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!
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.
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.