All I want for Christmas is a decent pair of tights!
So here we are, at that time of the year when Black Friday and Cyber Monday have tempted us to spend most of our November pay packet before Christmas, that annual feast of over indulgence is looming on the near horizon, and the chances of getting out of the house for a decent bike ride without being battered by wind, sleet and snow are pretty negligible.
It’s a tough time of year for cyclists, but if you’re relatively new to this activity (and not staring at the garage wall ramping up the watts on the turbo trainer), now’s the time to get your Christmas present game plan in to gear.
Here we’re talking about you from the perspective of being a recipient of seasonal good will. Although if you’re a non cyclist looking for gift ideas, then stay tuned...
By January 1, 2022 you’ll doubtless have reached peak mince pie, peak cabin fever and peak Christmas tv. And possibly, peak family. An escape on the bike is just what’s needed. And with those extra pounds making everything feel a bit tight, wouldn’t it be great if you could be tempted out on that bike of yours with some fancy new cycling gear?
In the first of 3 blogs we’re going to give you some insider tips on how to get bike-ready for 2022. The first of these is about getting your lycra wish list in line, the next one will look at best buy beginners bikes, and the final blog in the series will look at where to take aforementioned lycra and new bike out on a spin on some of the top UK sportives and routes.
So back to this lycra business. This amazing technical fabric has become synonymous with many sports, but perhaps most of all it’s associated with cycling. For those of us of a certain age, and this may include, you, pre-lycra times were like the 1970s, best forgotten. Wool, cotton and acrylic were an unholy trinity that made cycling in any weather itchy and uncomfortable. And wet.
Thankfully, there’s now an array of brands deploying various technologies and innovations to make lycra a dream technical fabric that can protect you from severe cold to scorching heat. For the newbie, it’s an overwhelming (and potentially very expensive) minefield to navigate. So a few tips in this blog will help you look for some of the key specs for those, ‘asking for a friend’ moments when it comes to angling for the gear you want on Christmas morning. And if Santa still hasn’t delivered the goods, all this will come in handy for when you hit the sales.
First up, the usual mantra on these things is, buy the best you can afford. And sales, of course, make the top end gear all the more affordable. Trust me, investing in the best bits of kit in the sales, or asking for them as gifts, (don’t forget birthdays 😉) is the way to win at the lycra game.
I’ve been selling bikes as a part-time job for a while and one of the questions I’m often asked once someone has bought a bike, is what gear would you recommend? For a newcomer, this is what I tell them:
Invest in a good pair of bib shorts with a good pad, and a jersey for the summer.
If you’re starting out in winter, then get the bib tights first.
Then get a decent cycling jacket.
Then build your wardrobe around these core staples.
If you’re on a budget and need to prioritise where you spend most of your money, invest in tights. There’s a growing trend to wearing tights earlier in autumn and longer into spring, which gives you time to get some shorts when the weather really demands them.
Things to add as you go along are:
A long sleeve jersey for cooler spring and autumn rides.
Technical base layers and vests.
Overshoes and so on.
But build your core wardrobe first.
OK, let’s talk about some of the brands.
At the top of the mountain (to use a cycling analogy) in terms of prestige and innovation are Rapha, from the UK, and Assos, from Switzerland. Both lead the way in terms of innovation, with Rapha having a very distinctive nod towards cycling heritage, and Assos, the first company to invent the lycra cycling short, big on tech-driven fabric innovation.
Winter tights from either of these brands, during non sale periods, will set you back around £160 for entry level kit to upwards of £275. The more expensive the tight the more technical the fabric and the greater its thermal, waterproofing and moisture wicking properties. Thermal or waterproof jackets from these brands will knock you back around £165 for entry level training jackets to as much as £500+ for Assos’s top of the range models.
As a newbie, buying into these brands at entry level gives you some highly technical kit that will see you through many seasons. I have a pair of Assos tights that are still wearable after 7 years. They’ve been ridden in all weathers and are still going strong. With cycling gear it really is a case of "buy well, pay once. Buy cheap, pay several times." You might think a cheaper pair will save you money but in the long-run it's wiser to invest more upfront and benefit over the long-term. Last year I took advantage of a pre-winter promo to get a new pair to supersede them.
