biking attire
July 24, 2007 7:35 AM   Subscribe

Bike riding and clothes: I started doing some long bike rides this summer for the first time (20 - 40 miles) and the clothes I wear are becoming an issue.

So I started riding some long distances with a group and myself this summer. Cutting my teeth on local routes has been great fun. However, I am reaching a critical point in terms of the clothes I wear.

I have a strong dislike of the lycra bike shorts and just can't get myself to wear it. Also, because of my cultural background, I tend to not wear anything that rides above my knees, which everyone thinks is hilarious (yes, I am a man). I have been biking in just my long training shorts and t-shirt and am getting looks from the group. For sure, the clothes are not super-comfortable for long summer rides.

My two part Q.: how much difference does "proper" biking attire make, specially on long rides? and is there some clothing options that saddles the line between comfort and modesty?
posted by raheel to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (23 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
First off: "Proper" cycling shoes and shorts will make a dramatic difference in your comfort and efficiency in the saddle. It's hard to describe until you try it out, but the proper clothing will feel truly liberating when you wear it. This isn't about looking like a cyclist -- this is about feeling like a cyclist.

You sold on the shorts / shoes? (The shirt, I think, doesn't make as big a difference. Sure, it's nice to have something that deals with sweat better than a cotton T-shirt, but it's the piece of attire that will improve your comfort the least compared to shorts / shoes.)

Part 2: How can you accomodate modesty?

Yes. Cycling clothes can make you feel really self conscious, because they're tight fitting and revealing. How to get around this?

Two ways: First, just wearing the cycling shorts underneath the shorts you wear now will make a huge difference in comfort. Depending on the design of your current shorts, you may still be sitting on a seam in the fabric, which is less comforatable, but it'll be dramatically better than anything else.

The other way: You can check out clothing marketed to Mountain Bikers. You can get shorts that look like normal shorts on the outside, but have the lycra / chamois built into the inside. The seams on these shorts are also designed so that you're not sitting on them. Depending upon what's in style, you may find these that extend below your knee.

I'd say -- don't worry so much about what your peers think you look like. But do get a pair of lycra shorts and some stiff shoes. You won't regret it, even if you just wear the lycra under your normal shorts.

Happy Trails.
posted by u2604ab at 7:46 AM on July 24, 2007

Getting used to wearing cycling shorts is a leap for many people, but if you make that leap, you'll quickly realize why so many people you see on your long rides have decided that's the way to go. You will find riding becomes both easier and infinitely more comfortable; so my advice is to just to pick up a pair of cycling shorts and give them a try.

If the idea of shorts is a problem, you should know that they make knickers. Normally worn when it's cool, but they might solve your problem with shorts above the knee.
posted by dseaton at 7:48 AM on July 24, 2007

I wouldn't play football without a helmet and I wouldn't ride 30 miles without proper cycling clothes. Try it one time and you will never go back to regular clothes while riding.
posted by Uncle Jimmy at 7:51 AM on July 24, 2007

for bike shorts, the chamois in a traditional pair of bike shorts cuts down on your chafing and can also help reduce saddle soreness. At higher price levels, the seams from the shorts are shaped such that they will not chafe against sensitive portions of your anatomy (which can also be an issue when you're on the bike for +3 hours). Also, supposedly they are shaped to minimize muscle cramping by compressing your muscles in such a way as to ensure proper blood flow, though how much of this is sound science and how much is marketing is undetermined by me.

The lycra is also designed to wick away sweat as well as dry quickly in the event that you're caught in the rain.

A synthetic jersey is designed mainly to be breathable and wick away sweat, as well as hug your body well enough to be aerodynamic. However, it is not as crucial to longterm comfort as a pair of bike shorts.

If you are really, truly dead-set against lycra, then one option for you is to check out Rivendell's website and consider their Andiamo undies -- basic similar philosophy to lycra bike shorts with the seamless design and butt padding but are designed to be worn under street clothes. I've never worn them so can't vouch for their quality, but if they're like everything else that Rivendell sells -- the marketing may be a little hokey and the price may be a little cher but the product itself is well designed.
posted by bl1nk at 7:51 AM on July 24, 2007

I'm going to go against the grain here and say that depending on the person, you can be just as comfortable without cycling shorts.

