Thursday, August 19, 2010

Cycling Clothes for the Lycra-Averse, Take 2

Last summer I wrote a post called Cycling Clothes for the Lycra-Averse, in which I explained my inability to wear synthetic fabrics (including lycra) and described my alternatives for sporty rides.  These included leggings, gauzy tops and breezy mini-dresses made of natural fabrics. Those outfits worked for the gently paced and mostly flat 20 mile rides I did at the time. But this year, as my rides grew longer and more intense, these outfits soon became unsuitable. At this point I feel that I need proper cycling clothes, and here is why:

1. Seams: The "normal" cotton leggings I love so much have seams at the crotch. The seams are fine when cycling upright, or semi-upright, or even partly leaned over. But once I adopt a more aggressive cycling posture and travel that way for over 40 miles... let's just say the seams are not a friend to a lady's anatomy. Not at all. I do not necessarily need padded shorts, but I do need something with a generous placket down there that will re-route the seams away from the sensitive areas.

2. Fluttering: Breezy tops are great for letting air circulate. But at speeds over 16mph or so, they begin to flutter against my skin in a way that feels like Chinese water torture and drives me nuts. I want something that is tighter around my body and will not flutter.

3. Stuff getting caught on/in the bike: I know that there are ladies out there who wear cute little dresses and "skorts" on diamond-frame roadbikes. Bravo to you, I mean that!  I, however, seem to have a talent for getting the hems of skirts, the tails of long shirts, and even the bottoms of loose shorts, stuck in various bicycle components and on the nose of the saddle when I mount or dismount a diamond frame roadbike. Therefore I have been moving towards wearing tighter clothing when doing this kind of cycling.

4. The "wet rag" effect: If I wear tighter cotton clothing to prevent the fluttering and the catching issues, I am faced with another problem. Cotton dries very slowly once it is wet, which means that if the clothing is snug and you sweat on a long and intense ride, it will plaster itself all over you like a heavy wet rag.  This becomes extremely uncomfortable, especially when there are temperature variations. Just imagine cycling wrapped in a wet washcloth!

In short, I understand that tight, seamless, moisture-wicking lycra cycling clothing were created for a reason. But while I understand that, I still cannot wear it due to my skin's rejection of synthetic fabrics (before anybody asks, I did give it a try). Many have suggested wool as an alternative, but after having already spent money on the lycra, I needed to recover and save up before giving the wool stuff a try. Last time I tried to wear wool next to my skin, it felt itchy and the memory of that is still strong. I am told the new merino is different, and I am slowly working up to believing that. In the meantime, my solution has been silk tops, and partly synthetic running tights.

Silk has similar temperature regulating and moisture wicking properties as wool, and it dries almost instantly when you sweat. I have several long sleeve silk tees, as well as a silk sports-bra (from Wintersilks), and that is what I've been wearing. When we think of silk, we tend to imagine a slippery satiny material, but in actuality it exists in "normal" textures as well. The top I am wearing here feels like a jersey-knit long-sleeve tee. It has been great in the oppressive heat and humidity so far, and it almost does not flutter. The bottoms are Champion leggings designed for running. They are made from a cotton-spandex-lycra mix that is not quite as bad against my skin as 100% lycra, but still has wicking properties and, most importantly a seamless placket around the crotch. The placket is not as large as I would ideally like, but it's been all right for now.

This iteration of my "lycra-averse" outfit has been working on rides of up to 50 miles at a time so far, but I suspect that I will need something even more serious for longer rides. So there will probably be a Cycling Clothes for the Lycra-Averse, Take 3 when I finally get real cycling shorts and jersey in wool.

32 comments:

  1. Hi, I have finished reading your Cycling Clothes for the Lycra-Averse, Take 1 and 2.
    These kind of articles are very useful for me.
    Thank you. I live in Taiwan where is extremely hot in Summer.

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  2. I generally absolutely cannot wear wool next to my skin, not even cashmere, but I have managed to wear merino tops - the higher quality the better. My work colleagues gave me a Merino jersey from Howies when I left work and I can tolerate that. BUT I am aware of it all the time - it doesn't itch but it's there, and you may find if you're really sensitive you can't tolerate it. Otherwise, merino is all it's cracked up to be - warm, wicking, etc. and the one I have even has super long arms and little holes you can put your thumbs through under your gloves which makes for snug wrists.

    I would instinctively have thought of silk as very sweaty (and haven't worn my wintersilks on the bike for that reason) but it sounds like I was wrong there - will give it a go this winter.

    Horse riders have the same issues as cyclists and may have some more natural solutions. Jodhpurs for instance...

