Wednesday, December 16


There is an ongoing sideline debate amongst Cyclists (the outspoken of the cycling world) about the value of wearing cycling specific clothing to ride or to forego it for just riding in the clothes you happen to be wearing.  My earliest mountain biking days I pretty much just wore BDUs or cargo pants, hiking boots, and a t-shirt.  When I got my first road bike I gave in slightly, and bought a pair of padded mountain bike shorts, mountain bike shoes, and finally a helmet.
When I started bike commuting in 2008 I had tight lycra bike shorts, a couple of jerseys, and the mountain bike shoes.  I was in “full kit” as they say.
© Rick Smith |
I was fortunate that my workplace had a gym and locker room with showers so I was able to drive on Mondays and take four changes of clothing in to the office and then I rode my bike the other four days.  Each day I wadded up my worn clothes and carried them home in my backpack.
Eventually I added a cargo bike to the stable and then I rode it on Mondays and took five outfits and then rode the mountain bike or road bike the other four days.
After a couple of years of riding every day I got sick of transporting clothes back and forth and changing clothes all the time.  It seemed I was wasting so much daylight by having to make a costume change before I could go anywhere.
For a brief time I became attached to a certain pair of khaki cargo pants and started to wear them to ride and then at work where the dress code was business casual.  I was able to get by with the pants I rode in because no one ever looked at my lower legs, but it didn’t take long before the cuff of my right pantleg was ragged and oil stained beyond repair.

And then the saddle sores flared up.  I won’t go into details, but I finally had to concede defeat and went back to wearing chamois to ride in and changed clothes for work.  
Where the debate comes into play is that for many people looking to get into cycling there is pressure from bike shop employees and other cyclists to “kit out” from the get go.  I disagree that bike specific clothing is necessary despite my own ups and downs with the issue.  What follows is my take on the three main articles of cycling-specific clothing that can be a barrier to new (or old) cyclists getting out on the bike.
Whatever works
Clipless pedals are NOT NECESSARY AT ALL.  Flat pedals work fine.  Bike shoes are an added expense that is not necessary and can actually ruin the experience of cycling for some people.  If you choose to use clipless pedals it should be because you have reached the limit of what you can do with flat pedals and want more control or speed from your bike.  If you don’t feel you need either then don’t bother with clipless pedals. 
It's just that easy!
Bike pants/shorts.  As long as you take proper care with the clothing you wear while riding you can get away without ever buying padded pants for riding.  The main concern is that you don’t ride and get sweaty in clothing and then keep riding in those clothes after funk has started to grow in them.  From a comfort standpoint if you just ride eventually your sit muscles will strengthen and you can ride nearly naked on a minimally padded seat.  Bike specific bottoms can be helpful because they are typically cut different from non-cycling pants and have different flexibility for riding.  Some have built in features to keep your cuff from getting chewed up in the chain.  Or you can simply use a little Velcro strap.
If you’re going to pick a single bike specific article of clothing I would recommend pants or shorts with a chamois.  But it really comes down to what your purpose in riding is.

Jerseys.  Jerseys are really a fashion choice.  I like them because when I do ride in bike shorts the jersey has pockets for my phone and keys.  On long rides I do like them for stuffing full of food and emergency gear.  But for commuting or utility cycling a jersey is just silly.  For short rides I find they’re too uncomfortable (tight) and usually serve no useful purpose.
My standard super hero costume for quite a while
That’s really it.  Anything else you could buy/wear is just accessories.  I’m not going to get into the whole winter clothing discussion.  We’ll save that for another time, but suffice it to say that there are even better arguments for foregoing the kit in winter. 
Having said all of that, if you want to blur the lines there are a few companies that make cycling specific clothing that can pass for business casual, and every once in a while you’ll see someone touting professional dress that doubles as cycling gear.  I see those items as specialty clothing.  If you need them you’ll know it and seek them out.  I’ve never needed a suit with a gusseted crotch, wicking abilities, and a chamois.  Some people may need that. 
What has been a huge barrier for me this past year is that I have grown really tired of changing clothes at lunch time to ride.  Sometimes I portage the mountain bike to a local park to ride and other times I have gone out on the road bike for a recreational ride or even to ride into downtown Lexington for meetings at the MPO or the KYTC District office. 
For meetings it is frustrating to have to deal with changing a shirt to keep from sweating too much in my office uniform and then carrying the clean shirt with me in a backpack which makes me sweat more, and then changing at the meeting place to look presentable.  And then after the meeting repeating the whole process in reverse…
I’ve always resisted the idea of the crossover bike/business articles of clothing, but I think I need to start looking into it a little deeper.  I might be able to get myself back on the bike much more often if I can short circuit my laziness. 

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