On Fit and the Myth of Flattering Cycling Clothes
Last week I got a message from a friend who has recently, and very enthusiastically, taken up cycling with a local club. Having gone out on her first few rides, mostly everything is good. The beginner's group pace is comfortable, the bike is comfortable, even the saddle is comfortable. Nevertheless, she was getting pretty bad chafing in the inner thighs after every 20-30 mile ride. Chafing to the point of bleeding - way in there, in the crevices between thigh and crotch. It could be her saddle after all, I thought. But, intuition told me, it could also be the shorts.
Send me a pic where you're wearing your shorts, I wrote.
She did. They were lovely bib shorts, with a nice attractive design. And they were at least one size too big. This was obvious by the way the leg grippers gapped around her thighs, and by the looseness at the abdomen. Most likely, they were equally loose in the inner thigh and crotch area, and the extra fabric was causing the chafing. I have experienced that myself, with cycling shorts that have been even slightly too big, and have observed it in others. Whenever a cyclist I know complains of chafing and the saddle is not the cause, loose shorts nearly always turn out to be the culprit.
I tell my friend this. It is clearly not the answer she wants to hear. And she then explains that, oh - she sized up deliberately, as the smaller shorts looked horrendously unflattering.
Sausaging? I ask.
Crazy sausaging! she confirms, amused by the word.
Well, girl. What did you expect messing around with lycra?!
And therein lies the rub, when it comes to performance cycling apparel. In order to do the job it was designed to do - not just in terms of performance, but in terms of comfort - it needs to fit right. And "right" in this case means tight ...which, for the vast majority of us, is almost guaranteed to be unflattering.
Now, if you ask me, the sooner we make peace with this fact, the better.
Unfortunately, there is quite a bit of marketing literature these days that would have us believe that their hip, gorgeous cycling kit will make us look like rock stars on the bike. And in fairness, the product in of itself might indeed be lovely - never has there been so much choice when it comes to tasteful, beautifully crafted performance cycling apparel. However, once we squeeze our bodies into said apparel, it is a different story.
So to protect you from false expectations, I am just going to get this out into the open.
There are only two types of people who look good in performance cycling apparel:
1. preternaturally lean people - you know, those folks with visible abs, chiseled thighs, sinewy arms
2. fictional people
Unless you belong to one of these two categories, you will not look good in performance cycling apparel. Doesn't matter what brand it is. Doesn't matter if it is minimalist or features the latest colorful must-have design. Doesn't matter if you've seen backlit photos of it where the models look epic. You will not look good in it. And if anyone tells you differently, they either:
(a.) are trying to spare your feelings,
(b.) are trying to sell you their cycling clothes, or
(c.) have grown so desensitised to the look of the human body encased in technical fabrics, their opinion cannot be trusted.
To be sure, there is a lot of cycling kit out there that I think is truly beautiful. But I am under no illusion that this means I look beautiful wearing it. One of my most comfortable and attractive cycling outfits, is a Richard Sachs set that, sadly, makes me look like a giant, leaky bag of blubber imprinted with House Industries typeface. I enjoy wearing it ...just as long as I don't catch sight of myself in the mirror! Being no less vain than the next gal, I do try to minimise the damage to my self-esteem. But when proper fit and flattering looks are at odds, I'll go with proper fit (i.e. comfort) every time, sausaging be damned! After all, when I am pushing hard on the bike I already look quite unsavory. The blotchy face, the bloating, the streaming sweat, the glazed-over eyes... to think that I could counteract all that with some glamorous cycling duds - even if there was such a thing - would surely be folly.
It goes without saying that not everyone who rides a bike requires cycling-specific clothing (see previous post!). But if such clothes are relevant to you, beware of falling into the vanity trap at the expense of proper sizing. Just remember: No piece of cycling kit is actually flattering. We might as well ignore our tummy rolls and pedal away in a beautiful shared delusion.