You probably have regular activewear in your closet. Cycling is an active sport. Therefore, you can just wear general activewear for cycling, right? The short answer is no. Cycling apparel has specific features to make you more comfortable, more efficient, more protected, and generally more happy riding your bike.
First, let’s get this out of the way – Cotton is a terrible material for active-wear. When you are active, you sweat. When you sweat, your clothing gets wet. When cotton gets wet, it stays wet. In addition, cotton takes a long time to dry out and does a poor job of actually cooling you as that water evaporates.
Next time you’re out on a trail, take a look at the people exercising. You will be able to spot the cotton by the dark sweat marks! Performance materials like Lycra, Spandex, Nylon, and Polyester pull that moisture off of your skin, transferring it to the outer layers of the material, and helping it to evaporate into the air. This transfer-evaporation process also helps to cool you, just how sweat is designed to work! This is something that cotton is horrible at!
Do you know what makes clothing specific to cycling? It’s not always a “racing” thing. Sure, there is ridiculously engineered, high-performance aerodynamic clothing. But the primary purpose of cycling apparel is to help make your ride more enjoyable. Cycling clothing is engineered to help you stay more comfortable on the bike, to ride longer, and to be more efficient – regardless of your riding level. Whether you’re riding around the block or across the country, cycling clothing WILL give you a better, more comfortable ride.
Take bike shorts for example. What makes them different than other active shorts is the padding or chamois. The chamois is a pad of some sort placed between the rider and the bike seat, or saddle. This provides cushion and support without adding too much bulk. On the other hand, a big, cushy saddle can actually create more pressure because of all of that material and bulk from the saddle. This can lead to discomfort in very sensitive areas.
By using a supportive chamois you get the cushion and support that you need without all of that bulk. Also, when you are wearing regular shorts or pants and a big, cushy seat, the friction point is between your body and the seat. When you add padding to your body and use a less bulky seat, you move that friction point to the shorts and the seat leading to less discomfort to your sensitive areas. A larger, bulky saddle can also impact the alignment of your pedal stroke and potentially add stress and discomfort to your hips, knees, ankles, and feet. All great reasons to wear cycling-specific shorts or tights!
Another amazing innovation in cycling shorts that’s quickly growing in popularity is Bibs! Cycling bibs are shorts with straps that come up and over your shoulders, much like suspenders. They look like a wrestling singlet and they are the most comfortable bike shorts ever! Why? Because they always stay where they are supposed to. Cycling shorts can sag in the back and can roll down in front, leading to all kinds of discomfort! Bibs stay put and eliminate the beltline bunching.
Not all bike shorts are a tight spandex affair! There are cycling-specific “baggy” shorts designed for riding bikes. But what about jogging or basketball shorts? Many people do use regular active shorts for riding but there is a much more functional and comfortable option! Cycling-specific baggies have subtle changes from general shorts.
For one, they are designed so that they don’t catch on your seat as you get on and off of a bike. This is a seldom considered but very important feature! As you get on and off of a bike, you throw your leg over the saddle. If there is an excess of material in the crotch, you are likely to catch the shorts on the saddle, leading to you tipping over! This is both dangerous to your body and your ego!
Cycling-specific baggies are also designed to have the pockets placed in strategic locations. When you sit on a bike and pedal, your legs go up and down. If items are positioned in your pockets in the wrong place they can cause discomfort or even fall out while your ride! Cycling baggies are designed so that your stuff sits nicely in your pockets and some pockets even feature zippers to keep a little change in your pocket (going jing-a-ling-a-ling)!
Now, what about that active shirt that you have? It’s made of amaterial that wicks moisture away from your skin so it will be great for riding, right? Again, not really. Yes, it will do those things but a cycling jersey is designed to do this and much more!
A cycling-specific jersey is generally cut to fit a little more snuggly, which is a good thing! When you ride a bike, MOST of your effort is exerted overcoming the wind that is coming at you from the front. This isn’t necessarily an actual headwind. Any time that you move forward there is air resistance. A really loose-fitting T-shirt style shirt is going to act as a big sail and hold you back. Now, don’t think that all jerseys are super tight! There are multiple cuts and designs to jerseys so you’re sure to find one that you are comfortable riding in!
The benefits of a cycling jersey don’t stop there! Have you ever tried to carry keys, your wallet, or your phone with you on a ride? Stuff jammed in your pockets and pedaling a bike don’t really work too well. This is why cycling jerseys have pockets placed on at the lower back. This allows them to be accessible while on the bike but in a place that isn’t obstructive.
Cycling Jerseys are also designed to cover farther down your back than a regular t-shirt. Remember, when you are riding a bike you are leaning forward a little or a lot! When you lean forward, the back of your shirt comes up. When the back of your shirt comes up, you run the risk of giving the riders behind you a little show! Nobody wants to see that. A cycling jersey will cover more of your backside when you ride and keep everyone happy!
If you don’t like the looks or fit of a traditional cycling jersey, no worries! There are baggy jerseys that give you the benefits of moisture transfer that cotton doesn’t but they fit more like a regular t-shirt with the benefits of covering lower in back. Most of these baggy jerseys don’t have the traditional pockets in the back that you will find on other cycling jerseys but many do include hidden pockets to stash a couple of things. But, here’s a mind-blower! Many companies make cycling bibs with pockets built in! This allows you to wear a baggy jersey and still have cargo pockets up and out of the way to carry your essential supplies!
When you are out on a bike, you are exposed to all of the elements. One of those elements, the one that can be the most dangerous to everyone, is the sun. You may think that because your skin is covered that the sun is being blocked. This is NOT the case! Activewear is designed to be lightweight and breathable. To do this, tiny holes and gaps exist in the material. UV rays can travel through these holes. In the worst cases, you can actually get a sunburn THROUGH your clothing!
But, never fear! Many cycling companies are now designing clothing to block those UV rays. Specialized has made a big investment and dedication towards UV blocking clothing. All of their shorts and jerseys have rating (Ultraviolet Protection Factor) of at least 30, even higher for some products.
Many people think that long-sleeves are just for riding in cooler temperatures, but that isn’t necessarily a hard and fast rule. You will also see clothing designed specifically to block the sun like lightweight long-sleeve shirts and jerseys specifically designed for the summertime and even sun-sleeves that can be added to short-sleeve jerseys. These long-sleeve garments are designed to be lightweight, moisture-transferring, and comfortable to wear, even in the higher temps that are experienced in the warmer months while providing you the safety of sun protection.
There you have it. The right cycling apparel will help you be more comfortable and more efficient, regardless of the type of rider that you are, ultimately making cycling more fun! And the more fun you have the more you’ll ride. For a wide selection of the best apparel in cycling, check out your local ERIK’S shop or online at shopERIKS.com.