Cycling socks: Are long better than short?

Stuart Clapp discusses the long and short of the cycling sock and which is on trend. And is one length faster than the other?

There’s been a lot of talk about the length of cycling hosiery at the moment, and for the fashion conscious, it’s become a real bone of contention. So just what is the correct length for a pair of cycling socks?

“To generalise, let’s say men’s sock lengths are short (6cm), medium (9cm) and long (13cm). Over the last 18-24 months Wiggle has seen a rise in length from brands such as Sako7Socks and Ten Speed Hero, each brand using a DeFeet Aireator 15cm cuff. It’s all about flashing that design. Smaller cuffs have less room for expression; it gives them a bigger canvas,” says Richard Land, cycling soft goods buying manager at Wiggle.

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How does this fashion trend apply to women’s socks? “The average sock length for female cyclists has remained pretty static, 3cm being the most popular, followed by 6cm. This is pretty much across the board on all the brands we stock,” says Land.

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Like most cycling trends, this one has its origins in the peloton. Lance Armstrong got the ball rolling in the 1990s but the current vogue for long socks is thanks in large part to our very own Sir Bradley Wiggins.

Usually a stickler for tradition, talk of Wiggo’s socks first graced these pages a couple of seasons back when he wore a long black pair at the Giro d’Italia. Neither length nor colour seems overly outlandish now.

Wiggins's long socks during his ill-fated Giro d'Italia. Photo: Graham Watson.

Wiggins's long socks during his ill-fated Giro d'Italia. Photo: Graham Watson.

Classic v modern

Traditionally, the peloton’s style icons, which Wiggins so admires — Eddy Merckx, Jacques Anquetil and Cycling Weekly’s most stylish cyclist of all time, Fausto Coppi — wore a white, 7.5cm sock. They were always white and always short, the cuff sitting just above the ankle. Classic.

But although he might be steeped in cycling history, Wiggo’s respect for tradition clearly doesn’t extend to his socks, which he is well known for liking long.

Take his recent Hour Record triumph at the Lee Valley Velodrome, for example, where only half his legs were visible. It could be a fashion statement, an homage to his roots in track cycling, or a new technological breakthrough to save a couple of watts. Either way, it got people talking about Wiggo’s socks again.

The UCI rules aim to “limit the impact of equipment on performance” and neither compression nor aerodynamic properties are allowed to be designed into clothing.

Pro Continental team United Healthcare even went as far as to have a poll before the start of this season where riders voted on the length of sock they wanted: 2.5cm, 7.5cm, 12.5cm or the lengthy 17.75cm. The 12.5cm won.

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Sean Sako is to cycling socks what Chris King is to hubs. He’s the creator of Sako7Socks, a line of well-thought-out foot-cosseting designs.

“Firstly, there is no two ways about it, you have to wear socks. Triathletes and even some track cyclists have been known to not wear them, but in my eyes, that’s a big no-no. I like it when the top of the sock cuff stops at the beginning of the calf muscle belly. Any higher and it’s just not classy,” says Sako.

Wiggo's Hour Record socks certainly got people talking. Photo: Andy Jones

Wiggo's Hour Record socks certainly got people talking. Photo: Andy Jones 

Our take

Whether there’s anything to be gained or lost in terms of performance is still up for debate, but there are precious style points at stake and in some people’s minds, that counts for far more than speed. And if we weren’t bothered about style, we would’ve all taken up some other sport the second leg shaving was mentioned. For now at least, long socks are this season’s must-have.

Longer: Sean Sako, Creator of Sako7socks

“There’s nothing worse when someone is wearing stylish cycling apparel and then messes up the look with sub-standard socks. Socks can make a bad kit look good or a good kit look awful. Of course, it comes down to the individual, but for me the socks maketh the kit! Mid calf, all the way!”

Shorter: Richard Land, cycle soft goods buying manager, Wiggle 

“Over the last few years there has been a shift to longer lengths in sock. Guys who wear performance brands have gone longer, while men who prefer the classic designs are buying a more traditional shorter or mid-length sock.”

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