“Cause every girl is crazy ’bout a sharp-dressed man.” – Z.Z. Top
Cycling is no different than just about any physical activity in that there is an inexhaustible list of fashion apparel you can buy to improve performance and make you look cool. Below is a head-to-toe inventory of my apparel and my thoughts on their value both as fashion items and practical additions to my cycling wardrobe.
Helmet. IMHO, this is easily the most important item I wear because it has the unique function of keeping daylight away from my brains. I can think of no more noble a purpose for an item of clothing. I read that 80% of cycling fatalities involve head trauma and helmets could prevent 75% of those fatal head injuries. That’s all I need to hear. This particular model was made by Specialized and is very comfortable. The visor is removable and is somewhat controversial amongst really cool cyclists, who think that visors are only appropriate for mountain bikers and a real road cyclist wouldn’t use one because it would block his view of the road when he dropped down on his lower handlebars. Whatever. I think it looks dorkier with the visor off and I don’t have drop-down handlebars. So I keep the visor on. So there.
Sunglasses. These are more important than you might think. They obviously do a nice job of blocking the sun, but they are equally effective at blocking the wind and all sorts of insects, leaves, dust, and other floating debris. I wear them even when its overcast and I’m glad for it. If I was really cool, I’d drop $40 on some purpose-built cycling sunglasses. I’m not really cool, so I use the same glasses I use when I’m driving my truck.
Jersey. I don’t have one and this is a major fashion faux-pas that immediately points me out as a noob to more seasoned cyclists. To be honest, I’m trying to get excited about this but I’m not seeing the point. They’re sleek, so you’re supposed to be faster. Please. The difference in wind resistance might be important at the Tour de France, but not at my level of play. Jerseys also have three pockets in the back for carrying all sorts of stuff (inner tubes, “cue cards,” energy bars, extra fluids, etc..) but I can haul those sorts of things in my Camelbak. Jersey material is supposed to wick away sweat, but so can an Under Armor shirt. Jerseys come in two types – “racing” styles, which are very tight and “club” styles, which wear like a slightly tight tee shirt. The cheap ones will run you $50. If I ever get tired of wearing my tee shirts, I’ll let you know.
Camelbak. Very nice! If you’re going to be out there for more than 30-45 minutes, then a water bottle won’t have enough fluid for you. My model can hold 70 ounces of fluid and has several compartments for carrying stuff. I typically have my camera, cell phone, and route instructions in there. It’s fairly small and it’s designed to let air pass between it and the cyclist’s back. I’m glad I have this. With the Camelbak carrying my water, I can use my water bottle cage to hold a Gatorade bottle to help replace some electrolytes and give me a taste of something besides more water. I could put Gatorade or another juice in my Camelbak – and there are even products sold for precisely this purpose – but experiences cleaning dried-on Kool-Aid out of canteens in my younger years as an officer have made a lasting impression on me.
Gloves. Ride a bike for an hour without gloves and your hands will go numb from the vibrations. They are a “must-have,” in my view. I bought my pair at the Boiling AFB BX, so they are definitely low-end. Still, the material breathes nicely and the fingers haven’t begun to fray yet. The padding on the palm is beginning to break down, so another pair will be in order before the summer is done.
Shorts. I could have taken a picture of me wearing my shorts but I thought I would spare you a close up shot of my butt and crotch. You’re welcome. Despite their embarrassing look, they are indispensable. They are seamless in the crotch and you wouldn’t think that was a big deal until you pedaled for an hour or more. The padding on the butt is also a very welcome feature. Of course, they’re skin-tight so the chaffing problem caused by normal shorts is immediately solved. There is another type of short called a “bib” that I may consider when buying a cold-weather riding set. By all accounts, these are very comfortable to ride in and they insure the biggest cycling fashion faux-pas is never committed. I am of course referring to the dreaded gap between jersey and pants which can at times be so severe as to expose one’s butt crack. I am proud to say that I may look like a noob in many respects, I have NEVER committed this offense!
Socks. Yeah, they make cycling socks. My white tube socks do just fine, thank you.
Shoes. Again, my geekiness is on full display here. I simply wear tennis shoes. My research indicates that riding in tennis shoes over long distances will cause the foot to develop a hot spot. This is due to the fact that the soles give when pressed against the pedal. Cycling shoes are very hard and thus eliminate this problem. The only thing is I have never experienced this phenomenon. Until I do, I won’t become terribly excited about buying the shoes. There are also specialized shoes which allow a cyclist to strap into his pedals, allowing for much greater pedaling efficiency. I can’t say that I’m quite at that level. I seem to be doing just fine right now without that “efficiency.”
There’s a lot more stuff out there – knee warmers, rain gear, hand warmers, long-sleeved jerseys, no-sleeve jerseys, cold-weather jerseys, caps to fit inside your helmet when it’s cold, and silly floppy hats for those who are too stupid to wear helmets. The list goes on and on. I think I’m all set for right now. We’ll see how things develop over the next few months.