body{background-attachment: fixed ! important; }

Thursday, April 22, 2010

The Price of Comfort: Bike Clothing for Taiwan

Ahhh...springtime! Bryant Park and the new Spring fashions are out on the velodrome. Pearl Izumi has a cohesive collection that really tells a story and Rapha is looking couture as ever. Gore could show us a little more of its point of view and Team Fuji is giving us something we have never seen before.

Yes, there are times it seems like a fashion show out on the tarmac and cycling clothes are not exactly versatile nor are they modest. Most of all... this stuff ain't cheap. To dress pro-tour the weight savings is felt mostly in the wallet. We've all seen the local bike clubs out on the 20km ride dressed in full kit with the ever pro-flourish, sans aero time trial helmet. Still, there are times and places to spend on cycling clothing and other times and places to skimp.

A lot of it depends on the kind of rider you are. If I am mainly out for a joyride with the boys and a beer afterward then a full kit is overkill. If cycling is more than a little Saturday jaunt, then it may be worth spending for the right gear.

Whenever I ride I usually suit up in my dedicated cycling clothes. Even when I commute to work I do this. The main reason is that Taiwan can be frickin' hot and frickin' humid. It is easy to be covered in sweat after just a few minutes of riding and I don't want to stink up my office. Cycling clothing is made to wick moisture from the body and allow air to come between the fabric and the skin. It dries fast too. Anyone who has ever ridden in a T-shirt knows that it quickly becomes a 40-lb blanket of chaffing, sweat-soaked cloth that plasters itself against your back.

A good jersey can be had for cheap. There are several places in Taiwan and online to pick one up. Lots of guys like the "sponsor" logos and other guys like the clean look... I don't give a shit either way. As long as it is at a good price and not one of those dorky Primal Wear Pink Floyd jerseys I am fine. I think the jersey is a good place to skimp. The only thing I really look for is a full length zipper or at least 3/4 zipper for better ventilation. A descent jersey should have three good pockets in the back. Depending on your... fitness... you can get "race fit" and "club fit". Club fit is more relaxed to hide bumps and bellies. The race fit are tight and more aerodynamic.

If you are not about to squeeze into a jersey but want to get a nice T-shirt for riding, I highly suggest going to a camping store and getting some of those microfiber T-shirts or Under Armor T-shirts. Arcaeopteryx, Mammut and North Face make good shirts. I will pick up some at REI this summer when I go to Seattle. They just make a good Taiwan shirt in general.

In a sport like cycling comfort is king. The last thing anyone wants on a long ride is a "hot spot" where the clothing is uncomfortable and then all your attention is drawn to that spot and how uncomfortable it feels, magnifying the feeling. Oh, how it becomes unbearable and makes minutes turn into hours.

I now have three pairs of bottoms. I just spent a hefty amount of cash on a new set of ASSOS bibs. For cycling clothing the number one name is ASSOS. Any cyclist who may spend several hours in the saddle, a good set of bottoms makes all the difference.

Good cycling shorts should be made of lycra-like material and have a descent chamois pad. The lycra will stretch and move with the body rather than resist against it as friction and the chamois adds a little padding to take more of the bumps and vibration that can wear out the rider after a period of time. The material is breathable, but also wind resistant. Still, cycling shorts scare the hell out of a lot of people. Many folks are self conscious about their bodies and have a hard time getting used to revealing so much information to the general public. It can take a little effort, but the difference between plain shorts and cycling shorts is clear.

The Cheap Brand

A few weeks ago I went into a cheap cycle-wear outfitter and the owner noticed I was wearing Assos shorts. "Oh, Assos... veddy goo-de! We making some just like Assos." he told me with a thumbs-up sign. About six months ago I bought a set of bib-shorts that I was told were "just like Assos". The chamois was supposed to be made of the same material. Seeing as they were a third of the price I bought them to try out. Big mistake. Not all material is the same. Cheaper lycra-like material will stretch over time and lose its ability to hug the body. The chamois of my cheap bibs now hangs and bunches up like I am carrying a load. Worst of all... the stitching is too tight, creating an abrasive edge that I can really start to feel after about two hours. The lycra is so thin my leg hair comes out of the material, which isn't good for a beast of a man like myself.

Assos Bib

The Assos chamois is sewn in with a light, soft stitch that won't rub. The padding is dimpled for better cooling and wicking and the whole thing holds fast to the body. The difference in comfort is tremendous. The difference is also very expensive.

SIDI Dragons

I don't feel I need to spend a lot of money on gloves. I have a set of Assos gloves that were on sale and my socks too. The socks are a dual layer mesh that allows padding, circulation and wicking. Taiwan it is all about the wicking and the drying.

For colder weather I have a set of Adidas arm warmers. I really don't need much more than that. They are inexpensive and Taiwan doesn't get that cold, so they work to trap heat and keep the wind off. A light windbreaker can work wonders. It should be something light that can be wadded up and stuffed in a jersey pocket. I also have a Craft base layer that is easy to pack up and warm enough for the high mountains.

The shoes. For shoes in Taiwan I highly recommend the SIDI, Adidas or Specialized mountain bike shoes. Even for road bikes the mountain bike shoes are not much different. They are cheaper and have enough tread on the bottoms that you can walk in them like normal shoes. This is great if you need to walk any distance or include some other transportation. On Saturday I quickly threw my bike in my bike bag and changed into shorts and a T-shirt before boarding the HSR home. I didn't need to carry any additional shoes and really didn't notice that I was wearing bike shoes. They are really excellent for Taiwan's unpredictable environment.

The longer and more cycling you do, the more you should spend on quality clothing that is dedicated for cycling.