Absolute Beginners: You want me to wear what? Spandex!

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New cyclists often complain about cycling clothing, refusing to wear it: It’s expensive and pretty much useless for anything else. Its ugly. Its not flattering. It exposes my junk. After a while, it smells. It makes me look like a dork.

All valid, criticisms but in the end, even vociferous spandex naysayers will, eventually, wear cycling clothing. Why? Because it is supremely functional for long distance riding.

Here are a few reasons:
1. Tight fitting clothing doesn’t bunch up and cause sores.
All cyclists eventually get “saddle sores,” or skin irritation in the crease between the buttock and the thigh. Though there are many causes of saddle sores, one cause is poorly fitting bike shorts, or bike shorts with stitching in the wrong place. The folds of fabric or stitching can rub the skin, causing it to become raw, then native bacteria can infect it, causing angry, itching sores which make riding unpleasant.
To avoid saddle sores, begin by keeping a smooth layer between your buttocks and the saddle. Experiment with lubricants: vaseline (which is thick and so works well, but is difficult to remove from the cycling pad), chamois butter, or even silicone-based lubricants, or none at all.
2. Cycling shorts have the padding you’re missing from the saddle.
In my entry on cycling seats, I recommended the smaller, compact saddles used frequently by cyclists. Such saddles help avoid saddle sores, are lighter, and allow free leg movement. But you still don’t want your sit bones resting on a hard surface. So where does the padding go? In the cycling shorts, of course! And that is why those pads are in there.
Thor Hushovd. Image Credit
3. Cycling clothing is purposefully light weight and fast drying.
A pair of cotton shorts can weigh about a pound, but a typical bike outfit can weigh much less than a pound! The less you have to push up that hill, the more achievable it is.
Cycling involves sweat. Lots of it. But it also involves varied environmental conditions. Unless that sweat can escape, its going to build up in your clothing, weighing you down, causing to to overheat while exercising and to get chilled when at rest, and its going to start to stink. But cycling clothing is designed to dry quickly even while exercising, minimizing the build up of moisture. And being dry is so important while riding!

4. Many styles of cycling clothing are convertible.
Rides are often long. They can take from 2 hours for a 30 mile ride to 8 hours for a 100 mile ride. Thus, rides often start early in the morning when its cold and damp. The sun rises and so do the temperatures. Or the ride up hill is sunny and hot, while the descent is cold and shaded. Or half way through a lovely ride, the wind kicks up and it starts to drizzle.
So, for every ride, you need to be prepared for multiple riding conditions. Cycling clothing can help. For instance, you can purchase extremely light-weight Goretex jackets which block the wind and keep you surprisingly warm, but which can pack up small enough to fit into your jersey pocket. You can purchase insulated cycling sleeves and leggings which can be pulled up or down while you’re riding.
There’s a good outfit for every condition. Check the weather and be prepared.
5. Layering adds warmth without significant weight.
If you know that its going to be a cold day, you may be tempted to don a thick sweater, down jacket, or other rain coat. But if properly layered, cycling clothing can achieve comparable warmth without the bulk.
On cold days, I typically wear a base layer (often lycra or wool) under my jersey. Sleeves of various insulation depending on the forecast. A jersey. A Goretex jacket — I have a very thin one and an insulated one — depending. Cycling shorts, also of varying insulation. Gloves of various insulation levels (or two pair of gloves woolen under fingerless). And insulated leggings. I can take things on or off as needed.
On my feet on cold days, I’ll wear woolen socks and water resistant, insulated toe covers over my shoes.
6. If cared for properly, cycling clothing lasts a long time.
All this clothing is expensive. I probably have $2,000 or more in cycling clothing. But if kept clean and dry, it can take years to wear out. The most expensive pieces — Goretex and insulated — often will last for many years because they are the least used in California.
7. You get used to the odor.
Sadly, spandex has a tendency to retain odors. Its never pleasant, but its worth it for the thrill and fun of cycling. Wool retains less odor, so try wool garments, too.
I hope this helps. If so, consider donating $5 or more to my ALC ride. Click “Donate,” above.
Love,
Your Bear
Over the next couple months, I’m going to write a few articles with the lead-in title “Absolute Beginners,” explaining some of the basic principles of cycling. Most of the information is stuff I’ve learned from other cyclists, bike shop mechanics, classes I’ve taken, and Google searches. Please help me out and comment with corrections, additions, or supplements which will help my readers learn about how to operate their bikes!
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One thought on “Absolute Beginners: You want me to wear what? Spandex!

    […] how much you’ve ridden before, whether you’ve been eating or drinking, your dress (which is more important than you realize), whether you prepared for the ride as required by the ALC, and general your physical health. TRLs […]

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