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

Performance Ultra SL Jersey and Shorts Review

Riding cobbles is kind of the ultimate test for not only a rider, but for their equipment. It’s a crucible that tests everything from the bike to clothing. If any piece of gear isn’t up to par, you’re in for one miserable day on the bike.

When we headed to Belgium to ride the Ronde van Vlaanderen Cyclo gran fondo, which included several cobbled sections and four cobbled climbs, we knew we would need some great bikes—which Ridley graciously supplied us for the day, but it also struck us as the ultimate proving ground for our new Performance Ultra SL bib shorts and the Ultra jersey. Ultra is Performance’s line of performance-oriented clothing, designed for riders who expect the very best from their clothing, in all circumstances. If it could survive a day on the cobbles, then it was certainly ready for the prime time back at home.

The new Ultra kit is an evolution of last year’s break out redesign of the Ultra line, and is engineered to be lighter, fit better, and help you perform better on the bike. Constructed using our Physiodynamic design, made with lighter weight Eschler fabrics, coldblack treatment, and Aerocool technology to help you stay cooler and perform better, this pair of short and jersey are designed for long hard days. The all-new SL shorts feature a less bulky chamois, a finer mesh on the upper for better breathability, and a slimmer cut than the standard Ultra shorts.

The Jersey

Our first impression of the newly redesigned Ultra jersey was that it is unbelievably airy and light. On our ride to the ride, we actually needed a jacket in addition to our usual baselayer and arm warmers, because the jersey held in so little heat. The Aerocool fabric is definitely that—cool. In fact, the faster you ride, the more it seems to suck air in and channel it under the jersey. The fabric has an almost silky feel to it that wasn’t clingy like some other jersey’s we’ve tried. The high collar is a nice touch, since a sun burned neck is something we’re usually keen to avoid on long rides, and the arm bands were a fan favorite. As cyclists we’ve generally let our arms wither away to nothing, so it was nice to find a jersey that had sleeves that actually felt snug around our arms. The fabric was a little on the stiff side, but it seemed to loosen up a little as the day went on.

Performance Ultra kit at the Tour of Flanders

Riding in the Ultra kit at the Tour of Flanders Cyclo

The locking zipper was also a nice feature. The day we rode the Ronde Cyclo ended up being fairly hot and sunny, so it was crucial to be able to easily open up the jersey to get more air, especially on the longer climbs.

Another nice benefit we noticed was the bellowed rear pockets. One of them is apparently sweatproof, but we didn’t know that at the time, and didn’t get an opportunity to test it. The pockets proved more than able to pack in everything we needed for a long day. We filled ours up with 2 tubes, multitool, tire levers, mini pump, iPhone, wallet, packable jacket, 3 gels, 2 stroop waffles,  and a route card, and we still had plenty of room. One of the real tests—and one seldom mentioned—for a jersey though is how well it performs with fully loaded pockets. Many race-fit jerseys feel great until you load up the pockets, and then they just end up stretching and drooping as the day goes on. The Ultra jersey though seems to have hit that sweet spot of being light enough to keep you cool, but with enough structure in the back panels to keep the pockets from sagging or bouncing around as you ride. Definitely a solid touch.

The Shorts

As great as a jersey is, the shorts are really the center piece of any clothing line, and if they aren’t up to snuff, you’re in big trouble. Especially when riding on cobbles, which feels a little like riding a bike with a jackhammer for a seatpost. We were a little apprehensive about riding a new shorts that we’d never before worn before – hoping against hope the chamois would be worthy of the challenge. It turns out that we had nothing to worry about!

The TMF Skyve chamois found in the Ultra SL shorts was more than equal to the cobbles. Normally this reviewer is not a big fan of multi-density pads—it’s just a personal preference, but in this case it was exactly what the doctor ordered. The different densities did a really a fine job of soaking up what could have been some…ummm…uncomfortable cobble hits. We definitely knew we were riding over the rough stuff, there’s only so much your shorts and bike can do, but we shudder to think what it would have been like with a lesser chamois. And the pad didn’t just excel in the cobbles either—we spent about 5 hours in the saddle that day, and never had a single complaint. No chaffing, no rubbing, no issues. At no point did we ever really think about the chamois—which is one of the highest compliments you can give to a pair of shorts. If you don’t notice them, they are doing their job.

Peformance Ultra Kit

Testing the Ultra kit in Belgium

The overall construction was also really nice. The contoured Eschler gridded fabric construction moved easily with us, and provided a nice snug fit without too much compression, or the ever-irritating stretching out that sometimes happens. The leg band was nice and snug, and held the shorts in place—even when wearing knee warmers, which is fairly unusual.

The Verdict

The Ultra jersey and Ultra SL shorts were definitely the right tools for the job. The distinctive styling didn’t have us feeling out of place amongst the ever well-dressed Europeans, while the high performance features kept us comfortable and helped us ride well during one of the toughest rides we’ve ever done.

Testing the Ultra kit at the Tour of Flanders Cyclo

Our testers at the finish of the Tour of Flanders Cyclo

Whether you’re racing or going for a longer-distance ride, the kit provides a nice aerodynamic fit that can help you gain an advantage in the paceline, and had all the comfort features you would want for long distances.

Now that we’re home, this is definitely a kit we’ll be reaching for again for some other adventures we have coming up…so check back for more soon.

Check out our all new digital Spring Clothing Catalog to see more spring clothing from Performance Bicycle.

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