Doris Diaries Chapter 1: The Introduction
When you start a sport, most people ask you why you started doing it in the first place. Like many others, bike racing wasn’t something I ever saw myself doing. My aunt was a cyclist and I frequently saw her spending a huge portion of her time doing cycling related things. When I was young, I remember my mom telling me a story about how my aunt was summoned for jury duty and she biked there in full kit. Cleats clicking as she walked to the stand, they asked her if she would be coming dressed like that every day. She, of course, replied that her bike was her mode of transportation so, yes, she would be dressed like this every day. Needless to say, they excused her from service. I thought some of her habits were a little odd and I didn’t understand why anyone would want something to take over their life like that. She had been hit by a car a couple times and broke her arm once. It didn’t seem worth it to me.
Fast forward a decade or so… I began dating this guy who was a cyclist. I really liked him but I was so annoyed that we could never hang out on most Friday nights or Sunday during the day and he was always so tired on Saturday night. I did not understand how this guy could spend, like, a billion hours riding his bike. About a year into the relationship, I decided that I had to know what all the fuss was about, so I bought myself a bike. It did not take me long to fall down the rabbit hole and here I am, years later, writing about it.
I have had so many experiences since that day and continue to learn from the people I ride with. But even though CRCA racers are an invaluable source of information and advice, it’s been years since many of them were in my newbie shoes, so it can be hard to relate.
Recently, I read an article written by Cullen MacDonald on the TBD Journal entitled In Defense Of: The Fred which talks about how serious road cyclists sometimes scoff at others who don’t conform to the norms in regard to dress and equipment and how this sentiment is wrong because cycling is about having fun. Now that I’m fully immersed in the world of cycling, I realized that a lot of other people probably had the same, if not similar, experiences that I’ve had since joining the sport. It made me want to share my story and everything I’ve learned along the way. So here we go. I’m calling this series The Doris Diaries (Doris being the so-called female version of a “Fred”) and the first post is dedicated to kit.
Doris Diaries: What Not to Wear
Buying cycling clothes can be intimidating. There is so much to choose from and so many things that seemed to serve such a vague purpose, I had no clue if I even needed it or not. When I started cycling, I bought a really cheap jersey and shorts from eBay that had cool decals. After a few rides, I realized I had made a mistake in buying random, generic stuff. The shorts would fall down from my waist and would hike up on my thigh which resulted in a constant tug of war in regards to my having to pull up and down on my shorts. The jersey material had poor moisture wicking abilities and a bit big even in the smallest size. In short, the material wasn’t great and neither was the fit.
The second thing I learned is that the right shorts are all about finding the right chamois for your body. A chamois is the cushioning that’s sewn into the inside of your cycling shots that sort of resembles a panty liner or menstrual pad. They come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and thicknesses and they’re usually male and female specific. Every brand has their own version. I tried Pearl Izumi, Castelli, Louis Garneau, Rapha, and many more before I found what was comfortable for me. Right now, I am really into the Louis Garneau shorts that feature a women’s specific 4-motion chamois.
You will know if you don’t like a chamois if it feels like you are wearing a diaper (ie: it’s too big or has too much padding), feels like you are sitting on the floor (too little padding), or you get frequent saddle sores. A saddle sore is a pus-filled lump that develops in your groin area (and hurts like crazy) thanks to the perfect cocktail of pressure, friction, and sweat between you, your chamois, and your saddle.
In addition to finding the right chamois, you also need to find the right type of shorts. When I first started riding, I didn’t wear bib shorts because they were intimidating and I couldn’t figure out how the heck you use the bathroom while wearing them. A few companies have solved that problem. Specialized makes a pair that has a magnet in the back so you can just unclip and pull the shorts down without having to take off your jersey. I actually now prefer bib shorts because they stay up better, which means less friction and thus, fewer problems in your pants. The second mistake I made was wearing underwear under my bike shorts. This is a big no-no because you are adding extra material that can rub against you and cause irritation.
In terms of other necessities, wearing a base layer is a good idea. They help regulate body temperature while you ride. A merino base layer helps keep you warm during winter/spring/fall and mesh base layers help keep you cool in the summer. At first I thought it was strange that putting on another layer could somehow keep you cooler, but the way that it keeps your jersey off your skin and wicks the sweat away really works. I like Rapha base layers for these purposes.
A key identifying feature of a “Fred” or a “Doris” are their socks. The third mistake I made was wearing ankle socks and non-athletic socks. Apparently, wearing ankle socks is a super uncool thing that only amateurs do. I can not overstate the importance of having a good sock game when you ride a bike. I’m not sure exactly why the cyclist community has decided why the socks you wear are so important, but nevertheless it matters. Your feet need to stay as dry as possible but they also need to look cool while doing that. A cyclist should wear high socks with patterns that match their kit, bike, or helmet/accessories. The more loud and outrageous, the better.
My final advice is to try a lot of things and see what works for you. What might work for me, might not be the same as what is comfortable on your body. It’s also sometimes better to overdress and take things off, rather than to underdress and be uncomfortable for your entire ride. The whole point is to get out there and enjoy your ride, so be comfortable.