Bicycle Touring Clothing
Clothing for the road -
To experience a comfortable tour, cycling-specific clothing and accessories are a must. They are functional for cycling, brightly colored for greater visibility, and have wicking properties that keep you dry.
Helmet -It is important to wear a helmet when cycling. Statistics show that helmet use reduces head injury and death in bicycle crashes. During a crash, the helmet's foam liner crushes under impact and absorbs energy to help cushion the brain. The helmet's outer plastic shell distributes the impact energy, and allows the head to slide over the pavement reducing the potential for neck injury. There is no federal law in the U.S. requiring bicycle helmets. Some states and localities have adopted their own laws, mostly limited to children under 18.
Helmets are light, well ventilated, and comfortable and come in a variety of styles and colors. The most visible color is white, than yellow. A rounder, smoother shell design is more effective in a crash than an elongated aero design because it has no snag points and less sliding resistance on pavement. Helmets made for the U.S. must meet the US Consumer Product Safety Commission standard, so look for a CPSC sticker inside the helmet. The helmet must fit right and be worn properly to be effective. The helmet should fit level on your head and sit right above your eyebrows in the front. The length of the straps should be adjusted so that the Y fitting on each side is positioned under each ear. The chinstrap should be snug but not too tight. Replace your helmet if you crash! For more information go to the Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute (BHSI) web site.
Cycling sunglasses -Cycling sunglasses reduce eye strain in bright conditions and shield your eyes from harmful (UV) rays. They come with a wrap around style frame that protects eyes from wind, dust, and flying debris such as bugs, sand and gravel. To offer proper ventilation the sunglasses have air holes or vents at the top of the frame to prevent fogging. An upper sweat bar on the frame can also help control fogging. Many styles have rubber nose grips or earpieces that keep the glasses from sliding down on your nose.
The lenses are impact resistant. Some glasses come with interchangeable (removable) lenses of different colors. They allow you to choose between tinted and clear, depending on the weather. If you need a prescription lens, make sure the frame can accommodate the lens. Some styles come with an Rx (prescription) insert that can fit behind the lens of the glass so you still get the same benefits of the frame.
Cycling jerseys -You can wear any shirt when cycling but jerseys are light, aerodynamic and wick sweat from your skin to keep you dry and cool. They are made from polyester micro fibers, which pull moisture away from your skin. They have a front neck zipper for ventilation and three pockets on the lower back for carrying food, tools, or a cell phone. These brightly colored tops with reflective trim make you visible and come in long or short sleeves. If you're not into form-fitting jerseys, a T-shirt will work fine. Look for bright, solid color shirts made of cotton or cotton blend fabric. I prefer wearing a jersey especially on a hot, humid day when I sweat non-stop. The jersey will keep me dry but a tee will become wet and soggy.
Cycling shorts -Cycling shorts come in a sleek, form-fitting style made with Lycra or a baggier short with pockets. Both have a sewn-in seat patch, called a chamois, which covers any inside seam in the short and eliminates friction. A chamois, once made of soft leather, is now a liner made of a synthetic microfiber knit. This smooth-surfaced insert is padded, breathable and wicks moisture from your body.
Lycra-style shorts are fast drying, have multi-panel construction for comfort, longer cut legs to prevent saddle chafing, and smooth leg grippers to prevent shorts from riding up. The durable Lycra panels hug or compress the legs for support and reduction of muscle fatigue. Some shorts come in separate men and women's styles with differences in the shape of the chamois, the leg length and the cut of the waist, and hips. These shorts are designed to be worn without underwear to prevent chafing. Be sure to have at least two pairs of shorts so you can change and wash them regularly.
Baggy cycling shorts (baggies) are two shorts in one. They have the comfort of a padded Lycra short built into a casual, baggy outer shell. The durable shell can be made of nylon or polyester. Baggies have a drawstring waist, pockets and side vents. Inner shorts (liners), which come with a chamois, can range from a polyester mesh fabric to a padded Lycra bike short. For touring, they won't be as comfortable as regular Lycra shorts but are great for commuting, riding around town and on trails.
