The Empiricism of New Clothes

Was the past a better place? It certainly wasn’t as comfortable for the racing cyclist with itchy wool clothing that sagged in the rain and winter training meant bulky clothing and millefeuille of layers just to try and stay warm. GPS bike computers, electronic shifting, the widespread use of carbon in frames and rims are all obvious tech advances. But what of clothing? Often overlooked it’s been through several revolutions in recent years and there’s more to come.

The story goes that once there was wool and then came Lycra. For wool don’t confuse it with today’s modern varieties, like soft and easily washable merino. Instead riding around in old wooly shorts sounds dire with tales of shorts and jerseys sagging in the rain. Lycra, a brand name for spandex arrived in the 1980s and today makes up a small share of the material in a typical pair of race shorts, the majority of the mix being polyester. It makes for a fast drying and form-fitting garment.

Made to measure

As revolutionary as this was it took until 2010 for teams to start using lycra jerseys. For years cyclists had used special clothing for time trials, all lycra “skinsuits” for example but for ordinary road racing jerseys went from flapping wool to flapping polyster and stayed that way for years, within reason with many riders opting for a tighter fit and for years many team kit suppliers made kit to measure to their riders, after all they want all of their riders to look right all of the time. Today kit is still custom made for the pros but all race jerseys are chest-hugging and designed not to flap at all, there are consequent gains in aerodynamics.

Play the “Hardman” or ride comfortably?

Winter clothing is probably the greatest gain. Nothing works on a long wet day, you’ll still get a soaking and begin to get colder. But as long as it’s dry there’s a range of materials and garments for use in harsh winter conditions, at least excluding the toughest parts, think Canada or Russia etc. It wasn’t long ago when a ride in cold conditions meant a constricting amount of layers were needed to keep the warmth in and the wind out but today there are winter jackets where all you need is an undervest and you’re good to go even when the thermometer approaches freezing.

Dry for a while

Much has been made of the so-called Gabba top produced by Castelli, an Italian manufacturer and since replicated by other brands. As an article in Rouleur earlier this year told pros sponsored by other kit suppliers were buying their own Gabba jerseys and blanking out the logo in order to race: the highest compliment. It feels like a wetsuit in your hands but breathes a bit with ventilation holes. The point isn’t to stay totally dry inside not to let every vapour of sweat out but it provides a thick enough barrier to stop temperature shocks. It’s useful but perhaps its reputation precedes it, this new type of garment is an improvement but not amazing.

Rain remains the weakness of all bike clothing for now, there are great items for hot weather, for freezing weather and enough to work through a few rain showers but a ride or a race in sustained rainfall still means being soaked to the bone. You’ll remember the snow in the 2013 Milan-Sanremo, the cold was bad but the worst was the dampness caused by slushy roads. Once shorts and leg-warmers got soaked it was game over for many.

What’s new? How about electronic clothing? Today many cyclists wear a band around the chest fitted with an electronic device that picks up the heart rate for a device like a watch or bike computer. But imagine if your jersey or shorts did this instead, the fabric could include tiny microcircuits to detect your heart rate. It’s not science fiction, many start-ups are working with large apparel brands to produce items like this. There’s more to come with the possibility of clothing to measure your breathing, not airflow but measuring the rate at which your chest expands and contracts. It’s possible to produce fabric with temperature sensors as well which could be of use to kit makers when working out heat loss or temperature of fabric on a hot day. The future? Before you say “I don’t want it” remember that this doesn’t mean these kinds of garments won’t appear in the pro peloton soon as part of a marketing push.

The future back in the past

Clothing has improved a lot because it’s shrunk. Tighter fitting clothing is more aerodynamic but better wicking fabrics mean a jersey doesn’t have to flap around to cool the rider. This holds true for the winter too, many facing the looming northern hemisphere winter can ride with clothing that finally keeps you warm for hours without the bulk of Bibendum, at least if it’s dry.

Does this progress beat carbon rims, electronic shifting or GPS bike computers? A subjective question but the windtunnel might say yes. Modern clothing has made riding possible, or certainly far more comfortable, than it was in the past. You can have all the electronic gears and GPS gadgets you want but they’re useless if you’ve lost the feeling in your fingers.

105 thoughts on “The Empiricism of New Clothes”

  1. You made two very good points “…this new type of garment is an improvement but not amazing.” and “Nothing works on a long wet day, you’ll still get a soaking and begin to get colder.”
    LYCRA shorts were a game-changer, no doubt about it. More important was the non-leather “chamois” that soon went inside them. The old deer-skin things were functional enough, but horrible to take care of and if not maintained 100% perfectly became next-to-useless pretty quickly. I’ve never missed them.
    The rest of the stuff I have mixed feelings about. The almost-instant stench of modern materials once you sweat in them is one complaint while a narrower temperature/comfort range compared to wool (even the vintage stuff) is another.
    Just like those electronic gears and GPS gadgets, many of these so-called improvements are driven by marketing-mavens who must come up with ever more ways to create the idea that whatever you currently own is obsolete and ripe for replacement.

    • I second the synthetic chamois. They are much, much better than what came before.

      I have no problem with modern wool unless it’s unreasonably warm. I get better wear out of modern wool blends than lycra and I like the way it moderates the sensation of temperature much better than lycra. IMO, it’s a very under-appreciated fabric.

