Is lycra a must for riding a bike?
The truth is, it’s not compulsory to wear lycra on your bike, but it’s an option lots of cyclists choose, due to the added comfort. It also comes with additional benefits you may be interested in if you are aiming to race or go fast – aero gains are gains after all… along with high-tech materials specifically designed for the strains of cycling.
Your choice of clothing will also depend on the kind of ride you’re doing. If you’re doing a short commute to work, it might not be worth investing in lycra. However, if your commute is longer, you want to get into group riding (find a club here) or you need some additional comfort or you like the way it looks, then you should absolutely invest.
Benefits of cycling lycra
Comfort: First and foremost, comfort – it is the holy grail for comfort on a bike. Nothing flapping in the wind, less saddle sores and chafing because it fits snug as a bug. Afterall, who wouldn’t want to wear a garment that cushions your southern region to perfection?
Of course, if you don’t like the ‘tight second-skin’ look, then you can get baggier lycra, or go up a couple of sizes – we’re not judging, we’re all part of the same community and we’re all aiming to be comfortable.
Custom Kit: It provides an option for clubs and teams to customise kit and enable their members to wear the same jerseys/shorts, enhancing the community feel further.
Technical fabrics: Lycra also tends to be manufactured to perfection and has great technical qualities. It often aids in sweat wicking for those sunny rides into work or weekend jaunts around the countryside. And for those dismal winter rides, fleece-lined, windproof and even waterproof kit is produced to keep you a little warmer and dryer.
The materials kit is made with are often researched thoroughly to ensure they’re the best option for comfort, warmth, fit and free movement. Who wants to ride up a steep hill in a cotton t-shirt and rain jacket in a bucket of sweat, to then have a light-bulb moment as to why cycling clothing is often made from technical material? Not us.
The items of cycling clothing we all use
Shorts: Otherwise known as bib shorts or waist shorts. Inside the shorts is a lovely squishy pad called the chamois – for ultimate comfort when your crown jewels are shimmying around the saddle for hours on end. Usually made from nylon or lycra to provide a little stretch, ‘bib shorts’ have straps over the shoulders to prevent the shorts from slipping down (this does make it a little difficult for women to go to the toilet, without removing their upper layers – but advancements have already been made).
Regular cycling shorts, which don’t have the shoulder straps, are easier for female comfort breaks, but may sometimes roll down or cut in at the waist. Cycling brands also make looser fitting shorts which mountain bikers usually use, although you may want to pair them with a set of padded shorts, as they don’t tend to have a chamois in them.
Jerseys: They literally come in all kinds of designs, colours and sizes. Summer ones are usually made from a thinner, wicking material, while the winter jerseys often have a mix of merino wool, fleece lining or Polartec fabrics to provide additional warmth. You can get a range of products with varying specifications – windproof jerseys, water resistant jerseys or ultra-light breathable jerseys for example. And if you tend to carry the kitchen sink with you when cycling, don’t fear, they have convenient pockets at the back for storing all your goodies within easy reach.
Gloves & Mitts: A necessity for the winter and those with sensitive skin, although, recommended from a safety point of view as well. Your hands are often the first thing to hit or scrape along the ground if you do happen to take an unfortunate fall from the bike (and we hope you don’t!), so it’s best to protect your hands when you ride and invest in gloves for winter and mitts for warmer times. Mitts are fingerless gloves with some added padding at the heel of the hand.
Tights: True winter gains and an item of clothing we highly recommend investing in. Nobody wants to go outside and be so cold their kneecaps are chattering, but how do you combat that in the winter? Get yourself some of these life savers, often designed in varying degrees of thickness, depending on the season you’re buying for. They can be waistband tights – no straps, bib tights with straps or tights without a chamois (pad) in case you prefer to double up and put them over a set of bib shorts.
Jackets: An outer layer is always a good option to have available, many people carry a ‘rain cape’ around in their back pocket due to the often-unpredictable weather. These also add a little extra warmth when leaving a café stop. Designed to keep your sweat in and the rain out while providing a snuggly, slightly sweaty embrace.
Base layers: These are worn between your skin and a jersey and have various jobs. They’re high-tech items of clothing and are designed to remove sweat from your body, by lifting it up to your jersey. There are specific base layers for different seasons, each made with varying materials and designs to ensure maximum comfort. They can also help if you end up taking a tumble because they allow your jersey to slide around over the top, rather than dragging your skin along the ground. Many cyclists tend to wear netted base-layers on a hot summer’s day, not only for the sweat wicking but for the safety option – road rash is something you want to avoid.
Some cycling clothing brands and websites to check out
- SpatzWear – mainly for your winter kit due to its high-tech stance
- Universal Colours – for an array of coloured jerseys
- Rapha – for clothing covering various disciplines
- NVPA – for a quality chamois at a slightly more affordable price
- DHB – for your cheaper options of kit, without sacrificing quality and comfort
Online websites to check out kit
- Wiggle – linked to DHB
- Sport Pursuit – discounted brand-new last season items, bought in bulk by the brand to sell on
- Sigma Sports – an array of clothing brands in one place, and they often have discounts online
- Ebay – second-hand kit is ideal for when you’re testing the lycra situation and don’t want to spend a fortune
Lycra isn’t always the chosen option and it can be a little odd looking at first, but once you get cycling in some, we can guarantee you will understand why it’s a common choice on the bike. We’d love to hear your opinions on brands, staple finds or how you get on with your first set of lycra.