Cycling Clothes

I don’t know if anyone has completed a naked coast to coast on a bike.  Someone has walked Lands End to John O’Groats naked (apart from boots, a hat and a rucksack) but it took them seven months because they kept on getting arrested and spent two spells in jail en route. So, for those of us that want to wear clothes on the ride:

What should I wear?

This is very much down to personal choice and depends on what you are used to cycling in. Some people like to wear normal casual clothes that they feel comfortable in on or off the bike. Others like to wear technical cycling clothes designed specifically for the job. I once saw a rider in a time trial skin suit and a rider in corduroy trousers and an Argyll knitted tank top on the same sportif (in fact the latter was passing the former up a very steep hill).

Not that I would recommend corduroy trousers and an Argyll knitted top for your trip. In fact I personally favour the technical cycling kit option for a number of reasons:

  • It is shaped to fit the body most comfortably when in a cycling position.
  • It does not [or at least should not] have any seams in positions that will rub.
  • It is close fitting so cuts down wind resistance.
  • The fabric is designed to draw (wick) sweat away from the skin to evaporate in the air.
  • It is lightweight and packs down easily.
  • Padded bottom area! [you have a very long way to go and you will be in the saddle a lot]
  • Back pockets on cycling tops are ideal for carrying food and gels so that they are easily to hand without having to stop.
  • It can be washed in the shower and dried out in an open window over night.
The downside of cycling specific kit is that it is not ideal for wearing off the bike so you might have to carry some casual clothes if you intend to eat out or socialize in the evening. In the past I have taken a pair of three quarter length lightweight hiking trousers and a long sleeved base layer, both of which were very light and could be packed down as small as possible.

Shoes are another factor to consider. I have cycling shoes with cleats that attach to the pedals on my bike. This makes pedalling more efficient and requires less energy over a long distance. Up until my coast to coast ride I used cleats that stuck out form the bottom of the shoe which made walking awkward when off the bike. For the coast to coast I purchased some shimano double sided spd pedals.  These had two main advantages:

  1. The cleat was recessed so allowed for normal walking.  Not only was this helpful when off the bike going into shops etc., it meant they could be used as ‘normal’ shoes so I didn’t have to carry any. 
  2. The double sided pedal made it much easier to engage the cleat when setting off.  Also, the recessed nature of the cleat meant that if I  didn’t engage first attempt I could still push on the pedal without risk of my foot slipping off the pedal.  This has always been a particular problem for me when starting on a steep hill.

The downside is that the recessed cleat is small and, arguably, not so efficient in transferring energy from you muscles to the pedals.  But for a mere mortal such as me I do not think that is much of an issue.

For an interesting article on pedal choice click here.

Prior to purchasing the spd pedals and shoes I used to carry a pair of karate shoes. They had thin, hard, flat soles and the uppers were of silk and lay completely flat when not worn. They were a non descript black and cost about £5 online.

Regardless of whether you wear cycling specific or normal clothes you should aim to wear a number of thin layers that you can strip off or pile on depending upon the temperature and weather. One layer should be a rain jacket or cape because there is always a good chance of rain.

The other necessity is padded shorts. If you prefer baggy shorts or trousers you can purchase padded short/trouser liners [no not a nappy]. If you have no padding take extra butt cream (see stuff to put in bags section).

This is a list of the clothing I took with me on my coast to coast:

  • Shorts (x2)
  • Tops (x2)
  • Base layer (x2)
  • Leg warmers
  • Arm Warmers
  • Socks (x2 pairs)
  • Wind stop/rain top
  • Waterproof Rainlegs
  • Gloves
  • Sunglasses
  • Helmet
  • Chest strap (for heart rate)
  • Cycling shoes
The shorts, tops, base layers and socks were duplicated in case I was unable to wash and dry them overnight. It meant I could wear a clean, dry set and strap the damp kit to the outside of my bags to dry [unless it was raining – obviously].

If it was chilly I could start each day with my shorts, base layer, top, rain jacket, arm and leg warmers on.  Then, as the day warmed up I could strip layers off. If I ended up cycling late the reverse process could happen in the evening.

You may notice as your tour progresses and you get tired that your body is less able to regulate your temperature. This means you will remain chilly for longer each day and strip off less and less. Certainly on my last day I cycled nearly all of it in my arm and leg warmers and a gillet despite it being a sunny (if windy) July day.

Remember that you have to carry your clothes so weight is an issue. Even if you are wearing most of it you still have to carry the weight. And packability is also an important factor. Some lightweight clothes (like fleeces) can still be very bulky and you need to be able to stow them all in your bags.

Top Tip

Wash your kit in the shower. Rub some soap or gel into the pad and other smelly bits and then dump it underfoot at the beginning of the shower. Tread it, like grapes, throughout the shower, trying not to trip or slip. Once you are clean give the kit a final rinse to make sure the soap is all out and then wring out as much water as possible. Once you have dried yourself lay your kit out flat on the towel and roll the whole thing up as tightly as possible. Repeat with a fresh, dry towel if you have one. Leave for a minute or two so that the towel can absorb any excess moisture. Unroll and hang your kit in an open window to finish drying over night (or put on a radiator if there is one on).