I've done many many 25 mile rides in jean shorts, and I've done 75 mile rides in jean shorts and a bowling shirt. It's never been uncomfortable for me. I did buy cycling shoes though.

If you do want to get a biking kit, try mountain biking shorts, they're more normal looking and should give you the same "comforts."
posted by drezdn at 7:55 AM on July 24, 2007

Chrome and Rapha make really nice knickers. I wear some patagonia climbing knickers when riding through town and to class, though often with padded shorts.
posted by jmgorman at 8:18 AM on July 24, 2007

Here's my story... Years ago, my brother (a serious cyclist) bought me a pair of cycling shorts. I mocked, but he said, "Just try them. If you don't like them, I'll keep them for myself." So I tried them. And they made a HUGE difference (basically, what u2604ab said). So I always rode with cycling shorts and a t-shirt. Then I mentioned to my brother that on longer rides (20-25 miles), wearing a t-shirt was uncomfortable. He recommended getting a cycling jersey. I bought one, and, as usual, he was right. It makes a big difference.

I believe that some people (like drezdn) can get by in shorts & t-shirt, but I'm not one of them.

I would say, buy a decent pair of cycling shorts and a cheapo jersey (try Nashbar, or Performance). I think you'll appreciate the difference.

I also have a pair of MTB shorts. They're OK, but I prefer the traditional ones. And, as I am slowly becoming an old fat guy, I also like the "bib style" cycling shorts - no more painful elastic digging into my sensitive fat.
posted by ObscureReferenceMan at 8:21 AM on July 24, 2007

You want to get the chamois. That is important. There are so many types of shorts, knickers, etc. If the skintight look is an issue wear mountain bike style shorts with a tight inner layer and loose outer layer. The jerseys help too. They wick away the moisture. They should also be tight. You really don't want anything flapping in the breeze and creating drag. I am not advocating that you shave your legs just yet though.
posted by caddis at 8:33 AM on July 24, 2007

Mountain bike gear is definitely up your alley, although I don't know if it'll satisfy the below-the-knee part. You might consider wearing cycling undershorts with a chamois underneath rock climbing pants, which are basically the same fabrics, construction*, and comfort as mountain bike shorts but will usually come down to shin length -- more coverage means less scraping while climbing.

There's also cycling tights that come down to your ankles, but they'll be awfully warm in weather where everyone else is wearing cycling shorts, and I suspect something skin-tight to the ankles probably doesn't satisfy your modesty requirements.

Keep in mind too that proper cycling shorts are quite long for shorts, coming to immediately above the knee instead of mid-thigh.

One advantage of cycling jerseys when on the bike: Pockets across your back, where things won't fall out or chafe your legs.

Finally, note that even though they're still called "chamois", most cycling shorts' liners these days are synthetic. You want this. The benefits of natural chamois are not worth the trouble to care for them.

(* Except maybe in the crotch, so watch out for problem seams. Although your cycling undershorts underneath will probably solve that problem.)
posted by mendel at 8:43 AM on July 24, 2007

Most people know how stupid they look in Lycra. Most people wear it anyway. There's a reason for that.

I recommend bib-type bottoms when you do buy something. The suspenders help to keep you from feeling like you're flashing the world behind you.
posted by kcm at 9:06 AM on July 24, 2007

As kcm said, we cyclists know we look silly (and get enough catcalls just in case we forget) but do it anyhow. Cycling clothes are designed to A) avoid bulky seams in high-friction areas (like your crotch), avoid chafing from fabric that rubs, avoid in-the-breeze flapping, pad your crotch, etc. The design is all about function. I felt ridiculous the first time I put on a pair of cycling shorts too.

As mentioned upthread, they do make cycling knickers which do cover your knees. They're intended for cool-weather cycling, but if covered knees are an issue for you, they might be a reasonable compromise.

