Updated: Jun 7, 2022
One week prior, a colleague asked advice for advertising a new line of socks. She was completely unfamiliar to both marketing and what to look for in a pair of socks. What she needed to do for her work was to create an ad campaign for a line of skateboarding socks. At this point some readers might wonder what skateboarding socks have to do with aero cycling socks, but I promise it will all tie-in together. The only way that I could help was to first teach her about marketing, and then teach her about socks in general. After adding those two elements, I could then teach how to market her company's new line of skateboarding socks. The same is true with choosing the right aero socks, first a foundation is needed to understand exactly what the options are and what makes one product different from the other.
There is a reason why runners typically do not wear long socks, and another reason why soccer players typically wear knee-high socks. Cyclists want to wear the longest socks possible to gain the biggest aerodynamic advantage possible. Since the outside of the calf region is textured to push away air in a favorable manner, having more is typically better. However, UCI--the governing body for professional cycling--has regulations against length for road racing purposes, which is mid-calf. By the time of writing, it has generally been accepted as a fact that most of the drag is caused by the rider rather than the bike or components. Face it, the body is like a brick wall in the wind. Well, legs are a large part of the entire body. Aero road socks should be designed to fit up to the mid-calf.
Two: Texture and fitment.
The obvious component is texture, many different companies that boast aerodynamic advantages do so by using fabric that does not "trap" the air or wind. The key component to aerodynamic advantages is reducing drag. For example, think of the feather versus brick question--which falls faster? Well, the feathers are designed for flight and remain in the air longer. What clothing companies want to avoid is fabrics which take in a large amount of air. Another component is creating textures which trick the air to go around rather than try passing through, the most popular example is the dimples on a golf ball.
The next component is fitment, this is an area largely overlooked by riders but focused far too heavily by clothing companies. Imagine, for an extreme example, someone that is heavily overweight wearing clothes that are far too tight. What happens? Typically, the excess weight pokes out in areas that are not covered by the garment. Some companies use silicone grippers to keep the fabric tight to the body, which sometimes is an acceptable solution. The problem is that silicone grippers sometimes do not like to conform to the body and will cause that look of an overweight person fitting into small clothing, which then causes drag because of the irregular shape. The clothing must fit snug to the body, but not so tight that it causes an irregular shape.
In general, socks have come a long way from the plain white cotton socks that most people grew up using for general purposes. The problem was that it retained sweat, stained easily, became smelly easily, provided no additional compression, wore quickly, etc. The list goes on and on. Technology companies spend enormous amounts of cash trying to come up with ways for fabrics to solve just about every issue. From improving blood flow for sports recovery, to keeping the body cool using special fabrics. Many consumers do not think about the technology in a pair of socks, but that is typically the big difference between the cost of plain white cotton socks and aero cycling socks. Particularly the cost of the synthetic materials.
The fabric material is another field that falls under technologies in the socks. Decades ago, using synthetic materials for socks was unheard of. Now, many sports from football to cycling all use synthetic materials. The modern materials wick away sweat better, are less smelly after usage, feel cooler, and are better at maintaining shape. One big issue with the cotton socks was the tendency to fall down the calf and create an irregular shape. Because of the materials used, which allow the socks to stay in place after hours of riding, silicone grippers are unnecessary on road cycling socks--although there may be an advantage for the longer time trial socks.
Four. Ventilation and comfort.
Two areas often overlooked are the ventilation and comfort aspects. Some riders choose speed over comfort, which is okay for a few kilometres, but many professional races happen over hundreds of kilometres. Most of the necessary ventilation and comfort is required in the foot region, for two reasons. One, because it is surrounded by the shoe which causes another layer of heat. And two, because it has the most impact from the constant stomping on the pedals. Good pairs of socks have visible areas where heat can escape from the sock. Furthermore, good pairs of socks have visible compression areas around the foot that prevent unnecessary movement. Many of the qualities of ventilation and comfort are hard to quantify without testing.
There you have it, four key areas to look for when buying a new pair of socks.