Friday, November 6, 2015

Wearing Elastane

Suit up in what? Buying bike specific apparel has always been hit-or-miss. With a wide range in fit and performance from which to choose, brand names mean little. Can only point to what features should be avoided or sought. Obviously, nothing should bunch up or fit badly; crotch should be gusseted and seams well sewn. Ankles and wrists need not be squeezed. Light weight isn't the sole criterion.

Bibs & Shorts: Swear by Pearl Izumi’s blue pad Attack shorts but totally reject their yellow pad tights. Don’t prefer a certain number of panels, though fewer might mean less sewing later. Bibs and skin suits don’t breathe as well but stay in place better, just another compromise that forces your decision. Have nothing but praise for Castelli’s winter bibs used for a dozen seasons with its broad shoulder straps and cold stopping neoprene panels, but dislike their tech knicker for below knee strangulation, though both of their flat red seat pads are very comfortable. They don’t make either anymore; designs come and go without improvement, irritatingly so when you’re trying to replace. Have been known to resew seams just to improve fit; makers seem to target rail thin stereotypes rather than real shapes bodies exhibit. Often combine commonplace tights with company named bibs or skin suits when too cool for shorts alone. Wear padded shorts beneath body tights without pads for an extra level of warmth.

Gloves: Cannondale’s at least have generous velcro at wrists, whereas several others scrimp leaving bare skin or tourniquet tightness. Half gloves free your fingers for fine work, but freeze them even on sultry days under certain conditions. Whichever you pick, gel inserts under leather palms decrease constant pressure and preserve skin in a fall, though makers scrimp on this as well. You should try many brands before purchasing a few pairs, full and half, for every season of riding. All should breathe and include a fuzzy spot to swab drips and sweat. Launder them every other ride, or wash gently in sink. For frigid cold, generally wear a padded half below a civilian cloth pair with Thinsulate, rather than buy expensive fingerless cycling brands you must constantly remove to do the simplest things with any dexterity.

Jackets & Jerseys: Always a struggle since diverse styles serve different purposes. Many triple back pocket style pullovers don't have permeable material and a zippered front to control heat. Sleeves need to be loose enough on biceps, elbow or wrist. Long sleeves are better in intense summer sun, because your arm skin won’t so easily burn; seldom, though, do long sleeves breathe well or conveniently roll up. When hot, found more comfort in loose fitting, short sleeved tech material (Cool Max, Dri-T, Nano-T, silk) without pockets; rather carry items in a frame or handlebar bag than dragging back down to expose neck to sunburn. Wicking sweat off your back deters fatigue from overheating. In winter, wear a poly or wool base layer under a Sugoi pullover; similar to a wetsuit, has a flocked interior, stays toasty warm. Chilly or windy conditions demand a nylon jacket with high collar, which should cinch at neck and wrists, deflect wind, hang snugly, and stop at waist short of saddle. Nylon is porous, though, so for rainy days you may also want an impervious outer garment.

Leggings & Whatnot: Never found a pair that didn’t inch down, so stopped wearing leggings. Can peel off cheap tights just as easily. Do, however, use booties (neoprene shoe covers for extreme cold) and calientoes (cloth toe covers). Also use an acrylic or lycra neck tube as a face mask above a balaclava (head and neck covering) when temps dip below 40°F. Never experienced a condition when arm warmers were helpful, just loose bits to lose. Have resorted to unpleasant plastic pants for very rainy rides, but they keep sweat in, so you’ll be just as soaked anyway afterwards. Always wear a small mirror on my safety glasses; this will save your life if you notice that motorist speeding and texting in the gutter behind you. Besides, how else do you know to shift over to let cars pass, not that you must? Yellow lenses cut glare, filter UV, and still work at dawn and dusk, unlike regular sunglasses. M-frames wrap entire eye, so grit and pebbles flung from cars or other cyclists have little chance of blinding you, as long as they have a bridge that doesn’t slip. Find some with an upper frame that doesn’t block your vision while leaning forward; surprisingly, most do, a persistent design flaw. Might look into munition or safety catalogs, which offer frameless models for less.

Spandex: Pilling is a problem with polyester-polyurethane copolymer, aka elastane or Lycra. Around since 1962 when developed by Joe Shivers at Dupont, named as an anagram of “expands”, spandex stretches with your active lifestyle rather than restricts, which doesn’t matter as much when sedentary. Application really depends upon what sort of riding you do. If you pedal a few blocks to a pub or shop, you don’t need spandex. If you’re out to put on serious miles, it definitely will increase your comfort and distance. The butt of endless fetish jokes, it beats being naked, keeps bugs off, protects from sun, and wicks sweat away. Body swaddling feels reassuring and lets air slip past. Comes in many colors, but legend has it that black was chosen to hide road dirt and saddle dye. Shorts need to be inspected before every use; holes in your second skin could be embarrassing. Wonder whether any plastic is safe to wear given the number of carcinogens in coal and tar they use to produce it. Yet wearing spandex is a no-brainer for any resolute cyclist, practically a uniform for club members.

Wool: Once was a bicyclists’ best (only) choice, but it can be itchy, dries slowly, smells bad, and wears poorly. Wool does, however, insulate better, so still figures in cold and transitional months as underlayment. A natural fiber, it looks fashionable when not shot through with moth holes, and rubs gently against skin. Wonder why they never made short pads out of wool; would try merino boxers to separate costly wear from shorts if they made them gusseted. Do wear wool blend socks year round, but worry over proper fit. Bicyclists ankles and feet swell, but mills almost never weave a loose enough pair for them. Anklet length is best in summer, but crew covers skin up into winter bibs, and heavy wool insulates feet if you can fit them in your cleats; have modified big socks to fit over cleats by sewing holes at balls of feet for pedal clips. Most cyclists keep a dozen pairs for frequent changes, quite an investment. Retailers usually charge 3 times what you’d regularly pay for generic, some of which perform better. Acrylic beats cotton, neither of which are foot friendly over the long haul.

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