If you don't already have cleats, get them. Nothing--not even a fancy new bike--will make as big a difference in your performance.
posted by adamrice at 9:17 AM on July 24, 2007

You can also get knee warmers, similar to arm warmers, that are removable in case you'd ever like to go knee-less for some reason (i.e. under other clothes). Just don't get black.
posted by kcm at 9:28 AM on July 24, 2007

Once you solve the shorts problem, I whole-heartedly recommend a set of clipless pedals and shoes. Properly adjusted, they are the best value for increasing your efficiency.

If you need to be able to walk around in the shoes, get a pair with a recessed cleat (Shimano has been making shoes like this for over a decade, but nearly and mountain-bike friendly cycling shoe company will have used a similar recessed design.

I'm in love with my eggbeater pedals, and would recommend them.
posted by Wild_Eep at 9:46 AM on July 24, 2007

Well, everyone is tell you the same thing, but I will add my 2 cents in anyway. I recently started riding longer distances as well and I got myself padded shorts that came with regular looking shorts to wear as an outer layer. That really helped with my embarrassment and actually now when I ride I find the outer layer uncomfortable anyway and I just go with the silly-looking but comfortable lycra and if I want to I can carry around my outer layer with me if my bike trips take me into civilization for stops. I also got clipless pedals (the recessed cleat kind that Wild_Eep recommended) and they make a world of difference. Basically you can't get around the fact that cycling clothes do make cycling a lot more comfortable. It's really not a fashion thing. You just have to bite the bullet and do it.
posted by sneakin at 10:33 AM on July 24, 2007


A lot of the bike shorts geared towards mountain biking tend to be of the baggy, slightly below the knee variety. You can also get t-shirty wicking tops that aren't skin tight.
posted by electroboy at 10:37 AM on July 24, 2007

I'm a noncyclist who works in an area with lots of cyclists, most of whom wear the kit. I don't think they look silly - even the ones who aren't exactly built like Lance Armstrong; it's a uniform, and I pay about as much attention to it as I do to the uniform our UPS guy wears. And nthing everyone else, from what my cycling friends tell me, the shorts (and shoes) are where it's at.
posted by rtha at 10:59 AM on July 24, 2007

re: electroboy: the OP is probably just from the many football / baseball territories of the US.
posted by tmcw at 11:23 AM on July 24, 2007

I've mentioned these before, but: Shants!. Not exactly lycra, but pretty stretchy and comfy for biking.
posted by nakedsushi at 11:27 AM on July 24, 2007 [1 favorite]

like several others here, i loathed to try cycling pants. absolutely hated the idea. then i tried a pair after having some discomfort from chafing. now, it's all i wear.
posted by lester's sock puppet at 12:00 PM on July 24, 2007

In my experience, the form-fitting lycra shorts and a good breathable jersey make a difference not only in comfort but in wind resistance. The reduction in wind resistance isn't likely to be something you'd get from mountain biking shorts. This is something you'll appreciate on the 40th mile when you're riding uphill into a headwind.
posted by mullingitover at 12:01 PM on July 24, 2007

I merrily ride 70 miles a day in normal shorts, and and old pair of beach shoes. I've never felt like I've needed anything else. I am, however, a big fan of 'wicking' t-shirts, which stay cool and dry and not smelly.
posted by sann1657 at 4:16 PM on July 24, 2007

This place is lovely! 5 bucks very well spent :)

electroboy: not Mormon — Muslim.

Shants look cool, may not be on me … Worth a shot I guess.

I think I'll take up mountain bike shorts and see how it goes from there …

I do have eggbeaters - they have worked wonders for my climbing etc. And what a piece of design.
posted by raheel at 6:46 PM on July 24, 2007

raheel, before I broke down and bought lycra bike shorts (which are, as everyone said silly looking but super comfortable), I wore mt. bike stuff from Zoic. Their line of stuff is all fairly normal looking and not super tight. I also previously used padded liners like the ones linked above, under normal shorts but eventually gave up when I noticed that seams on the shorts were still a problem and sweat would migrate quickly from the liners to my shorts, making rides uncomfortable.
posted by mathowie at 4:47 PM on July 25, 2007

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