Head to Toe cycling workwear

11832-12_8106_1024x1024_49bc4d88-b9fd-4645-950c-cb8385845897_1024x1024When I first started buying dedicated cycling clothing, I at first confined myself to getting jerseys and shorts that looked “normal”. So my first pair of shorts were baggy mountain bike shorts with a padded liner. And my first cycling specific jersey was a kind of green jumper.

After getting over that phase and going through several years of succumbing to lycra and “technical fabrics”, I have come full circle and tend to focus on what is sometimes called commuter wear or urban cycling apparel.

Sometimes, it’s true, I arrive at work looking like a normal person in normal workwear, when in fact everything I am wearing is in some way specifically designed for cycling.

  1. Shimano shoes. I’ve mentioned these before. The cleats are recessed, so the shoes themselves look kinda like trainers (ugly, but most are). They’re the most comfortable cycling shoes I’ve ever used, and people usually just think they’re regular trainers (I keep a pair of shoes to change into at work, but sometimes forget I’m wearing them).
  2. Socks. My favourites are merino wool socks, but I also have some Café du Cycliste stripy socks. I guess they’re designed to keep your feet cool or warm or something. The merino wool ones are lethally slippery, as my coccyx continually reminds me.
  3. Swrve trousers. These are stretchy, flat seamed, windproof trousers. They look like black trousers, but they have a special design that minimises chafing, and they don’t constrict your knees when pedalling. They’re cut lower in the front and higher in the back, so they don’t cut in to your belly, and your modesty is preserved at the rear. They’re also slightly rain resistant, so water rolls off in light showers. I really like them. £80, which is £15 cheaper than the Rapha equivalent.
  4. Padded boxer shorts. I have a couple of pairs of these. One is from Rapha: they’re an oversized boxer with a slightly padded chamois – not as padded as proper cycling shorts, but better than riding in your regular underwear. No seams, no chafing etc. I have another, cheaper pair from Tenn outdoors (Amazon). About £30 cheaper than the Rapha ones at £12.99, they’re pretty much the same – slightly tighter in the leg. I bought the Rapha boxers in the sale, by the way. Never pay full price for Rapha.
  5. Base layers – I have a few of these. Some for summer, for wicking sweat. Others for winter, for wicking sweat and thermal properties. I have a merino one, but of course that shrunk. That’s the thing about merino wool. It shrinks every time, even in a 30° wash. I also have some made from artificial fibres. Not as nice next to the skin, not quite as warm as merino, but can be washed without fear.
  6. Shirts. I have three specialist cycling shirts, two from Rapha, and one from Vulpine. The black and white check one from Rapha is the oldest one I have, a bit of a tight fit, and I’m less keen on it for work because I prefer plain colours and not patterns – especially with ties. The other Rapha shirt is a dark blue cotton Oxford shirt, with a heavy fabric that is a little too warm for the hottest days. But it has good stretch and looks like a normal work shirt. They’re nice, but as with most of this stuff, the cost about 4x more than you really want to spend on workwear. Vulpine recently reduced their £100 equivalent Oxford shirts to a more reasonable £58, which is only twice as much as I really want to pay for a shirt. The one I have looks and feels like a regular shirt (mine is a kind of denim blue but it still looks okay with a tie, although a couple of people commented on the “sombre” colour), only with a bit more stretch.
    And here’s the rub. What you’re getting is comfortable enough on the bike and may even be more efficient at wicking sweat away from your body (although with a back pack, all bets are off), but it is to all intents and purposes a normal shirt, only with slightly stretchier (3% elastane) fabric and maybe some flattened seams. So let’s say the other shirts I have for work cost between £4 and £40, which they did. The median price I’ll pay for a (non-white, non-stripy, non-check) shirt for work is somewhere around £25. Now, how much extra should I be paying for flattened stitching and stretch fabric? I’d say no more than £10-£15 more, if that.
    I really like some of the Rapha workwear, especially the knitwear: the crew neck for example, or the “stand collar”. But £120? Or £140? That’s one issue. Another is the inevitable shrinkage from merino wool. The third is the sizing. Rapha’s idea of an “XL” is 107-115 cm, whereas a Marks and Spencer XL is 112-117, which is a 5cm difference at the bottom end and a 2 cm difference at the top. As with all cycling wear, you have to go a size higher, and Rapha’s sole explanation for their XXL is simply “115+ cm”. Har bloody har, Rapha, you body fascists. What does that mean? 116cm? Right.
    Clearly, obviously, Rapha don’t want people like me in their clothes, but you know. The point is, yep I’ve got a belly on me but I’m an XL everywhere else. Why are cycling clothes almost universally a size (or two) smaller than the standards elsewhere? It’s time for EU legislation… oh.

You changed, M&S? I hadn’t noticed

Screen Shot 2014-07-09 at 20.34.29Apparently I’m supposed to have noticed that Marks and Spencer has a new web site. The shareholders are up in arms, it says here, about the underperformance of the company. Well, christ. The screenshot above shows, not the home page, but the page you get to when you click on Men in the top menu and then “Formal Shirts”.

The problem for me is that this splash doesn’t show me anything or tell me anything useful. Who reads the blurb about formal shirts? If someone has clicked the link, it’s not because they need to be told, “Our smart formal shirts cater for everything from the boardroom to black tie. Versatile colours, stripes and checks are the perfect partners to smart tailoring, while our dinner and dress shirts are formal essentials.”