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  3. Great post! I have one "real" cycling outfit that my husband bought me before a longish ride we did last year. The outfit is wool. The same shape as lycra gear - padded bike shorts and a short sleeve shirt with cubby pocked in back and half zip at the top, but it felt much more "me" than lycra or spandex. The outfit is very comfortable and not itchy at all. Modern wool is sorta magical. However, as you said, it was very expensive, so maybe try just one piece first when you're ready and see how it goes.

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  4. Hi, have you tried a company called Lululemon? They make pants made from luon - a fabric with lycra blended with other stuff that is 'cotton-like' but breathable and moisture wicking. I find that they are very cool (temperature wise) and feel like a second skin in a way that other pure lycra products are not. They also have really neat features like pockets in the waist bands for keys and such. They are also designed with a ladies anatomy in mind. They might work for you if you are going for a lycra effect without the lycra nastiness.

    http://lovelybike.blogspot.com/2010/08/cycling-clothes-for-lycra-averse-take-2.html#comments

    here is some info on their fabrics: http://www.lululemon.com/education/info/care

    happy riding!


    http://shop.lululemon.com/Biker_Groove_Short/pd/c/580/np/580/p/2508.html

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  5. I am definitely curious to see what else you find that works for you. I will also add that you look adorable in the outfit in the pictures! While this certainly is not a problem for you, as a larger gal (Read: wide, not tall), I find it difficult to find wool items suitable for cycling (or any cycling clothing for that matter that is not extremely lycra-laden). It's a shame that so many manufacturers think that anyone who rides a bike is tiny. (As a quick side note, a few years ago, I bought a cycling jersey in an XL on a website. At that time, I thought that lycra was a necessity to ride a bike, so it was a temporary lapse in judgment. When the jersey arrived in the mail, it was such a joke... closer to a Small/Medium in every day clothing. I couldn't stop laughing because it just kept rolling up. I actually kept it to remind myself how silly sizing is.) Anyway, after that little digression, I know that Team Estrogen sells larger sized cycling clothing, but the fabrics are not anything I'd like to go near. Maybe I'm discovering a future side career for myself? Making semi-attractive, comfortable wool blend cycling clothing for all sizes. Sorry for the little rant. I know it had little to do with your search, but for some reason brought up something that's bothered me for a time. :)

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  6. G.E. - I think it would make a much-needed side career. Any cycling-specific clothes I have tried on made my body look like an overstuffed sausage, and I fit into "Medium/Large" cycling shorts despite being a size 2/4! If I am a Large by the cycling industry's standards, then what is a woman who is size 12 supposed to wear? A size 18? It makes no sense, and somebody out there has got to start making true-to size, flattering cycling clothing for women of all sizes.

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  7. Red heads often have very delicate skin. Have you tried dusting your shorts with cornstarch before putting them on?

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  8. I second your silk idea. While I have no issues with lycra and love the duds I have, I regularly wear my silk long undies in my distance riding rotation.

    I'm not a fan of wool, even modern wool, but I'm pretty sure its all mental. In the early 70's my mother would make me wear this horrible wool jumper and wool turtleneck sweater to basketball games (my father was the coach.) The high school gyms were always small, crowded and HOT. Total wool induced ptsd to this day. I can and do wear wool to work but the wool active clothes I've tried just squicked me out.

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  9. I have not done long rides- but I second the lululemon loun. I don't have sensitive skin though... but I wore the luon for the tri and it was wonderful. I wore a loun bra top and running shorts both from lululemon. The orange shirt I wore inthe picture of me onthe bike is actually a surfing rash shirt made out of swimsuit material and I had that over my bra top and wore all of that underneath my wetsuit ( tank wetsuit so the rach shirt helps my arm pits not get- rashes). I worked well for the swim to bike portion and dried on my well. Of course I hopped on the bike fully soaking in salt water and was ok with that. The rash shirt keeps the sun off of my arms too. I took it off to run in though...

    anyway- lululemon is not cheap- but worth a try esp if you can find a sale item.... just beware- sizing runs SMALL so size up. I wear 1- 2 sizes bigger than my usual size.

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  10. When I do get wool, I am thinking that I will just combine it with silk if I find it itchy. I suspect my problem is mainly with tops, not as much with shorts. So maybe I can get wool knickers and a jersey, and layer a paper-thin silk tee under the jersey...

    Thanks for the Lululemon suggestions. Likewise FYI - Ibex and Icebreaker are having a sale, with some items quite nicely priced.

    What is it with cycling clothing running so small? At least I am glad to hear it's not just me!

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  11. "Velouria said...
    If I am a Large by the cycling industry's standards, then what is a woman who is size 12 supposed to wear? A size 18? It makes no sense, and somebody out there has got to start making true-to size, flattering cycling clothing for women of all sizes."
    My point exactly! Surely it is coming? It's kind of depressing... reminds me of trying on wedding dresses. Why do they make wedding dresses smaller than normal sized dresses? Do they want to depress you during a time that should be happy and fun? I feel the same way about riding a bicycle... it should be happy, fun and enjoyable, not make me hate my body or feel as though I'm a freak of nature. Hmm... maybe I really should look into this 'side-career' more.

