Wednesday, March 10, 2021

B.O.G Series: What To Wear

 Welcome to the Basics of Gravel Series (B.O.G.)! In this series I will attempt to bring a very foundational knowledge of gravel and back road riding to anyone reading that may be curious or a beginner in riding off-pavement, but not wanting to be mountain biking. There will be a new entry every Wednesday until the series is complete. To see the schedule, click this LINK. Thanks! 

Note: Many of my suggestions for clothing are uni-sex, but being a male, I don't know a whole lot about what a female cyclist may want to wear. So, if you've got suggestions, hit me up and I'll add whatever seems to make sense here later. Thanks! 

Last week I mentioned that the gear associated with cycling can be a very expensive bit and a barrier to participation for new cyclists or for someone looking at a new way of cycling, like gravel/back road cycling. So, today I am going to detail out a few, commonly available, inexpensive things I think are necessary for gravel riding, why that is, and at the end I want to mention a few 'upgrades' which would enhance your experience, but are not "essential" to getting out there. 

Yours truly modeling some essential gear for gravel riding

For The Head: 

The first thing you should think about getting, if you don't have one already, is a helmet. can ride without one. Controversial, yes- but totally doable. The only nit here is that if you fall, this helmet thing is a big deal. If you hit anything- it is a big deal. On the other hand, if a vehicle hits you? Helmets will not help you much if at all. So, helmets are more a precaution against you hitting your noggin on the ground. But they are great for two other reasons.

One- Head protection from the Sun. If you get out in rural situations, Sun exposure can be an issue and helmets can help shade your head. Yes- a hat could too, but if we're putting something on our head why not make it a helmet? Serves two purposes, right? Actually- three....

 Helmets also protect your head from bits of gravel that can get kicked up by tires- your tires and other's tires. So, you have that added benefit.  Along with this I use a head/neck gaiter, (you probably have one now what with the pandemic), and that also helps with smaller pebbles, insects, and dust. You could use a bandanna too, a ball cap, or go with a cycling specific cap. 

The next bit is eye protection. This is very important and is not really an option, in my mind. There are many insects which can impair your vision if your eyes are not covered. The Sun is another obvious enemy of the eyes out there. Dust and small pebbles are another issue your eyes have to deal with. So, eyewear- be that your prescription glasses or Sunglasses, or even goggles if you are so inclined. 

The Guitar Ted non-cycling specific riding kit.

The Body: 

Now for the tops and bottoms I would recommend. For tops I can say that anything you feel comfortable in wearing that doesn't cause you to feel bound up, sweaty, or is not too loose (Flapping in the wind like a sail, as an example) is a good top to wear. A t-shirt? Sure, maybe.... An old Western shirt with the sleeves cut off? Seen it done more than once. I've used 'shirt-look' jerseys. I've used long-sleeved wool shirts. And yes....I've used t-shirts too. 

One thought on long-sleeved garments: If you are fair-skinned, or if you are really concerned about exposure to the Sun and its radiation, long-sleeved garments can really help. Especially where tree-lined routes are rare. 

Bottoms- My absolute favorite non-cycling specific piece of clothing for bottoms is either a pair of Dickies cotton twill shorts or Dickies model 874 long pants. I am wearing the Dickies shorts in this image here to the right. I could ride in them all day long. And I wear regular underwear with them, but you could wear silk undies, I suppose, and that'd work. that's just what I like. You can use whatever you find comfortable. But the bottom line is you want to wear breathable, not too loose, easy to move in pants or shorts. And if you wear long pants then secure the bottoms of the legs with something like a bandanna to keep them from getting caught up in the whirling machinery. 

Hands and Feet: 

I generally do not wear gloves, but if you want something on your hands, a nice pair of gloves for working can do the job well, just don't get anything too hot if you are riding in warmer weather. I used to use Mechanix gloves which you can get at any automobile parts retailer. You could use cotton 'jersey' gloves which are really cheap.

For shoes, the simplest way to go is to combine your flat pedals, (non-'click-in', regular, ordinary pedals), with whatever shoes your feet are happy in. I've done a hundred mile ride on gravel in Vans and on flat pedals, just like you see in the image here. I've seen folks wearing boots like Doc Martins, and I've seen folks wearing hiking boots. I would not recommend any shoes with a lot of soft, forgiving material in the soles, like running shoes. (But I suppose you could- if that's all you have.) If you use lace-up shoes, make sure you confine the laces! Getting laces stuck in the chain and chain ring can cause a bad crash. Socks can be anything you are comfy in, but I like thin wool socks all year long or thin cotton socks in Summer. 

These are all low-barrier, easy to find, simple items that will get you out on the back roads. I've utilized almost every suggestion here, so I know it can work for riding. But that said- there are way more ideas than I have space for here. (Commenters- Please keep suggestions generalized- not too specific. We're thinking the simplest way to get out there- okay?) This is just some suggestions to get you started out. Now, I will mention a few key upgrades which could enhance your enjoyment of riding out in rural areas. 

Cycling shorts/bibs can really make your day a lot better.

Cycling Specific Shorts:

Besides a cycling helmet, the one thing I would highly recommend you think about adding to your clothing for gravel riding beyond anything else is a pair of bib shorts or regular cycling specific shorts. (Or liner insert) These are made to move with your body, they do not chafe your 'undercarriage', and keep your nether region relatively happy and dry. You are going to be rubbing these areas- upper thighs, buttocks, groin area- a million times during a ride and the resulting friction can raise hell, to put it mildly, with your body. So, paying attention to that with an upgrade to cycling specific shorts/bibs is a highly recommended thing. Now- two things you need to know about these items.