(Someone was paid to write that, presumably. M&S could have saved the five pence and just shown some, you know, product.) You have to scroll down to the product, but now that I do so I’m already a bit annoyed because it feels like they’re trying to force me to admire their web site design. When I do scroll down, I can see no more than three shirts at a time. This doesn’t feel like enough. The left-hand menu allows me to filter down by size, and (roughly) by colour and by various other categories. But to do that successfully, you need to sort of know what you’re looking for.

Let’s say I’m looking for a plain, non-patterned shirt. I hate stripes and I hate check. I can’t be alone in this. I like colour but if I’m wearing a stripy tie, and I have a lot of stripy ties, I want a plain backdrop to it. To find “plain”, I have to scroll down and guess that it’s going to be under the category of “Design”, and to explode that I have to click on its little black arrow. This reduces the number of shirts to 161. Let’s say I’m in the market for a green shirt. So I now select the green colour swatch, and I’m left with this:

Screen Shot 2014-07-09 at 20.45.55

The one on the left is Aqua. Doesn’t look green to me. The one on the right is checked (and short sleeved), which doesn’t look very plain. Which leaves the one in the middle, which is a light green colour and “tailored fit” whatever the fuck that means when you’re buying ready-to-wear. A close up of the fabric reveals this:

Screen Shot 2014-07-09 at 20.48.06

Which is a bit, um, textured and patterny for my taste. Okay. Maybe green was too hard. Lets try orange. Similar story. This time I’m reduced to one shirt, similar to the green one, and it’s, um, coral (pink) not orange.

Well, shit.

So now I give up and go on the Banana Republic web site.

In all of this, I should say that the experience of hunting for a decent shirt that doesn’t make you look like a Tory cunt  is exactly the same as it was before they spent £150 million on a revamp. What did they change? The mobile site scales okay. Three taps to Formal Shirts, once it has loaded, but then you have the fiddly problem of searching for a plain shirt.

As for the stores, the experience is terrible. Entering the men’s department feels like entering the aftermath of an explosion in a sweatshop warehouse. You feel you ought to be wearing breathing apparatus and carrying an axe. There are too many products, too many ranges, too many collections. What’s the difference between Autograph and Collezione, or between both of those and Savile Row Inspired, or M & S Collection? What’s the difference between Blue Harbour and North Coast? Nobody knows, and, here’s a news flash for Marks and Spencer: nobody cares. Those Collezione clothes do not look particularly Italian or stylish.

Screen Shot 2014-07-09 at 20.55.38Anyway, this is before you get to the main reason any man would enter Marks and Spencer in the first place: socks and underwear. They lost the plot on socks years ago, and I can date it precisely: the problem is Lycra™. The socks in the 80s were quite good. They had a good range of colours, they were cotton, they washed well, they lasted ages, and they were comfortable to wear. As soon as they started adding 1% elastane and moved their manufacturing overseas, they became too stretchy, uncomfortable on the feet after a day’s wear, and the sizing deteriorated. I’m angry with M&S for not understanding something as basic as how they fucked up their socks. They don’t need and never did need Lycra. There are also too many, far too many, different ranges of similar socks. This is the illusion of choice. A real choice would be with Lycra and without. And the same goes for underwear. You go into the underwear section, and six  months later a search party comes in, attached to ropes, and finds you standing, bewildered, in front of the array of trunks briefs and shorts, unable to choose and unable to find that thing you had before that was okay, yeah, I’ll just have that, but where is it?

They need one leisure range, one smart/business range, and one stylish/fashion range. Why do they have so many? And what the fuck’s up with all the fucking jumpers? And all the trousers??? Fucking hell, why do they ever include red trousers in their collection? They always end up in the sale, which is the only time anyone ever buys them.

Plot. Lost. The above advice, free of charge. Marks and Spencer: you know you need me.


Café du Cycliste Suzanne Jersey

suzanne jersey


Café du Cycliste are the latest brand to offer cycling gear for the more discerning. Horizontal stripes are probably a fashion no-no for anyone sporting even the slightest of guts, but I went for the stripy Suzanne anyway, because I was attracted by its retro charms. CdC offer a variety of jerseys in different colours, including plain purple and sage green. I thought this looked just the thing for summer rides.

It’s a full zip design, so you can expose your chest to the breeze on a hot day, and zip it up for chilly descents. At the back it has some clever reflective strips, and more than the usual number of pockets, including one with a zip, for your keys.

The fit is snug, but unlike with most French cycling clothing, an XL is an XL, even if you wish your gut was less prominent. If you’re really self-conscious, they go up to XXL, but then you might find it a bit flappy in the wind in other areas, and maybe too long.

Under the arms is an open mesh to keep you cool, and the shirt looks good with a pair of lightweight bib shorts. I like the look and feel of the shirt, though £99 was a bit steep.

You can buy direct from the brand, in €uros, or from Always Riding, in GBP. Some of their other gear looks good, and I wish I’d got one of the caps to wear under my cycle helment (I recently shaved my head down to #2, so I’m vulnerable up there to sunburn). On the other hand, I have an enormous head, and the one-size-fits-all size never fits me.

suzanne rear