Of all the cycling gear I’ve ever owned I must admit my favourite items are my collection of long sleeve cycling jerseys. Let’s face it. When you’re on your bike, nobody really notices what you’ve got on your feet or legs, do they? The helmet is really only there to keep you safe so it’s functional rather than something designed to look all that good. But I always notice long sleeve jerseys. I suppose it’s because they’re the part of you that is most obvious – the portion of any cyclist who is visible above the frame of the bike, clutching onto the handlebars. When I see another cyclist the jersey is certainly the first thing I always register.
My girlfriend goes mad at the range of these I’ve somehow managed to accumulate over the years to cram into my wardrobe – not one of which is indispensable, as I keep reminding her. But what exactly is it about my long sleeve jerseys? Where do I start? Perhaps it’s the colour schemes that drive me to collecting them. Cyclists have to remain highly visible so there’s no point in owning a wardrobe of black clothing, like some teenage Goth. My eyes and mouth positively water when I enter my local bike shop to be assailed by the latest batch of long sleeved jerseys. I possess everything from lurid red jerseys with white side panels, to aquamarine blue, from dazzling white to sombre black.
There is something about the way these long sleeved jerseys are made. They are designed to fit snugly to your contours – anatomically as the packaging usually puts it - guaranteeing maximum aerodynamic power. They are also built with moisture transfer in mind, with strategic mesh panels and a full zip. These features provide a good cooling airflow when the temperature rises. And the benefits of the long sleeves? Simple. Even when the sun appears to be masked by cloud cover any cyclist out and about in the UK is always exposed to ultra violet rays. Long sleeves offer a high degree of protection.
They are tremendously practical in many other ways. My favourite jersey has a three-compartment back pocket which is tapered to allow easy access. There is also a full length zip with a semi-lock slider, and mesh vent inserts in the lower part of the sleeve. Safety requirements are fully catered for, too. There is a brightly reflective logo on the front of the jersey, and piping down the back.
Check out the size of the seat of your average bicycle. Now think of your own weight pressing down on that seat. In fact, think of that little seat, that weight and the average road or cycle path in the UK, pitted with cracks, potholes and miscellaneous obstacles. And best not to get started picturing the same scenario on a rugged mountain track, where the intrepid cyclist is being jolted across scree and rocks while hurtling at great speed. Ouch!
Maintaining some protection for the tender point where body meets cycle is crucial. But moving beyond these images of red raw behinds, the excellent news is that there is a wide range of padded biking shorts available. And these items will do so much more than just protect your backside.
The technology available today means that cycle shorts can not only look good but are built with complete functionality in mind. Usually manufactured with flexible material in some combination (such as 70% nylon, 15% polyester, 15% elastane) this fabric is designed to stretch smoothly across your body’s contours.
Carbon mesh fibres help provide cushioning while you jolt across different types of terrain, while the actual chamois pads themselves are made from high-tech materials. As well as providing a sophisticated padding, these shorts are also designed to keep perspiration at bay. The fabric will suck moisture from the skin and transport it to the outer surface where it will simply evaporate. This highly breathable Lycra material will also prevent chafing.
The wide elastic at the leg openings ensure that as well as giving a fully streamlined experience for the cyclist the shorts also look attractive. The leg grippers make sure that there are no adverse effects from friction as you exert yourself at the pedals. With their perforated designs, 3D shaping and ‘heart-shaped’ design fitting snugly to your seat, cycle shorts will ensure your ride is as comfortable as possible. But the other aspect of padded cycling shorts that make them attractive to cyclists is their stylishness. These come in a huge variety of styles, with a choice of colour schemes and material.
You can opt for straightforward shorts, or if you’re looking for something even more streamlined you might even consider the bib style, with high density foam protecting all the contact points. With triple needle stitching, the items are highly durable, offering 50+ ultra violet protection.
Often when it comes to updating a cycle kit it’s the smaller accessories that get left till last. But after getting kitted out in padded cycling shorts and breathable jerseys, a pair of nifty cycling gloves can really be the icing on the cake.
For such a small item of clothing, lightweight cycling gloves can make your riding experience so much more enjoyable. They can be so easy and practical to manage. Aside from their light weight, they fit into your hand neatly, with a Velcro tab to ensure that once they’re on, they stay on. As with most cycling gear, they are designed with perforated surfaces to ensure complete ventilation while they are in use. There are strategically placed gel or foam pads across the surface of the gloves, so that no matter how hard you grip the handlebars, there is never any danger of you blistering your skin – if during the most bone-shaking hurtle down your local mountain.
Some lightweight gloves come with cotton towelling on the thumb and forefinger to increased water absorption. Not only will this soak up the excess moisture from inside, the gloves also double up as a sweatband, allowing you to deal with intrusive perspiration when it starts trickling down your face. There is Lycra between the fingers that guarantees maximum flexibility, keeping your digits as supple as possible while you’re changing gears, teasing your brakes or simply pinging that bell when someone blunders across your path. Gloves, like any other part of your kit, can also be designed with safety in mind. The material will have special reflective piping built into it, increasing your visibility to other road users.
