The new kit
My bike club just got its 2010 clothing (or “kit” as people like to call it) and I have to say, I’m tempted to complain. We switched to a new manufacturer this year, which I’d never heard of, and I knew something was wrong when I hefted the long-sleeve jersey and it felt like you could mail it with one stamp. Don’t get me wrong, cyclists like lightweight gear, but this jersey seemed tissue-paper thin. Normally long-sleeve jerseys are thicker than short-sleeve because (duh) you wear them when it’s cool out. So this was a little odd.
I put the jersey on and found that when I reach forward with my arms, like when I’m on my bike, the sleeves don’t come all the way down to my wrists. I expect this when I’m wearing a suit jacket, but with a cycling jersey? I didn’t try on the shorts right away because we were only suiting up for a photo shoot and I’d be standing in the back anyway.
Next I tried on the short-sleeve jersey and it was just as lightweight. And it felt, well, small. The sleeves didn’t come down very far, requiring me to pull up the wafer-thin arm warmers as far as they’d go to reach the sleeves. Like most “race-fit” jerseys, everything was tight everywhere except the elastic on the sleeves. Why do these clothing manufacturers think cyclists have big biceps? Do they think we bench-press or something? The arm warmers would only stay up for about two or three seconds at a time, so it was a challenge having them both up long enough for the camera shutter to open and close.
The short shorts
When I got home from the photo shoot I took the shorts out of the bag. Uh-oh. They looked like something I could dress one of my daughters in, or one of their dolls. Plus the chamois seemed absurdly thick. (A chamois shouldn’t be thicker than a pancake. A couple years ago we got these overly thick chamois we nicknamed “full-stack.”) I looked at the label to make sure it was really a size Large. It was indeed labeled Large, though the label also said “Made in China.” That’s a first for me. Most cycling clothing I’ve owned was made in USA, Europe, or South America. I’m not saying the Chinese can’t make good bike clothing; after all, they seem to do a good job on everything else. Perhaps they just get the sizing wrong; maybe to them this pair of shorts did seem large.
Anyway, I tried on the shorts, and when I tried to slip the shoulder straps on (they’re bibs) I found I couldn’t—they just didn’t reach. Of course, they’re Lycra, so with some effort I managed to wriggle my way in, but when I was done it was kind of hard to breathe. It was also hard to stand up straight; this clothing should come with a few handlers to carry us over and put us on our bikes. A few days later I chatted with a cycling pal who had similar difficulties. He said he practically had to lie on the floor in a fetal position to get his shorts on, and once they were on he felt like Borat.
First time out
I suited up early Sunday morning for my first ride in the new kit. It’s a good thing I was wearing leg warmers, because these shorts don’t come down very far; with that much leg showing I’d have felt like a woman in a spin class. I’d layered up with a long-sleeve thermal top and an old sleeveless jersey, and over these garments, the new long-sleeve jersey fit especially tight. It might not seem like this is a bad thing; the fit is supposed to be close. In fact, the first Lycra bike clothing was called “Second Skins.” But putting this jersey on, I felt like a reptile trying to put back on the skin it had just discarded via molting. As I pulled up the zipper, a little puff of air was forced from my lungs.
Feeling straitjacketed, I climbed on my bike and set off. At least the clothing was warm enough … no air was finding its way in, that’s for sure. I felt like my outfit was hermetically sealed. And the chamois didn’t feel so thick when I was actually riding—probably because it was stretched out way thin, like bubblegum, since the shorts fit so tight.
I’m not complaining!
But as I said before, I’m only tempted to complain. It might seem like that’s exactly what I’ve been doing, but I actually wasn’t complaining. I was just sayin’. I rode to the coffee shop to meet up with some of my teammates, and the first thing I noticed is that of the six or eight guys, only two (including myself) were rocking the new shorts. Some sort of laundry-day-harmonic-convergence, perhaps? Mm-hmm. It didn’t take long for the first person to complain about the new kit (I think his exact words were “This clothing sucks!”), and I was invited to offer my opinion. I didn’t take the bait.
Why not? Well, for one thing, when the officers of my bike club were out looking for a clothing provider and negotiating discounts, etc. I didn’t offer to help. And it’s not like I’m bringing glory to the club and thus deserve to behave like a prima donna. The other thing is, it’s not like there’s any recourse anyway. The clothing was printed up with our logo, our sponsors’ logos, etc. so we can’t exactly return it to the manufacturer. Even if they could sell it at their factory outlet, we wouldn’t want any non-racer-types flying our colors for us. (Imagine how tight the clothing would be on them.)
A couple decades ago I was on a bike club in San Luis Obispo, and the manager sent all the jerseys back because the manufacturer had put their own logo on the sleeves of the jerseys, without paying for that privilege. Our manager insisted they replace the sleeves with blank ones. He got his way, but in retaliation the manufacturer took the elastic band for each sleeve and put a full twist in it, making it into a Möbius strip, before sewing the fabric around it. Not sure we want to go down that path again now.
The danger in griping
Meanwhile, I feel I should be cautious in deciding I have a basis to complain. The normal grounds would be a) the clothing doesn’t look good, or b) it’s not comfortable. As far as looks, what am I—vain? As a man who wears hair gel and has been known to clip his fingernails without being prompted, I’m already on thin ice and have to be careful about seeming to care too much about my appearance. As far as comfort, why worry a lot about it in a sport that’s famously painful and uncomfortable? How am I supposed to retain bragging rights after a cold, rainy ride if I’ve been complaining about a lousy chamois?
There’s also the matter of a stoic tradition I would like to be a part of. Some of the world’s greatest heroes were all the more heroic for making do with what they had. Think “Apollo 13.” Think of the miserable, oft-bombed, food-rationed Allied Forces enjoying their finest hour during WWII. Think of John Cusack’s character in “Better Off Dead” who won the skiing race in the end after losing a ski. I dream of approaching their mettle when I’m out there in my new kit, pedaling away while the new shorts gradually prepare me for joining a boys’ choir. (On the flip side, would I rather earn a comparison the anti-heroes of “The Princess and the Pea,” or “The Fisherman’s Wife”?)
On the plus side
On top of all this, it’s too early to tell how the clothing will work out in the long run. Maybe having all my organs compressed like that will toughen me up, like doing pushups with a kid on my back or bench presses while somebody sits on my chest. And I figure with these tiny shorts my butt is squeezed so skinny that Kate Moss would be jealous; might that not help me psych out my competition at the Everest Challenge next year? And speaking of that race, with its typical 90+ degree temperatures, I have to think this ultrathin clothing will be appropriate, so long as I don’t get a sunburn through it.
Meanwhile, there are small pleasures afforded by the new gear. The tight fit of the jersey fools me sometimes into thinking I actually have a chest, like I’m a big burly man or something. And at the beginning of a downhill the other day, I was intrigued by the shriek of the zipper, its teeth chattering together at high frequency as it strained against the taut fabric. Best of all, at the end of my ride I got something like that delicious relief you get at the end of a day of skiing, when you free your poor feet from the iron-maiden-like grip of your ski boots. Après-bike has never felt so good. dana albert blog