Special clothes for riding?
Special clothing just to ride a bike? Are you sure?
(This is kind of a long rant. Here's some other stuff about bike clothes to read.)
If you have any doubts that you can ride in normal clothing consider that 200 million people worldwide do it every day. So it comes down to clothing for "serious, performance cycling," and that's when the clothing starts to look and feel funny. Based on the snug-fitting clothing of the famous comic book superheros, cycling clothing has continued to devolve to its current state, which is: Nobody in his or her right mind would wear the costume if they were the only ones. That says something about it.
Tight and stretchy *is* the way to go if you want to set a personal record on a certain loop you ride, and there's a lot of flat and downhill riding in it. Also, when you're riding as a group, dressing like other riders, in tight & stretchy clothes, can encourage camaraderie and make you feel part of a group. On the other hand, no group worth feeling a part of will ostracize you for looking a little different.
People who go on around the world trips and ride a bike beyond the influence of advertising, role modeling, sponsorship, and peer groups end up wearing some kind of loose, quick-dry baggy shorts or pants, whatever shirt they happen to have, and footwear that makes sense off the bikeboots, sneakers, sandals, or whatever.
In America, cyclers who are otherwise normal wear spandex shorts and skin tight jerseys with psychedelic geckos, skulls & crossbones, wilderness murals, flags and serious-looking bald eagles, and advertisements for the local coffee shop or podiatrist. The message it sends potential riders is that without special clothing, they'll have a substandard experience on the bike, but of course that's not true.
Click-in cycling shoes are a miracle of marketing. There are times when being that joined to the pedals is helpful. Racing and all-out efforts in wet weather group rides, for example. For general riding, though, double-sided pedals and almost any shoe that's lightish and has a rubbery sole works fine. Teva Hurricane sandals are hard to beat, but in fact there are tons of non-cycling shoes that work well.
There are lots of "casual" cycling shorts out there, and it seems they all have a sewn-in padded diaper, maybe to justify the "cycling" category. Light padding is desirable and seamlessness is good too, but it's better to not have a padded liner sewn in. When your pants are separate from your undies, you can change undies daily and keep wearing the same pants or shorts, until they need a washing, too.
Sometime try riding a bike in normal clothes. If you do it often enough, you'll weed out certain garments, but in short order you'll find that your cycling wardrobe is about five times as big as you thought it was, and you'll never again not go for a short ride just because you didn't feel like suiting up.
We sell bike jerseys, and like them and wear them ourselves, when it's appropriate or we just feel like it. The rear pockets are handy, but not essential, and a bag on a bike almost always carries whatever the pocket can carry, and does it better. Pockets are for getting at stuff while pedaling a bike that has no bags. Or, if you're just going out for a short ride, a snack and a repair kit fit nicely in jersey pockets. Jerseys are good, but you don't have to wear one all the time.
Starting now, we have our own line of bike clothing that doesn't look like bike clothing, but works great for riding. It's MUSA, and MUSA stands for Made In the U.S.A. So far the MUSA collection includes a top and two bottoms that are perfect for the cycling conditions for which they were designed, and don't tag you as a cycler when you're not around a bike. We'll add to the MUSA ranges slowly as finances allow and there seems to be a need. Probably a rainshell will come next, or knickers.
Dressing for hot weather (90-degrees and up?)
This may be trivia, but it's true: Glass protects your eyes better than plastic does against infrared (IR) rays. IR rays are less damaging than are ultraviolet (UV) rays (which Proper Plastic lenses do screen out), but prolonged exposure to IR rays can lead to the dreaded malady known as EYESTRAIN, and maybe years down the road some eye scientist will discover that IR rays are more damaging than we now give them credit for being. This doesn't mean don't wear plastic; it just means don't rule out glass. Bausch and Lomb, Vuarnet, and Smith and a few others still make glass sunglasses. Some plastics, but they haven't given up the glass.
Loose, longsleeved seersucker
Long sleeves keeps the sun off, and puckery seersucker doesn't lay on your skin. A loose shirt flaps to cool you. The high collar protects neck, too, and can be turned up for Gobi-desert riding.
Maybe a light sleeveless wool undershirt
One of these lets you unbutton the seersucker without your gut hanging out, protects against chill, and won't overheat you in hot weather, really. A tremendously useful garment.
The MUSA shorts, pants, and knickers we cause-to-be-made and sell are ideal, but there are many almost-as-good lightweight swimming-trunk style shorts out there, with built-in mesh or superlight liners. Generally, the sewn-in thick and padded liners are best avoided. Go with separates, man.
Quick-dry undies, separate from the pants
Don't mean to make this a selling session, but let me tell you: If you haven't tried the light wool undies we sell, you're in for a treat. They're the best we've used by far, for cycling or everyday wear. They don't cushion you (sometimes you don't need it, and if you do, you can deal with it other ways), but they dry out super fast.
Just about any socks
Cycling socks are thin, short, and snappy, and usually are mostly synthetic, and generally have some funky logo or social statement on them. They're fine, but certainly unnecessary and of no advantage. Just wear a sock appropriate for the weather. We prefer (and sell) lots of wool socks, because that's what we ride in mostly, but that's because we're pro-sheep, not because you gotta have them._
Shoes for Cycling
Every sport has its own footwear, and the message here isn't to turn your nose up at cycling-specific shoes, but to point out that when you don't have them, you needn't stop riding.
One of the issues is sole stiffness. There's a misconception (lie) that cycling shoes need to have super stiff soles. They do if the pedals are tiny, like some clipless pedals, because the pedaling force is so concentrated. But if you use a wider pedal, it's not that important that your shoe be super stiff. Actually, I (Grant) much prefer a sole that lets me feel the pedal, not painfully, but enough to know where it is under my foot. That's an important thing to know when you're not connected to the pedal.
There are lots of good cycling shoes that aren't made for cycling. Teva Hurricane sandals are excellent. They're light, stiff enough, and cost just $39. You can wear them sockless in the summer, or with double-thick socks in the winter. I'm sure there's somebody out there who knows somebody who knows somebody who heard from somebody about a guy who crashed while wearing sandals and hurt his foot because of it; but that's pretty hard to do, and if you're afraid of that but like the sandals idea, look at the Keen sandals, with toe-guards. Shimano makes sandals, too. The Adidas Samba Millenium indoor soccer shoe is a favorite shoe for many riders. It has a stiff-enough, grippy but smoothish sole, and is fairly light. The Puma Kugel is especially good, too. Sandal note: Chaco is sorta-kinda-mebbe considering (as of December 2006) making a cycling sandal. The Chaco rubber grips super well, but the current models tend to be on the heavy and thick side for cycling. The folks at Chaco are cyclists, too, but they're into the clickers like everybody else is, and can't quite bring themselves to making a cycling sandal that works with double-sided pedals.
Here's some other stuff about bike clothes to read.