When it comes to style there is a whole range available for cyclists. One of the fundamental questions is whether to opt for gloves or mitts? Lightweight mitts provide even more dexterity, employing a four way stretch nylon over the mitt, and Lycra between the upper digits. Many cyclists just prefer to have some freedom for their bare fingertips. Padded palm cushions will cushion the hand in the event of any impact, while a cotton towelling helps to absorb perspiration.
Of course, one of the greatest benefits of the lightweight gloves is their lightness. They can be carried around so easily, and tidily nudged into pockets when they’re not actually needed. Their size means that these are also relatively cheap – so you might well be tempted to splash out on a selection of these nifty little articles.
While cycling can be immense fun it can also be deadly serious. Cyclists on UK roads are far more vulnerable than other vehicles and therefore more prone to accidents. A common reply given by motorists involved in collisions with cyclists is: ‘I just didn’t see the guy on the bike till it was too late’.
So what is a cyclist to do to avoid the possibility of becoming a crash statistic? Anyone setting off on their bike, even during the daylight hours, should always prepare to be seen. The key to being a safe cyclist is that straightforward. Don’t be shy – dress to dazzle! Bright colours are the answer, and the good news is the manufacturers of cycle wear are fully aware of the necessity for cyclists to stand out like beacons from other traffic. Cycle wear needn’t be garish and there is a lot of choice out there.
Before considering the array of protective clothing to choose from there are a few myths to be aware of. Loud yellow or orange fluorescent colours, as favoured by motorway workers, may look as if they would be ideal for cyclists but this is not the case. Fluorescence is only useful in daylight. Reflective material is far more effective. This gear looks dull grey when the sun is out but the moment it catches artificial lighting, such as car headlamps, it flares like fireworks.
So the best colours to be seen in aren’t necessarily the most obvious. There are a lot of red, yellow or orange vehicles out there, so avoid simply ‘blending in’ with other traffic. A far more effective course of action is wearing outfits with crazy patterns or colourful flashes. If car drivers can’t miss you with their eyes, they won’t hit you either!
Perhaps the thought of getting kitted out in items of clothing that might well be considered eyesores isn’t too appealing. There’s really a simple way to look at it. Cycling isn’t a fashion parade. When you climb onto your bike and set off to cycle alongside 1.5 tonne metal objects, it’s far better not to worry too much about how lurid you might look. Focus on how you look to the guy who’s just about to turn left without signalling and is about to give his rear-view mirror a cursory glance. You definitely want to be sticking out in that mirror like a giant electric blue or canary yellow giant thumb!
At what stage does your commitment to cycling become sufficiently serious that you decide to invest in some proper cycle attire? How state-of-the-art are we talking here? How about bib shorts? Yes, those natty, all-in-one affairs that transform your average bicycle enthusiast into a lycra-clad two-wheeled superhero.
Bib shorts are certainly not to be sniffed at. When you decide to don a pair, you really are making a statement. Car drivers spotting bib shorts-clad cyclist looming in their rear-view mirror realise they’re sharing the road with someone who means business! After all, for a garment to be so skin-hugging, you’d look rather silly simply pottering around the duck pond of your local park. Bib shorts are designed to follow the contours of your body in order to lessen wind resistance. They’re built to provide maximum efficiency in your cycling endeavours. Some might go so far as to suggest they can make a cyclist look a tad intimidating.
Okay, so bib shorts can demonstrate a certain dedication and commitment to the sport (in the same way football teams wearing identical kits or cricketers all-in-white look more professional). But if you’re into your cycling, they’re as much about comfort as style or aerodynamic speed.
Cycling for any length of time can subject you to a lot of intense physical pressure. Pumping away at those foot pedals over a variety of terrains can cause friction at the points where your repetitive rhythm is causing your skin to chafe against the bicycle. Male cyclists definitely feel the benefit of bib shorts. When it comes to providing welcome support to the anatomy, bib shorts act in much the same way jock straps. This promotes good vibrations around the area where the cyclists’ most tender regions meet with the constantly jostling seat.
Like any other sort of exercise regime, cycling will make you sweat. This can be annoying enough when you’re sitting on the bike machine at your local fitness centre. But his is increased a hundred times when you’re half-way down a mountain track. In fact, a constant niggling irritation can be downright dangerous if it distracts you at a crucial moment.
Bib shorts are designed to draw perspiration away from your legs. This is also vital to stop skin rashes and chafing. This all helps to cool you down after an energetic burst of cycling. These cycling shorts are also very light, especially compared to some of the alternatives (denim or gym shorts). They are padded around the seat area too.