I’m doing my first ever cycle sportive this weekend and preparations have been full on. It’s not so much that I’ve been clocking up hundreds of miles on the bike, although I have done some of that too, it’s the time I’ve spent getting properly clued up and kitted out for it that’s proven to be by far the most challenging part so far. In fact, by comparison, the actual training has been a breeze, although the reason for that may well become apparent this weekend!
It wasn’t until I got my first road bike back in December that I started to realise just how different road biking is to mountain biking. Sure, the basics are the same and the two disciplines complement each other nicely, but beyond that, everything from technique to equipment, clothing and etiquette are different. I’d naively assumed that now I had the bike, I could just get out and ride it, which to a certain extent was true, but to be taken seriously as a road biker requires a lot more dedication.
To start with I was adamant that I wasn’t going to pander to what I’d assumed was pretension, and continued to leave the peak on my helmet, and stuck with my SPD mountain biking shoes and shorts which I felt much more comfortable in. However, the more seriously I started to train, the more I realised that there’s actually more to road bike etiquette than mere snobbery. I’ve learned through experience why road bikers don’t have a peak on their helmet, why they carry things in back pockets as opposed to a backpack, and why they wear Lycra.
After finally conceding that my mountain biking shorts actually weren’t all that comfortable for riding long distances bent over in a race position, I realised that I’d have to succumb to the Lycra, blissfully unaware of the undertaking that lay ahead.
I spent weeks trying to find the perfect pair of cycling shorts and in the process must have tried on every single pair on sale in my hometown of Edinburgh. It’s not that I’m averse to wearing tightly fitting clothing. I am perfectly comfortable with my body and wear skinny jeans practically every day. I even have lycra running tights. However, there’s much more than just some figure hugging Lycra to contend with when choosing a pair of cycling shorts.
Most of them have tight elastic, grip strips, or both round the end to prevent them riding up when you’re cycling, which is great, but unfortunately these can also make even the slimmest of legs look like sausages. Unflattering seams can also have the same effect, so finding a pair that minimised the sausage look was of paramount importance.
Then there’s the lovely padded crotch area – or chamois to use the correct terminology – that makes you feel like you’re wearing Tena Lady pants, I’d imagine. This is fine if you can wear them under mountain bike shorts, but in tight fitting Lycra, there’s nowhere for your ass padding to hide. The difference in comfort and subtlety of these padded bits is huge so finding a pair that felt comfortable – or at least as comfortable as it’s possible for an oversized sanitary towel to feel – was crucial.
And if that’s not enough, you’ve then got to decide whether to go for bib shorts or not. I have it on good authority that bib shorts, the cycling equivalent of a onesie, are much more comfortable for cycling in and that they are the preferred choice for pros. I did try on a few pairs and could see how this could be the case with the right pair. However, I just couldn’t see beyond the potential hassle factor of trying to struggle out of them in order to go to the loo. When you’re trying to discretely squat at the side of the road, the last thing you need to worry about is flashing your boobs to passers by as well as your bum! There are some brands that have appreciated this and incorporated clever easy access zips or panels, but it still all seems like a bit of a faff to me and I’d prefer to keep things simple.
Having exhausted what I thought were all my options in the cycle shops of Edinburgh, I was resigned to just having to wear my mountain biking liner shorts for the sportive and hope that no one noticed. It sounds like a cliché, but on one final scour of the Lycra rail in my local bike shop I found a pair that I hadn’t tried before, and lo and behold they actually felt comfortable and didn’t make me wince when I looked in the mirror. There is an ever so slight sausage effect going on in the thigh area but I think the only way to avoid that will be to get legs of steel, which I fully intend to do. I also tried on a matching top and am not exaggerating when I say that it’s the nicest thing I’ve ever worn. It feels lovely on, fits perfectly, and according to the label, will keep me cool and dry when I sweat. Bonus.
I never thought I’d see the day but I am now a total Lycra convert. I’ll also be surrendering the peak of my helmet for Saturday’s sportive, so if nothing else, I will at least look the part! I am however sticking with my mountain bike shoes that I can actually walk in… for now anyway.