So we all know that it’s bound to happen. As new bikers we’re immune to the biking gear. We get our bike, our helmet, and maybe a bell and we’re good to go. At first we go out on our bike and we tool around town in our cute little capris and feel really good. We look at those other cyclists in their T-Mobile jerseys and skin tight spandex and think, “Oh please. That’s like wearing a Seahawks uniform for a backyard football game. What are they trying to prove?”
Then our rides get longer and one day we end up with the dreaded SADDLE SORES! We laugh it off at first…it was probably those underwear with Hello Kitty on them. Everyone knows Hello Kitty undies ride up. A little salve and some different undies and I’ll be fine.
It took me awhile before I’d give in to bike shorts. I mean come on…they leave NOTHING to the imagination and you’re supposed to wear them COMMANDO! Leave Hello Kitty home? Alone? Perish the THOUGHT! I tried getting different brands of undies that wouldn’t bite in my legs, but it was a no go. Finally I had to give in. Cycling shorts aren’t just a fashion statement, they’re a necessity. If you’re going to ride more than just down the store, you’re going to have to trade in your capris for real bike shorts.
The problem is, have you looked at the price of these things? A good pair of Pearl Izumi bike shorts can run you up to $100. Now I don’t know what exactly is magic about these shorts, but $100? For shorts? For shorts that feel like you’re wearing a diaper and practically ADVERTISE your back fat and belly pooch? Oh sign me up, and thank you sir may I have another!?
Fortunately there are other brands that are more reasonable in price, and there are some options for cyclists who don’t feel comfortable in tight spandex:
Biking underwear: You wear these under your regular shorts or even under a skirt. They have padding and are quite comfortable. Nary a Hello Kitty design to be found, alas, but much more comfortable than HK ever dreamed of being.
Baggies: These are padded where it counts, and have vents in the side that you can zip closed on a cold day, and don’t fit like a second skin! They’re a little longer than a regular pair of shorts, but they’re comfortable and I don’t feel like I’m having to walk around sucking my stomach in like a runway model all day. It’s no wonder they all look so grim…24/7 tummy sucking is hard work!
Cycling skirts: I SO need to try these because I love love LOVE running skirts, and on short rides will often wear one because while the running skirts don’t have the padding, they do have the little shorts underneath that don’t cut into the thighs and girly bits. They’re cute and comfortable. As for running in them, I always get a little tingle of pleasure when I run fast a guy who is (obviously) younger than I am in my running skirt and think, “Dude, you just got passed by a middle aged woman in a skirt. Are you going to take that?” So how much MORE fun to extend that joy to cycling?!
As for tops, sure you can wear the cycling jersey of your favorite Tour de France team, and honestly the more I get into cycling, the more I understand the appeal. At the same time, though, I really don’t want to be a biking billboard for a laxative company, no matter HOW hot I think George Hincapie is. (Okay, Geo isn’t sponsored by laxatives…but he IS kinda hot!)
Check out your local cycling store because there are a LOT of jerseys that are made just for women. Like bike shorts, a good jersey will set you back a few George Washingtons (who is not nearly as hot as George Hincapie), but watch the sales racks! You can find some good deals! And don’t forget to peruse the kids’ section. I recently found a Where the Wild Things Are jersey for $25. An XL child’s size fits me with room to spare. If you’re smaller on top, a large or XL child’s size might fit nicely.
When you’re getting a jersey, there are a few things to look for if you are planning on longer bike rides down the road.
Pockets are imperative. You ideally want three big, WELL SEWN pockets across the back of the jersey for stashing things in. Yes, it does look dorky to ride with three giant lumps on your back, but it does hide the back fat and trust me…on a 50-70 mile ride, you’re not caring. With good pockets you can stash your arm warmers without getting off your bike, hold an extra water bottle, stash a cell phone, and even carry a collapsible rain jacket and some snacks. It’s like kangaroo pockets on your back! Note: I would not suggest stashing your children back there. If you hit a bump, Junior goes flying.
A zipper that zips easily and opens down almost to your belly button. Getting on a bike in the Fall can be an exercise in frustration. It’s cold when you start, but you warm up fast. Too many clothes and you’re miserable. Too few and you’re miserable. Layering REALLY helps as does a bike shirt with a deep, easy to open zipper. Sun peeks out, zipper comes down to cool you off. Now obviously in this case you are WEARING something under the bike shirt like a modest sports bra or a tank top. I go for the top because I don’t want to scare passing motorists.
