Sometimes it seems like cycling has a lot of rules. You may have heard people say that you should only wear black cycling shorts or that your socks should be a certain height. Some will tell you not to wear spandex while mountain biking and saints preserve us if you wear baggy shorts on a road ride.
These rules are hogwash. The truth, of course, is that you can wear whatever you damn well please to ride your bike.
That said, there are some legitimate reasons why fashions are so distinct between the different cycling factions. We break it down for you in this road riding apparel vs mountain biking apparel post.
Aerodynamics is typically not a concern on the trails, so the need for close-fitting, drag-reducing clothing is not an issue.
The durable fabrics of MTB-specific shorts stand up better than spandex clothing to falls and being swiped by branches or brush.
The padding for mountain biking shorts tends to be thinner because your position on the seat is different. You spend more time out of saddle and moving around in different positions. You can even buy MTB underwear to wear under regular shorts.
Jerseys are breathable and cut specifically to be comfortable while mountain biking. Some have pockets and some don’t, so consider whether you’ll be wearing a pack. A pack will cover rear pockets.
MTB gloves are full length to protect your fingers from branches, etc.
MTB helmets offer more protection on the sides and back because the way you fall mountain biking is different from how you fall on a road bike. They usually have visors. It’s said that the visors are for shade from the sun so you don’t have to wear sunglasses. Downhill mountain bikers wear full face helmets for protection in the event of a face plant.
In road cycling, close-fitting clothing is the norm because of faster speeds. If your clothes are flapping in the wind, they are stealing your speed and making you work harder.
Spandex is sweat wicking and moves as you move, so it’s comfortable even though it’s close-fitting.
Jerseys have back pockets to keep stashed snacks and other necessities easily accessible while riding.
Helmets for road cycling offer different coverage than MTB helmets, and are designed to be aerodynamic. Plentiful vents are cooling. Visors are not advised because in your lower position, they can block your view of the road.