>On Cycling Clothing for the Non-Fashion Plate: Part 1 of 3


Prologue: My current perspectives on bicycling clothing were born from the fiery crucible of commuting in a bike-friendly city, mostly on bike paths and bike lanes, and in mostly temperate weather. In other words, the following thoughts do not consider issues of riding extremely long distances, or riding in snow, or riding in jungle conditions, or fighting with dragons. Nor am I a gear or clothing tester, or care to be one. Rather, I write only from my own experience as a humble (and sometimes humiliated) bike commuter, who has a very limited budget, and with the mostly suburban commuter in mind. Writing is also my method of exploring my own thoughts and experiences.

I am a suburban cyclist for the most part. I have read a few blogs and books on cycling and commuting, and much of the time they do not make the distinction as clearly as they should. Suburban commuting is different than urban commuting. In the magical land of suburbia the streets tend to be longish and straightish. Stop lights are minimal (sometimes). Speed limits are often 40+ mph for cars, and drivers own the place. In good cities there are usually bike lanes for the higher mph streets. Distances are also longer, which is the biggest factor in how one commutes. Urban cyclists go shorter distances and deal more directly with traffic. In Urbania commutes are typically around 2 to 3 miles (or less) one way. The classic Dutch bike configuration works well for the urbanist who is content to take their time, likes the visibility of sitting upright, and likes to wear tweed jackets and fedoras. But my commute is seven miles in one direction. It’s not so long that I couldn’t ride the thing on just about any bike, but a Dutch style bike is a little too relaxed for my tastes. Plus I want to get to work as quickly as possible, and I want to use my ride as my workout so I don’t also have to get into the gym. Thus my choice of clothing tends towards more cycling appropriate clothing more or less, then I change into work appropriate clothing once I arrive.

I have always been a gear nut and cycling offers plenty of opportunity for accumulating gear. However, the more I commute the more my opinions on cycling gear change from the mere “new is better” or “more is better” or “Ooo that looks shiny!” perspective that has characterized my life. Gear is fun, but it should have a functional purpose too. Plus there is no getting away from gear, regardless of whether you are obsessed with anything new and shiny or will only use gear that reflects a simpler time, like before the internal combustion engine or getting some food began with grabbing one’s spear. You need gear and you will have it. Gear can also be expensive and you don’t want to waste your money. Owning something merely because it makes you happy to have something new may be reason enough, but it is not what I am writing about here. I want both happiness and functionality. Also, life is a process and my ideas are in flux. My goal here is not to list out what (or what not) to use, but to highlight my process and some “rules” that make sense to me.These are preliminary thoughts. The following is in no way a final word on anything.

Rule One
The first rule to follow, if there really are any rules at all, is to use whatever works. If you follow that rule then you probably don’t really need any other rules.* When it comes to cycling form follows function, and good function tends to lead to good form (but not always). Bicycle manufacturers and bicycle gear manufacturers are mostly like other companies; they are prone to follow fashion and the latest trends. They will sometimes discontinue a great item in favor of a not-as-great item because the new sells better than the old. But for the most part cycling companies recognize the value of functionality and create quality, well designed gear. Usually the most functional is also the most beautiful. On the other hand, the rule of using whatever works means you are not tied to cycling specific gear. This requires one to pay attention; notice what gear you actually use and how it functions. Ask around and see what others are using. Move on gear that isn’t working for you. Try new things, and stick with what works, unless something else works better and you want a change. And keep this in mind: A correlative to this rule is that what is most expensive is not necessarily what works best.

An advantage of Rule One is that you can be a gear nut and not go bankrupt. You can explore your obsession with gear (cyclists, like skiers, are inherently gear nuts) without having to fill up your garage with stuff you later find you really don’t need. You can try shiny new stuff and pre-used old stuff. You can search out the latest hi-tech or the ancient and classic. You can also settle on certain items and use them for a long time without feeling the pressure to change. Seeking out what works is a great way to stay in tune with your needs without overdoing it.

This is Part One of Three. More to come.

* This rule works well for many activities, including back-country skiing, mountaineering, and anything where the functional capabilities of one’s gear is important to the success of the activity, including one’s safety and comfort.

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