For such a seemingly insignificant piece of kit, cyclists have a strange affinity for socks, and riders stress over every detail, from cuff height to colour scheme.
The market for cycling socks is ever-expanding, with super-techy socks that offer compression, carbon-fibre construction and 7-10 watts of aero benefit, to socks that turn the saturation up to 11. Beyond just being a fashion faux pas, running or ankle socks are designed around footsteps rather than pedal strokes, often having extra padding in the wrong place, which can wrinkle and cause hotspots over the course of a ride. Socks also provide a small layer of protection for your ankle bone, so it doesn't get shredded by the tarmac should you hit the deck.
Socks have been quite a source of controversy over the past few years, with the UCI enacting, scrapping and then re-instating its rules regarding height. When done correctly, socks can offer an aero advantage, although it's marginal at best and dependant on variables, some of which can be controlled, like fabric texture, and some that can't, like leg speed and size.
The UCI is intent on smoking out the #sockdopers and officials are now present at WorldTour races with a purpose-built measuring device to ensure socks don't "rise above the height defined by half the distance between the middle of the lateral malleolus and the middle of the fibula head" – their words – deemed by some as a farcical priority considering other battles currently facing the sport of cycling.
For the rest of us, socks just need to feel comfortable and look good. Socks with a four-to-seven-inch cuff seem to be the sweet spot for length, and while some tend to gravitate towards bright and colourful socks, others will argue there's no classier look than a pair of new white socks.
Keep reading for a selection of our favourite techy and bright cycling socks.
There is more to bright socks than just fashion
While the fashionistas among us have long accented kits with tall bright socks, they were improving their visibility on the road whether they knew it or not.
A 2013 study conducted by the University of Queensland found the best place for reflective detailing to help drivers identify riders in low light situations more quickly is moving parts like the knees and ankles.
Studies conducted by Clemson University and Trek Bikes into visible perception found through a phenomenon called sensitivity bio-motion (humans are really good at seeing other humans) that we are especially good at picking out human movement against cluttered backgrounds. The studies concluded with this acuity for human motion, drawing attention to major movable joints with reflective accents or bright and contrasting colours (during the day) helps drivers see us.
So by slipping into a colourful pair of socks, you're also increasing your visibility on the road.
The most comfortable socks on the market
Price: £20 / $19 / AU$35 | Cuff height: 4-7in
When we first read the technical claims that Swiftwick makes about its fibres and knitting process, we thought it was typical over-hyped marketing. They are just socks, after all. Then we tried them.
The Aspire socks are available in a number of cuff lengths and have a thin profile with minimal cushioning, seamless construction, and the Olefin fibre is lightweight, highly breathable, and quick-drying. Over the years the Brentwood, Tennessee-based outfit has cultivated a fervent following, so much so that one of our former colleagues even travelled to the US so that he could replenish his supply before they were available in the UK.
Price: £12.99 / $12.99 / AU$26 (Approx) | Cuff height: 6in
Used as a base-model for other brands, the Aireator is the original DeFeet sock. It really is the gold standard.
Besides performance and comfort benefits, which we'll get to in a moment, the Aireator socks are manufactured in North Carolina, USA, from recycled water bottles.
Comfort is unparalleled, and the Aireator mesh that adorns the forefoot increases breathability to prevent overheating. You can get Aireator socks in a range of styles, from classy white with a simple Defeet logo, or more extravagant designs including one called Moon Doggo, which is literally a dog on the moon.
Quirky socks from South Africa
Price: £14 / $TBC / AU$20 | Cuff height: 6in
Hailing from South Africa, Versus socks are manufactured locally, and the brand's cycling-specific and Active socks offer comfort and style for riders across the aesthetic spectrum.
With a six-inch cuff, both socks feature minimal cushioning on the heel and toe and a seam-free toe box. While the cycling socks offer clean yet eye-catching designs, with the Performance Active socks you can have watermelons, toucans and doughnuts along for your ride.
Price: £20 / $22 / AU$25 | Cuff height: 6in
Launched alongside its flagship road and XC shoes, Shimano says it "engineered" the S-Phyre socks to optimise performance. We won't go as far as saying these fancy socks will give you extra watts in a 40km time trial, but they are supremely comfortable.
The cuff is pretty tall and surprisingly compressive, while the heel is specially knitted to grab onto the anti-slip cat's tongue silver thread commonly found in the heel cup of shoes, and mesh-vented panels extend under the foot to prevent overheating. We weren't so sure about the padding on the top, but it lines up with the ankle strap/BOA on most shoes and does add a degree of comfort.
