Dressing for road cycling can be notoriously difficult. Not only do you have to contend with any potential shifts in weather, you may also have to deal with huge variations in temperature due to wind chill. Not to mention the fact that you’re unlikely to have anywhere to stash any excess gear.
Riding a proper long distance sportive also means an early start, in the cold (especially in the early part of the season) and periods of intense heat and sweating followed by dramatic cooling on the way down.
The simplest way to get your clothing right for the day is check the weather forecast. That way you can rule out/in some of the more extreme ends of your clothing options and so keep down the weight- critical for longer distance rides.
To get the best from your clothing, as with any outdoor sport, you should opt for the layering approach. Using a few different layers will give your outfit flexibility to adapt to different conditions, adding warmth when it’s cold and stripping down when the mercury rises.
A common mistake when layering-up is to add layers so that you are comfortably warm to start with. Within minutes you are almost guaranteed to be sweating and desperately ripping off layers in a Hulk Hogan fashion. Therefore you’ll need to try and anticipate conditions later-on in the day and how warm you usually find yourself when pushing hard. As a rule, it’s generally OK to start off a little cooler than is comfortable to be hanging around for long periods. That way you’ll also give yourself a handy reminder to keep going.
Here are some tips for what to include in this layering malarkey. Bear in mind that sportive season extends over and around the ‘summer’ and so you may need more gear for winter riding. Or you could just stay indoors with a nice cup of tea.
The first line of defence in any layering system. A base layers main purpose is to draw (wick) moisture away from the skin and pass it out towards the outside.
Your two main options here are manmade or natural fibres.
Manmade fibres such as polyester or polypropylene are great at wicking moisture and are fast drying. They are also, generally speaking, cheaper than natural fibres.
Natural fibres normally come in the form of Merino Wool. Merino draws moisture away from the skin and are naturally antibacterial, meaning that they shouldn’t stink too much when soaked with sweat. They can also provide a bit more warmth than manmade fabrics and so can be a good bet for cooler temperatures. Nowadays, with much finer grades of yarn, wool jerseys have managed to shift their old reputation of being uncomfortable and itchy against the skin. Using a lighter-weight Merino will also allow for use in warmer conditions.
If it looks like it’s going to be a warm one, you may well not need a baselayer at all, and can move straight to your jersey.
Working in the same way as a regular base layer, cycling jerseys draw moisture away from the skin, keeping the wearer dry and more comfortable. The choice of fabric is similar as well, with manmade and natural fibres both on offer.What sets them apart from a regular base layer is the cut and design. Jerseys are designed to be worm tight, to prevent any flapping in the wind. They should also have a zip front to adjust cooling. Crucially pockets in the lumbar region allow for storing roadside essentials (puncture repair kit, bananas, cigarettes etc.) The choice between short or long-sleeved jersey can be something of a personal preference. Although really designed for warm weather use, a short sleeved jersey can be made more versatile with the addition of arm warmers in the cold.
Over the jersey will go a gilet, absolutely ideal for keeping the wind at bay and a garment that can be pulled into service throughout a ride – for long descents or short outbreaks of rain – and packed away into a jersey pocket unnoticed. Such a combination provides enough warmth and wind chill protection without adding much bulk, but most essentially offers a great deal of flexibility.
Whether or not you need a windproof or waterproof jacket will depend on the forecast, which you’ve hopefully been paying attention to, so pack one if you think it might be needed. There’s plenty of choice for lightweight jackets. Many will roll down and pack into a jersey pocket without weighing you down and any weight penalty is quickly rewarded should it rain.
Along with a gilet, armwarmers are absolutely essential. Paired with a short sleeve jersey, you’ve got good coverage if it’s a bit nippy, and when the temperature rises they can be despatched to one of the jersey pockets. Ideal and indispensable.
Easily the most important item of clothing in your outfit. Look for a good pair of bib shorts (preferable over non-bib shorts for their extra comfort) with a high quality chamois. Invest as much as you can because the comfort benefits will be noticed when you’re six hours into a ride. There’s a bewildering range of chamois, from multi-density gel pads and ergonomic shaped foam designs, so shop around.
The more money you spend the better designed and more technically advanced the fabrics will be used. Better shorts will also use more panels in their construction, which can lead to a better fit, resulting in a more comfortable pair of shorts. For hot weather riding, look for shorts made from lightweight fabric or with mesh panels, especially around the bib straps, for keeping cool.
If conditions dictate, knee warmers can be paired with shorts to prevent your knees from getting too cold, which is never a good thing for the part of your body that moves the most when cycling.
One of your three contact points with the bicycle, your hands unsurprisingly get a lot of rough treatment clinging to the handlebars all day long, and putting up with the constant vibrations and shocks sent through the bars from potholes and rough roads. Gloves with gel or foam padding carefully placed can eliminate sore or numb hands and leave you finishing in a less battered state.
And that’s about it. If you’ve got any more tips on dressing for long rides let us know in the comments section below.