Cycling gloves -Padded cycling gloves are important to wear when touring. They keep your sweaty hands dry which helps to improve your grip on the handlebars. They provide comfort from constant pressure on the palms of your hands and absorb shock from the road. Gloves provide warmth in colder weather and protect hands from road rash in a crash. Moisture-absorbing terry cloth located on the thumb or back of the glove helps to mop up sweat.
You can buy full finger gloves or the short finger variety for (warm weather) cycling. Both gloves have leather or a synthetic leather palm. The palm is padded with either gel or foam. The gloves have Velcro closures with reflective tape. Short finger gloves have a breathable mesh back for ventilation. When you want full hand protection or have to ride in cold rainy weather a full finger glove is what you need. They have insulation and a layer for blocking wind and water. For winter riding a lobster claw bicycle glove is a must. This cross between a regular glove and a mitten is designed to keep your hands warm without limiting your dexterity.
Cycling shoes and socks -Cycling shoes have stiff soles to help increase pedal efficiency and protect your feet from pedal pressure. They should be snug so when you pedal your feet can't move around. They have lightweight, ventilated uppers that allow your feet to breathe and stay cool and dry. If you decide to go with a clipless pedal there are two kinds of shoes to consider, road riding or off-road (mountain bike). Road shoes, designed for speed, are lightweight, aerodynamic and have an extremely stiff sole. They have no tread and a protruding cleat, which makes them unsuitable for walking. Off-road shoes are great for touring. They have some tread, a less rigid sole and recessed cleat. With the cleat set deep in the sole of the shoe, the rider can both walk and cycle effectively. When you buy shoes make sure they are compatible with your pedal system.
It's important to keep your feet healthy when touring. When cycling in hot or cold weather your feet perspire. This can lead to blisters or cold feet unless you wear a sock that wicks perspiration away. There are cycling-specific socks, but any athletic sock made of a synthetic wicking fabric (Coolmax) or merino wool will do.
Rain gear -When touring, make sure you have rain gear readily available. I don't enjoy cycling in rain, but as long as I'm not in a driving storm with low visibility or a thunderstorm I will keep pedaling. You no longer need to don a large makeshift garbage bag or a poncho that flaps in the breeze. Cycling rainwear has come a long way with comfortable waterproof, windproof and breathable fabrics. Rain gear should be highly visible with bright colored fabrics and reflective tape and piping. The gear should be made out of waterproof (not water resistant) fabric and have sealed or taped seams so that rain doesn't leak through the small perforations made by sewing machines needles. The fabrics must also be breathable and allow perspiration vapor to escape. Gore-Tex is an example of a waterproof/breathable fabric. The gear should have vents to allow air to come into the garment to prevent overheating.
Cycling specific rain jackets have an elongated tail with the back of the jacket cut longer than the front. This design helps to keep your back dry when bent over on the bike. The collar is fleece lined for comfort and wicks moisture. The jacket's cuffs are adjustable. Drawcords at the hem and waist of the jacket allow for a snug fit so the wind doesn't blow freely through the jacket. Underarm vents, and covered zippers are other features. Rain pants are made out of the same waterproof breathable material. They have zippers near the ankles so you can take them on and off over your shoes. There is a reflective Velcro adjustment strap on the cuffs for maximum fit. Cycling booties protect your feet against water and wind. They fit snugly over your shoes and keep your feet warm and dry.
Cold weather gear -When you cycle in cold weather, dress in layers so you can add or take off a layer when needed. There are three basic layers. The inner layer is a wicking layer that pulls moisture away from the skin and keeps it dry. Long underwear tops and bottoms made of synthetic polyester-based fabrics, Lycra tights and jerseys are some examples of what to wear. Don't wear cotton! It retains moisture and makes you feel clammy and cold. The middle layer or insulating layer retains heat by trapping air against your body. Polyester fleece vests, jackets, arm and leg warmers and tights are comfortable to wear. The outer layer or weatherproof layer repels water and protects you from the wind. A shell jacket or windbreaker made of polyester microfiber or nylon ripstop will work well. These are ventilated in the back to allow cooling. Make sure your feet and hands are well protected and cover your head with a waterproof helmet liner or helmet friendly hat.