Do I Need to Wear Lycra?
One of the most common questions we get asked about people wanting to take up commuting or active travel is, "Do I need to wear Lycra?" The answer is quite simply no. For the majority of rides that will take the place of car journeys, you should not need any special clothing. If you want to go on a tour around the world, this answer will more than likely change though.
What is Lycra?
Lycra is a brand name, hence the fact we're putting that capital letter in every time we write it. It can also be referred to as spandex or elastane. Spandex, by the way, is an anagram of expands, which is because Lycra is a synthetic material known for exceptional elasticity. Just look at a herd of MAMILs, and you'll see what we mean.
DuPont is credited with inventing Lycra in 1958. Still, if we're totally fair, they would never have been able to create plastic clothes if IG Farben had not developed polyurethane in the 1930s. Which sadly given who IG Fabren was donating to the 1930's means that we can tar the invention as being something the Nazis created. Yeah, I'm being flippant here.
To save my spell checker on talking about the polymers used in making Lycra, here is a short and quite lovely little video explaining everything you need to know about Lycra.
Why do people wear Lycra though?
If you fancy doing some serious mileage on your bike, then Lycra has a property you'll love. The stretchiness we mentioned earlier means that Lycra fits your body really well.
By fitting your body well, then you don't get as much ruffling as other clothing styles may bring. This means you should suffer less from rubbing and chafing caused by repeated movements.
You'll also find that bib tights are also way less likely to get caught in your chain as you're riding along.
Lycra is pretty technical clothing. I don't mean you need to get out a manual on how to wear Lycra, but that it can be manufactured to provide specific properties. It can be designed to keep you warm, dry, or cool when out cycling, and being comfortable means that you'll be more inclined to spend more time out on your bike.
The other answer many people say is it makes you faster. That for us ruins the point of cycling for the majority of people. We want to go and explore the world or just get to work and not only to save a few watts on a climb. Also, when you get to the top of a big hill, stop take in the views, snap a photo, get stuck in the moment. Don't just dive straight down the other side. You'll enjoy cycling way more if you do this.
So Lycra is important then?
Well, yes. The qualities mentioned above though are more about if you want to go fast or you want to get in some serious mileage. That doesn't mean you need Lycra though. If you're going slow or just doing a few miles, then you don't need all the kit.
Go and look at the places where cycle commuting has taken off. The first thing you might notice is the lack of helmets. The second thing you'll see is that none of these people has gone and bought all the pro kit. They are all just wearing their day to day clothes.
You don't need to look like you're racing the Tour De France to nip out to the shops on your bike or to cycle to work.
Bad weather clothing
There is a time when some good cycling clothes will help you through a journey, and that is when the weather is rotten. Your clothes here will only ever be as good as your least technical layer. If you ride a lot in bad weather, then you'll want to invest in some proper clothing.
Again though, you don't necessarily need Lycra. You'll want a waterproof and breathable jacket. A non-breathable jacket is a nightmare on a bike and you'll just get soaked from your sweat instead of the rain. You'll also not want to put a cotton t-shirt on under a GoreTex jacket as you've just nullified the point of the jacket.
Don't worry. We have a future blog coming on the ins and outs of lousy weather clothing.