Cycling Socks

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I was watching the Tour of California on the Internet yesterday and Paul Sherwin said something about Philip Gilbert dropping back and changing his socks during the race. I didn’t see it, but that seemed super strange to me. I’ve never even though about doing something like that. Paul said something about maybe Philp was putting on some special “ice socks” or something. I’ve never heard of ice socks. Socks with pockets for ice. I couldn’t imagine wanting to cool my body enough to ride with wet feet. Then Paul said something like, “Maybe as the reining world champion, he just wants to look good?” Right Paul, that is it.

Anyway, I was looking through my sock draw yesterday, looking for some light socks to wear at 94 degrees (not with slots of ice) and found the original pair of DeFeet socks that I got from Jacque Boyer. I believe he gave them to me at Sea Otter, somewhere in the 90’s. I have worn this very pair of socks, 100’s of times and they still don’t have a hole in the toes. I don’t quite understand that. Either, DeFeet made the socks much higher quality, or…. well, I don’t have another explanation.

Cycling socks are so interesting to a racing cyclist. They are an easy way for a “real racer” to identify a novice. Over the years, it is strange how the style or trends have changed.

Back when I first went to Europe, back in the 80’s, all the Pros and Western Europeans worn wool socks from Italy. I only had a couple pairs. I mainly worn super thin nylon socks I got at K Mart, which cost about 1/10 the price. It was sort of a status symbol by then having a bunch of Italian wool socks, at least to a poor kid like me. I remember going up to LaCrosse, Wis., to stay with Mark Frise before the Tour de l’Abitibi, a prestigious junior stage race. We were getting dressed to ride the first day and Mark opened a draw that was just stuffed with Italian wool socks. It dumb struck me. I was so jealous. Mark went on to be the first American to win the race.

When all the Pros were wearing short wool socks, the Russians would be wearing these mid calf socks made in Russia, I guess. It looked so weird. All the Eastern Europeans wore the same mid calf socks. We could never understand why they couldn’t get with the program and dress stylish.

When I was riding for Levis, we hired Jiri Manus, newly to the US, via Czechoslovakia, to help coach our team. Jiri had a stellar resume. He was on the podium in the Olympics and World Championships. He won the British Milk Race and the Peace Race, the two best amateur races in the world. But, he hadn’t westernized enough for our team. Roy (Knickman), kept trying to help Jiri catch up with modern ways. Jiri would pour a bunch of oil into a pan and fry bacon in the morning. Then he would crack a few eggs into the pool of grease and dump it all over toast. We, as cyclists, were avoiding most fat completely. Plus, Jiri would only wear, mid calf, white socks. That was the deal breaker. Jiri was let go. He went on to be the National Coaching Director for USAC for the next 20 years, so it was probably for the best.

When I started racing MTB, every good rider wore road cycling socks. All good riders except Dave Wiens. Dave would wear hightop black socks. Man, did it seem so out of place at the time. He took a lot of flak over the years, but he was the “inventor” of mid calf black socks for MTB racing.

Socks were short, now mid calf. It is sort of like watching the shorts that basketball players wear. Watching Magic Johnson and Co. back in the day, it seems that they are wearing hot pants compared to the knee length shorts the current generation likes.

DeFeet was the company that changed the cycling sock industry. Socks with logos. Man, was that a game changer. Socks that matched the kits. It was nearly as big a change for cycling as t-shirts with words on them were, in the 70’s, for the general public. We never looked back after that. Soon, there were a lot of copy cat companies of DeFeet, but they were the original custom sock people. Shane Cooper is the founder of DeFeet. He is a eclectic guy. His business card says something like chief sockologist on it. Pretty great title. Greg Demgen, a team mate of mine forever, worked with Shane at DeFeet for a long while. I’m sure that there were plenty of young riders jealous of my collection of socks at that time.

My original pair of DeFeet socks from Boyer.

