>On Cycling Clothing for the Non-Fashion Plate: Part 2 of 3

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This is part two of a three part series of posts on bicycling clothing for the suburban commuter (non-fashion plate style). Part One is here, which includes the prologue and Rule One.

Rule Two
Rule One (see related previous post) brings me to another “rule,” which is: Bicycling specific gear is not always necessary or the best choice. In our gear crazed world we often feel the need to have very specific kinds of stuff for each activity. However, in each situation we have to ask if we are getting the best value from that philosophy.

Here’s an example of what I am talking about with shoes: We need tennis shoes, running shoes, trail running shoes, walking shoes, gym shoes, etc. etc. When we were kids we just had something generically called “tennis shoes” and an older generation than me generically called “sneakers.” We didn’t need any other kind of shoes, unless our parents made us wear uncomfortable dress shoes for church. Given that brief diatribe, I will say that I currently do use an old pair of cycling specific shoes because I use clipless pedals (which is a whole other issue) and I like them, but I really don’t have to. And there is a problem with these shoes, I have to bring regular shoes with me to change in to for work. Plus they are not as comfortable as regular shoes. Their advantage is merely that they have a cleat attached to the sole to click into the pedals, which for me but is not the best method for many cyclists. Consider these opinions on cycling shoes and pedals from Rivendell Bicycle Works (there are other great opinions on bike stuff there too). Though I like my clipless pedals, maybe because of many years downhill skiing and using ski bindings, and I like that “click,” I do miss my old clip pedals with the handyman-style double straps, and my ancient Vittoria leather shoes (though they were impossible to walk in and therefore terrible for commuting). And sometimes I just want a flat pedal to use with my tennis shoes or sandals. Maybe I will go back someday. The point is this: Cycling specific shoes are not inherently necessary for riding a bike, though the cycling industry would have you believe they are. Use them if you like them, don’t if you don’t, or don’t care for the expense. I use the example of bike shoes merely to show how one can be lead down an apparently necessary path like a cow with a ring in its nose. I have been led many times down that path.

Bike specific jerseys are probably the least necessary item a cyclist can buy, and often the most obnoxious looking. Any shirt, long sleeve or short, will do. Something that breathes well, blocks the wind a little, and wicks away moisture (if you are going to sweat much) is good. For my early morning rides when it’s cold and sometimes a little wet I wear a long sleeve synthetic shirt from either Patagonia or REI (brand doesn’t matter), and over the top I wear a wool long sleeve shirt from Filson. This Filson is a high quality wool that does a great job against both wind and wetness. Plus it breaths well. If it is even colder I wear a Patagonia micro puff insulated vest over the shirts. I also wear a thin wool hat under my helmet on cold mornings. This is just some plain wool beanie type hat that is not cycling specific. I wear the synthetic fabric shirts because I like the feel of them and they work well, but I might change to a soft wool in the future. I wear the wool shirt because its just the best shirt I have for what it does, and it looks great. If it is really raining I wear a coated nylon rain jacket over a synthetic shirt. Remember, if you wear coated nylon you will sweat. And know this, if it is raining then the so-called waterproof/breathable fabrics don’t breathe anyway and you will still get sweaty. 
If you like to wear gloves when you ride, which I do, you can really wear any kind of glove. Gloves can help with grip, especially when one’s palms get sweaty or it is raining. Gloves can also keep one’s hands warm on cold days. Cycling specific gloves have the advantages of padding in the palm. However, padding isn’t really needed if one’s handlebars and seat height are in good agreement for commuting, or less aggressive cycling. If you are not racing then consider raising your bars a bit. That should put less pressure on your hands and therefore less need for padding. If you prefer the superman position then get padded gloves. I have several gloves I choose from. I do have a typical pair of cycling gloves with the cut off fingers and padded palms. But, for my morning commute, I have a pair of soft leather full-finger gloves with Thinsulate interiors that I have just started trying out. These are not cycling specific, but they seem to work great. I added Nikwax to the leather to make them a bit more waterproof. I also have an old pair of alpine ski gloves for even colder weather.
NOTE: Let me say again, as I did in Post One on this topic, that my commute is around seven miles each way. That distance is just short enough to be easy to do, and just long enough to make it verge on being a longish commute. I prefer to ride a bike that is less like an upright urban commuter and more like a road bike suitable to going greater distances
Rule Three
Which brings me to a third rule: Bicycling specific gear is sometimes the best choice. I like bike shorts with good padding. If the weather is not too cold I like typical bike gloves with padding in the palms. Mostly I prefer these items for longer rides. For shorter rides clothing has more to do with the weather and not whether one is riding a bike. For longer rides I like a bike jersey that doesn’t flap in the wind too much and has pockets, for shorter rides anything works. I prefer a genuine bike helmet rather than not. What one needs to decide, usually through experience and experimentation, is what works for you, what gear fits the need, and sometimes you should just buy that expensive cycling specific item. When I discovered bike shorts it was a true godsend. But then I was starting to go on longer rides in the country at the time.

Before buying cycling specific gear do some research. Ask what others are using and why. Look online for reviews and opinions. Then try something and see if you are getting what you need. There is a lot of very expensive cycling gear on the market, much of it is excellent, but much of it can be substituted with cheaper alternatives. A three hundred dollar rain jacket may work well, but a fifty dollar jacket might work just as well. Beware of the lure of well marketed products. Use what works best for you.

NOTE: I am not a retrogrouch. I do not believe that everything that is old is better than everything that is new. I am not so sold on wool clothing that I refuse the new synthetics. I prefer synthetic long underwear. Mid-layer and outerwear can be wool, but they can be synthetic too. Just know this, synthetic fabric is only superior IF it is superior, not because it represents the claimed advancements of new technology. Also, wool has qualities that are hard to quantify or qualify but are there because wool is a natural fabric. Sometimes old is just fine. Sometimes it is better. I have a pair of ancient Shimano mountain bike shoes that I have used for commuting for more than fifteen years. They just will not wear out. They still work great, probably as well as a newer shoe, so I keep using them. Someday I will replace them with a slightly wider pair of shoes, but only for comfort reasons.

This is Part Two of Three. More to come.

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