Bright colors…yes I know. Some cyclists out there look like Ringling Bros met mardi gras and they got together and had a parade all over your shirt! But there is a reason for this! As cyclists we want to be visible. Not just, “Oh I think there’s something up ahead” visible but “Oh my LORD what IS that up there?” visible. The brighter the shirt the better. No muted natural tones for this cyclist. I want the loudest, brightest shirt in the world. Besides, it gives the non-cyclists joy to be able to mock you as they drive past in their cars. You can’t hear it but they’re doing it. Don’t let it bother you. Just smile and wave.
Go up a size as long as it doesn’t hang on you. In cold weather you might want to wear a layer under your bike shirt so you can have your pockets handy.
There are a few other things that I find really handy in our changeable weather. I live in the Pacific Northwest where I can be riding in sunny spring weather one day, and snow, hail, rain, fire and brimstone the next…all this in April. So it is important to be prepared. Now is the BEST time to pick this stuff up, too because it’s closeout sale times at places like REI and Performance Bike. So last year as Fall came upon us, I picked up the following:
Shoe covers: These babies fit over your bike shoes and have a hole in the bottom for your cleats. They keep your tootsies toasty when it gets cold, and are machine washable.
Sleeves: These are awesome! Neoprene or spandex “sleeves” that you wear almost like leg warmers on your arms! They also make them for legs, but I just wear cold weather running pants over my bike shorts on cold days.
Balaklava aka Gaiters: Wear it around your neck like a scarf, except it’s one piece so you don’t have the danger of the trailing end potentially getting caught on something. Pull it up over your face for cold mornings. They also make full head ones that I wear in early spring and late Fall that are wonderful. Keep my head warm and dry!
Helmet Cover: These go over your helmet and keep the rain and bees out. I’ve had a bee get stuck in the vents on my helmet before. Neither of us were amused. I actually picked mine up at a thrift store. It has Spiderman on it. Yes, I do get teased, but I sustain that it gives me Spidey Powers. It also reminds me not to take myself too seriously. I’m out here to have fun, not win the Tour.
Rain gear: These just fit right over your top and bottoms and completely keep the rain out. Remember above when I referred to rain, snow, hail, etc? That was one day in April this year when I was being all “green” and commuting to and from work. It snowed, then it rained, then the sun came out, and then the hail started, and finally it snowed again. I was never so glad to have my rain gear stuffed in my pack! I got home and while I was a bit chilled, I was completely dry thanks to my rain gear and my Spidey powers.
Bike gloves: It is inevitable. At some point, or at many points, we are going to take a tumble off our bikes. Just one set of road rash on the palms will convince you why you need good bike gloves. Padded gloves also are more comfortable on long rides, and help absorb “road noise” (those nasty vibrations when you’re riding over rough roads). Plus they protect your hands when you have to change a tire and give you a little more grip.
As I said, the best thing to do if you’re planning on getting more into cycling is to get out and watch for those end-of-season clearance sales. You can pick up quite a few essentials that way. Another option is always a thrift store. Often people will buy sporting goods thinking they’re going to become the next Lance Armstrong, only to decide that it isn’t nearly as much fun as it used to be when they could put sparkly tassels on their handlebars and playing-cards in their spokes. They donate their practically new stuff to the local thrift shop, and the thrift shop sells it to you for a steal. I’ve picked up two pair of Pearl Izumi shorts WITH tags for $5 each, and recently found this psychedelic acid trip of a bike shirt for $10. Watch for Bike Expos in the Spring as well. I’ve always found that companies like SheBeest are at these events selling last year’s line for a steal.
Don’t forget non-brand name goods as well. REI has their own brand of biking clothing that generally sells for 25-30% cheaper than the other stuff, and is just as good. REI also holds two Garage Sales a year where they mark down a lot of their gear REALLY low. If you’re a member ($15 for a lifetime membership with yearly dividends paid back to you based on what you spend) you get advance warning and can pick up some AWESOME stuff.
When you look good, you feel good and there’s no reason NOT to look and feel good while cycling!