Thoughts on Socks
I don’t know about you, but if there is anything that keeps me up at night, it’s the mystery of what length of cycling socks will make me look as Pro as possible. Since I have no hope of ever actually attaining Pro status, the best I can hope for is the admiration of my fellow amateur cyclists and maybe one day being mistaken for a Pro by someone who follows tennis.
I searched far and wide on the interwebs for a definitive answer to this mystery, and came up with not much more than than a bunch of know-it-all forum dorks doing their best to out-dork each other. So I turned to my roadie friends, who take the subject extremely seriously, but apparently can’t have a discussion about the length of anything without turning it into something dirty.
And so I decided to take matters into my own hands and create this diagram (and associated notes) to help guide us in our collective quest for sock enlightenment.
Zone 01: The Triathlete Zone (i.e. sockless)
Unless you want to be mistaken for a triathlete at a group road ride (hint: you don’t), you must always wear socks. Period. While roadies are notorious weight weenies, triathletes are time weenies, forgoing the comfort of socks in lieu of the three second time loss it would cost to put them on. I suppose several hours of excruciating pain followed by a week of oozing blisters is somehow preferable to the humiliation of those precious three seconds added to your T1 time.
(Photo: Paris Al-Sultan by Howard Gadsby)
If you think I’m being hard on triathletes, believe me, it’s all in good fun. In fact, some of my best friends (including my sister) are triathletes. Plus, anytime I catch myself looking down my nose at them, I remind myself that to most other cyclists, roadies are nothing more than triathletes who can’t swim or run.
Zone 02: The Tennis/Gymnast/Cheerleader Zone
Itty bitty ankle socks should only be worn by gymnasts, female tennis players, and cheerleaders. Even if you do happen to fall into one of these categories, get your sports straight and wear some proper socks when you ride.
If you do choose to play in Zone 02, preserve a shred of dignity at least and remove the pom pom. Another possible implication of wearing socks this short is they might not be immediately visible and you may therefore be mistaken for a triathlete (see Zone 01).
Zone 03: The Pro Zone
The Pro Zone starts approximately 1 inch above that ankle bone that you bash on your crank or pedal when you don’t clip in properly, and extends to just above the bump where your calf muscle starts.
Rowr. (photo from Betterbiking.com)
Within this basic zone, there is much debate among the roadie masses about what is an acceptable height. In addition to the fickle winds of fashion and trend, my sense is that where you feel comfortable has a lot to do with the era you started following cycling. Purists from the Merckx era tend to favour shorter socks, while later adopters start to creep dangerously close to Zone 04. Personally, I prefer higher socks as they tend to minimize my calves, which are not unlike those of a Russian shot putter.
Zone 04: The Schoolgirl Zone
I love knee socks. There. I said it. But there are times and places for that particular look, and a road ride isn’t one of them. High socks can be helpful on mountain bike rides to combat poison ivy, but if you are in the bush on your road bike, you likely have bigger problems to deal with than the length of your socks. Part of the resurgence in knee socks may be attributed to compression technology. The jury still seems to be out on this, but research is tending to favour the argument that with the exception of ridiculously long efforts, compression garments are best used for recovery, rather than performance. So unless you are ten hours into an ultra anything, or on your way to biology class, leave the knee socks at home, because they do not look Pro.
Zone 05: The Stripper Zone
If your socks end anywhere above your knees, there are several possible reasons: 1) you are a stripper or prostitute; 2) you are dressed for Halloween as a Sexy Nurse, Vampire, or Witch; or 3) your socks are actually leg warmers, and are too big. Whatever the reason, when you are riding a bike, Zone 05 must be avoided at all cost.
The Question of Colour
Historical precedence and tradition dictate that cycling socks should always be white. Even the 1971 Constitution and Rule Book of the Victorian Amateur Cyclists Union says so.
Someone posted this gem (albeit for amateurs) in a discussion following this article by Gianni about sock colour on the Velominati site – the definitive masters of the Art of Looking Pro. Like Gianni, I think nothing shows off off a nice tanned and muscular set of gams like a perfectly white pair of cycling socks. So hot. However, I cannot shake my natural abhorrence of seeing white socks with black shoes. Or black socks with white shoes for that matter. It’s just not right.
That said, sometimes we do need to loosen up and not take ourselves so seriously. Case and point, my current favourite socks are these Sriracha Socks from Sock Guy, or as I like to call them, Cocks on Socks.
So in conclusion, while I will reluctantly concur with Velominati Rule 29 that states “socks can be whatever damn colour you like”, I would also respectfully submit that length does indeed matter.
Stay in the Pro Zone my friends, and we’ll all be better for it.
ik kies nog steeds voor de korte race sokken zoals vroeger want ik vind dat veel mooier dan die langere koerssokken van tegenwoordig want als je klein bent zoals ik 1 m 68 dan komen ze tot halverwege je benen en dat vind ik afschuwelijk !!!
je benen komen veel mooier tot recht als je het bij die korte houd ……………vind ik
Thank you Patrick! Your logic is sound. If you are on the smaller side, a long sock will quickly take you to schoolgirl town.