      • Modern wool is great. Doesn’t stink to high heaven (100% wool – wool mix rubbish like “Sportwool” is useless , the synthetic part still stinks as bad). Modern fine fibres are *very* comfortable, much nicer feel on the skin than synthetics. Wool deals much better with a wide range of temperatures. Wool does better at keeping you warm when wet. Not really cycled in v high temperatures, but I’ve cycled in 30°C+ and it was fine in a light wool jersey, wool wicks sweat well.

        I have merino leg warmers and was astonished to find they kept me *warmer* than a set of roubaix winter long-bibs (and that despite using a pair of normal bibs with the warmers). Merino arm and leg warmers are supremely comfy.

        Finally, wool is sustainable. It isn’t made of oil.

    • These aren’t gadgets or marketing ploys (for the most part, exceptions include single chainrings and any tire size with the word “plus”) and are actual improvements in the industry. New fabrics actually do work better to regulate body temperature and decrease aerodynamic drag; if you like those things you can buy them, if not no one is forcing your hand. I for one ride with a lot of classic technology and cutting edge materials–both are quite nice.

      Unless you ride something incredibly antique, you too benefit from technological advancements lambasted early on as unnecessary or too expensive.

  2. The tech has been improving, no doubt, and the gains really are significant. That said, it’s sad to see that design priorities remain somewhat shortsighted and impractical.

    Most companies design for professionals and then market to amateurs (including amateur racers). The needs are different, and most amateurs cannot afford the quantity of clothing that a professional uses in a season. Yes, the former rides less, but it still doesn’t work out.

    I would like to see a greater separation between training and racing pieces, with the former prioritizing durability over performance. I have a Gabba and love it (ridden soaking brevets in it and stayed pretty dry) but so much other Castelli (and other) gear has fallen apart in a season of riding — high-tech but poor construction. I’ll be impressed when I have cycling clothes that last for years, rather than months.

    On a similar line I’d love to see more companies address sustainability and make kit which is easier to repair.

    One thing the past definitely did better was style — more subdued, civil, and unpretentious.

  3. As an endurance rider who enjoys year round riding, on several continents, I think that the biggest advances have been in my ability to ride long on cold and ugly days. Of all things, keeping my feet warm and fingers flexible may be the most important upgrades in clothing. But I will say that the top end Capo and Castelli tights make a giant difference to my ability to enjoy my rides in the coming North American months.

    I enjoy the tight feel of a good jersey, the sense of lightness and long distance comfort of my Boure shorts (as well as the fact that I can actually buy them to fit me!), and the classy good looks and fit of my Velocio kit. But the biggest advance in my book is the ability to advance into cold weather with a smile.

  4. All of this is fine unless, like me, you carry a stubborn few kilos over ‘optimum race weight’. I’m slender enough in a suit or casual clothes, but squeeze me into a modern jersey and I transform into a two-wheeled blancmange.

  5. Rain gear products from Enduro, Shower Pass and Mavic work well for me.
    It’s shoecovers that are the “Achilles heel”of any substantial rides causing discomfort especially on cold wet days. Even with fenders, they all leak or seep in either up thru the cleat or down the leg. Who ever designs a waterproof overshoe would be a warm welcome!

      • I did that last year and bought a pair of Northwave Arctic boots. As a longstanding sufferer of ice cold feet on winter rides, they have been a revelation. I’m almost – ALMOST – looking forward to it getting cold enough for me to dig them out of the closet.

        One other point from the article: I personally think think the Gabba IS amazing. It’s clearly not as significant a development as lycra, but for me, the Gabba is one instance where the hype is justified. It fits like a jersey, breathes better than any other remotely wind- or water-resistant jacket I’ve tried, and does a great job at keeping me warm without that boil-in-the-bag feeling you get from some jackets. I can get away with wearing it down to about zero degrees with just a short-sleeved baselayer underneath and some armwarmers, so long as I’m pushing hard to keep warm. Without doubt my single favourite item of cycling clothing. (Along with my INRNG cap, of course.)

  6. I believe sooner or later an organiser will decide not to let the peloton choose freely its equipment, and instead force those who choose to participate to use whatever he/she thinks will suit his/her idea for the race. Sooner or later there will be pro “Eroicas”, and spectators will be allowed to decide what they would rather see.

    • so, just so that I’m clear, in your vision, a race organiser will provide all bikes, all kit, all clothing plus everything else the rider uses.


      And expensive.

      And killing funding of the actual sport 🙂

      • I understood something else: I thought the idea would be a race making an own deal with a clothing and/or bike company and I can totally see this in the future.

      • ?? The UCI already has very(!!!) detailed rules regarding kit and the much derided UCI equipment license requirement.

        How many manufacturers are left? A handful of suppliers are doing most of the equipment. Merida, Giant, a couple of other OEMs you’ve never heard, Shimano, Campag, SRAM. Not much.

  7. Interesting points and I would add that the ideal cycling kit would be the one made from a flexible yet resistant material that would offer protection from road rash. This year I’ve noticed that Giant-Alpecin are developing road rash resistant shorts with a fibre called Dyneema and the riders wore them during the Tour de France. Apparently it did a good job and I hope they develop the idea further to include the jerseys too.

