Wow, that looks...snug
June 14, 2007 3:20 PM   Subscribe

Cycling clothes that won't make me look like a jackass?

I've recently bought a road bike and started riding to work pretty frequently (and doing longer rides on weekends). I'm looking for good riding clothes but I don't want to look like some of the lycra commandos I see around (and frankly I don't think I have the ass for it).

I'm in my early 30s and in pretty good shape, but I'm not about to ride the Tour de France, if you get my meaning.

I used to run year round, so I have a pretty good sense of materials and practicalities- this is more of an aesthetics question. Where can I find clothing that sensible, somewhat distinctive and suitable for cycling? For traditional cycling clothes, what should I be aware of in terms of fit? What retailers (online or otherwise) do people like? Bonus points for physical locations in Chicago or Toronto.
posted by TheWhiteSkull to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (27 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: I like some of the stuff that MEC carries, and I don't mind this jersey (although what's with the wool? Is that practical?). Where else should I be looking?
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 3:22 PM on June 14, 2007

I've got to say, wool is totally practical in anything but the hottest weather. It wicks sweat, doesn't feel soggy when it's damp, resists smelling like rank sweat, and looks classy. If you get the super-fine merino stuff, it's not itchy either (if you're a guy, that is).
posted by pullayup at 3:27 PM on June 14, 2007

I like the SmartWool tops (available for less elsewhere, of course).
posted by pullayup at 3:29 PM on June 14, 2007

When they start cycling everybody feels a little weird about the clothes, but there's a reason you see so many people dressed in spandex for cycling. It's not because people like to wear spandex, it's because it's the best clothing for the job. Do yourself a favor and get a good pair of cycling shorts, compare them to riding in anything else, and you'll probably quickly see why that's what you want to ride in.

My team kit is made by Voler, and I've been really impressed with it. I can't speak for their non-team clothing, but I assume it's the same quality and would definitely recommend it.

ps. Wool was the fabric of choice for cycling clothes for a long time until synthetic fabrics finally started to catch up a couple decades ago. That's a great jersey, it'll breathe well and probably be very comfortable.
posted by dseaton at 3:31 PM on June 14, 2007

If tightness is the problem, there are baggy shorts w/liners that are made for casual off-roaders, tourists, that kind of thing. Any decent shop should have 'em.

If garishness and synthetics are the problem, maybe you'd like the sort of retro/classic stuff that Rivendell or Swobo sells?

As I'm sure you already know, cycling clothes are tight because it's practical for their intended purpose. Garish logos make people look like pro racers, who wear that stuff because they're paid to. And I've heard the argument that bright, attention-getting stuff is safer when riding in traffic.
posted by box at 3:33 PM on June 14, 2007 [1 favorite]

You can buy padded lycra undershorts and wear any type of sporty shorts over 'em, or buy mountain biking shorts that are basically the two combined.

Mountain biking shirts will have the wicking properties of the synthetic fabrics, but look like normal t-shirts.

Performance Bike in Chicago has a good selection, plus they are a major online retailer.

I commute wearing jeans and a t-shirt (my regular work clothes.) Regular cotton underwear started to chaffe, so I got some sythetic underwear from Performance that's done the trick. It's here--NSFW if you don't want to be looking at underwear ads.
posted by hydrophonic at 3:34 PM on June 14, 2007

For the longer rides, I personally prefer to wear bike shorts *under* something rational. I am female and have a female-oriented touring seat (The Liberator or something else vibrator-sounding). However, despite the supposed comfort of the seat, I like to have the extra padding around my butt-bones.
For biking to work and biking for fun, make sure you have something on top that is longer than normal, at least in the back. Female or male, getting a lovely plumber-crack flash is traumatizing. Perhaps a light, long outer layer, like a jacket or a vest that you could wear atop your work clothing.
This coat will also be a great asset if you ride in the rain, so you don't end up with a mud-streak up your butt when you get off the bike.
posted by nursegracer at 3:35 PM on June 14, 2007

These would even be okay for warm-weather riding, but if you spend too much time around Rivendell folks they'll start telling you you should wear baggy seersucker shirts or something for summer biking--that's why people call them "retro-grouches".
posted by pullayup at 3:36 PM on June 14, 2007

Also see Andiamo underwear. Sorry about the trippple post, I'm out.
posted by pullayup at 3:40 PM on June 14, 2007

I just bought a pair of Cannondale shorts that have a padded seat on the inside but regular shorts on the outside. I'm sure you can find them in any ol' bike shop. The other thing is stores like EMS and REI have shirts with built in SPF and wicking but look more like street clothes than jockware. I would browse around those outdoorsy type stores for that kind of stuff.
posted by sneakin at 3:57 PM on June 14, 2007

ditto the above about functionality. PLUS, you only look like a jackass to those who don't understand the reason behind the clothes...
posted by roderashe at 4:22 PM on June 14, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks, these are all good suggestions. The underwear issue is less of a concern for me- I'm pretty much set for comfy gautch.

Honestly, I would cycle in jeans if I didn't sweat so much.

I'm liking some of the wool examples and I've heard that it won't wind up smelling like sweat, but doesn't it just smell like damp wool? How practical is it to clean?
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 4:26 PM on June 14, 2007

Best answer: The wool jerseys from Earth Wind and Rider are really great. Very nicely cut, warm, wicking, available in men's and women's cuts. If you get one of their long sleeved jerseys, you may have my problem, which is that I want to wear it every day, regardless of whether I am cycling.
posted by cushie at 4:44 PM on June 14, 2007

My personal philosophy is anything but denim will work fine (I've done 70+ mile days under this philosophy).