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  12. From year to year I seem to change preferences, this year being a synthetic and spandex kind of year. I am loving the Louis Garneau compression shorts (extra spandex) and a selection of hot weather mesh jerseys. Very comfortable and I love the pockets. Last year it was strictly wool, I could not stand the feel of synthetics and I wore it on all but the hottest days, which compared with this year, were few. As for wool, I love the Earth, Wind and Rider jerseys and hoodies. I have several of them, long sleeve and short and they are very well made (and soft). They ship from Cambridge, so maybe you could even check them out in person. Ibex for the shorts. I believe Woolistic also offers shorts, but I have not had good luck with the jerseys wearing well for the cost, so haven't tried them.

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  13. I swear by Icebreaker merino wool base layers (and I can't stand people who swear by stuff) - they're not only good on their own or under cycling jerseys as 'sporty' gear, but they convert pretty much anything into a cycling outfit. If you wear them under looser 'fluttery' stuff you lose the 'chinese water torture' effect. I wear them all the time under t shirt, shirts, polo shirts, you name it. They last wash and dry really well and last for ages.

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  14. Ya, I don't get the sizing thing either but now that I know generally what I wear, I just buy up. Clothing sizing in general seems to be more and more random these days.

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  15. Thanks for the suggestions. I have heard of Earth, Wind and Rider, but did not know they were local. And very glad to hear the Icebreaker testimonial, as some of their base layers are now on clearance!

    It would be so cool if somebody out there who owns a bundle of wool cycling clothes by the various brands would write a comparative review!

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  16. This is sooo funny! My friend and I were lamenting the lack of nice quality, non-synthetic materials for hiking, biking, etc. just a month or so ago. She was pregnant at the time, just had the baby, and remained active the whole time. She and I are both very tall, big ladies and struggle with finding active-wear that both we like and that fits us.I think we are all running into the ridiculous sizing brain fart that is part of all American clothing....that we all should be a size 4 even though it would not be advisable for us to be. I support this idea of real sizing for real ladies, so that we all become and stay more active throughout our lives.

    Also, I LOVE silk! Here in Austin we have had over a month of 100+ temperatures and the only material to survive in is silk. It feels like you are wearing nothing, while cotton is a soggy mess....

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  17. david...no the other one!August 19, 2010 at 11:24 PM

    Velouria, must confess I have not read all of the posts on bicycling apropriate clothing. But wish to comment on the cornstarch application. After reading this post I think the solution may be just what worked for me. When I was insulating our home, I found that I was unable to stand insulation fibers, loose and batts. Those were fiberglass, and I HATE what they do to my skin, I just break out in a rash from head to toe. So my contractor suggested baby powder, now if I have to apply insulation I just POUR it on, everywhere under my clothes, on my feet, everywhere..visions of ghosts! But it works I don't even notice its fiberglass...don't need gloves, although I do still use a respirator, try it it works and its cheap.

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  18. Cornstarch is an interesting idea. So, on a 50 mile ride in 95F heat, do I reapply it en route?.. I imagine that would require either frequent restroom stops or a public display of nudity the world may not be ready for : )

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  19. I third the suggestion of Lululemon. I use their clothes for yoga. They have great short pants with smart seam placement and they work well when sweaty/dry quickly. Lululemon is expensive, but I usually find good stuff on the sales racks in back.

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  20. Lululemon will have my love forever for making a decent looking sports bra in a 32 D.

    I think silk is a good way to go. But it is really hard to find knitted silk layers that don't run huge or extra long. I would look next time you are in Austria for both wool and silk. I got so much of this sort of thing last time I was in Berlin and I imagine Vienna shops stock the sort of random artisanal wool and silk underthings that seem so commonplace in Germany but are rarely exported.

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  21. Well, what can I say...you wear them well. Really. And, in the end it's all about practicality, isn't it. And, jumping on the anti-this and anti-that bandwagon isn't always the same as what's practical. So, thanks for approaching this with a level head and giving a fair assessment. I'm not sure that guys have the same issues as the ladies. But, then again, I can't remember the last time I rode 50 miles in a day. Maybe when I was 13-14 yrs old. But, maybe never...lazy butt that I am.

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  22. Patagonia Capeline baselayers (tops) work great. They are made out of recycled materials, come in nice neutral colors, they last forever and aren't too expensive.