  8. For me, the biggest improvement since my long lost youth…lights. Big Ever Ready lights that lasted 2 hours and bounced off through to today’s led technologies.

    Clothes…I still miss my Z Peaugot winter jacket. Sort of polyester at the front and fake wool elsewhere.

    • Yep Tim, I remember the days of the Zefal lights, with large proprietary batteries, which lasted about
      20 minutes. Those things were worthless, and the only solution at the time.

      You kids do have it easy, we had to train in the rain in wool and shitty shoe covers!

      • Do you recall the dynamo lights?
        They used to light up when you pedalled, and their intensity wavered as your effort slackened.
        Ha, the good old days indeed.

        • They still make outstanding dynamos which I use all the time with halogen lights. Check out the Peter White Cycles website and see the best visual report of night cycling systems. Some are illegal for road use in places because they are intensely bright.

  9. That Maglia Rosa on Eddy- I just can never get enough of those old jerseys. In terms of style and class, they were lightyears ahead of where we are now. I love that jersey, but I can easily believe that it wasn’t very nice to race in. If you read accounts of riders of that time or earlier, very quickly you realise that a big issue of racing in those days was to wash (and more importantly dry) your clothes and it seems you could see a team’s hirarchy in seeing who had to do the laundry. It is good that things get easier! Also interesting are the flags on the jersey: I get France, Italy, Belgium, Suisse, Germany, Luxembourg – it must be the jersey of the Giro 1973 who visited all these countries with a start/finish of a stage. But I think I also see the flag of the Netherlands. Did they cross the border and race in the Netherlands at one point? And the question: Was the past a better place per se? Certainly and of course not. In cycling the past vs the future is of course a recurring and important theme. There is the automatism, that if you praise something from the past or say that something is good the way it is and doesn’t need a change, you immediately get accused of being against progress and against change. That is as unhelpful, as it is unhelpful to say that something is good, just because it happened in a time that passed by (which fits to everything but the future at one point in time anyway). To be against or for something because of it’s place in time seems odd.

    • “There is the automatism, that if you praise something from the past or say that something is good the way it is and doesn’t need a change, you immediately get accused of being against progress and against change.”

      In my experience, that’s not the case in road cycling. I find there’s a definite leaning towards romanticising the past. There’s a real love of past aesthetics and bemoaning today’s “monstrosities” of bikes (and riders).

      • Yes, you are right, in road cycling there used to be, and still in some sense is, more understanding than in most other ressorts, that the past brings forth the present and future. I don’t know, if a love for the past necessary means romanticising it?

      • I used to ride a vintage late 70s road bike regularly in the winter, till I wrecked it in a crash. The old bikes were great. Couple of kg heavier at 9 to 10 kg, but still passed many a rider on fancy carbon bikes going up hills.

      • It is the case, Chris. Not necessarily with fans, but clearly where it matters: in the peloton, and in management. Try to convince a pro rider that something should be the way it was in the past, and he will, quite automatically, deride your proposal as something that doesn’t accept that “times change, progress happens, and that’s that”. (Or “of course, you want to us to carry tubulars over our shoulders and that do 400km a day”, which is when you think “actually, why not?”).

          • Get it. But the point is that if they take a ridiculous retro-phobic attitude, the right answer is a retro-obsessed one. OTOH, I’m waiting for a good explanation as to why fixing punctures personally wouldn’t add value to races.

          • Purely speaking for myself, I want to see how good Contador and Quintana are relative to each other at climbing up a mountain, etc. I’m less interested in their skills with an inner tube, a small patch and some glue.
            Are you, in all honesty, saying that you’d like to see the Tour de France won and lost because Froome isn’t very handy with a pump?

  10. I know this is not politically correct, but pro cyclists back-in-the-day looked much cooler not wearing helmets and sports sunglasses. This is like saying smoking is cool, but safety far outweighs any such “cool” factor, for sure. Nowadays, all the riders look the same–helmets and sunglasses.

    With that being said, this article didn’t mention the developments in helmets over the years. Back when I started riding, the helmet of choice was the leather hairnet, which is neither a helmet or a hairnet.

    • There is no evidence that helmets make cycling safer in any significant way in broad picture terms. Indeed, probably the opposite because of perverse effects (e.g. fewer people cycle in strong-pro-helmet cultures).

      In pro bunch racing head injuries perhaps have reduced, but I’ve never seen a comprehensive analysis. However, pro racing is a very special kind of cycling. Even if helmets made sense for racing, that doesn’t mean they’re needed generally (e.g. just cause F1 drivers wear helmets…).

      For some reason the anglo-speaking world, particularly, is utterly obsessed with the importance of cyclists wearing helmets.

      • all I know is that in the 2 significant falls I’ve had in the last 15yrs, I clouted the ground hard enough with my helmet to make significant dents in them (to no detrimental effect to my head). I dread to think what the effects would have been without a lid on, and popping a lightweight helmet on when I ride seems a pretty small price to pay to cut that risk…

      • Surely, most cyclists – i.e. not you lot – are riding to work/university/school, etc.? They’re not trying to go quickly (you must have seem them: they’re wearing normal clothes), they’re just using it as a mode of transport. Ergo, they are probably going at about 15km/h most of the time. They’re most likely to be knocked over at a slow speed – by a dolt in a car. At that sort of pace they’re not going to slide along the ground like the pro’s do; they’re going to fall straight down. As we see with the pro’s, this often leads to worse injuries (Boonen this year at Paris-Nice, for instance). If you fall – as opposed to slide – you’re likely to sustain more of any intial blow on your head. You don’t need a scientific study to tell you that that head will be significantly protected by a thick bit of polystyrene.

