The Essential Guide to Cycle Clothing
Most activities have their specialist clothing and because cycling encompasses everything from a pleasure ride in the park to racing in the up-and-coming Tour de France, there is a huge range of specialty clothing to cover every option.
It’s important to note that you can ride a bike without investing in a pair of Lycra shorts, special shoes and a tight-fitting jersey. If you’re not a hurry, or your journey is relatively short, you really don’t need special clothing. So why do cyclists invest in Lycra and Gore-Tex clothing? The answer is simple – comfort!
Your regular street clothes are fine when you’re not going far or fast and the weather is good, but for longer rides and races or when the weather turns bad, you’ll be a lot more comfortable in cycling clothing. That doesn’t mean you have to look like Bradley Wiggins winning the Tour de France, though. Lycra’s great for going fast, but you can get very comfortable cycling gear that doesn’t have to be super tight.
Sharks Swim & Triathlon stocks a huge range of cycling clothing and accessories which can be purchased from their shop in Sketty or from their online shop. They’ve also come up with this information for cyclists to understand why, for racing and long-distance cycling, it’s important to wear specialist clothing.
Cycling Clothing Benefits
One of the benefits of cycling clothing is that it is cut to fit properly when you're leaning over the handlebars. That means shirts and jackets have a longer back to keep your lower back covered, and legwear has a higher waist at the back for the same reason. To stop your wrists being exposed, sleeves are a bit longer on long-sleeved shirts and jackets, and legwear is shaped with a bends at the waist and in the knee to make pedalling easier.
Importantly, cycling gear moves with you as you ride which is especially important for legwear, because your legs are the part of you that moves most. That’s the reason why cycling shorts are made from Lycra fabric, because it has enough built-in stretch to prevent it from bunching up and chafing.
All you need to do is to ride up a steep hill in a cotton t-shirt under a waterproof jacket and you quickly discover why cycling clothing isn’t made from cotton. Your sweat will soak into the shirt and you’ll get wet, and then cold. Cycling gear is made from fabrics through which water can move away from your skin and evaporate, a phenomenon usually referred to as ‘wicking’.
Outer layers for wet weather also use fabrics designed to shift sweat. These ‘breathable’ fabrics keep rain out but allow water vapour (ie sweat) out. However, no breathable fabric is capable of transmitting the amount of sweat a cyclist produces when working hard, so cycling waterproofs also have vents to let out warm, moist air. These are positioned so that they don’t let in water, in places such as the underarms or under flaps at the back.
Cycling gloves usually have a patch of towelling fabric on the back so you can wipe your face with them when it’s hot and sweaty, or your nose when it’s cold.
The padding in cycling shorts provides an extra layer of shock absorption. Modern shorts pads have at least one layer of foam inside them, often more or pads with different thickness and density. The idea is to help reduce the road shock that gets through to your bum, working in tandem with the padding in your saddle. More importantly, the pad puts an even layer of soft fabric against your skin to prevent chafing as it’s not recommended to wear underwear under cycling shorts.
Cycling gloves also have a thin layer of padding sewn into the palm to deal with vibration from the handlebars. The palm is usually made from leather or a tough synthetic to protect your hands if you fall.
Proper cycling clothing can make you go faster by ensuring you don’t waste energy as you ride. The most important difference is that cycling clothing is more aerodynamic than regular clothes, because it fits closely with no spare fabric flapping in the breeze.
Other items which can contribute to improved performance, other than your bike of course, are cycling shoes. They are made with very stiff soles, so your energy isn’t wasted flexing rubber over your pedals. This also makes for more comfortable feet because the pressure on the pedal is spread over your whole foot.
The definitive item of specialist, performance enhancing cycling gear is the classic cycling short, made from stretchy Nylon/Lycra with a pad inside to cushion your bum, as discussed above. There are two variants, waist shorts and bib shorts. Waist shorts have an elastic waist band to hold them up, while bib shorts have built in braces. Bib shorts are the more comfortable of the two options, though they do make loo visits less convenient, especially for women.
Cycling jerseys are shaped like a t-shirt but made from wicking synthetic materials. They usually come with a high neck to protect you from the sun, a zip at the front and pockets at the back to carry your stuff. The most common jerseys have short or long sleeves, though sleeveless jerseys are also available for very hot weather. Jersey fabrics range from ultra-light breathable mesh, to thick windproof and water-resistant fabrics. There’s a grey area where thick, weatherproof jerseys merge into jackets while the lightest jerseys.
Sharks Swim & Triathlon
As with most specialist clothing, it’s best to try before you buy. The fit of jerseys varies a lot, from very close shirts intended for racing to looser jerseys for the more casual cyclist.
If you pop into our shop in Swansea, we can help you to find the right fit of all your cycling gear, along with a range of accessories including gloves, shades and energy gels. Alternatively, you can order online and we have a returns policy which will allow you to return any items which may not fit as you wish. To find out more, visit our website.