Cycling:Basic Apparel You Need To Get Started

What you need to know about bicycle clothing and tips to help you select the right clothes, even from apparel you may already have.

You bought your bike, the helmet, maybe some extra tubes, and a patch kit. You already went over your limit or perhaps close to it and you still need bike shorts, jersey, gloves, jacket, socks and all types of bad weather gear. Let's look at the function of these items and how they work. That way, you can decide what fits your budget and needs. You might discover you have cycle clothing already in your wardrobe.

Today's bicycle wear is made of materials that have the ability to wick moisture away from your body and help regulate the skin temperature, keeping you warm or cool. Wool was the miracle fiber that provided this not that long ago. Wool has the ability to wick, it can keep you warm even when wet, although it does sag a great deal. It also causes some people to itch and can shrink. The new fibers are light; they don't shrink and will take cleaning in the washing machine. They also last longer and dry left hanging in the air.

Bike shorts come with some type of padding in the seat area. They used a leather chamois years ago in the seat padding where moisture collects the most. Today's padding is far superior and doesn't need the care that leather does. They not only give you extra padding where you sit but do an excellent job of keeping you dry all day. Bike shorts are designed to be form fitting. The multi-sided panels form around the body so that little or no folds occur in the fabric. This is important because a fold in the fabric can irritate the skin by rubbing against it with repeated motion, as in your leg going up and down from pedaling while sitting in the saddle. It also keeps moisture away from your skin. If a cut or abrasion develops on your skin in an area that's dark and moist, you have a perfect venue for infections and bacteria build up.

If you plan to do only short rides. Such as to the park or store, where you will be on the bike for a short time or with minimal sweating, you can use a pair of loose fitting shorts from your wardrobe, something without a reinforced seam that could damage the skin from chaffing. If you plan any type of rigorous workout, climbing hills, or distance, then you need a pair of lycra cycling shorts.

All manufacturers of cycling shorts cut them differently. It is best to try them on first before buying. If you're using mail order, be prepared to send them back if they don't fit. It is very important that they fit you well. Don't buy shorts too small, thinking they naturally expand and you plan to loose weight. If you are going to error, do so toward the larger size. When you try the shorts on, see how well they hold when you bend over and twist. Remember, your backside is going to be leaning over, so you want the shorts to come up high on the waist. A more expensive bike short is the bib short. They are a one-piece outfit designed with shoulder straps. Many cyclists prefer these because there is no elastic grab at the waist, making for a very comfortable fit when bent. Pads and people's bottoms are all different. Some people want heavy padding and others don't. What's important is that the cut of the pad doesn't dig into your skin. If the pad doesn't fit well in your crotch area, you will be very uncomfortable in a short period. Walk around when trying them on and see how the pad feels as your legs work.

They make cycling shorts that are loose fitting. Designed more like the shorts you wear for casual wear. These are fine, as long as they come with a well-fitted pad. They are used for casual riding. Remember though, that if you plan being in the saddle for hours, take breaks along the way and check for any kind of abrasions.



Jerseys come in a variety of styles and colors. The one thing you might look for in a jersey is a long zipper. This way you can control the amount of air coming in. Bright colors will give you more visibility if you're on the road or in brush. The new fabrics work best when next to the skin, so they can wick. While this is important for shorts, it's not quite as important for jerseys. I like a loose fitting jersey and find they wick just as well. You don't want to wear a T-shirt however. A cotton shirt wicks very poorly and you soon end up with sweat building up that chills your skin on the downhill. Almost all jerseys come with pockets in the back. Make sure the pockets are large enough to carry what you want, such as a windbreaker.

Headgear can consist of a bike cap, sweatband or bandana. Sweat forms easily with your helmet on and you need something that can absorb and direct it off your face. I use a bandana folded and tied in the back. I can wring it out, they're inexpensive and easy to use. I carry an extra bandana in my jersey to wipe my face or the grime from my hands after changing a flat. They make bike caps that tie in back like a bandana. They also keep bugs that are caught up in the air vents of your helmet from "╦ťbugging you' once inside the helmet and next to your scalp.

Socks are important. Bicycle socks fit well to your foot for the same reason as bike shorts. You can use any sport sock if you like, they will work just fine but there is a difference in feel when wearing a pair of good cycling socks. The cut and design of a bike sock gives padding where needed. Bicycle shoes, have a stiff inflexible sole. A good bike sock has softer, heavier material in the sole to help with comfort.

Gloves come in a variety of styles and are very important, especially if you fall. What is the first thing you do when you fall? You put out your hand. If you don't have a glove on, you can tear the skin on your hands easily. Mountain bikers like full finger gloves because they ride through brush with their hands at the end of the bar. The full finger glove protects them from rocks and brush they might graze by on the ride. Find a glove that gives your hand maximum protection against the sun where exposed while holding the handlebars. Some gloves have openings for air or where they secure, leaving the area on the top of your hand exposed to the sun. If you don't use sunscreen on your hands, the skin is left unprotected.

One of the hardest things to decide when dressing for cycling is how much clothing is enough. A good way to judge this is, after ten minutes on the bike, you should feel comfortable with what you are wearing. Too cold, you need to put something on and if you're too hot, open the zippers or take off your jacket. There are a number of garments you can add to your basic clothes list to help keep you warm. The most useful of these is an undershirt. Don't use a cotton undershirt but one with the new fibers that wick moisture away from the skin. Silk undershirts work very well or any undergarment made for hiking or outdoor activity. A windbreaker is a handy item. You want one that breathes and has vents under the arms or back to release moisture buildup. With the undershirt and a windbreaker, you can cycle comfortably in most cool weather. Take the windbreaker off when the air temperature warms and the undershirt will work fine on the cool downhill slopes.

There are leg warmers and arm warmers, these garments only cover the legs or arms. Kept in your jersey pockets, you can take them off or on as needed. Rain jackets, made especially for cycling in the rain are available, but are expensive and moisture does build up inside them.

You can use in emergencies, everyday items to keep you warm. A cheap pair of women's panty hose will keep your legs warm and when finished, just toss them if you want. Newspaper laid against the chest inside your jersey is an excellent barrier to the cold. If you're caught in a downpour, a garbage bag over your head with a tear or punch out in the bottom to fit your head through and holes punched out on the sides for your arms, will get you by very well. If you don't have booties for your shoes, place your feet inside plastic food bags or wrap them in plastic wrap and put your shoes on over them. That makes an excellent barrier against the cold.

If you are buying items to go on a bicycle tour, it's a good idea to buy enough for three days of riding. Each night you can wash out a jersey and a pair of shorts. Roll them up in a dry towel and wring; they will be dry the next day. With three days of clothing, you can skip a day if you're tired and still have bike clothes ready.

Clean garments are extremely important in cycling. Never wear a pair of bike shorts two days in a row without washing. The build up of bacteria in the crotch area can cause boils and infections in a short period. Soap residue can cause severe rashes. Use soaps that are gentle and rinse the garments thoroughly. I wash bike clothes at home by themselves, after one wash cycle with a mild soap, run them through another wash cycle without any added ingredient. If you allow your cycling clothes to dry in the air, rather than the heat of a clothes dryer, they will last a long time. The heat of dryers will quickly damage the fabric and within a few months, you would need to replace them.

Remember the slogan: if you can't ride fast, you can buy clothes that make you look like you can.

© High Speed Ventures 2011