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  23. I think that a big part of the clothing problems you bring up is that cycling culture has embraced the “wannabee racer“ look, and along with that, a totally uncritical acceptance of synthetics. I love cycling, but I can't wear synthetic clothing myself (at least in contact) and I also can't bring myself to go riding looking like I had a psychotic breakdown ( or a stroke in the fashion part of my brain) while dressing for it. Unfortunately, there are very few ”sensible” or understated clothing options for cyclists of a similar mind. It's worse, actually, for clothing than it is for bikes, where the overpriced composite offerings of the LBS are offset by a large reservoir of sensible vintage bicycles and components, and even quite a few sources/manufacturers who still produce equipment in this vein.

    Crotch construction is the big issue, I think -- that central seam is murder for the nether parts on anything but short rides. Tops are much easier to find an acceptable solution for.

    I've been thinking about trying Rivendell's MUSA trousers/shorts.
    http://www.rivbike.com/products/show/musa-pants/22-072
    They're somewhat baggy, which is OK by me, but I realize that many may find this not their cup of tea.

    There are also DIY approaches for those with a sewing machine and ambition
    Josh Putnam's page
    http://www.phred.org/~josh/bike/jersey.html
    A source for men's + women's pads (but no natural chamois)
    http://www.aerotechdesigns.com/cycling_crotch_pads.htm#trishort
    Seattle Fabrics has several cycling shorts patterns (but generally in the racer mold, constructed from lycra or blends thereof)
    http://www.seattlefabrics.com/products.html
    What I'd really like to find is a “chop + stitch” convert-those-old-khakis pattern.

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  24. Anon 2:01 - Thank you for the links. I was considering deconstructing some of my leggings and sewing a gusset into the crotch; maybe I will try that when I have a spare hour. Oddly, on the 2 occasions I wore the (synthetic) Pearl Izumi bike shorts that I bought last year, the thick chamois padding did not help my "crotch issues" but almost made it worse. But I can't seem to find bike shorts with just a gusset, no padding.

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  25. it's so ridiculous how not only cycling clothes but all outdoor technical clothes are poorly designed for womanly curves. Marmot and Patagonia are better than most.
    A warning on the IBEX, I find that it runs TINY. I ordered a vest from them in medium, and then large, and then gave up.

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  26. Try bamboo, also - these guys have some relatively inexpensive bamboo clothing (though not much that is "bike-specific")

    http://www.alosport.com/

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  27. Hi, merino wool is amazing. The right blend IS NOT ITCHY. Icebreaker is the best out there and can be found on ebay or craigslist as it is expensive. and then there's cashmere!! I live in a damp maritime climate so rediscovering wool was the best thing ever. I check out the second hand shops for merino wool. For itchier wool I wear silk underneath. I almost want to replace all my cotton shirts with merino wool. Ibex make nice stuff that is made in the USA. I have ibex and icebreaker dresses that are gorgeous and made for biking too. I too cannot abide synthetics and I really do find wool to be the best. When out on a cold day ride I might start out cold but quickly warm up, and the wool regulates itself. If get sweaty I will most likely be dry by the time I get home. During one particulary harrowing long bad weather ride, I got wet, cold, sweaty-but by the time I got home my back was dry again and I was still warm. I also wear silk which is so warm or cool when needed. I always have a silk scarf on hand for some super soft coziness. I wear dresses with my diamond frame too. There is no need to wear lycra just because you are on a long ride. Much of the year is cold and rainy so in the summer I try to wear dresses and skirts as much as possible, but always bring along a wool sweater and silk scarf for when I get cold. i also swim in the ocean and have to bike to and fro so I bike to the beach wearing wool to heat up before getting into the frigid water and then put wool back on after turning into an icecube and warm up again.

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  28. I love my wool swobo fenster knickers. I think I paid 40 dollars for them new.

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  29. Icebreaker is brilliant! And they also have a cycling specific range. Check out Silkbody for silk garments which have a soft matt finish.

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  30. Merino is the best! Not itchy at all, and you can get super lightweight garments that will keep you cool in summer. Good for sweating to as it will stay feeling dry for ages, and the garments won't smell as much. Nor will a merino garment stretch and sag and require special washing like other wool knits. In winter I pretty much ALWAYS wear a merino top as my first layer - for cycling and everything else. Then again, in New Zealand (where Icebreaker is made) there's something like 14 sheep to every person, so the stuff is pretty easy to come by...

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  31. Thank you for this excellent post! I just finished my first ride in my silk jersey (from REI) and it worked beautifully. I have the same aversion to synthetics. If it's not silk or supima cotton, it just feels icky, sticky, itchy and hot to me. There is a whole untapped market in cotton and silk workout wear. I don't care how "breathable" and "wicking" a store tells me their clothing is... it still feels like I'm wearing plastic clothing. As for wool, I can tolerate SmartWool socks, but that's it. No wool jerseys for me; makes me hot and itchy just thinking about 'em. ;-)

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