For those of us who don’t speak Dutch – I’ll save you the trouble to Google translate:
“I still choose the short race socks as before because I think a lot nicer than the long socks today because if you’re small like me 1 to 68, they come halfway your legs and I think that’s horrible!! Your legs are much nicer to right if you keep it at that short …………… I think”
Not that I can remember what magazine I read it in but the recommendation was that, fashion wise, guys look better with the longer sock in Zone 3 than what ladies tend to where – a slightly shorter sock but still in Zone 3.
But in the end, just like compression socks, if they feel good and make you feel good then wear them!
The guy in the pro pic you selected has nicer legs than most women. I would stare at his legs in any length of sock. Can you please invite him on our next ride? This would be such nice inspiration at 5:45 am in the morning.
PS: As I am 5’2” and I have a 29″ inseam and do on occasion do a triathlon, I am sticking with the gymnast, tennis player socks (sans pompoms). I need to create the illusion of leg length in my own mind as otherwise I can’t imagine why I keep riding with all of these crazy men!
I come from a family of tennis player… My socks hit on that line in between pro and yep you guessed it.
Such excellent research and resulting visual aids! Can’t believe I fall into the tri category, but then again, I’m in training for a marathon and have been on my bike twice this calendar year. My husband will be glad to hear that he’s pro material. In fact I may reward him for it by getting him a pair of those sriracha socks. Thanks for the link!
You are a genius. How much do I have to pay you to write my stuff? I am barely out of zone 2 myself but with Fignon as my fashion mentor I’m sitting pretty.
Um, yeah. I don’t get this. Let me confess straight up that I always wear socks, but I bounce between zones 1 and 2. Black shorts, black shoes, black socks, no pom-pom, but short regardless.
The primary purpose of socks is to reduce the friction between your feet and shoes and, therefore, reduce the likelihood of blisters. For a man in dress pants, there is a secondary purpose to cover the ankles so you don’t have this flash of pasty, white skin between your dark pants and dark shoes/socks. But what possible purpose can socks on the ankles serve when in cycling shorts? And, for me, they do have a distracting, negative effect as they will not stay up on my calf. So, if they don’t have a functional purpose and constantly slide down on top of that, why where them?
Oh, well. I guess I should get with the program and get some Lance-length socks. But in order to avoid creating a dangerous situation by constantly reaching down to pull up my pro-length socks while inches off others’ rear wheel in a paceline, I’ll need to wear some of those old-fashioned sock garters. I don’t see any Velominati rules against that.
Black wool zone 3 with my SIDIs suits me fine. Then there are those hot days…
Sigh……I am forever destined to be a fashionista boorista.
The 3 precious seconds would be in T2 not T1 so I guess you don’t know as much about triathletes as you presume to in your writing ! And those 3 precious seconds are the difference between podium or not at any elite race !
People like to trash triathletes…but it’s simply being insecure knowing you will never fit into being in the category of some of the most powerful athletes on earth
Actually Kristi, I do mean T1 – the transition from swim to bike, in which one would presumably put socks on to wear with bike shoes. I did triathlons for a number of years, and some of my best friends are triathletes. My sister just finished her second Ironman. So yes, I like to think I know a little something about them.
The reason people like to trash triathletes is that some seem to have the unfortunate habit of taking themselves a little too seriously.
excellent article! but it missed a point that might be slightly obscure: track cyclists from the Merckx era wore no socks, but you would have a fight on your hands if you pointed out that this places them in the triathlete zone.
(oops. sorry for replying to myself.)
trackies from Back In The Day wore no socks ostensibly to improve power transfer and feel. without that mooshy layer that could easily exceed a millimeter (and don’t get me started on dead weight), you reduce the time between firing the fast-twitch machinery and observed response by the bike.
The best chart ever that addresses sock length! By the way, you forgot to post a picture of a stripper.
The triathlete with the “nicer legs than most women”, known for rocking the speedos, is actually Faris Al-Sultan. As he’s German I’m not sure he’d like to be confused with the capital of France! Also, little known fact is that many legs used for ladies clothes adverts (tights and the like) are actually those of men. I’m a font of useless geeky knowledge….must be a triathlete!
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We here at Larga HQ believe that cycling socks should hit right below the calf muscle. 4-6″ or 12-15cm ish. Nice post!
As a former collegiate tennis player and failed pro player in my glory days and a biker for the last 25 years, I must say that your writing made me laugh for a good hour :).
This line had me laughing until I had side stitches … “the best I can hope for is the admiration of my fellow amateur cyclists and maybe one day being mistaken for a Pro by someone who follows tennis.”
Surveying the responses, I guess some people really do take themselves too seriously.
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