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


See related posts here: Part One and Part Two.

When it’s wet
Dealing with the wet stuff can be a hassle. I live in Oregon. It rains here a lot. Oregonians don’t tan, they rust. But I love the rain and it doesn’t usually get in the way of my riding. I have commuted in driving drizzle and torrential downpours. I have ridden on slippery roads and through foot and a half deep water at flooded intersections. I have tried various configurations of rain gear. The first thing to remember is that it is okay to get wet. If you have ever bathed (which I hear some cyclists do) then you know you will not melt when water hits your skin. The key is not about staying dry as much as not getting too cold. Soaked cotton clothing is miserable and a pathway to hypothermia. Don’t wear cotton anything if it is going to rain. When it rains, and I’m biking, I plan on being wet. I know I will either get wet from the rain or from my own sweat inside my rain jacket. This is a reality for all cyclists and keeps many people from riding. But folks, sweat is okay, even for Thurston Howell:

Ah, looks like water, a'wonder where 
it came from?
Thurston I know what it is! I use to 
see it on our gardener! It's perspiration!
 It IS!? What can I put it in? I've 
got to send it to dad, he'd be 

When commuting to work I just bring dry clothes. I hang up my wet clothes so they will dry before I ride home. Usually my shoes do not dry out though, so I wear wool socks in winter and sometimes bring an extra pair for the ride home. I have never used overbooties, but I might try someday.

One does not need a rain jacket to ride in the rain. A good fleece or wool jacket or heavy shirt may be fine. Synthetic fabrics dry fast. Wool often  blocks the wind better. Both keep you warm even when wet. But do not wear any cotton underneath. The same goes for pants. I don’t wear rain pants. I have a pair of synthetic fabric cycling specific pants that have an extra layer of wind-blocking material on the front. If it gets really cold I can wear an extra pair of long underwear under the pants. Even if I get wet I still stay warm. They dry fast too.

If you are carrying dry clothing in you bike bag make sure they are sealed from the rain. Most bags, whether panniers, shoulder bags, or backpacks are never fully waterproof. I always put my clothes into a plastic bag before putting them in my bike bag. Typically I just use one of those plastic grocery bags but you can get light weight waterproof bags of specific volume and dimensions from outdoor retailers; these are known as dry bags. I also hang up my wet cycling clothing at work so they can dry out before I use them to ride home.

In short, you will get wet if you ride in the rain. Wear clothes that will keep you warm even if wet. Bring dry clothes to change into. Keep your dry clothes dry.

Finally, I would prioritize clothing (and any other gear) for cycling buying into the following list: Safety first, reliability and comfort second, fashion third. A forth might be ethically sourced, eco-friendly, and corporate responsibility, which may essentially rule out Lycra (read this).

The first two priorities often go together. Uncomfortable or annoying clothing is often unsafe too. Your clothing should be such that you don’t have to think about it while you ride. It should just do its job without fuss. But if you have a choice between brighter and darker fabrics you might want to pick the brighter so you are most visible to motorists. However, and I speak as a non-fashion plate, there is no need whatsoever to wear horrendously ugly, disgustingly neon, or fashionably egregious clothing merely because it makes you more visible. Have some respect for yourself and for others.

Also, remember that simple things, like zipping up a jacket, become more challenging while riding a bike. There is nothing more frustrating than having to stop riding in order to adjust your clothing because the design of the garment requires two hands to manage the adjustment. (Okay, there are probably a few things more frustrating, but you understand.) Buttons can be a challenge, but many zippers are difficult too, especially around the neck. Test out your clothing for ease of use when you try it on. Imagine you are riding in the rain, in a bike lane with traffic immediately on your left, and you want to zip up your coat’s collar. Can you do it with one hand, easily? Or does the zipper and fabric get bunched up and difficult to zip without using two hands?

A final word on priorities: With any activity ask yourself what are you really trying to accomplish. One doesn’t need the most expensive grill if the goal is not keeping up with the Jones’ but to cook the perfect steak. One doesn’t need to buy the latest, coolest cycling gear if the goal is to get to work safely, with minimal hassle, and then back home again. And yet, style is important. Use stuff that you like to use, not merely because it works but also because you just like it. Get clothing that looks good, but also works. Ride a bike that does what it is supposed to do for sure, but ride one you like for other reasons too. But don’t ever put yourself in a position where you find your new spirit-self hovering above your lifeless body thinking that your stylish bike without reflectors, lights, and adequate brakes, your dark clothing without any reflective capabilities, and your lack of helmet, may have added up to one of the darkest and most miserable days for your loved ones still waiting for you to return.

and then…
There is a lot of worship of cycling these days. It’s so hip, so cool, so perfect in many people’s minds. And I agree with all that. But bicycle commuting is also about getting from one place to the next safely, efficiently, and with minimal hassle. Good cycling clothing can make a big difference. If you realize that your choices for cycling clothing range far beyond the neon and Lycra of the old school bike shop then you know you have a surprising number of choices to find what works for you. As they say, the world is your oyster, though I have no idea why they say that.

* Gilligan’s Island, Season One, Episode #3, “Voodoo Something to Me”. If you do not know what Gilligan’s Island is, then consider that you now have homework to do.

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