Throw Down: Lycra or No Lycra

To wear or not to wear, that is the question. Few things seem to divide cycling tribes quite as much as lycra clothing. While for some, a pair of padded bike shorts and a zip up jersey are necessities, for others they are an eye sore that carries certain connotations with it. To be certain, lycra isn’t for everyone—and choosing to wear it or not to wear it is a personal choice.

As with most debates, neither side is right or wrong, necessarily. For the sake of argument though, let’s take a look at some of the pro’s and con’s of lycra.

Lycra is something most riders find a lot of benefit in...but not everyone

Lycra is something most riders find a lot of benefit in…but not everyone

Pro’s:

  • Super Comfortable: There’s no two ways about it, properly fitting lycra shorts and a good jersey are some of the most comfortable clothing you’ll ever wear
  • Feeling Fast: Wearing lycra can make you feel fast, no matter what the reality might be
  • Cushioning: Finding the right pair of padded bike shorts can be a revelation in comfort. The pad helps take the sting out of long days in the saddle, and when you find the brand of shorts that work for you, you’ll never want to ride without them
  • Staying cooler: most cycling clothing now is designed to wick away sweat and is made with fabrics that help you stay cooler
  • More Aero: Wearing cycling jerseys can really cut down on wind drag, since even a club fit jersey will fit more closely than a t-shirt. This might not seem important to the everyday cyclist, but it actually does make a huge difference
  • Part Of The Club: Let’s face it, in certain cycling circles—we’re looking at you roadies—it’s just expected that you’ll wear it
Lycra can make a big day in the saddle a lot easier

Lycra can make a big day in the saddle a lot easier

Con’s:

  • The Confidence Factor: It takes a certain amount of confidence to wear lycra in public, and some people don’t feel comfortable in it
  • Limited Wear Occasions: In lycra, it’s not like you can just step off the bike and go sit at your desk at the start of the work day
  • What It Means: For many, lycra has become a symbol of exclusivity and elitism in the cycling community, and some see the perceived requirement of wearing lycra as an obstacle to getting more people on bikes
For many riders, especially in urban areas, lycra isn't as important

For many riders, especially in urban areas, lycra isn’t as important

A Personal Choice

At the end of the day riding a bike should be fun, regardless of what clothing you choose to wear while doing it. If you do choose to wear lycra, it doesn’t mean you have to limit yourself to the body-hugging race-fit stuff you see on TV. There are many different fit levels available, from straight up t-shirts made of technical fabrics to roomier “club fit” clothing that isn’t as form fitting. And nobody says (well…some people do) that you can’t wear mountain bike baggies on the road if you want to.

And if you choose not to wear lycra, that’s ok too. It’s not for everyone. There are plenty of other clothing options out there that offer bike-friendly features in more casual clothing. Jeans and shirts from Club Ride, Zoic, Performance, and others offer features like reinforced seats, articulated knees, and specially designed pockets to facilitate your non-lycra bike life.

Types of Riders and Their Relationship to Lycra:

The Roadie:

Lycra Love: 10/10

Perhaps no other cycling clan takes their super hero costumes so seriously as the serious road rider. This is usually the guy who shaves his legs and has a bike more expensive than his car. Just wearing lycra isn’t enough. It has to be worn well. Usually the shorts and jersey (collectively called a “kit”) must match in color and brand, and will preferably be a matching set. Wearing pro team clothing when not paid to do so is highly discouraged in this circle, though wearing one’s club kit is acceptable. The kit will usually be color coordinated with the helmet, socks, shoes, gloves, and for the truly dedicated, the bike. Additional rules regarding sock height, short length, and jersey fit may apply.

These roadies find the lunch ride is perfect for matching Performance Ultra kits. Zach gets bonus points for matching socks and helmet

These roadies find the lunch ride is perfect for matching Performance Ultra kits. Zach recieved bonus points for color coordinating his socks and helmet

The Weekend Warrior:

Lycra Love: 7/10

The Weekend Warrior takes a more casual approach to lycra. Sure, they might like things to match, and who doesn’t like some cool socks? But the important thing is comfort and functionality. Shorts add comfort on a long weekend ride, and the jersey provides plenty of cooling and pocket storage as they rack up the miles. It’s not necessarily about fitting in or looking “pro”, so much as it is recognizing the benefits that lycra offers on long, high mileage rides. Lycra clothing is a functional item, but having mismatched kit won’t get in the way of enjoying the ride.

