Hide the Lycra: Dressing for success


Like most cyclists from the 1980s, I’ve been a steady wearer of Lycra tops and bottoms for the road, and baggies and loose-fitting tops for the dirt. A costume for a specific gig, as it were. Now, the garment game is changing, and I welcome it for several reasons, several of which evolved on the same weekend in early April.

As fate slammed our Dirt Rag editor to the tarmac during a freak motorcycle accident in late March, so too went his ability to attend a few media launches prior to the Sea Otter Classic in early April. So, I got called up from the bullpen to attend the Specialized MTB apparel launch in nearby Santa Cruz. There I experienced two things that changed the course of my ride clothing choices: poison oak, and the heavily pocketed and smart Specialized Mountain Bib liner shorts with S.W.A.T. (storage, water, air, tools) technology.

The first was somewhat avoidable (it was uncharacteristically muddy on a hot day on a borrowed bike on a new trail for me, but I digress), but the second was fate, providing an ‘aha’ moment to help me rethink traditional clothing choices: what if the S.W.A.T. bibs could be used under non Lycra uppers and lowers, providing a bit more freedom of movement and making me look less like a mutant ‘spandex’ freak to non cyclists on the roads?

Mennonite peloton

Well, another media invitation to nearby Scott Valley a day later to attend a Giro New Road clothing event bolstered this intuition. Despite being a brand steeped in racing, Giro wants to establish itself as a clothing and accessory company for everyone, non racers as well as go-go speed junkies. Their approach has been to develop and craft seemingly drab clothing (plenty of black, gray and nature colors) with whiz-bang technical features for proper ventilation and moisture wicking.

After dealing with an acute case of poison oak for several weeks, and having to treat the weeping wounds repeatedly (which hampered my riding to the extreme), I decided to experiment on my daily rides with a combination of pedestrian-looking technical clothing pieces from Giro, Club Ride, and Rapha, coupled with the Specialized S.W.A.T. bibs. What I found was no change in performance or comfort on the bike, but plenty of smiling and relaxation on my part. This should come as no surprise to folks who know I once worked for Rivendell Bicycle Works, home of the no-Lycra non racer. I’ve also taken the shaved-legs route to feel more like the Lycra-clad brethren I encounter on Foothill Expressway and Alpine Road every day, but after several weeks of dealing with poison oak, the shaver stayed put and the legs re-sprouted their natural hair.

My takeaway?

I realize how important it is to have proper storage on the bike and body for essentials, namely tools, water, phone/wallet and food. Some is best attached to the bike, but there’s only so much room or interest if one doesn’t use a large saddle, frame or handlebar bag, especially on short rides of 35 miles or less. The extra pockets on the S.W.A.T. bibs made it all worthwhile once I learned how to fill them, and convinced myself they weren’t just for mountain biking. I also noticed how silly most Lycra-clad non racers look, and hope more designers provide better and more flattering clothing options for us all. After my eight-week experiment, I’m now more inclined to wear my Giro, Club Ride or Rapha overshorts and a button-down short-sleeve shirt than an unnecessarily tight Lycra getup. I do, however, choose the day-glo pink or yellow Defeet socks to jazz things up a little.

In the words of our esteemed publisher: ‘Do it’!


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