If you really want padding though, bike clothes made for mountain bikers tend to look some what normal.
posted by drezdn at 4:45 PM on June 14, 2007

Response by poster: Oh, and I really didn't mean to imply that all of the hardcore road biking types out there are jackasses. It's more that I wouldn't feel comfortable in the gear. It's not even the fit as much as the logos splashed everywhere- that Descente jersey is about as logo'd up as I get.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 4:58 PM on June 14, 2007

I wear cycling pants for road riding after a few days in baggy cargo shorts. The padding and closeness made all the difference. As for a top, just a simple cotton tank does the trick, though I also have a loose, baggy synthetic longsleeve that I wear for sunburn protection if it's too sunny and hot. I think I bought the longsleeves when I was running, but they work just fine for cycling (for me).
posted by jquinby at 5:03 PM on June 14, 2007

Best answer: If you're looking for shorts/pants you feel comfortable riding with as well as just walking around town the BF got a pair of shants /knickers from swrve that he's happy with.
posted by nakedsushi at 5:52 PM on June 14, 2007 [1 favorite]

I just wore my normal work clothes when I was able to ride to work. Spandex was for the weekend, and I don't think I ever saw anybody on the road going to work in anything else.
posted by rhizome at 6:13 PM on June 14, 2007

Okay, this makes more sense with the comment about logos. There are a lot of cycling jerseys/shorts out there with minimal logos. Check out Performance Bike, Nashbar, Sierra Trading Post...
posted by mingshan at 6:54 PM on June 14, 2007

In Toronto, go to MEC. In the cycling section they have some terrific freeride shirts which are now my only cycling shirts. The blue looks like ass the the red/clay is da bomb.

For shorts I always use the nicest lycra shorts I can find under semi-baggy board shorts. However in really hot weather lycra is the only way to go... MUCH cooler than baggies.
posted by unSane at 7:08 PM on June 14, 2007

Skip the wool, it might look kind of cool, but the new materials are much more comfortable in the heat. The tight clothes are there because they work. You can get mountain bike shorts with a tight inner layer and loose outer short, but that loose material will flap in the breeze of your speed and slow you down. Same with loose jerseys. Go skintight for speed. It's not like you have to shave your legs or anything, but you aren't hardcore unless you do.
posted by caddis at 7:28 PM on June 14, 2007

I agree with Caddis about the wool. It works well for lower-output activities but for ball-out cycling it becomes a soggy mess unless it is totally skin-tight. I have some really nice Merino Ts and longsleeve shirts which I just can't use for cycling.

I use wool as a base layer for snowboarding or hiking but for cycling I won't touch it. The smartwool socks are good though.

For MTBing it is good to have a layer over the lycra shorts because you can destroy them in a single fall (like I did on Saturday). But even a featherweight layer reduces comfort.
posted by unSane at 7:52 PM on June 14, 2007

Best answer: I'm not a cyclist, but I've always wondered why cycling clothes were so garish. Twin Six is a Minnesota company that has got written up a few times in various local publications recently, and I remembered them because the two people that started it seemed like cool people, and also I was impressed with the design of their stuff. I have not tried out their products, so I cannot vouch for them, but maybe someone else that stops by the thread might have. It's a little pricey, but it seems like most cycling gear is. Take a look and see what you think.

They're not being sold by anywhere in Toronto, unfortunately, but it looks like they have some stuff in On the Route Bicycles in Chicago. Here's a list of their dealers. They also have some availiable online, which is another option.
posted by wander at 8:50 PM on June 14, 2007 [1 favorite]

I'm not a cyclist, but I've always wondered why cycling clothes were so garish.

When I am cycling on the side of the road with two ton vehicles passing me at fifty miles per hour only a foot or so to my left I kind of like to STICK OUT LIKE A SORE THUMB. I don't care for the kit with logos, but I do like a neon yellow jersey.
posted by caddis at 5:06 AM on June 15, 2007

You didn't say how long (or fast) the ride is. For flat rides of, say, under 5 miles you could wear almost anything. Longer rides start to demand purpose-made clothing for reasons of padding, wind resistance, and wicking/drying ability (anti-chafing). I ride 5 miles in an urban setting, and my favorite is the combined liner/outer short; the one I have is this one from REI. But I abhor the price. For my ride, this is comfortable (they're padded and dry quickly), but only somewhat aerodynamic--they don't balloon out like some other shorts do but they're not form-fitting. A good compromise for the

For shirts I find the cheapest wicking shirts I can find, typically from Wal-Mart. I do find that more expensive clothing is better quality, but still not always worth the insane premium for cycling-specific clothing.

For the weekend rides, if they're any length at all I'd go for the lycra. There's a lot of options out there for patterns, etc. Maybe wool, but I'm in a pretty warm area and haven't worn wool cycling gear.
posted by RikiTikiTavi at 7:25 AM on June 15, 2007

Oh, by the way--those Earth Wind and Rider jerseys? $105. they're nice, but I've got priorities. Spending an order of magnitude more on a shirt just to look good when I'm working my butt off and sweating like a pig is not a priority for me. My god, that's expensive. Sure, I'd wear it--but I wouldn't buy it.
posted by RikiTikiTavi at 7:29 AM on June 15, 2007

Nakedsushi, you're the best! I've been drooling over the Chrome shins hoping to find something not as expensive and those swrve knickers look great.
posted by m3thod4 at 2:09 AM on June 18, 2007

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