Sunday, July 26, 2009

Cycling Clothes for the Lycra-Averse

After reading yesterday's Minuteman Bikeway post, you may have been wondering: So what does a girl wear on a 22-mile ride on a fierce roadbike? I am glad you asked!

CYCLING CLOTHES:

I am not against athletic clothing when it comes to cycling as a sport. My problem is different, and I know that other women share it: My skin hates synthetic fibers, especially in the heat. Yes, the new synthetic materials are supposed to be feather-lite, super-wicking, fast-drying, ultra-comfort, and so on... But somehow my body just does not agree. If I attempt to wear anything synthetic, my skin goes haywire, and I immediately get this icky, sticky, "get-it-off-me!" feeling -- not to mention horrible rashes and irritations. Sadly, my skin is also sensitive to wool, even very thin, lightweight wool. I can wear wool as an outer layer, but not directly next to the skin.

As far as normally-available fibers go, this leaves me with cottons, linens and silks. Raw silk is the most comfortable of these, and has excellent natural wicking properties. Old-fashioned ski clothing used to be made of rough silk, but now these are super-expensive and hard to find. Cotton and linen are breathable, but not ideal for wicking. Still, if left with no other choice, it is possible to achieve wicking with cotton by wearing it in ultra-thin, gauze-like layers. Gauzy cotton clothing is currently in fashion, and I have taken full advantage of summer sales. The dress pictured in these photos is a good example.

This mini-dress consists of two layers of very thin, gauze-like cotton. I bought it in Europe, but I have seen many like it available in the US, from the Gap, Old Navy, H&M, and many other stores. The loose baby-doll style with large arm openings around the straps provides superb breatheability. Worn over a cotton sports-bra and cotton leggings (the leggings function as "bloomers" -- i.e. underwear and leggings in one), this sort of dress allows the breeze to circulate under the wide hem, through the arm openings, and in between the two gauzy layers, providing amazing ventilation. I had zero sweat stains during the 22 mile ride. It is crucial that this kind of dress be short and wide enough, so as not to get caught on the saddle when mounting and dismounting. Notice also the enormous pockets -- handy for storing hair elastics, mobile phone and camera. The leggings + sportsbra + gauze dress outfit, in several colour variants, is basically my cycling kit for longer, sporty rides.

CYCLING SHOES

Simple shoes -- the best bike shoes! I saw a heap of these on clearance at the UGG/Teva Outlet in Wrentham the other day. I remembered reading about these on BikeSkirt some time ago, and decided to give them a try. I wanted something athletic, but summery, that could be worn without socks. The Simples are great, because they have a thick, hard, shock absorbent sole that is extremely effective for pushing down on pedals. The natural canvas material makes them breathable and light in even the hottest weather, but the enclosed rubber toe is great for those times when your toe hits the pedal -- which can hurt like hell on a roadbike in open-toed sandals. I have worn Keds, Converse and Vans, and the Simples work better for me as bike shoes than either of those.

Cycling clothing for the lycra-averse (and the athletic-gear-averse) need not be impractical. I was completely comfortable cycling for 22 miles+ in this outfit and shoes, and could easily have gone for longer. At the same time, we were able to go straight from the trails to one of our favourite restaurants for a dinner out. Of course, everyone's experience is different, and what is comfortable for one person may not be for another. Experimentation and listening to your own needs is key.

9 comments:

  1. "favourite restaurants"

    Don't get all "Canadian" on us here!

    Otherwise, EXCELLENT post, though I have to do a little gender translation & those Simple shoes look like they'd do OK with toe clips. I'll have to keep my eyes open for some locally.

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  2. Heh. It's a habit from England. I went to university in the UK and still can't shake the English spelling and the eating with the fork upside down : )

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  3. Went about 25KM with my partner yesterday in Seoul and by the end she found the seat uncomfortable. I know there are 'ladies' seats etc, but apart from lycra padded shorts are there any other options regarding shorts for women?

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  4. Good article! I love linen items! They are so comfortable, good for cycling especially in hot weather as linen fabrics breaths!

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  5. David, It is not a matter of having a "ladies" saddle; those are usually just designed for making it easier to wear a skirt. It is a matter of what the saddle is made of. I am assuming she has a padded vinyl saddle on her bike? Neither a padded saddle, nor padded shorts will solve the problem of pain in that area; she needs a Brooks suspended leather saddle. This article explains it really well, and I have solved all of my saddle problems by sticking to Brooks (Flyer for the road bike; B66 for the upright bike). If her bike places her in an upright position, the saddle should be wide; if her bike places her in the bent over position, the saddle should be narrower. Hope this helps!

    LinenKids, I like your products!

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  6. David, PS: I wrote this post when I first began to ride a bike again. Notice the padded saddle.

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  7. I love skirts/dresses and leggings or tights. Right now it's too hot to wear the legging portion down here, though. Will have to check out those Simples.

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  8. The leggings can be made into (or replaced with)shorts. I am planning to make some cotton bike shorts out of older leggings with holes below the knee.

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  9. Great tips here! I love those simple sun dresses. Too bad your skin reacts to wool. I'm not sure what I'd do without it, especially in the winter.

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