Saturday, July 10, 2010

Down to Basics : Cycling Shorts

Undoubtedly, you know you're a really a cyclist, not when you first spend a four figure sum on a bicycle, but when you buy your first cycle shorts.

Some people have the talent to be able to ride a Century in damp denim jeans and flip-flops but most of us need aids to comfort on a bicycle. Apart from ensuring you are a good fit on your bike and your saddle/seat position is optimised, cycle shorts or bibs make the greatest contribution to comfort in, let's face it, a rather delicate area of the human anatomy.

Okay, they're not the most elegant of attire for most of us, but they look a lot better when you're actually riding the bike, although not necessarily stood in line at the coffee stop. However, on the bike they provide support and compression and keep everything in its place as well as a fairly streamlined and flutter-free outline for efficient pedalling. Also important, the nature of the fabric also means that movement around the saddle is friction and chafe-free.

Good shorts can be had from about usd60 up to as much as you want. But you pretty much get what you pay for. Things to look for; quality of the fabric - stretch and compression, the design of the cuffs of the legs - elastic and grippers, and most important, the quality of the pad. It's important that you buy shorts appropriate to your gender for physiological reasons which I'm sure I don't need to go into, although for a long time women had to manage with shorts designed for men.

Most fabrics are based on Lycra/Spandex/elastene type materials.

Cheap shorts have a low elastic content, poor cuff finish which will not grip your legs and a basic and often thick and bulky pad which you might think would make for a more padded ride but in reality will bunch and chafe over a long ride. They are often cut short on the waist which means they will not cover your back adequately when in a cycling position.

Good shorts will have a high elastic content giving support and a degree of compression and leg cuffs which will stretch to accommodate most legs without feeling that your circulation is about to be cut off. The pad will be appropriate to your gender and often a sophisticated construction of friction-free fabrics, variable gel layers and anti-bacterial agents.

Further, the cut of the panels which make up the shorts will be more tailored and make the most efficient use of the fabric's properties and will be most likely cut higher on your waist to make allowance bending forward on the bike.

Now for something you have to know about cycle shorts ... you go commando ... that's right. No panties, boxers, jockeys, skivvies ... nada. Nothing says newbie cyclist more than a VPL under your cycling shorts.

Cycling short designers spend an awful lot of time developing expensive solutions to your cycling comfort without introducing the variable of your chosen underpinnings whether they're from M&S, Target or Victoria's Secret. Try it ... you'll like it ...

I'm sure I don't need to tell you this, but shorts need washing after every use. Cold cycle and non-aggressive detergents in the washer and natural drying will maximise their useful life.

You may also find chamois cream useful, particularly on longer rides. Some people find those glide-type roll-ons for getting into wet-suits help. Ladies, make sure whichever you choose is recommended for you. Some preparations designed specifically for men have ingredients which will irritate.

Now, the question of bib-shorts. Most riders find bib-shorts far more comfortable than shorts. This is mostly  because pressure and the demand to hold the shorts up is taken off the waist which makes them more comfortable. They say once you wear bibs you'll never go back.

Women often ask about bib-shorts because of their reputation for comfort, but think carefully before committing. Bathroom stops mean complete disrobing. That's okay in the bathroom of your favourite coffee stop, more of a problem if you need to pop behind a tree or hedge ... However, women's designs do exist. You'll need to decide if the adaptions to women's requirements meet your needs.

One last thing ... bicycle shorts do not last for ever. Unfortunately, over a period of time the fabric - particularly less expensive ones - can acquire a degree of transparency. I think we can all tell a story about that one ... So you might want a good friend  to check and advise you occasionally.