        • Yes, there is evidence aplenty that helmets can reduce head injuries, within any given cycling environment.

          Yet still, there is no evidence that helmets make cycling safer for cyclists. Indeed, there appear to be effects that cause the cycling environment to become *more* dangerous with the use of helmets – both at a micro-level (direct risk compensation effects in the cyclist and those around), and at a macro-level (strong pro-helmet culture scares people off cycling; reducing cyclist numbers; reducing political will to do anything substantive about engineering the cycling environment to be safer).

          The net result seems to be that the *safest* places on earth for cycling, that have mass cycling, also have very low helmet use. And some of the places with the highest rates of helmet use have the *worst* safety (i.e. the USA). Cyclist injury rates in Australia and New Zealand *increased* post-law – even studies by quite pro-helmet academics show.

          While it is very hard to untangle all the macro-effects and pin down exactly what is causation and what is co-incidence, there is clear evidence on the micro-effects. There is also undeniable evidence of the inverse correlation between helmet use rates and both *total* cyclist safety and cycling participation.

          There isn’t a single country on this planet where cyclist safety has significantly improved with the increase in helmet rates. While there _are_ countries where cyclist safety *has* significantly improved, by focusing on engineering the environment – no helmets involved.

          But facts, schmacts.. “Well, I fell off my bike and my helmet split open, so it must have saved me and everyone should wear them!” – is the lazy level of thinking of far too many people (esp. in the english speaking world, strangely).

          • Paul – if that last paragraph is aimed at me – to be clear, I don’t think anyone should be compelled to do anything (well, not quite, but you see my angle…).

          • I ask inrng’s pardon for adding more material to the debate, but since I’m linking something that’s really brand new (it came out like two days ago), I hope that it will be considered of general utility for everyone who’s willing to form her or his own opinion on the subject.

            How cuold I put it? I see the Swedish 2012 study and raise a brand new Dutch study with a mathematical approach which shows why most of those researches are flawed 🙂


            (Interesting link with a collection and a critical review of several studies at the bottom of the page).

            I always wear my helmet when out training but risk perception and risk assessment are a very complicated ground.
            A stress on passive safety by the weakest users of the road often leads to culpabilization of the victims and it’s misleading when you need to address the real problem-generating patterns.
            Plus, Paul Jakma has underlined several points which are well-known by whoever has tackled this matter from a more rigorous POV, however counter-intuitive may they look to the general public.

            Anyway, “cycling” is way far from being *a single thing*, hence the best thing is a flexible approach taking into account different variables case by case.
            For instance, I’m totally supporting the mandatory helmet for pro riders during races, whereas any general law forcing “cyclists” to wear helmets in whatever context doesn’t look that appropriate to me and I’ll tend to campaign against it.

          • Any safety feature – e.g. this has been found for decades in cars – tends to be compensated for by people then generally indulging in more risky behaviour.
            But that is individual choice (as should the wearing of helmets be in my view – other than for children: adults can make their own choice). You decide how you ride.
            What you don’t decide is the behaviour of others. And if someone knocks you off your bike with their car, it’s at that moment that you want to be wearing a helmet.
            That is, beyond doubt, going to give you some – but only some – protection; as you will know if you bang your head against a wall and then repeat the procedure whilst wearing a helmet.
            The statistics show general patterns; what they don’t show is what will happen in individual situations should one crash.

          • @J Evans
            It’s not just the problem you’re hinting at. And giving a quick look to the subject will clarify why we *do* need statistics to make decisions.
            Let’s look to your car example. Yeah, “when a car hits you…”. Well, we need statistics precisely because most of the things we refer to as “reality” are just “practical imagination” or “assumptions”, coming from movies, intuition, commonplace, public rhetorics and so on. Actually, numbers show us that when a motorised vehicle knocks you off, crossing your finger is probably more or less as effective as the helmet.
            That is, there is a very very very thin layer of events in which the helmet makes some difference. The first reason is that those events tend to cause death mainly because of systemic shock and trauma in the thorax, not through head injury; the second and most important reason can be seen here (very simple video from the official account of Politecnico di Milano):
            Good ol’ Newton. A car has got a mass that’s some twenty times yours, hence you tend to fly away quite faster *than the car’s speed*. It’s a brutal simplification, quite obviously (because your bike – and *your body*, hence point one – are consuming part of that huge energy, and the angle of impact is relevant, too, etc.) but it gives you some hint about the dimension of the forces involved. If you don’t get crushed (that’s the most common result) you easily fly away tens of meters at great speed, even if the car tried to brake. Most helmets simply aren’t effective at all under these conditions.
            The force you can produce “banging your head against the wall” isn’t even by far comparable to those produced in a car accident.
            A better example would be: jump out of a high building. Repeat with cycling helmet. You can try the reverse order if you prefer, but I guess you wouldn’t be able to repeat the experiment in either case.
            Here it comes a probable question: fine, but even if the protection is so limited, why don’t you put it on? Most of the time I do, indeed.
            But let’s face another aspect of the problem: believe it or not, in actual societies the need to wear a helmet reduces by a very relevant share the propension to use the bicycle. More helmets, less cyclists. We can cry out “oh people are so dumb” or whatever, but that’s what we’ve got. And: less cyclists, highest probability of traffic accidents involving motorised vehicles against bicycles (data, not assumptions).
            Which ultimately means that if the helmet is *seen as necessary to ride your bike* from a widespread POV – be it mandatory or not – those who nevertheless ride a bike will be exposed to a significantly higher risk to be hit by a car. And the feeble risk reduction granted by the helmet in such circumstances doesn’t make for the increased probability of the negative event.
            Please note that this reflection would be totally different in case we should examine cycling as a sport, be it pro or Sunday-ride. The speeds involved without intervention of other vehicles are way different when compared with urban cycling – even if, sadly enough, Newton’s laws don’t get suspended and if a car hits you the result is broadly the same (and even among sportsmen most victims suffer accidents with motorised vehicles).

