When I first began riding—not to put too fine a point on it—I didn’t know what the hell I was doing. I know a great many riders who had the good fortune to be initiated into the sport by family members or friends, but I bought a bike and was instantly on my own. I rode in cotton—T-shirt, skivvies, shorts, sneakers—because I knew nothing about what I was supposed to do. Back then, I rode as much for transportation as I did for fun, and because the city I lived in wasn’t densely populated, it wasn’t hard to ride anywhere I wanted to go. Arriving sweaty wasn’t a problem because spring, summer and the early fall in the South are as hot and sticky as duct tape on the sun. Riding a bike made me only marginally sweatier than everyone else.
But then I learned about wool, about polyester, about stiff-soled shoes, the concept of wicking. My comfort increased in ways I didn’t know how to measure, but couldn’t mistake. Increased comfort allowed me to ride longer and faster—no more adjusting the tighty-whities on the fly. But something else happened along the way that, in retrospect, was both good and bad.
I met other cyclists and began doing group rides. Riding for transportation waned. I’m not even sure of how or why, but after going a summer on a single tank of gas, I began using my car again and restricted my bike riding to training rides. Somehow, even then, I was unwilling to put on man-made textiles for basic transportation.
Fast-forward 25 years. I live in a place where I can ride virtually every day of the year. The terrain is flat enough for riding for errands. I held some jobs that allowed me to commute and keep a change of clothes at the office so I could change out of my wet cycling clothing. Still, that did northing for when I wanted to run to the store on my bike.
As it turns out, the revelatory nature of riding in proper cycling clothing was my personal apple from the Tree of Knowledge. Once I’d had a taste of that comfort, I was unwilling to go back.
Things are different now.
Giro, along with several other apparel makers are offering cycling clothing that doesn’t exactly look like cycling clothing. I’m not talking the baggy shorts and jerseys that have been the signature of mountain biking for 10 years, but stuff that bridges the distance between functional comfort and something you can walk through a grocery store while wearing without getting the patented sidelong-glance normally reserved for any garment in a neon color.
Last winter, when Giro introduced the New Road line, the mantra I was told multiple times at the presentation was, “No more heroes.” This was on the heels of the USADA Reasoned Decision, so we can forgive any company in the bike industry—even one-time Armstrong sponsor Giro—for wanting to put a bit of daylight between them and doped pros.
Giro’s pitch was that the New Road line would be stuff you could go out and knock out a 60-mile ride in. Yeah, you might be able to do that and be comfortable, but what I wear when I’m out for a ride, a ride where the purpose of riding is actual riding, not one in which the riding is just meant as transportation to get me to an errand, well I’m okay with that continuing to be from man-made fibers. I don’t need that to change. I’ll add that my initial sense was that while the new Air Attack helmet has struggled to find acceptance with anyone, my only issue with the New Road line is that I think the pitch is a bit off.
This stuff is exactly what I’ve been looking for errand-running and riding with my son. When I took the family to Los Angeles’ most recent CicLAvia event, I rode a city bike and wore the New Road pieces. Same deal when I showed up for a mountain bike ride recently. I knew the friend I would be riding with wouldn’t be Lycra-clad, so I figured I might show up in somewhat similar garb. I must have looked okay because he didn’t say I looked like I’d lost my heavy metal band.
I’ve been wearing five different pieces from this collection and I can say with some conviction that had this stuff been available when I first started riding, I probably would never have graduated to polyester and Lycra. Here’s the thing: I was a pretty serious nonconformist. I played drums in a rock band that was part of the local music circuit. I was used to getting weird looks. However, cycling clothing was weird looking even to me.
Given my wardrobe in 1986, that’s really saying something.
Had the Giro New Road line been available, I’d have purchased this stuff instead. I wasn’t yet indoctrinated into roadiedom. Like I said, I didn’t know what the hell I was doing, but functional clothing sells itself. It’s likely I would have eventually graduated to traditional cycling clothing, if only for the simple reason that I found my way to bike racing and group rides. Certainly the distance between Points A, B and C would have been shorter if someone at a shop had taken me under a helpful wing, but I was in the sport for nearly three years before I found a club that would have me. Xenophobic much?
As I mentioned, I can’t say I’m with Giro on the idea that this could replace my traditional kit for training rides. I don’t need that to change. But cycling clothing that doesn’t look like cycling clothing is something my life really did need. I want to have clothing that will allow me to walk through a grocery store without people wondering if I’m lost or deranged. I want cycling clothing that does what cycling clothing does (keep me comfortable), so I can ride to the store, or with my son, or to a lunch appointment and not arrived shiny with sweat and wearing clothing that won’t dry out until well after I take it off.
It really comes down to a single, simple idea for me: Just keep me as comfortable as I’d be when riding my bike otherwise, and then I can ride my bike more.
Looking normal and feeling comfortable requires no selling.
In Part II, I’ll discuss my experience riding in these pieces.
Images courtesy Giro