My original pair of DeFeet socks from Boyer.

Toes of kevlar or something.

Toes of kevlar or something.

This is my sock drawer. I’d bet there are way over 100 pair in there. It’s nearly impossible to close.

Soukho winning the Olympic Games in 1980 with his high socks of the times.

Soukho winning the Olympic Games in 1980,with his high socks of the time.

Dave is still at it, with his tread setting, black socks.

Dave is still at it, with his trend setting, black socks.

22 thoughts on “Cycling Socks

  1. SalRuibal

    I have two drawers full of bike socks and still give away a few dozen every year. It seemed like every race goodie bag had a pair or two. And nearly every bike-related company included a pair with its press releases. I haven’t bought a pair of bike socks since before Cactus Cup 1996. When you have a lot of them and keep the rotation going, they never wear out. With National Bike to Work Day coming up, I’ll probably get another pair. InterBike is also a huge river of bike socks. My favorite pair is a dark blue with white lettering that simply says, “POLICE.” When there were big protests in DC, we rode down to see them. We got stuck in a big mob and couldn’t move. I started yelling, “POLICE SOCKS, make way for POLICE SOCKS. The crowd parted and we were on our merry way. The power of POLICE SOCKS.

  2. Byron

    I wondered aloud once if Pros had sock minders that paired them so they didn’t have a hissy fit before a ride or racing trying to find a match. I’ve had such a fit, as embarrassing at that is to admit.

  3. Touriste-Routier

    My Rossignoli Wool Socks with the Italian flag bands were my absolute all time favorite socks. Unfortunately I haven’t seen a pair since the late 80s.

  4. Wildcat

    I will always wear ankle height socks. Mainly because I’m a trainer and that’s what I wear all day at work. Why dirty another pair. I hate doing laundry. And I got tired of shaving my legs so I stopped doing that a couple years back too. I take a lot of flak for both. But, I figure – life is too short – do what makes you happy.

  5. KevinK

    I didn’t hear the comment about socks, or ice socks, and I may be master of the obvious for posting this, but here is what I found at velonews:


    What’s is an ice sock (mentioned in the last column)? Sounds like a good thing to have on a hot day.
    — Sharon O’Leary

    A. Sharon,
    The ice sock is, at least in its most recent form, the brainchild of Allen Lim. Keeping cool on a hot day is the key to economy and can result in huge performance gains. That’s why many athletes now warm up for time trials wearing an ice vest. Keeping the core cool despite effort gets the muscles primed without overly taxing the cardiovascular system.

    Ice socks are very easy to make. Get a cooler full of ice and a package of women’s hosiery (stockings are best, not pantyhose). Lim makes a funnel out of old 1.5-liter water bottles to pour ice into the toe of the stocking. Pack it in there; those things stretch nicely. When you have the size you want (it needs to fit under your jersey, usually on your back behind your neck; six inches long is usually good) tie a knot in the stocking. Cut off the rest of the stocking, and you have an ice sock. To make another, simply knot the cut end and continue.

    Soigneurs (and sometimes friendly mechanics) will make a cooler full of ice socks for hot races. The stocking is a perfect material because it weighs nothing, costs next to nothing, is easily found and lets the ice melt down your back. After a long hot stage, empty stocking shrapnel will litter the floor of team buses as the riders remove their jerseys for a shower.

  6. TLG

    Don’t remember this during the broadcast, but wouldn’t “ice socks” be referring to the ice filled socks (or whatever) the riders were putting under their jeserseys and on their back due to the excessive heat?

  7. Jimmie

    Seeing the yellow colored material in the toes and heels I would assume your long wearing pair of socks are made of Kevlar material. Tough fibers that are also used in gloves and glove liners to prevent blisters.

  8. Andrew

    I’ve noticed that Paul is slowly becoming as obtuse as Phil; incorrectly identifying riders, making up nonsensical anecdotes, brown-nosing the “stars” of the race. I used to like Paul, but now he’s almost as annoying as Phil.

