When you're fine-tuning your cycling kit, it's important to cover all bases. Cycling-specific socks are becoming common, and despite appearances, there are key design features that make cycling socks better for a cyclist than the cotton ones you wear on a daily basis. Special materials, padding, and compression all provide various benefits; the best socks combine these useful features to give you a more comfortable ride.
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Keeping Your Feet Happy
Cycling-specific socks share similarities with other athletic socks, most notably in the materials they're constructed with. The best socks for cycling wick moisture away from your feet when you perspire. Synthetic fabrics like nylon and polyester excel at drying out quickly, and feature the durability necessary for intense riding. Cycling-specific socks woven from nylon and polyester also have a small percentage of spandex fibers, which help the socks fit close to your foot and calf and prevent the sock from moving or slipping down when you're riding and can't easily adjust them.
Not Your Sweater's Wool
Merino wool, a special blend of high-quality wool fibers that isn't itchy or thick, provides the same moisture-wicking properties as synthetic fibers with the added bonus of odor resistance. Wool socks are ideal for longer rides, since they'll keep your feet very comfortable and sweat-free. Merino wool isn't as durable or close-fitting as synthetics, so merino blends are common. These socks are mostly wool, but have nylon and spandex in their weave to add durability and stretch.
Padding and Protection
A blister or sore spot during your ride can be more than just an annoyance. Soreness can easily turn to bruising, and a bad blister can end your ride until your foot heals. To combat this, cycling socks often have a padded forefoot and a bit of cushion across the top of your foot to prevent any soreness from your cycling shoes. The cleat of your cycling shoes and the tight straps that secure the shoe can cause soreness on a longer ride without padding, making these socks very useful for keeping you comfortable.
Tighten Up Your Calves
Compression socks have long been used by runners, and the similarities in calf muscle groups used by cyclists and runners makes compression equally useful for cyclists. Compression socks are evenly tight across the bottom of your foot and the entirety of your calf, which increases blood flow to the muscles used while you're exercising. Compression helps prevent muscle soreness and keeps you pedaling longer, making these socks very useful for riders in competition looking for every possible advantage. The recovery benefits of compression are a subject of some debate among cyclists, but the benefits during your ride are generally accepted.