          • All good points Gabriele, but there will also be quite a few low speed collisions – e.g. car pulls in front of you and you hit it; car just ‘nudging’ you over at a junction; riding into a pedestrian who crosses in front of you; hitting one of the many car doors blindly flung open into your path…

          • J E Evans,

            I wouldn’t disagree as such. However, if the problem is cars hitting cyclists (and that’s the primary cause of death of cyclists nearly everywhere, e.g. 80%+) then helmets are a really ineffective way of addressing that risk.

            The *reality* is that the likes of the Netherlands has achieved order-of-magnitude improvements in cyclist safety by *engineering the cycling environment. While countries which have instead focused on cyclist apparel for safety (e.g. helmets) have not seen safety generally improve – indeed, often it has gotten worse, especially if laws are introduced to make such equipment mandatory.

            You can argue all you want about common-sense, boxes of eggs, and “but if you were hit, you’d want a helmet”, however I prefer to be guided by the actual *facts* about population-level efficacy of helmets on *overall* cyclist safety – which is what *matters*.

          • Paul, I largely agree. I don’t cycle very often because of the cycling environment in the country in which I live – helmet or not. That is of far greater importance. However, I’d still wear a helmet even if I was in the Netherlands. There is very little to lose by wearing a helmet – can’t see why people don’t just get over that – but it might (and only might) help you out in a crash.

          • J E Evans,

            The reason people won’t “get over that” is because in every country where the helmet-obsessives win, cyclist safety ends up *worse*.

            So it is incumbent on the more logical, fact-minded amongst us who *actually* care about sum-total, *overall cyclist safety* to push back against the helmet-obsessives and drag reality into the debate. Note, I personally will never start a helmet debate, only reply and try balance out the obsessives.

          • @J Evans and @Paul Jakma
            J Evans, if you’re living in England you might consider that wearing a helmet might be more dangerous than not… I was reading something about bike visibility and I discovered that a research from the University of Bath about helmets had gathered some surprising data in 2007: “A past study from [Ian] Walker demonstrated that drivers actually encroached much closer to cyclists wearing helmets than those without one. Drivers perceived helmeted riders as more experienced, and thus assumed they could get closer to them as they passed.” A review in 2013 challenged part of the 2007 conclusions (not the results in itself), although the main assumption of that review (posing as the most relevant dichotomy the one between “close” and “far” passing, that is, under or over a 3-feet limit) is, IMHO, very open to debate. However, it’s a fact that with a helmet on, cars tend to come several inches nearer, even if, apparently, the effect is reduced or eliminated when actual overcoming distance is 3 feet or below.

          • Gabriele,

            Note that the Ian Walker helmet/close-pass effect was also observed by different researchers, using a very different methodology (observing random passing cyclists and cars) in a very different place:


            So it would seem to be a real effect.

            That doesn’t mean that that particular effect itself is significant in the strange correlation between high-helmet-use cultures and *worse* cycling safety. However, I would imagine it is indicative of a part of the underlying problem: Perceived risk homœostasis. A related factor, that I wonder occurs at least, is that the /feeling/ of safety that helmets seem to engender both in cyclists and the wider public (e.g., funny how often motor vehicle drivers have opinions on the need for cyclists to wear helmets) then anaesthetises the desire for other improvements, including those that would have a far more substantive effect on cyclist safety.

            Whatever it is, the net results are clear: Those countries where people are the mostly heavily invested (and it seems to be an emotional investment for many) in helmets as the answer to cyclist safety, have the worst cyclist safety and, further, cyclist safety has gotten *worse* in many of them with the increasing use of helmets (when other road safety factors are controlled for).

            Many of the helmet obsessives are, no doubt, well intentioned. However they are a public health hazard.

      • I crashed this year and rattled my head off the ground pretty hard. If I didn’t have a helmet on I’d probably be being fed through a straw, if at all. I’ll never go out without one on, not that I did before.

        • A few steps further on the anecdotal path: I have had two crashes that could be relevant to a discussion on helmet wear.
          In the first one it was a “we wait for no one”-ride on a cold and rainy day, I had been dropped by the bunch and I was preoccupied with chasing it as hard as I could and I failed to notice a railway crossing and I was sent flying. I didn’t even realise I had hit my head until I saw that the right inside of the Catlike helmet was covered with cracks and there was a dent on the outside. (I did get the usual amount of road rash – and my bib tights were torn although the AmFib tights didn’t have a hole…)
          In the other one my new Catlike, correctly fitted and properly tightened, didn’t even get scratched or dirty, but I apparently hit my head hard on the shifter hood. I got a deep gash in the shape of the rim of my glasses, a fracture of the cheek bone, a mild concussion and twenty minutes of complete and lasting memory loss.