MAAP Focus Performance Sock
Socks to match any kit
Price: £18 / $20 / AU$30 | Cuff height: 6in
With a left and right anatomically constructed sock, MAAP's Focus Performance socks feature contoured compression knitting that's designed to support the shape and contours of your foot. Mesh panels run over the top and down the sides to keep foot funk at bay, and the dots on the arch denote the 'Dynamic arch support', which claims to make for a secure fit.
The brand has moved its sock manufacturing from Australia to Italy, and they are now made using Coolmax yarn.
Attaquer Fade Stripe
Long-lasting stylish socks
Price: £18 / $14 / AU$25 | Cuff height: 6in
Doing its best impression of the Cheshire Cat, Attaquer's Faded Stripe socks tick all the sock doping boxes: style, length and comfort. With a sizeable cuff that stays up all day, the mesh panelling comes above your ankle bone for extra cooling, and the footbed is lined with chemical-free silver yarn.
The cuff and material under the sole are a bit thicker than you find on many cycling socks, which makes them plenty durable. This writer has a pair that are still hole-free and going strong after 5+ years of regular use.
Made in Italy, designed in the UK
Price: £15 / $18 / AU$27 | Cuff height: 6in
Pongo socks come in all styles and formats, offering everything from simple solid colours to aero socks and creative homages to the world champion's rainbow bands. Pongo London's socks are designed in the UK but manufactured in Italy. The brand relies on clean designs throughout its range, with a splash of bright colour to set them apart.
The brand's name stands for Passion ON the GO, and their socks feature a six-inch cuff, mesh panels over the dorsals and an anti-twist compression band across the forefoot.
The Athletic PDX carpet
As hipster as they come
Price: £17 / $15 / AU$30 | Cuff height: 6in
Before it was ripped up a few years ago, Portland's PDX airport carpet was world-famous. The retro teal floor covering with a pattern representing the runway layout from the air traffic controllers point of view also graces socks you can get from PDX-based outfit The Athletic.
Based around Defeet's tall Aireator socks, the six-inch cuff never falls down, and the mesh top allows for plenty of airflow. If teal isn't your colour, they also come in white, red and black versions with the same pattern too.
Breath mints for your feet
Price: £16 (Approx) / $20 / AU$30 (Approx) | Cuff height: 7in
With socks fresher than an Altoid, Mint's socks are made in Italy and feature a 7-inch cuff made from Filanca nylon yarn, which helps them stay up. The footbed is made from Meryl Skinlife yarn, which is silky-soft and keeps your feet happy. Mint also ships its socks in a reusable plastic-free string-tie box.
Available in blocky and bright or busy and blazing designs, all of Mint's socks cost US$20, but a portion of that money goes straight to the National Interscholastic Cycling Association which works to get kids on bikes.
Ridge Supply The Skyline
Bright for a reason
Price: £13 (Approx) / $16 / AU$24 (Approx) | Cuff height: 6in
Matt Hawkins founded Ridge Supply after he was hit from behind by a vehicle on a solo training ride. Left with a broken pelvis, his left foot was non-weight bearing, so when his wife brought a change of clothes to the hospital, she grabbed a pair of hi-vis DeFeet socks to remind him not to put his foot down.
Once he was riding again, he started wearing bright colours, especially on his feet, and Hawkins has carried this ethos into his brand Ridge Supply. Another sock based around the DeFeet Aireator, the brand says the Skyline socks pay homage to the Blue Ridge Mountains, which the brand calls home.
The socks maketh the kit
Price: £8 / $10 / AU$15 (Approx) | Cuff height: 7in
Sean 'Sako' Sakinofsky's overarching theory of cycling clothing is centred around the phrase, "The socks maketh the kit."
According to Sako, socks should have a "leg and welt height of no less than 4in", so all of SaKO7's socks are closer to 7in in length. The release of SaKO7 socks is a bit tame compared to what we've come to expect from Sakinofsky. However, his recent collaboration with Mavic is, as he puts it, "on point".
The socks feature the french brand's motto, le sang jaune, which translates to 'yellow blood'. According to SaKO7, the sock was inspired by iconic French imagery and design contributions like the Concorde supersonic plane, the Mirage fighter jet, fine wines and breathtaking landscapes.