Venus Bike Club

Ask Big Sis: Cycling Clothing Questions

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Dear Big Sis:
I’ve been curious about this for a long time and now that I am starting to bike, I have to ask. I have the same question everyone asks about kilts: “What do you wear under that chamois?”
~ Wondering in Longmont

Dear Wondering:
And the answer is the same as for a kilt: Whatever you like! Our unscientific research shows that most cyclists go commando, however there are some who prefer underwear.

But be aware, your everyday thongs, bikinis, briefs, or granny panties are likely to cause chafing at the seams and elastic edges, so you might consider seamless boy-cut briefs. They are like a little pair of smooth skin-tight shorts (or kind of like the top of a pair of pantyhose — remember those?). They’ll provide a smooth layer between you and your chamois.

If you choose commando, chafing can be minimized by applying a friction-reducing product known as “chamois cream.” Bike shops usually carry a variety of brands with entertaining names (like “Butt Butter,” “Gooch Guard,” and “Hoo-ha Ride Glide”). 

Dear Big Sis:
What’s with the whole lycra getup cyclists wear? Does it give you superpowers or something? I’m not trying to be a bike racer, so can I just wear a t-shirt and shorts to ride my bike? Although those Venus Bike Club outfits do look pretty cool …
~ I Want to Ride in Switzerland*

Dear Switzerland:
Those matching bike outfits are called “kits.” They started life as aerodynamic clothing for bicycle racers, and soon many riders were wearing them. Riders in matching cycling kits can seem a little intimidating to new riders, but not everyone wearing them is a hardcore hammerhead. Cycling clothes have their benefits even for recreational riders:

  • The jerseys endow you with the ability to carry a small boatload of stuff in your back pockets (e.g., your wallet/ID, phone, snacks), while looking colorful and stylish as you promote your favorite bike club or advertise your latest challenging bike conquests.
  • The superpower the pants provide is padding for your private parts and sit bones (the padding is called a “chamois” for historical reasons and, in the US, is pronounced SHAM-ee). The smooth material allows your thighs to glide along the seat (called a “saddle” in bike lingo) while pedaling instead of your skin rubbing, which can lead to chafing. 

If you’re riding recreationally and aren’t concerned about being super aerodynamic, you don’t need one of those sleek bike kits. You can wear a t-shirt on your ride (although you might want to consider hi-tech wicking fabrics to help keep you cool and dry … and remember, bright colors make you more visible to motorists).

Ordinary shorts, however, have seams that will chafe your hide on a ride. If they aren’t tight-fitting, they will ride up as you pedal, and you’ll soon have your shorts in a bunch. Try a pair of magic shorts, and you’ll feel the difference! 

One type of bike shorts, called “bibs,” have built-in suspenders that go over your shoulders to hold them up, instead of a tight, muffin-top producing waistband. Bibs are generally considered more comfortable than shorts for this reason. The downside is that you must remove your shirt to get the straps down — a major inconvenience at bathroom break time.

However, the latest variant on bibs now have a “drop tail” (kinda like old-fashioned long-johns) that let you heed nature’s call without disrobing. 

By the way, those specially-designed, highly visible Venus Bike Club kits are available exclusively on the VBC website once or twice a year when we open our Kit Store. We may look like bicycle racers, but we’re really just riding in comfort. And sisterhood. (Or maybe Switzerland.*)

* Explanation: When riding the Buff Epic 19 one year, someone asked Sandi about riding in Switzerland as they rode by her. She was confused until she remembered the shorts she had on.

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