Another leading brand is Castelli, from Italy, which is also hugely popular with cyclists. Again, they’re big on innovation and technical developments, but for taller, larger cyclists some of their gear comes in a bit on the short side. Rapha and Assos tend to have larger sizes further up their size chart. A note on bib short lengths – Assos come in a tad on the short side, whereas Rapha’s can be specified as either regular or extra long. The current trend is towards a longer knee-touching length, but this is more about aesthetics.
If you’re on a budget then the DHB brand from Wiggle.com provides a range of quality kit at lower price points. It’s stylish too. Their top Aeron range is up there with the likes of Rapha, Assos and Castelli in terms of innovation.
When looking at any new cycling gear, measure yourself properly and be honest about your size. Covid has made trying on cycling gear an unwelcome practice, and the chances are you’ll be buying your kit online. So take some proper measurements and get a size to fit, not a size to squeeze into. 10 miles into a ride in gear that is tugging in all the wrong places is no laughing matter. You might be speechless by the café stop! Rapha, by the way, does a 50% discount on new gear if you’ve dropped a size or two through cycling.
Another brand worth looking at is Manchester-based Lusso whose current range of shorts, jerseys and jackets reveals them to be a game changer brand in cycling gear with very affordable price points. I’ve just bought one of their jerseys and it’s a stunning piece of technical kit which has tempted me to try their carbon bib shorts, which scored 10/10 in a cycle.cc Top 10 Best Bib Shorts test.
And, check out the Special Buys at discount supermarket Aldi who usually have 2 or 3 seasonal cycling promotions throughout the year. I’ve bought some cracking base layers from them, and a great pair of winter overshoes.
Key things to look out for with lycra jerseys and jackets:
Most brands will have a hierarchy of fits to suit the body shapes and riding styles of different cyclists. For many newbies, donning lycra can be slightly nerve racking. After all, it’s an uncompromising fabric that gives the game away on many levels... (Including your religion! 😳).
But you don’t have to be a racing snake to join in. Lycra gear is designed for everyone, of all ages. The trick is to choose a fit that makes you feel comfortable. A relaxed fit will give you a jersey that has a bit of slack, and might not hug your entire body. Choose this option if you’re new to the game, and don’t want to be restricted by too close a fit. This is the kind of fit to have for bike packing or touring.
Sport or Pro fit jerseys come in much tighter and hug the body super close – and are designed to minimize drag, wick away sweat and fit you like a second skin. If you’re racing, doing tough training rides or want to be as streamlined as possible, pro’s the way to go. It’ll fit you like a glove without a millimetre of thread hanging loose.
Features to look for are:
Moisture wicking, moisture control.
A mix of fabric composition to allow for stretch and breathability.
Good, deep pockets – and fourth side zip pocket for a credit card or change.
A good quality zip. Most makers use YKK as a standard.
Good aesthetics – this is a personal one for me, but a good jersey for me is understated.
For jackets, these are going to be worn either in late autumn, winter and early spring.
Remember, you’ll have at least two layers underneath so you might want to go up a size. Here, you also want to look at both their thermal and waterproofing capabilities. Just remember, that no matter how good the technology or how big the claim about being waterproof, the very worst of British weather will ensure that you will never be 100% dry or 100% warm. But what a good jacket will do is protect you from most of what gets thrown at you. A wet ride from Largs to Ardrossan on the last day of a 5 day tour of the Hebrides this summer put my Rapha jacket and Assos tights through the very worst of a late August downpour. 2 hours of unrelenting rain put both bits of kit through their paces, and whilst I was still damp at the finish, I could have been a whole lot wetter.
And so, there you have it – a quick guide to where to look for some key bits of kit for success on 2 wheels in 2022. Invest in the best you can afford. And remember, that wise marketing mantra (doubtless penned by some scribe in an outdoor clothing company somewhere on the planet) “there’s no such thing as bad weather, just the wrong equipment”. Happy Christmas – and get writing that list.
Some of our top buys to consider for your road cycling wardrobe:
m2M Pro Winter Cycling Jersey £89.99 (not that we're biased 😉)
m2M Pro Winter Cycling Tights £89.99 (Nope... Still not biased! 😆)