For many riders, wearing lycra is more about comfort and functionality than anything

For many riders, wearing lycra is more about comfort and functionality than anything

The Urban Rider:

Lycra Love: 0/10

Lycra is usually anathema to the urban rider, and not without practical reasons. The urban rider uses the bike primarily for transportation and getting around—which means they ride their bike to get somewhere. While they may wear bike specific clothing, it’s usually more along the lines of Club Ride, which incorporates bike-friendly features into everyday clothing. Urban riders usually also view the association of lycra with bikes as an impediment to getting more people on bikes—a thought that might not necessarily be wrong.

For many riders, cycling clothes don't have to be skin tight, thanks to more casual-- yet functional-- options

For many riders, cycling clothes don’t have to be skin tight, thanks to more casual– yet functional– options

The Mountain Biker:

Lycra Love: 5/10

Ah…the sneaky lycra wearer. While most mountain bikers may outwardly deride road bikers for wearing lycra, the truth is that most mountain bikers secretly wear it. Sure, they might look super casual in their technical t-shirts and baggy shorts, but underneath it all is a pair of padded lycra shorts. And in truth, lately some XC riders have even dispensed with the pretense and started emulating their road biking cousins.

Don't be fooled...underneath those baggy shorts are some padded lycra shorts

Don’t be fooled…underneath those baggy shorts are some padded lycra shorts

If you’re looking for a new suit of clothes, check out our reviews of some of our favorite kits here:

Ridden and Reviewed: Sugoi Ice RP Jersey and Bib Shorts

Ridden and Reviewed: Performance Ultra SL Jersey and Bib Shorts

To learn more about what to look for in a pair of shorts or a jersey, check out our buyer’s guides below:

Learn more about cycling shorts

Learn more about cycling jerseys

3 Tips For Getting A Friend Into Cycling

 

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We all know how awesome it is to be a cyclist—but sometimes it’s nice to share the love. Many cyclists have tried valiantly over the last century or so to turn their friends and loved ones into members of our community, with varying degrees of success. It can be done, but it needs to be done with care—push it too hard, and it could backfire.

Here are a few simple tips to help get your loved one into the 2-wheeled lifestyle.

 

1. Keep It Accessible

There’s nothing cyclists love more than geeking out about gear and numbers—but you want to avoid making things sound harder or more complicated than they really are. Keep it simple, easy, and accessible.

Here are some common errors to avoid:

  • Resist the temptation to go all-out with gear, and focus more on what they want instead of what you think they need. Example: if they don’t feel comfortable in lycra cycling wear, try turning them onto more relaxed gear like apparel from Club Ride or Performance.
  • Don’t push them into getting a super aggressive or racy bike (at least not at first). The bike they pick should be one they like and feel comfortable on.
  • Don’t push the use of clipless pedals, aerobars, or other things like that at first. Wait until they get more confidence on the bike.

As they get more into it, hopefully all that stuff will come with time. But to start, just keep things simple. Here are a few additional tips, from our Learning Center.

 

Casual cycling apparel offers many of the performance benefits of lycra gear for the beginning cyclist

 

2. Make It Fun

Don’t just get them hooked up with a bike and a helmet, and expect them to go out and ride. When you’re just getting into cycling, it helps to have someone who can encourage and guide you on your journey. Ride together and get out and have fun. But tread carefully here, my friend.

If you try and drag your friend or significant other on long rides or push the pace too hard, you risk making them think cycling is too hard. You want cycling to be remembered as something fun and a respite from every day worries, not something that they had to suffer through.

Try picking short scenic routes or a bike path to start with, and ride at a pace where you can talk and hold a conversation. If you find yourself unconsciously pushing the pace harder, try riding in the little chainring, which will act as a hobble and prevent you from riding too fast.

 

Centralia, WA

Remember to have fun out there. Organized events and fun rides, like charity rides or fund raisers, are a great way to introduce new riders to the sport.

 

3. Prioritize Safety

Even if you get everything else right, it will all be for naught if your your new cycling buddy doesn’t feel safe on the bike. And feeling safe on the bike is very important. While most experienced riders have the bike handling skills and experience to ride in traffic with cars zooming by, it can be a scary experience for newer cyclists. To start, pick routes with little traffic and lower speed limits, or head for the bike path. Also try riding during off-peak hours, so there will be less traffic. And remember, if they express any concerns or fears, don’t scoff or dismiss them as unfounded. Try and accommodate their concerns as much as possible, so they’ll have the confidence to go riding again.

For more information, check out our article about riding defensively.

Riding on a bike path or low-traffic street is a good way to help beginner cyclists feel safe

Riding on a bike path or low-traffic street is a good way to help beginner cyclists feel safe

 

Did we miss anything? If you have any tips for helping someone get into riding, feel free to share in the comments section.

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