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.

Chapeau Mistral Jacket Review

velo_003002-w600 velo_002001-w600I bought this mid-weight jacket because I needed an extra layer for colder days. It’s not the sort of thing I’ll need in France in the summer, but it will certainly see use early and late in the season in the UK.

It’s quite thick fabric (they call it ecorepel®) which is designed to repel water and dirt — useful on my routes, which still feature the odd road-wide puddles caused by field run-off, not to mention the tons of dirt left on the road by farm machinery. It’s not the sort of thing you’d want to wear on a very warm day. The fabric feels quite coarse and inflexible to touch, but is soft on the inside and actually quite stretchy. It feels thicker, but (unlike a rain jacket), it’s breathable, which means you shouldn’t overheat.

I went for the XXL size, and although this means the sleeves are on the long side, it felt like the right decision. It’s nice and long at the back, which I like, and it offers extra protection from splashes and spray. I also like the diagonal zip and the colour, rust, which is a good match for my black and orange bike. It’s a really nice looking jacket, I think. Made in Portugal.

Today was around 14°, probably getting towards the upper end of the temperature range for this kind of thing, but it was windy and mostly cloudy, with a few spits and spots of rain at the beginning of my ride. I wore a Helly Hansen base layer, a summer weight Decathlon jersey (from completely the other end of the price range: it cost me just €9 last summer), and then this jacket on the top. It was fine. I didn’t overheat, and I didn’t feel as if I was too bulked up.

I’ve been ill (end-of-term-itis, a cold virus brought on by stress and the arrival of a holiday — common to teachers everywhere), so it was touch and go as to whether I’d go out. While I have to stay at home at Easter to mark coursework, I was really hoping to get in some miles in the holiday, to regain some fitness and start enjoying my new bike more. So it has been a frustrating beginning to the holiday. Rain, wind, and the virus, coughing my guts up all night a couple of nights ago, and knocking myself out with some please-make-me-drowsy cough medicine last night. This morning, I was still coughing, but my chest didn’t feel as tight.

So I risked it. There’s always a danger you’re going to give yourself a relapse, but I felt the air was warm enough not to cause problems, and I had no intention of pushing it, so I wasn’t breathing too deeply anyway. I went for “fat burner” pace. I felt all right for a couple of miles, and then my legs felt kinda weak the rest of the time, probably because of the virus.

There was no need to carry anything in the jacket’s copious pockets, but for longer rides, it will certainly be useful: there’s a waterproof zip pocket for keys/valuables, if needed, and three other pockets for gels, and your pump, if you’re that way inclined. There’s some reflective piping around the zip pocket.

So I was all Chapeau-ed up today, wearing the bib shorts I reviewed a while ago. No problems with the saddle today (Charge Spoon wins). My aches and pains in order of botheration: left hip; low back; right foot. That the foot was the least of my problems today was something of a breakthrough.

I’ve got my eye on Friday afternoon for the next outing. Here’s hoping.