This page was last updated 15 June 2007.

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Bicycle Clothes

You'll see two types of riders on the road - those wearing regular street clothes when riding, and those wearing specialized bicycle clothes. (The latter include a subspecies that looks like a moving billboard.) I started in the first category but have been completely converted to the second. This chapter considers each piece in turn.

The fundamental principle for bicycle clothing is layering. If the weather gets colder or wetter, one does not choose a thicker material but adds more layers. The advantage is that this makes it easier to adjust to changing temperatures without having to carry a complete set for every temperature range, and it is faster to adjust by opening or taking off just one layer. Bicycle riding requires much more attention to just the right clothing - too warm is just as bad as too cold.

Another principle is tight fitting. A baggy jacket not only acts like a braking parachute but also lets cold air get closer to the skin, which makes the wind feel much colder because sweat evaporates directly on the skin. One function of bicycle clothing is to keep the skin dry by transporting sweat to the outside, where it can evaporate without cooling the body too much and without soaking the clothing.








So, do the advantages justify the expense and peculiar look of specialized bicycle clothing? If you ride more than a couple of kilometers a day, and have a high-performance bicycle (as opposed to a gaspipe clunker), definitely. I find riding in regular street clothes uncomfortable, and even painful, and it would take away much of the fun of riding a bicycle. If you want to buy just a single piece to try it out, get padded shorts. It doesn't have to be Pearl Izumi, a $30 sale will do nicely as long as you get the right size.

A word about prices: I haven't found significant price differences for bicycle components in different European countries and the US, except that locally made components are sometimes (Specialized) but not always (Campagnolo) somewhat cheaper. Clothing is an exception, it seems that end-of-summer sales go down to half as much in the US than here in Germany. At standard retail prices though, at an approximate US$/Euro parity, the USA tend to be more expensive than Europe.

Tell me if you found this information interesting or useful, or if you have comments.