          I personally know a man of my age who received a serious brain injury and had to take a partial disability pension because he is permanently rattled with concentration and memory problems, bouts of dizziness and extreme tiredness and so on. He collided with a jogger at approximately 12 km/h on his way to the beach and he didn’t wear a helmet.

          But I agree: helmet use is one thing and cycling safety, road design, traffic behaviour etc quite another thing.

        • I’ve had 40+ km/h crashes and my head has been fine. I’ve broken the rear window of a vehicle with my shoulder and head – my nose, hand and wrist broke, but my head was fine.

          Meaningless anecdotes.

          • Well, when I was two years old and fell down from a considerable height, a wise old pediatrician told my much worried mother: it is not the height of the fall that determines the severity of the injury. That is absolutely true even when we know that there is a statistical and a physical causality.

            Besides, anecdotes are never meaningless if someone enjoys telling them and someone enjoys hearing them.

            FWIW I became an instant believer in the need for new helmets with improved brain protection (such as but not limited to MIPS). Just like a particularly bothersoma road rash made me buy and even occasionally wear a pair of Dyneema bibs.

  11. With the new tight “aero” fit jerseys and helmets, how come race average speed is not significantly higher? Even for TT’s, average speed records are not being smashed (except the hour record).

    • There’s a distinct lack of evidence that the aero gains of these things are that high. Marketing bods always make incredible claims – I seem to remember that elliptical chainrings were said to give massive percentage gains – but that’s what an awful lot of these things are: marketing. If they claim an aero helmet does this and that and force the pro riders to wear them, then they’ll sell a lot more helmets.
      As for speeds not being significantly higher, there is one gargantuan elephant in the room. I’m not saying – probably never will, sadly – that the peloton is clean, but there is certainly good evidence to suggest that most are not taking the huge doses of drugs that they were, say, ten years ago.

  12. For wet weather riding, two minor revelations this year: Velotoze shoe covers. These are like a condom for your foot, very snug and will definitely keep your foot/shoe/sock dry in the worst of weather. The second is (and everything old is new again) the Ass-saver rear guard… basically a small plastic mudguard. Easily mounted under your saddle and prevents the grime trail up your back and subsequent slow trickle of moisture down into your crackular region. Used in conjunction, these two have allowed me to continue training through the Australian winter with the only discomfort being what I chose to inflict upon myself…

    • I’d presume, though, that Winter weather in Australia is drier / milder than in northern Europe ?

      I haven’t tried the Gabba yet (at €200 they’re not exactly cheap) but perhaps may splash out.
      But riding in Winter for any period more than 1.5 – 2 hours is a feet / finger-freezer. The rest I can live with, but numb fingers and toes is not fun.
      That’s the main issue. You could wrap them in boxing glove-like thickness but it’s obviously not practical.
      No, stick to shorter sharper training sessions or gym, rollers, etc if the weather’s not good.

      • Northern Europe looks apocalyptic compare to Australia, but rest assured we get our fair share of rain and near zero temperatures. Where I live (Perth) you can add strong winds into the mix. But perhaps the most insidious factor is sand, yes sand – its everywhere. On dry roads its there lurking unseen. When the weather turns wet, sand is a big component of the spray that covers your frame, brakes, wheels, shoes etc. In a bunch ride in the wet, its common to get a nice gritty taste in your mouth… it is standard practice to hose down and wipe the bike after every ride in the wet to avoid that raspy brakes and chain issue…

        • …..having moved to Germany from Sydney three years ago, I can confirm quite categorically that you are indeed correct….compared to Australia, it is indeed “apocalyptic”….. I know that in the country and areas like say Canberra it can get very cold, and minus temps in Canberra are often the norm in June/July…..but by and large it´s often still “sunny” and you shouldn´t underestimate the massive difference that alone makes……I´d rather ride here in zero with sun than the damp, grey 5´cold anytime….it´s easier to keep warm for sure. As for Sydney to be honest the most I ever really needed was a gabba and knee warmers, shoe covers and gloves at most……that would equate to the majority of Autumn days here…..try it in the real winter (which tends to be after Xmas in my limited experience) and you´d probably regret it! Having said that, it´s hard to do the Ronde or Paris Roubaix stuck in Sydney, so winter training motivation isn’t that hard to find if you want it bad enough! 🙂

    • I was thinking about picking up a pair of those Velotoze covers, but read quite a few customer reviews saying they were pretty fragile… Yours holding up okay? I know they’re not the most expensive things in the world (£15 in the UK), but I like my gear to last a few seasons at least, so I’d be annoyed if I got them and they tore (on the ratchet on my shoe, say) after limited use…

      • Follow the directions to put them on (Velotoez first, shoes second, then roll the Velotoez down over the shoe). I’ve split one of mine near the cleat hole so yes, you do need to be a bit careful… which is difficult ecause putting them on requires a bit of muscle. I think there will soon be knock-off versions around and hopefully the price will come down.

