We're in that beautiful weather window here in Canada -- between the icy winds of winter and the heavy smog of summer. Time to wipe the cobwebs off that bicycle. Oh, to feel the wind in your hair, the sun on your skin, the pain in your . . . Time to dust off those roller-blades.
Not so fast. There will always be some discomfort when riding a bicycle -- after all, you're not taking your couch for a spin. But there are ways to minimize the trouble. And it's all in the bike shorts.
We have a gentleman named Toni Maier-Moussa to thank for the fact that we no longer wear those old-school thick wool cycling shorts when we're on a bicycle. While he was designing the first bike constructed from carbon-fibre (you know, the stuff fighter jets are made from), Maier-Moussa found that in wind tunnel testing, wool cycling apparel (and even bare skin) were not sufficiently aerodynamic. Thus -- a Lycra skin-suit was developed, and soon after that, Lycra shorts. As with any new innovation, this wacky new gear met with significant industry skepticism. But it wasn't long before the Lycra revolution won the day.
The company Maier-Moussa founded -- Swiss-based ASSOS -- is still the vanguard for forward-thinking cycling apparel. Their technology-first approach means two things: a) their shorts are designed to fit actual human beings in actual cycling situations, and b) their gear is pretty darn exclusive (you won't find ASSOS at any old sport's shop; their web site wishes you "good luck" in tracking down their new leisurewear line).
Most of us, however, don't need haute designed sporting gear wind-tested by Swiss technicians in secret bases under the Alps. Here are some pointers on how to cover your butt when it's in the saddle.
1. It's not the saddle, it's the shorts
A big, spongy saddle -- designed for 'comfort' -- is not the most efficient way to spend a day on the bike. The spongier the saddle, the more energy you expend bouncing up and down on it. If you're out for a 50km ride over several hours, it amounts to a lot of additional pedal strokes. Comfort must come from your shorts. After all, the pros that ride the Tour De France spend three weeks on saddles that would make granite look comfortable by comparison.
2. Don't wear 'em in
Cycling shorts aren't a favourite pair of jeans or track pants. Rather, they're purpose built training apparel. The comfier the shorts feel off the bike, the less comfortable they'll feel on the bike. If the Lycra starts to fray around the thighs or buttocks, and if the padding starts to rip, chaffing awaits. If you've worn 'em in, throw 'em out.
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3. Size your shorts carefully
The worst thing a cyclist can do is rush when trying on bike shorts. If you plan on spending more than a few hours in the saddle every week, your cycling shorts are key to your long-term comfort. Ignore the sizing information (remember, this is Lycra we're talking about), especially if the shorts are European (designations like“Large&" or “size-2&" are little more than vague guidelines). Keep in mind - as with swimsuits, you'll be trying on the shorts with underwear, but riding without. If the shorts feel a little snug, and if there's the merest hint of traction, you're in for trouble. Size up or down accordingly.
4. Try Bibs
If you don't thinks of yourself as the suspenders type, maybe it's time to reconsider. Most cycling apparel companies offer a bib-short product in addition to their traditional waistband shorts. The advantage of bibs is that they hold everything in place - especially the padding -- so when you're energetically hopping up and out of the saddle climbing those steep hills, the shorts don't slide around as you take a seated position.
5. Leave the undies off
Cycling shorts are designed so that you don't need to wear underwear. In fact, they're a combination of underwear and overwear. The more fabric you put between you and the padding, the more likely you are to incur grief. It may seem a little strange at first, but leave the undies off.
In, ahem, short, so long as you keep those five tips in mind, you're in for a pleasant summer on the bike. These tips also apply to those of us who spend our winters spinning at the local gym. Cycling needn't be such a pain in the butt. Make sure your shorts are the right ones for you.
Click here for safety tips in spinning classes.
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