Dress For Success

Does this bike make my butt look fast?  – Cycling t-shirt design

“I will ride, but I refuse to wear those clothes!”  I remember thinking that to myself as we began the transition into the world of road cycling.  Those tight shorts, those cycling jerseys, those gloves and shoes…nope.  I was going to ride my bike, but firmly maintain my independent spirit.  I was not going to succumb to the culture of skin-tight clothes and the unofficial uniforms of the cycling world.  Nope, it wasn’t going to influence or happen to me.

And then I started riding.

After sitting on that hard bicycle seat (a.k.a., saddle), I realized that padded shorts would really be helpful.  And if the shorts were tight enough to provide some compression to my legs, they felt more comfortable and seemingly helped my leg muscles survive better each day.

Dry-fit and polyester shirts are comfortable when riding, but they don’t have pockets.  Cycling shorts also don’t have pockets.  Unless I rode with a saddle bag on my bicycle, there was no place to put my keys and phone.  If I wanted to ride with music or a podcast playing through earphones in my right ear (to leave the left ear free to hear traffic and other warnings), I didn’t have a good place to carry my phone or iPod.  Armbands would eventually slide down my arm unless cinched so tight that they were uncomfortable and restricted movement.  I discovered that cycling jerseys had longer-than-normal tails to keep your back side covered up and they had pockets–commonly three across the back.  I could put my phone or iPod in one pocket, keys in another pocket, and a small hex-wrench set or snack in my middle pocket.  The cycling jersey actually did make a lot of sense to wear while out on the road.

Helmets and sunglasses are a must.  After suffering an unfortunate collision and flight over the hood of an automobile as a younger man (landing on my head, shoulder, and back), I realize the importance of a helmet in the event of a crash.  The cool thing about modern helmets is that they are designed to keep you head cool in hot temperatures and warm in cold temperatures.  Those magical holes embedded in the construction of the helmet allow the breeze to pull heat away from your head while the solid parts also keep the heat in.  They help keep you comfortable in all seasons.  When it is super cold, a balaclava can cover your head, ears, and neck and fit nicely under your helmet.  Sunglasses help dampen some of the brightness of the sun, but perhaps more importantly, keep bugs and other assorted debris from getting in your eyes while rolling down the road.  Helmets and sunglasses are important parts of the clothing ensemble.

It was on BRAT3 that I realized that ankle-high athletic socks were NOT the best for cycling.  Made up of too much cotton, my feet were killing me during the long daily rides in high heat and humidity.  I had been wearing ordinary cycling shoes with Shimano cleats and really struggled with comfort in my feet.  After a discussion with others on the team, I learned that I needed lighter-weight socks with a higher polyester/spandex/lycra content.  I bought some during our overnight stay in Plainview, Texas and have never gone back to regular athletic socks.

It was also on BRAT3 when I was introduced to cycling sandals.  Being one who frequently wears sandal-type shoes, the pair of cycling sandals worn by one of our riders looked very inviting–especially given the fact that my feet were flaming hot with my heavy socks.  I ordered my first pair as soon as BRAT3 concluded and have worn a pair ever since.  Living and riding in Texas, I am able to wear my cycling sandals year-round (with socks in cold seasons).

While temperatures in our part of Texas don’t often prevent us from riding during the winter, they do drop low enough to require leg coverage.  On each of the first three mornings of our BRAT6 ride in early January, the temperatures were a chilly 22 degrees.  It didn’t get above freezing until the third day on bikes.  Gloves, a warm cycling jacket (that I bought in Vienna, Austria for 90% off), and cycling tights were required for comfort on the bike.  Combined with the balaclava, the clothing was appropriate for the weather conditions.

BRAT6 Music Video Showing Team Riding in Cold Weather

And with that, the transformation from the “not going to conform” rookie to the veteran cyclist decked out in a full set of cycling garb was complete.  I had come to learn that each piece of clothing had been developed to meet specific needs particular to the world of cycling.  The clothing that cyclists wear while riding is not so much driven by fashion or custom as it is by usefulness and utility.  Clothing is not a uniform, but rather a form of equipment needed by people who ride and “live” on their bicycles for long periods of time.  Each piece has a specific function that allows the rider to perform effectively, safely, and comfortably on their bikes in all types of weather.

MAMIL is a term popular in today’s cycling culture to describe many of today’s riders.  It stands for Middle Aged Man in Lycra.  Despite initial attempts to avoid the transformation, I have since fully turned in to a MAMIL myself.  And that’s okay.

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