Sustainable Cycling Clothing | Clothing for cycling | Popgen Tech


As much as we don’t want to admit it, cycling comes at an environmental cost. Biking to work may have a smaller footprint than driving, but the sport still has an impact—it affects the air we breathe when we climb a mountain pass and the health of the forests that house our singletrack. It puts microplastics in the water we drink and it affects the well-being of our fellow cyclists around the world.

It’s not enough to just ride a bike; we all need to make better and more informed decisions about the equipment we use. While this is a broad topic that applies to all cycling gear, a good place to start making better decisions is with the clothes we wear. Not only are there simple steps we can take to save money, but the apparel space is also one of the most proactive in using technology and practices to help reduce its impact.

The easiest and cheapest action you can take is to buy less stuff and wear your clothes longer. While it’s nice to have a closet full of fresh outfits, we can only wear one tank top and one pair of shorts at a time. Proper care methods will extend the life of your clothes. Most brands’ websites have washing advice with some basic rules such as closing all zips, snaps and velcro; the use of simple detergents (usually labeled “Free” or “Clear”); rejection of air conditioners; washing in a gentle mode; and dry most things (except waterproof clothing).

Rapha mtb repair

In addition to their own repair services, Rapha supplies a small repair kit with many items of mountain bike clothing.

Matt Phillips

If one of your items is damaged, repair it instead of throwing it in the trash. You can buy from brands that offer in-house repairs—such as 7Mesh, Patagonia, Rapha, Kitsbow, Velocio, Panache, Assos, Eliel, Isadore, and Endura—or use a third-party service. “I usually recommend that people search in their area, which avoids shipping,” says Drew Bouré, owner of Bouré Bicycle Clothing. If there aren’t qualified facilities in your area, use a mail-order service that has experience with high-tech materials, such as Seattle’s Rainy Pass Repair.

And when you’re done using a piece, don’t throw it away. Donate it to a local cycling charity or development team instead. If there are no local options, you can always send your unwanted (but usable) items to Trips for Kids, a non-profit organization that takes kids around the US on bikes.

If you must buy new, prioritize durability over price and avoid fast fashion trends that get old quickly

If you need to add another piece of clothing to your wardrobe, you can still make choices to reduce your impact (and maybe even save money). While the local bike share or Facebook group is an evergreen place to find second-hand clothing, there are more and more thrift markets.

Of the more than a dozen brands I contacted for this story, two—Velocio (Renewed) and Patagonia (Worn Wear)—sell used clothing directly to riders. However, several other companies have told me they are considering creating such a service. We’re not talking about some old, musty kit from the recesses of a local racer’s closet; these are the parts that have a lot of life left in them. Used items are inspected, repaired and cleaned before resale and are often backed by a warranty.

This brings us to what should be the very last choice, which paradoxically is often the first choice for many: buying new. If you are making a better choice, purchasing new items should be the choice if no other suitable option exists.

If you must buy new, prioritize durability and quality over price and avoid trends that age quickly. Unfortunately, there are entire brands and influencers built around cycling fads and “limited drops” that prey on the compulsion to buy on impulse. While I’m not immune to the allure of beautiful and creative kit, fast fashion is just as much of a challenge for cycling gear as it is for everyday wear.

As a counter to blink-and-you’ll-miss-it trends, some brands are looking beyond what’s hot now, but thinking about colors and patterns for the long term. “Most of our competitors sell their products as streetwear, with one-off select items and a quick push on new kit days,” Velocio founder Andrew Gardner said in an email. “As far as I know, we’re the only brand that looks at color stories over multiple seasons to encourage longer wear.”

Developing the idea further: basic black is always in fashion. It hides dirt and grease, and the repair is easy to match by color.

Mons Royale Tarn

The Mons Royale Tarn is 52% merino wool, 35% recycled polyester and 13% nylon.


When considering an item to buy, look at the label to see its materials. One initiative in the field of sustainable cycling clothing is the process of replacing natural, man-made materials with recycled textiles. “By fall 2022, 86 percent of our apparel is sustainable, we’ll increase to 90 percent in spring 2023, and that number will grow to 98 percent by spring 2024,” says Pearl Izumi spokesperson Karen Yarchow. This accelerating commitment to using (hopefully) greener materials was common among the brands I interviewed.

But when brands throw around words like “recycled” and “sustainable” to refer to their materials, you need to read the fine print. Often, so-called recycled polyesters are not 100 percent recycled materials. “Sixty percent of our road jerseys and 100 percent of our mountain jerseys use fabrics that contain more than 50 percent recycled fibers,” an Endura representative wrote to me. Yarchow stated that according to Pearl Izumi’s definitions, “for an item to be considered sustainable, it must consist of at least 50 percent recycled, renewable or organic materials.”

I’m not calling out Endura and Pearl; quite the opposite because they have some of the best sustainability initiatives. At least both tell you what they mean when they use words like “recycled” and “sustainable” instead of slapping them on a label and hoping no one peeks under the curtain. But it does show that education and research are needed to make better decisions on our part. Greenwashing is a reality, and it happens with surprising regularity in the cycling space.

Some brands are candid about the challenges they face in their pursuit of sustainability. Velocio’s Gardner singled out zippers and some trim materials as areas where recycled materials aren’t available, but said the company is actively looking for sustainable options in those areas.

velocio bio knitwear

Velocio’s signature Bio long-sleeve jersey uses two climate-friendly yarns.


Alternatively, you can skip the man-made textiles and look for renewable materials like cotton, hemp and wool. While many riders wear a comfortable cotton T-shirt in cool weather, cotton is not a good material to wear when there is water – sweat or precipitation. And it can be very dangerous at low temperatures. Wool, however, has long-established properties that are well suited for exercise and insulation. But this is not a panacea: wool is heavy and absorbs a lot of water. And even though these are natural fibers, the production of renewable materials has a surprisingly strong impact on the environment.

Weatherproofing is another category where there are lower impact options. One important initiative in outdoor clothing is finding alternatives to C8 durable water repellent (DWR) coatings. For an idea of ​​just how awful this timeless chemical is, look no further than the city of Parkersburg, West Virginia. In the story told in the 1999 film Dark waters, the company’s release of DuPont C8 contaminated the city’s water supply, causing many cases of cancer and other medical problems in residents. But while this long-chain PFC (perfluorocarbon) was so unsavory that governments around the world banned its production like DWR, it worked very well.

The search for a less horrible alternative that also works well is ongoing, but in the meantime, most new DWR clothing uses C6 Short Chain PFC or no PFC. The problem is that C6 fluorinated DWR is still the most effective and long-lasting option.

Rapha Gore-Tex

DWR raincoats do a good job of making water rise and roll off, but many of them are harmful to the environment.

Trevor Raab

PFC-free DWRs are improving, but there is still a long way to go before many brands consider them a viable alternative for high-performance clothing. POC addresses this issue in its sustainability initiative, Project Blueprint, which states: “If a cycling jacket designed to protect you from the rain doesn’t keep you dry, it’s a misuse of the resources used to make that jacket.”

Even Patagonia, a brand whose environmental missions and goals surpass almost any other brand, still uses C6 fluorinated DWRs in some cases. Patagonia echoes POC’s statement and says it continues to use fluorinated DWRs in its highest performance garments because “we don’t yet have [non-fluorinated] A DWR solution that meets the functional needs of this garment.”

As should be clear, there are no easy answers. But there are smarter decisions we can all make – choices that will help make our riding better in the present and ensure we improve our sport for generations to come. Do your research before buying a new tank top or new bras. What you do now matters.

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