Do you really need to wear Lycra to ride a bike?

Not everyone likes the idea of wearing tight fitting cycle clothing to ride a bike but there are alternatives.

There are many good reasons for wearing technical cycle clothing when riding your bike, even for short journeys; padded shorts are more comfortable, bright colours and reflective materials aid visibility and good quality waterproof fabrics help to keep you dry, but you can get all this without looking like you are about to ride the Tour de France.

‘Lycra lout’ has become yet another way to criticise and single out cyclists as being different but in countries such as Holland, where cycling for transport is a normal part of everyday life, very few people wear Lycra unless they are cycling a long way or for sport and competition. It has even been suggested, though there is no research yet to support this, that car drivers treat people riding bikes in ordinary clothes with more respect than sportier looking cyclists.

Dressing in your normal clothes to ride a bike is absolutely fine for short journeys and when you won’t sweat too much, but if you have a long or hard commute, wearing cycle specific clothing will help you feel more comfortable. Thankfully there is a middle ground. Increasing numbers of clothing manufacturers are designing clothes made from the same technical waterproof and sweat wicking materials as sportier cycling kit, but in styles you would be happy to stroll into your office, the pub or a meeting wearing.

Things to look out for

When choosing clothing to cycle in, whether you are going for brightly-coloured Lycra or a more subdued casual look there are a few key things to look for.

Cut

Cycling requires plenty of movement at the hip and knee so look out for designs that aren’t tight in these areas, however avoid excess material around the ankles so nothing can get caught on your bike.  When you lean forward to hold the handle bars your lower back can be exposed so trousers or shorts need to be cut higher at the back than the front. Tops also need to be longer at the back and shoulders need space for movement so you can reach forward to the bars. Avoid anything that is tight around your waist as it will cut in on your stomach which can make you feel nauseous when exercising.

Padding

A little bit of padding between you and the saddle can make all the difference. Lightly padded pants and boxer shorts can be bought to wear under your normal clothes, they are thin enough to not be visible and carry sweat away from your skin so you feel dry but add a little extra comfort. As well as padding an absence of seams in the crotch area is really important to prevent rubbing. Never wear under wear with padded cycle shorts as it will bunch up and rub.

Breathability

The worst material to wear cycling is 100% cotton as it absorbs moisture leaving you looking and feeling damp. Breathable materials are designed to allow warm moist air from your skin to be carried to the surface so you feel cool and dry while you cycle. This makes a huge difference to your comfort and your appearance, it is hard to look professional with sweat patches!

Seams

Alongside cut this is a real distinction between casual and cycle clothing. Seams are placed away from areas where they can catch and rub, such as the edge of your knee, your crotch and inner thigh. Cycling trousers and jeans are reinforced at the seat, where they meet the saddle, for added longevity.

Water proofing

The technology behind waterproof materials is now incredibly advanced, gone are the days of brightly coloured sweaty cagoules that leave you as wet on the inside as the outside. There are some beautifully cut and draped jackets available that will protect you on the bike and look smart off them. A versatile investment for those inevitable wet cycling and commuting days and in the UK an indispensable part of your wardrobe!