How Can We Keep Our Socks Clean?!?

·4 min read
Photo credit: Amy Wolff
Photo credit: Amy Wolff

I have a lot of socks in various heights and colorways, but I wear the white ones almost exclusively. I like having crisp, white socks. The catch: It’s impossible to keep them that way.

This morning I left my house at 6:45 to meet a friend for a ride. I got to the spot at 6:55, unclipped while waiting for my friend to roll down. I grabbed my water bottle, looked down, and there it was. Chain lube, grease, whatever the substance combo, it was huge black streaks on the outside of my left leg’s crisp white sock.

Somewhere between getting ready to ride, getting the bike out the door, and just getting rolling, I brushed against the chain unknowingly and within the span of less than 10 minutes.

Before 7 a.m., I had ruined a fresh pair of socks. It’s not the biggest deal in the world but it’s annoying. Socks aren’t cheap, but really I just want to know why I can’t keep my white socks crisp.

As one does when searching for answers (or support), I resorted to Instagram to crowd source why this was happening to me. “Is this just me? It’s literally every ride, every pair of white socks, never know when it happens, no warning signs,” I wrote.

The responses varied:

“Me as well. It just happens.”

“I switched to wax lube instead of oil and it helped a lot.”

“Just you…then again I wore black socks yesterday.”

“Got to love those cat 5 tattoos.”

“Every time I ride any bike for the last 30 years.”

“It happens until it stops happening. It’s an experience thing.”

Sure, black socks might hide the problem, but that doesn’t present a solution. Saying it stops with experience also doesn’t solve the problem. No one is telling me why. So I ask, is it when I clip or unclip? Is it when I’m carrying my bike down the path to get to my driveway? The answers to those questions is what I was looking for. But I’m realizing no one knows because no one gave me real feedback. I mean, I’m there and I don’t know the moment it happens.

However, with the help of longtime riders on our staff, I came up with some solutions. It turns out that this is a problem for cyclists throughout their lives, and through all spectrums of experience, but it is particularly a scourge for those closer to the novice stage. And while most of the time the right leg takes the hit, with people like me, both legs are vulnerable.

Here are some tips for avoiding the marks or dealing with it when you get one:

  • Concentrate on using your non-drive side foot—the one on the side of your bike without chainrings—to stop (at signs, lights, or whenever else you get off your bike) until it becomes a subconscious habit. We most often mark our calves when we stop pedaling and put a foot down, inadvertently rubbing our leg against the chain or chainring. Over time, you will develop better spatial awareness (seriously!) so that even if you use your drive-side foot, you will avoid rubbing against the greasy parts. Until that happens, the best method is to simply use your other foot.

  • Likewise, when walking beside your bike (or carrying it, for that matter), try to do so from the non-drive side. If, for some reason, it is more convenient or practical to maneuver your bike from the right side, be especially vigilant about leg contact when going through doors or around turns, or lifting your bike.

  • Keep your drivetrain clean! This is, like, the most obvious solution, and the most ignored one. A dirty, gunky chain seems to spew grease at our legs. A clean chain requires more contact.

  • If your riding conditions allow it (not a lot of wet riding) use dry lubes, which are less likely to lead to thick, greasy buildup.

  • If you get a mark on your leg or sock and want to try to remove it midride, don’t try to do so with water. Some kind of dish soap, wet wipe, or even something like olive oil will better help you wash it away. I once saw someone use a clear soda, and it kinda sorta worked!

  • If all else fails, and you are a person of bold taste, embrace the mark and do like longtime bike industry superstar Sky Yaeger—get a chainring mark tattoo on your right calf!

PS: Can one of the sock companies please make a white sock with a black chainring mark pre-applied?

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