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.

Levi’s commuter wear: oh dear


So I know I look like a dolt in lycra (though maybe a little less so in my new svelte profile), and I’ve always had a lot of time for “alternative” bike wear, whether it’s the astonishingly expensive Rapha gear, or equally expensive Vulpine, or in-between gear like Twin Six.

It’s seems that with cycling you always have a choice between looking like a twat in lycra or looking like a fashion victim.

I used to ride my bike in jeans and ordinary shoes. Those were the days. I used to ride miles like that, and it never occurred to me that my clothes were holding me back. But then I was young, and I could do anything. Now I’m an old git, I need all the marginal gains I can get, and it’s unfortunately true that even in stretch denim, I need more stretch.

I bought some Rapha trousers a while ago, which I rarely wear, but they’re held in reserve for when I finally pluck up the gumption to cycle the 20 miles to work. For my birthday, thanks to a voucher (which I spent immediately, wary of receivership and administration issues) I got a Rapha Merino roll neck jersey, which will make me look almost completely normal at work, should I get around to doing this thing. Also, for christmas, my sister gave me a grey Vulpine shirt which will also be all right for workwear.

Having dropped a waist size, I was in the market for a new pair of work trousers, and I had a look in the sales. I came across these Levi’s 511 skinny commuter trousers at half price, and tried them on. They fitted all right, had some stretch, and I reckoned they’d be all right at work – but I doubted they’d be any good on the bike.

For a start, although they have a Rapha-like reflective strip on the inside seam (visible if you roll up the leg a bit), I felt that the emphasis on “skinny” in the styling put fashion before practicality. Just to be sure, I tried them on the bike last Sunday, on the rollers in the garage.

I lasted 15 minutes. Even though I was wearing padded undershorts, they were too uncomfortable. They have reinforced seams, but they’re still seams – where there shouldn’t be seams on cycling clothes. And they have some stretch in the fabric, but it’s nowhere near enough to give your leg the proper freedom of movement. So I took them off and completed my session in just the undershorts.

Okay, maybe, for pootling along at low speeds on one of those trendy fashion victtim retro bikes. But hopeless for anything serious, or for any faster pace. And just as expensive as stuff that would actually work. If you want my recommendation for cycling gear that looks all right and is actually appropriate and comfortable for riding properly without being too stupidly expensive, I’d go Twin Six. This topical Dopers Suck jersey, for example, is only £47.96 from Always Riding.