with minimal effort) is the ‘fuguSpeer_S7’ from Assos at £40.

Castelli tops out at £35 with its ‘Fast Feet’ sock, which looks to be built for aerodynamism (the name gives it away) and UCI rules rather than warmth. It’s ‘normal’ sock range (where warmth is the focus) goes up to £25 a pair.

Rapha also goes up to £25 (for it’s ‘Deep Winter’) sock, but most of the range is around £15. It even has a ‘3-for’ bundle on some of the range, which I’ll have to tell my mum about for next Christmas…

Incidentally if you want to buy some cycling-specific socks, Wiggle appears to have an excellent selection, which you can have a snozzcumber at by:

What Height Should Cycling Socks Come Up To On The Calf?

Probably worth asking the mummy cow.

I think university degree theses have been written on this topic. There is a stylistic requirement that socks come up to a certain point on your calf. This designates you a rider with panache.

Sadly I don’t know what this height is. I can’t be bothered to Google it and, to be honest, I won’t do further research on it.

Sportive Cyclist (this blog) welcomes a broad church so wear whatever height socks you fancy.

Rapha sock with Specialized bike shoes
I go for ‘mainly pulled up with a slight ruffle’

(As long as you do wear socks – see below).

There is maybe an argument for the aerodynamically motivated gent requiring a longer sock.

Whatever floats your boat (though I’d prefer it if your boat wasn’t floated by socks that come up to your knee…)

Things To Think About If You Happen To Be A Pro Cyclist…

(Rather than simply aspiring to look like one).

There is, in fact, a UCI rule on the legal maximum sock height that a professional cyclist can ‘run’ during a race.

I guess this must mean that there is some aerodynamic benefit to wearing longer socks (provided they’re made of the right textile, which the UCI also legislates on). The UCI has a habit of introducing rules based on tradition and pseudo-science, though, so who knows.

Anyway, for a sock to be ‘race legal’ (and indeed an overshoe), it must come no higher than half way been the middle of the fibula head (let’s just call that the knee) and the middle of the lateral malleolus (the ankle).

So that’s that. The message is clear, kids. Say ‘no’ to excessively long socks.

What Should You Buy If You Do Want A Sock That Is Both Aero and Race Legal?

There is actually an answer to this.

UK company Rule 28 makes ‘Aero Socks’, which purport to be as aero as you can get whilst still complying with the UCI rules on sock height. They claim that the majority of national track teams use them for indoor cycling, which I suppose points to their efficacy (or that riders like feeling aero).

I think they look quite smart (check ’em out for yo’self – not an affiliate link). They also make overshoes (although, again, for the track rather than inclement outdoor conditions).

Now, I’m more interested in where the name ‘Rule 28’ comes from.

Initially I assumed it referred to the specific UCI #sockrule.

I couldn’t face wading through the UCI regulations, so I resorted to Google and another website (cyclingnews.com, so legit) suggested the relevant clause was 1.3.033 …. bis. Which is not 28.

The other source of rules is the Velominati website, where rule 28 is ‘Socks can be any damn colour you like’. So that clears that one up.

Should You Ever Road Cycle Without Socks?

In short, no.

(Nor should you wear socks that are just big enough to cover your feet, that stay hidden within the shoe).

I imagine there are practical reasons for avoiding sockless cycling (your feet get cold, greater risk of blisters) but there is a more fundamental reason. You’ll look like a triathlete.

And no one wants that.

Rapha socks for cycling
A Rapha sock, in the wild

Concluding Sock Thoughts

Now that, ladies and jellybeans, is how you write 2,200 inconsequential words about socks.

It strikes me that the Goldilocks principle should be applied. Socks shouldn’t be too warm or too cold, too thick or too thing, too long or too short. They should be ‘just right’.

If warmth is your priority, I’d start with merino or other woolly mammoths (MAMILs).

When the summer heat is on (chance would be a fine thing), technical fabrics that wick away sweat and smell seem your best bet (and I’ve been pleased with my Raphas).

For Mercx sake though, please wear some.

Support My ‘Work’

If you’re in the market for some new socks (and who isn’t), you can help support the Sportive Cyclist blog by purchasing through an affiliate link (and you pay the same price):

You can also take a look at the full Rapha selection on their own website. This isn’t an affiliate link but it does have an identifier that hopefully tells them I sent you (so please click!).

5 thoughts on “Best Socks For Road Cycling: A Magnificent Feet Of Research”

  1. I have a couple of pairs of cycle socks and whilst I love my Castelli ones (bought in the sales), the Aldi ones run them pretty close and were considerably cheaper.

  2. I always laugh out loud at least once when reading Monty’s writing! For socks, I prefer longer (6 inches?), partially to cover more of my super pale legs, and partially to ensure that drivers in my urban environment might notice me. So, I try to go with bright or neon. Happy to know I’m not the only person to over think socks.

  3. Good show Monty… Incidentally, I have made part of my career out of being sceptical about “compression” wear. Surely that just means the manufacturer has made them unfeasibly small and bunged in some more lycra? Drawing a veil over how good flight socks are on long haul flights (you can still walk afterwards, which is a genuine bonus..). But I recently bought some compression thingy socks from 2XU. They are made for runners. My goodness they are brilliant! Tight fit, padding on the pressure points, dry really quickly after rain and in a flash after washing – and I’m pretty sure the blood flow down and back from the feet is much better. Happy feet = happy cyclist eh? Keep up the great work!

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