Modern Cycling Socks

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I wrote this post a couple years ago and watching the Basque Country race this morning, I was noticing the different socks the teams were wearing.  The sock height is a tad shorter than it was in 2013, but it is still much higher than when I started racing.  Fashion trends in cycling usually have a functional purpose.  The number of different materials in jerseys is mind boogling.  But, the amount of material in socks is perplexing.  Having a bunch of skin covered on you legs, in the summer heat, makes no sense.  And having a bunch of material down by your ankles when it rains, makes for a bunch of water weight rotating 10000’s times during a race.  It does make a difference.  Anyway, here is my sock post from 2013 –


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 thought 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 wore 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.

23 thoughts on “Modern Cycling Socks

  1. B

    DeFeet socks have been the best socks I have ever worn and I’ve used them from the beginning. They keep your feet cool when warm and they don’t get cold when cool. It has to do with the breathing I’d say. They also fit well, look ccol with the logos, and they last forever. There has been lots of imitators, but none come close. Maybe some other socks that aren’t specifically made for cycling, like Dave’s work great. But DeFeet socks are one of those products that are plain and simple the top of the line.

    Disclaimer- I do not now nor have I ever worked for DeFeet or any subsidiary thereof. I have at times, been sponsored by companies where I received some socks, but mostly I just coughed up my own cash for a great product and was happy to do so.

  2. Keith

    Just this weekend, the Olathe Subaru guys were making fun of my short sock choices. I agree that they don’t match current cycling fashion trends, but they are functional and light weight.

    I found a kind I like (2 years ago) and bought 2 dozen pairs. Now, I never have trouble matching them up when they come out of the dryer. I figure that my short socks will be back in fashion soon enough. Until then, I’ll remain unfashionable, but functional.

  3. Fabio C.

    I remember very well when Lance Armstrong’s propaganda boy starting to wear super high socks with super low bib shorts, kinda 2″ from the knee cap. Why is that ? More advertising area ? Since then so many companies adopted the new trends. However it’s a trend and now looks like it’s going back to the LOGICAL sport wear. (PS, I never gave in to the high socks…. )

  4. Wildcat

    I have never nor will I ever wear high socks. I like my cycling socks to ride just below my medial malleolus. I hear what the other guys say about my socks, but I don’t care. Same goes for refusing to shave my legs.

  5. Jim

    I never had much luck with DeFeet socks. Nothing against them, they just didn’t work for me.
    OTOH, I love Swiftwick socks. First used them in about 2007 and almost never use anything else.
    Like Steve, I was noticing the various socks being used by the pros this year and I have to say, I find most of them awful. Especially the neon Katusha socks. 1989 wants it’s colors back.
    The other thing that has undergone huge change is the length of “shorts”. When I started they were not much longer than basketball shorts of the time. Now they barely miss covering the knees and guys seem to ride with knee covers more often than not so very little leg is exposed.
    The times they are a changin’!

  6. andrew

    w.r.t. the “ice socks” mentioned on the TV broadcast – are you sure they weren’t referring to the pantyhose sections that the soigneurs fill with ice? (“ice socks”)

    The ones that the guys stick down the backsides of their jerseys in hot weather and the ice melts and cold water runs down their backs. Not socks to put on actual feet…

  7. cw

    If you don’t shave your legs you’re not a real cyclist. Please stop coming to this page you hirsute freak.

  8. 82medici

    Wildcat, I am with you on the socks. The largest size women’s tennis anklets from Target are just about the right height and thickness. However, I have to disagree with you on shaving. Even though I gave up on racing long ago, hairy legs just don’t feel right!

  9. Bolas Azules

    Short white for road. Those are roady socks. Dark socks and black socks are mountain bike socks or rain socks- socka you wear when you start a road ride in the rain. Can’t change it, never will.

  10. euro

    I agree about the long shorts. Just makes no sense to have the leg covered up to an inch above the knee, especially in warm weather. Looks gay too.

  11. Michael

    It comes down to the leg length. I love the wide variety of colors and choices out there that could match the kit, but have shorter lower legs and need a shorter sock to balanced. Also with shorter legs the high socks cover up the blood pipes and chiseled calves, let’s be honest, we want the pistons to look good.

  12. santiago benites

    I don’t know why I enjoyed reading this article about socks so much, but I did! I’ve definitely got to start reading more of your stuff, Mr. Tilford.

    I’m a big fan of the DeFeet sock, and I own many a pair. This year I came across an awesome deal that I couldn’t pass up on some unbranded, thin white wool socks. They were a bit taller than what I desired, though (that classic, pro look), so I need to fold the tops over to get them to that perfect not too tall length.

  13. Wildcat

    It’s in my blood – I’m as real as it gets. Started racing at age 12 as a USCF junior. I wish for many pace-line farts in your face this season.

  14. MS


    Long socks on me look much better on me because I’m 6’4″ and I have very long lower leg. Short sock look ridiculous on me. Daughter, who inherited mommy’s height, is barely over 5’3″ looks better in shorter socks. Long socks look ridiculous on her.

    Long shorts/bibs looks stupid on everyone (to me).

  15. Paul in VA

    My 20th century DeFeet socks are still in better shape than the ones from this century. Seems like only the Woolie Boolie have maintained the quality.

    Anyone tried ? They replace them if they wear out. Love it.


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