Going to the gym is easy, you pull out a sports bra, leggings and t-shirt and you’re ready to roll. Cycling, however… while you can wear any old shizzle to nip to the shops, what do you wear to stop your bum seizing up and fingers dropping off on longer/colder rides? Do you really need padded shorts or will a sanitary towel suffice and what’s the score with cleats?
As we’re taking part in a women’s only bike ride and covering 42km at the Brighton Cycletta this weekend, we were pretty keen to know. While specific cycling kit isn’t essential, it will ensure a much more comfortable experience on the bike, particularly on longer rides. Luckily Phil from women’s cycling clothing website VeloVixen was happy to share his wisdom.
While it isn’t a legal requirement to wear a helmet on the road it’s certainly advisable. And if you’re entering any type of race they’re usually a condition of entry.
There are two main types of helmet, the skater type and the more traditional shape. Both offer the same level of protection but if you’re cycling longer distances I’d go for the traditional shape. It’s lighter, more aerodynamic and has more ventilation so your head can breathe. The skater shape, meanwhile, is great for commuting and looks pretty cool too.
After a helmet I’d say padding is the most important piece of kit. After about 15km you’ll start to notice if you haven’t got it – it certainly makes for a much more comfortable ride in the bum area. There are all different types of padded bottoms, as well as shorts you can get capris, full-length tights, flared and baggy bottoms. Some people like bib shorts, which have straps to go over your shoulder. They don’t slide down or expose your back but they can make going to the loo a bit more problematic. Go for the ones you find most comfy.
As a rule, the more different sections in the padding the better. It spreads the load and allows more breathability and flexibility. My wife Liz and I wear Sugoi, we travelled 10,300km from Argentina, over the Andes to Lima in them and they never let us down.
Cleats (clip-in shoes) let you pedal in a more efficient way, which will help on longer distances. They mean you can pull up as well as pushing, scooping your foot like an ice cream scoop. However, if you’re unsure how much you’ll use them, err on the side of caution before investing. You’ll need special pedals too and of course the pedals and shoes are all extra costs. Try some out before investing and don’t wear them for the first time at an event as they’ll make you feel pretty unstable. As an in between measure, make your cycling more efficient by wearing shoes with decently ribbed soles and attaching toe clips to your pedals.
Your top half
When it comes to what to wear on top opt for two or three thin layers so you can remove or add clothing as the weather and your body temperature changes. If it’s chilly or wet, ideally, you would have a base layer, a technical cycling top and a waterproof or windproof layer on top.
Merino is a bit more expensive than other fabrics but it’s worth it. It wicks smell and moisture naturally, feels nice, and is a good temperature regulator.
Technical cycling top
A technical top will dry out quickly, stop chafing, and the better tops will have clever features such as rubberised tape to stop them from riding up. They also have big pockets where you can store any snacks, money etc. I’d definitely advise going for a female-specific one as it’s going to be a much better fitting shape. Merino technical tops are possibly the most comfortable of all, but be aware that heavy loads can stretch the pockets.
There are lots of different types of jackets with different levels of weather protection. As a rule of thumb, unless you spend serious money then the more wind and waterproof they are, however, the less they’ll breathe. A heavier more waterproof jacket is good for commuting but if you’re out for a few hours you may overheat so look for something lighter that you can squish down and pack away. A water-resistant jacket is a good option as it’s light and should keep you pretty warm and dry in a shower. A windshell is very light and is suitable for drizzle and light showers. You can also get jackets that have removable sleeves and become a gilet.
If you’re out on a longer ride you may start to feel the handle bars. Fingerless gloves will cover your palms and protect from blisters, those with fingers will also help against wind chill. Again the more waterproof they are, the less they’ll breathe. For commutes it’s unlikely your hands will get too sweaty so you can up the weather-proof factor.
Arm warmers are a good little tip. If its a cool day or you’re starting out early in the morning you can pull them up to keep the chill out and take them off later in the day. I’d also say if you’re taking part in Cycletta or going on a longer ride take a small bag or rucksack. Don’t bring heaps in it, but it will be useful for carrying extra layers instead of tying them round your waist.
Phil and his wife Liz came up with the idea for VeloVixen on a long bike ride in the Americas (10,300km long to be precise). Liz had noticed that it was hard to find high-quality female cycling gear that worked well and looked stylish at the same time (we hear you Liz!). As Phil says, tradtionally so many companies took the male version and applied the old ‘shrink it and pink it’ technique. VeloVixen has a hand-picked selection of female cycle clothing and accessories from a number of different brands. And it all looks pretty darn swish too!