        As for ass savers – yes, pure marketing but they actually work. Coca-cola is pure marketing and it works too…

        • Heel first, toes second ä and when you remove them toes first, heel second. (Applies to all types of shoe covers IMHO.)

          The beauty with ass savers is that you can stick one in your back pocket “just in case” while it would be inconvenient to keep even the shortest clip-on rear mudguard there. OTOH if you don’t terribly mind breaking the smooth lines of your bike with a clip-on there is no problem, at least not until the clip-on bit breaks (as they eventually do),

          PS I used to be amused by the stories about the hardships of winter riding as told by cyclists who don’t live in Northern Europe – but then I lived in the Benelux countries for a couple of years and I couldn’t have been happier to return to “real” winter conditions and temperatures below -10 C.
          It is expecially in those just above zero, wet, rainy and windy (and often sunny and quite a bit warmer during a long ride) conditions that the “new clothing” (which wasn’t available then) excels. That said, “European winter” shoes simply don’t cut it here and we probably have to thank the fat bikers of America that the shoe manufacturers finally saw a a marker for proper winter footwear.

    • Woah, talking about marketing and gimmickry. The Ass-Saver. C’mon now. Get an SKS rear fender that is detachable and goes on your seatpost. Goes on/off in around 5 seconds, sits closer to the wheel, and is around 4 times as long as an Ass-Saver. Had one for years now and is awesome for using on my various road and cross bikes.

      If you have the choice of nothing or an A-S, okay, but those things are PURE MARKETING.

  13. Very good points, indeed. Progress in cycle clothing is very welcome. In my neck of the woods there are not many weeks for riding around in shorts and jerseys only. But I am reluctant to the use of silver, nanotechnology and carbon in clothing. Many producers of fine cycle clothing promote their garments with statements about odour control and antibac. This is gained by using silver, carbon and nano. We know very little about what this does to our bodies, but we know that it contributes to bacteria getting resistant to medicine. Is this really what we want? Staying dry, smelling ok – but dying from a harmless infection because medicine doesn’t work anymore? Any chamoise without chemical treatment is welcome to join me on any ride.

  14. Have any of you ever considered getting the bus?
    Hard to believe that lycra wasn’t used in jerseys until 2010. Equally hard to believe that anyone will be daft enough to cough up the dough to buy themselves one that tells them how often they’re breathing. (As long as you’re not keeling over, you can assume you’re fine.)
    Is ‘electronic shifting’ an improvement? I’ve heard that riders like Boonen and Cancellara don’t use it because of reliability issues – and didn’t Cadel Evans claim he lost 2nd in the 2013 Giro because it got stuck in the big ring going up a climb?

  15. My main beef with cycling gear is the expense of it. None of it is particularly long lasting, and combined with expense of maintaining a couple of bikes (a summer race bike, a TT bike and a winter bike) it turns what in theory should be a very cheap sport into a very expensive one. It’s true that although nothing keeps you dry when its raining persistently I’ve never found it a particular problem because once you are up and going your body temperature is high enough to withstand getting wet, as long as you don’t spend a long time going downhill. I’m not talking tropical rain here either, I live in the north of England where winter riding often means steady rain at about 4c. The only thing that I’ve never been ever to solve is my feet, even in the wet in summer I quickly lose contact with them!

    • A summer bike, a TT bike and a winter bike are surely overkill for most. I raced a quite a high level (made it to the Olympic Trials twice for the USA in the 1990’s), and never had more than one bike at a time. I converted my road bike to a semi-TT bike as needed. There is no need to have multiple bikes and be competitive these days, unless you are truly world class. Just train harder.

      • Maybe if you live in one of the warmer/drier parts of the US you can do without the winter bike. But where I live riding in winter means getting soaked and getting covered in mud/cow shit/grit salt. I’m not putting my best bike through that. And I’m sorry but you can’t do a TT on a road bike and expect to beat people on TT bikes of the same ability as you. By the time you’ve bought the kit (i.e wheels) to make your ‘semi-TT’ bike then you might as well have bought a second hand TT bike, which I did.

      • I would have to agree on the semi-TT bike – if it isn’t your specialty – I was as slow on a proper TT as I was on a hastily fitted semi-TT bike.
        But depending on what your winter conditions are like it can be prudent to have a separate winter bike. Grime, salt, water, even the temperature changes can and do prematurely age your bike. You can of course limit yourself to a second set of wheels and you can think that you are merely riding to the end of the service life of components that you would in any case replace before the next road season – but in my experience you will end up wearing down your cassettes, front rings and even derailleurs twice as quicky’even if you meticulously change your chain and cables in time.

        Which brings me into “the empiricism of new technology”: electronic shifting and hydraulic disc brakes may be thought of as unnecessary inventions, clever marketing, gimmicks or toys for boys with more money than legs but they have made riding in non-optimal conditions (and servicing our bike) so much easier.

        • Sincere (i.e., not polemical) question: I can figure out the advantages of disc brakes, but what is the help you’ve found in electronic shifting when riding in hard conditions? And, since I’m here, what are the advantages of electronic shifting in general?
          I was a bit surprised by the fact you named it as related to adverse conditions, since I’ve collected a small (put relevant, as a percentage) number of anecdotes involving electroning shifting failures and most of them happened under heavy rain.
          Besides, I must said I’m a bit hostile to electronic shifting essentially because I can’t stand any more batteries around (it doesn’t matter how seldom you need to actually change or charge them). All the same, I’d be very interested in considering what the positive points are, just to outline sort of a cost-benefit analysis – and I’d prefer them to come from real-life experience, my first-person tests were always too short to be significant.