  9. Shane Cooper

    Wow! Not sure about Ice Socks, but we at DeFeet are very thankful for the opportunity that cycling has given us. Greg LeMond, Paul Willerton, Thomas Craven, Jim Copland and many others trusted DeFeet socks way back in 1992. We have been very fortunate to find an industry that we live and a business we love. Greg Demgen is still helping DeFeet find our way. Thanks to you and all the DeFeet fans for letting us touch your soul, pun intended. – Chief Sockologist himself Shane Cooper

  10. Paul Willerton

    Nice to see Tilly tap into the steel trap of his mind and carve out this post. DeFeet is proud to manufacture products that are tough enough and work well enough to withstand over a decade of abuse from this man. Keep up the great work – and we will, too.

  11. Jef

    I really liked the Descente cycling socks in the 80s. They had a discreet logo in either red, blue, black, white or yellow and lasted forever. I have the Castelli Rossa Corsa socks now. They feel like the Descente’s on day 1 but they snag and tear, bleed colors and look like hell within weeks.

  12. Euro

    DeFeet is by far the best cycling sock manufacturer out there. I have used their products since about 1995, and still have some old socks that simply won’t die! I don’t understand the current trend of mid calf socks in the PRO ranks though. For me it will always be a short sock, maybe 2″ above the ankle. Nothing else. And no black socks except for rainy races!

  13. Jock

    Hey Steve
    I just found some more of those socks, I will have to send some to you.
    I still give them to our riders and they are by far the longest lasting! And yes they are Kevlar soles and toes… not sure why they don’t make them anymore.
    My dad tested them out by not taking them off for 6 months… and they got his ok.
    Send me an address and I will send you some more.

  14. tilford97 Post author

    Jock and Guys- Man, I had no idea that everyone would emerge from all over about this silly little post. Shane, Paul, you, we only need Dough now to leave a comment.

    Jock, I’d bet the reason the don’t make them with kevlar soles and toes is because they would sell a ton less socks when they last forever. Plus, opening a pair of new socks for a huge race is part of the fun, part of the ritual.

    Socks are now, a great part of the sport. It is strange being part of the sport, previously, when socks were just a layer between your feet and shoe. I’m glad you guys all made it happen.

  15. Bill K

    Everyone has their own socks rules.
    Under 40 degrees, Black wool DeFeet’s. 40-50 grey wool DeFeet’s
    Over 50, our Team socks. For some reason, we switched from DeFeet, 7 or 8 years ago,
    but I pull out my old Team DeFeet’s for those “Special” races.

  16. devin

    now that it is ok to wear shorts at my service job,, after 4 years my cycling socks have become an issue.. not sure if is length or what may be printed on them,, try to keep it pretty low key,, told boss all other socks suck and I could never go back to cotton.. and shot socks would even be funner with tan lines… But still never heard about ice socks..

  17. MarkS

    I can’t stand the midcalf socks that seem popular now I feel like I’m wearing long pants when I wear them and they’re hot ,I quess I’m old.

  18. VCScribe

    Unfortunately, your observation is spot-on. Paul used to be the voice of experience and reason balancing out Phil’s over-the-top stridency and chronic inaccuracy. Now Paul sounds like Phil’s younger brother . . .

  19. doughboy

    Chief Sockologist turns “50” today so lets all send him inspiration to continue on making the best socks on the planet as he enters the 2nd half of his life. Happy Birthday Shane Cooper! Tilly, I can’t ride as fast as you anymore but I can still out do your sock drawer! I remember riding a stage in Settimana Bergamasa in the rain and I think I took my wool socks off and just left them outside the car with no intention of taking them back to a cold damp hotel and hand washing them in the sink…did you take those?



  20. Tomasini53

    Hiked three hours today wearing cheap socks…welcome to blister vile! Wish I had my Wooleators!!


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