cycling · fitness

To wear or not to wear lycra: it’s up to you

Not all cyclists wear lycra. How do I know this? The New York Times said so this week. In a lovely article, the reporter promoted cycling for people who may be new to it, coming back to it, or have felt uncomfortable about it because of issues ranging from road safety to fitness to being racially targeted or excluded in a sport that’s largely white and middle class.

If you haven’t read Samantha’s interview with Monica Garrison, the founder of Black Girls Do Bike, you can find it here.

In Boston (my town), Vivian Ortiz, a member of Black Girls Do Bike and Boston’s bike mayor, shows us that cycling-specific clothing is not at all needed for fun on a bike. Here she is, leading a group of kids and grownups in Lawrence, MA, at the Cyclovia event.

Boston’s own Vivian Ortiz, in yellow safety vest, riding with kids and grownups, with no lycra anywhere in sight.

Does your town have a bike mayor? If you’re not sure, you can look at Pattie Baker’s blog, Traveling at the speed of bike, which has loads of stories about riding bikes around and through our towns in sustainable and safe and low-speed ways.

Here’s a question: why aren’t these folks wearing lycra cycling clothing? I mean, cycling-specific clothing is designed to suit on-bike needs, like having zippers for ventilation, close-fitting shorts and tops that won’t catch on anything and won’t flap around (which, trust me, gets annoying really fast), and deep jersey pockets for carrying all sorts of things.

On the downside, lycra clothing:

  • is super-form-fitting, which isn’t everyone’s thing;
  • can be expensive;
  • doesn’t translate gracefully from on-bike to off-bike situations.

Riding to and from work or school, lots of people prefer regular street clothing. I don’t happen to be among them. Why not? One word: sweat. I start sweating as soon as I throw a leg over my top tube, and wearing, say, jeans and a sweater to ride (even to do errands) would be incredibly uncomfortable for me. Lycra dries quickly, and I don’t look or feel so disheveled walking into a store in cycling kit. I’ve gotten used to the form-fitting profile, and where I live there are lots of lycra-clad people on and off bikes.

But who says you have to be all one way or the other? Mixing and matching is a time-honored tradition, so we can feel free to be a creative as we like for cycling wear. For me, I have a few pairs of around-town cycling shorts that impersonate regular shorts. On top, I wear something that wicks away sweat (or tries to), and bring a change of shirt if say, I’m going to a restaurant (we can do that now (or soon)! Yay!) or meet-up with friends.

Unless it’s Halloween, in which case I’m wearing a banana suit. As one does.

Rachel and me in banana outfits, and Steph as Cruella, on wheels for Halloween.
Rachel and me in banana outfits, and Steph as Cruella, on wheels for Halloween.

Hey readers, what are you wearing on bikes these days? Have you made any changes lately? I’d love to hear from you.

3 thoughts on “To wear or not to wear lycra: it’s up to you

  1. I’m like you. For any distance at all I’d rather be wearing cycling specific clothing. My new bike commute to work is short enough that I don’t need to though. For the first time I’ve been riding to work in my work clothes. Feels novel. I’ve been experimenting with bike dresses instead of jerseys for more social, less serious riding and while I like the look they don’t work as well as a jersey and shorts.

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  2. I usually wear lycra. I remember on the group bike tours I took of Vietnam, Cambodia, and Thailand, we looked a little weird at breakfast. However, since we were a group, we didn’t get too fussed about it. It was also easy to spot the people from the group if you hadn’t gotten to know them well yet.
    I would like to change my white shoes to black ones….and I could use a new jersey. Mine are fine, but I wouldn’t mind a bit of a refresh.

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