          • A sincere answer: a well-adjusted and well-maintained topline mechanical system is just as good as an electroni one in all conditions – it is simply that I am very much the unfortunate amalgam of laziness and keenness that results in various technical issues and amused eyebrows when I have to take my bike to the local bikeshop. With the self-trimming di2 and hydraulic brakes, there is no longer anything that I would have to adjust and would invariably adjust badly.

            Heavy rain wasn’t foremost in my mind, but my anecdotal evidence is that the failures are almost entirely limited to external batteries and wire connections. But I have plentiful experiences of mechanical derailleurs that have been clogged with dirty frozen snow or frozen water in temperatures around and below zero, while di2 seems as if born for such conditions. Cables are also known for sometimes behaving oddly (and getting prematurely frayed) in winter use.

            My case is quite possibly too particular to be of general value, though – and I still love the idea of a 100% mechanical system (and the bike I still enjoy best has a 10-speed Chorus group). If I hadn’t gotten used to batteries in heart rate monitors, bike computers and GPS devices, I probably wouldn’t have been able to make the leap from laughing at the need for electricity to purchasing a bike with di2 (and it took about six months for my bikeshop to overturn my opinion on disc brakes).

          • Speaking of “well-adjusted and well-maintained topline mechanical system ”
            An average rider with mechancal skills is able to maintain his mechanical system very well by himself. Will this be the case with the electronic toys? I guess not. You’ll end in the cheap bike shop for the easiest tasks al over. Good by, DYI

          • Well, I am an above average rider with below average mechanical skills and I am entitled to my opinion, too. But seriously, for every rider who can easily solve all the minor issues one can have with a mechanical system there are two who simply cannot. Just like there are two riders who really need compact rings for every rider who is perfectly happy with 53/39 and cannot understand why people just don’t train and get strong enough for normal rings.

            Being able to find out what causes a malfunction in a mechanical system and to fix it youself is indeed part of the beauty, but I gave it up gladly for the price of eventually some day having to visit my bike shop to get the system analyzed and fixed.

  16. A couple of things came to mind when reading:

    Daniel Friebe said in a live talk that the advances in clothing and gear might have helped in reducing doping: if you can save 10 watts with your jersey, 10 watts with your position, 10 watts with your brakes hiding behind the front fork etc etc, it all adds up and gives you a significant advantage…

    Also – I was talking to someone who said the military is looking at weaving carbon fibre into clothing for protection. And we said what about that on the shoulders of your cycling jersey to protect the collarbone, or on your shorts? I’m sure someone’s already onto it.


    • Nothing stops the dopers chasing those marginal gains too. Just because you gained 10 W in brakes, 10 W in clothing, why would that stop you from also gaining 30 W+ (and more over long efforts) in doping?

      The most famous cycling doper of all was also famous for chasing every little marginal gain possible.

      • +1 Further, I would love to see the term “marginal gains” in the trash can. To me it translates into “taking every advantage possible, sporting values be damned!” whether it’s employing dodgy characters – only dismissing them AFTER your objective has been obtained, hiding away in secret locations for training, using medications that are so-far only on WADA’s investigation list, tossing away a perfectly functional bike to swap to a lighter/more aerodynamic/motorized(?) version, having your team leader sleep in a motor home, or showing up with enough motorhomes for your staff to allow each of your riders to have his own private room in the hotel, etc.

        • My company has adopted the marginal gains approach into process improvements, management development etc. More and more companies are.

          As far as I know, it hasn’t been slotted in alongside employee doping.

          If I discover that it has, you’ll be the first to be told.

    • But everyone else has those advantages as well. Therefore, they give no reason to stop doping; the reason to dope being to gain an advantage that (you hope) others don’t have. Or you dope to get yourself to the same level that others are doping at. Either way, it’s nothing to do with other gains.

  17. Perhaps I’m a minority but I appreciate and use the features of modern kit. I’ve been cycling a while and we’ve never had better choices. I’ve no problems with marketing or money being made either – its called capitalism and frankly, the alternatives haven’t exactly gone well. Vintage is great to look at but there’s better things for riding in. I guess it depends if your focus is how you go or how you look.

          • Ops, don’t know what’s happening with my reply. I saw it, then I didn’t, I wrote it down again, then both copies were there. Sorry for the mess, inrng. You can erase what’s extra, including this message, even if I’d be happy to add that couple of last words on the (OT) subject.

          • Not quite so. A significant part of the problem is that you’re no way entitled to do that, however you may feel. Soft and hard devices, military or not, have widely been (ab)used in both hemispheres to prevent people doing so on a personal or collective scale.
            Have a look to what Agamben wrote about a famous episode in France, less than 10 years ago. Or the history of a whole continent, in the Opens Veins of Latin America by the late Galeano (the chapters about politics, especially but not exclusively in the 1977 edition, are worth reading to discover what may happen when people try to “opt out”. Or simply ask for fairer rules).

Comments are closed.