Hard News by Russell Brown


Dressing for the Road

I understand why London Mayor Boris Johnson pitched his city's near-billion-pound plan for cycle infrastructure as a bid to "de-Lycrafy cycling". The idea that cycling takes special clothing isn't particularly helpful in emphasising riding a bike as a normal, everyday activity. Locally, Frocks on Bikes aims to get women cycling by emphasising that they don't have to forsake fashion to do so ("No stress, no fuss, no need for lycra"). There are even popular cycle fashion shows and, for the chaps, Tweed Rides.

I get all that, I really do.

But in Auckland, with its hills and its humidity, it seems to me that cycling in street clothes, however normalising it might be in principle, often won't be such a good idea in practice.

I cycle to replace what would otherwise have been car journeys, but also for fun and exercise -- and I mostly do so in clothing made of various synthetic textiles, including Lycra (this might be a good point to note what Lycra is, and that it's the same thing as Spandex and, less fruitily, elastane).

For summer, I have a range of (mostly) cheap activewear shirts, some of them made from elastane blends, but most of them 100% polyester. I have a couple in hi-vis fabrics and a couple in neutral grey than I can wear to meetings without looking silly. They stretch and disperse moisture in a way that a cotton shirt does not.

In winter, I have several black longsleeve shirts in a nylon-elastane blend that Kathmandu calls Dri-Motion -- they tend to balance out body temperature, keeping me warm when I start without being too warm later. Also, a dayglo Nike windbreaker, and an Adidas windbreaker (red with reflective stripes) that is genuinely stylish, to the point that I wear it out on the town.

What I don't wear is cycling shirts. I hate them. They're cut for a bent-over road cycling posture that I don't use and they look a bit daft on me, frankly. And no way ever will I wear a mock team jersey. Competitive road cycling interests me about as much as competitive yachting does, and I see no point at all in pretending I'm something I'm not. Indeed, I am not above seeing weekend cyclists in all their mock team pomp and thinking unkind thoughts about them.

Every single item came from either Dress Smart outlets (the New Balance store is good) or from Kathmandu's sales.

On the bottom half, yes I wear cycling shorts. I spend most of my summer in Kathmandu Rouler shorts, which have a separate chammy inner that I like to refer to as a "cycle nappy". The shorts themselves (another elastane blend) are brilliant -- comfortable, stylish, lots of pockets -- while the inner isn't great, but meets my needs. For colder weather, I have two pairs of good-quality cycle tights, which are very comfortable to ride in. I wear a pair of basic nylon running shorts over them, because it just looks weird otherwise.

My hybrid bike has ordinary flat pedals and I wear either skate shoes (with short socks) or my Teva sandals.

All that said, I'm more than happy to pop down to the shops or over to a friend's place in jeans and a t-shirt or whatever. I guess it's possible I could even cycle in a suit. But the one item without which I do not get on my bike if I can at all help it is cycling gloves. I have one full pair I hardly use and three fingerless pairs. They improve grip and comfort on the bike and provide some protection if I happen to come off it. Also, they look quite cool.

So that's me. What does everyone else do? I'm genuinely interested, because I have to write a column about this in the next few days and I want to presume from a sample of greater than one. So please, share with the group ...

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