If I could have only one thing I am talking about here it would be bib shorts. Yes- they are expensive. Yes- they are worth every penny you spend on them. Cycling jerseys, gloves, cycling specific shoes and pedals- all very nice, but I could live happily ever after and ride all the time with just a nice pair of bib shorts. 

Okay- it is Honorable Mention time! Remember- These are not essential for getting out there, but they may really enhance your experience. A cycling specific jersey is nice since it is designed to get rid of sweat and keep you cooler. Obviously, in colder weather you'll want a wind breaker. Then maybe a wool, long sleeved jersey to extend the riding season. Cycling gloves with padding might appeal to some of you, but are totally not necessary. Maybe getting cycling specific shoes and pedals at some point, if you really want to start squeezing more performance out, or if your feet are not real happy pedaling in standard shoes. I can see doing a pair of baggie shorts over a cycling short/insert deal. That gives you options with pockets. I like pockets. 

But you get the idea. You can dive as deep into apparel as you want to, and with each choice you can gain better comfort and performance 'bennies', but you do not have to go that far down the rabbit hole to get started riding gravel and back roads. Remember- If you are having fun, you are doing it right

Next week: How To Ride On Gravel including tips on handling and some easy ways to enhance that by way of making a few tweaks to your bicycle.


Chilly Willy said...

"On the other hand, if a vehicle hits you? Helmets will not help you much if at all."

Anecdotal I know, but someone I know got hit by an SUV. They spent some time in the hospital and I'm not sure if they ever really fully recovered. But according to the doctors, they are alive today because of the helmet they were wearing. Apparently your head hitting a windshield at 30mph is much better off if it's protected by a helmet.
I fully support peoples' right to choose whether they wear a helmet or not. But I'm gonna wear one, thanks.

matt said...

And if you're just starting out, odds are that you'll be doing shorter rides, not hours long expeditions; so the suggestions GT makes at the beginning make more sense - use what is easy to get or what you've already got.

Guitar Ted said...

@Chilly Willy - Did I say "Don't bother getting a helmet?" I don't think so, so your comment "I fully support peoples' right to choose whether they wear a helmet or not. But I'm gonna wear one, thanks" is kind of unfair to the post.

What I am saying is "Don't buy a helmet if you think it will save you when you get hit by a car". And in most people's parlance, "save" in that context means "come out whole in the end", which it appears did not happen with your example. Right?

Buy a helmet because you may crash, fall off, and strike your head on the ground? 100% on board with that. If we were using helmets to help protect us against being struck by a car? Well, that would be a motorcycle like helmet. And even then......questionable.

Chilly Willy said...

Did you say don't bother getting a helmet? No. What you said was "...if a vehicle hits you? Helmets will not help you much if at all." Which I believe is inaccurate. That's what I was trying to get at. I'm not going to hunt down statistics on it, because statistics are well crafted lies for the most part. But if you look past the lies at the raw numbers, I think it's pretty clear that if you get into a car/bike accident you are better off having the helmet on than not. No it's not a magic protective talisman, and I think that's kind of your point. Don't expect it to save you. But I really believe that '...will not help you much if at all..." is incorrect. I'm sorry if I disagree with you there.

And my comment about being supportive of peoples' rights to not wear a helmet was my attempt (apparently poorly done) to make it clear that I'm not some kind of helmet nut that thinks you have to wear one because I think it's the right thing to do. I think people get to make their own choices.

Guitar Ted said...

@Chilly Willy - Oddly enough- you agree with me in a strange way. See- "No it's not a magic protective talisman"

Exactly my point, and it goes against what many non-cyclists say when we do get hit by cars- The ubiquitous, "Was he/she wearing a helmet?", which is a weird thought when you stop and think about it. Like it is some "magic protective talisman", right?

So- do not buy a helmet for that reason. Sure- there are outliers. Always will be. But you don't even know if the person you originally cited "ever really fully recovered", as you say.

I was hit by a truck at a relatively low speed (something less than 20mph is my guess) and I still am suffering the consequences. Would my helmet help have helped me? No. But again, there will always be outliers. Generally speaking, what I said is true in the post,so I'm letting it stand.

Hoggyp said...

I love this series and will draw it to the attention to anybody I know who's getting into gravel. That said: I have a friend who got T-boned by a car that ran through a red light. He went into the windshield, then over the car. He broke some ribs and a leg and lost a lot of blood, but doctors said he'd be dead if he hadn't been wearing a helmet. He is fully recovered. So yeah, not a magic talisman. But it could still save your life if you get hit. The existence of that possibility seems to me, at least, to be among the many reasons for wearing a helmet.

Slim said...

Given the time of year, (Spring), I would put a pair of tights on the list. Exercise tights can be found extremely cheaply, and are far nicer to ride in than long pants for most people, don’t catch in the chain and are far more forgiving of different body shapes and proportions than pants.

I have several softshell pants , with trim cuffs and articulated seat, crotch and knees, that are great to ride in, but they retail over $100. Tights on the other hand, can be found for $20. (Of course sales can narrow the gap).

Before that, some generic, wicking long sleeve shirts would be my first purchase, if you don’t have them already.

My second purchase, as you mention, would be wool socks.

baric said...

Wool or fleece anything in cooler weather. Wool or Hanes Xtemp socks in warmer weather. Love wool anytime! Eye Protection, polarized for anti glare, UV protected and impact resistant if possible all the time especially on any two wheel conveyance, motorized or not. Ditto on the Gloves, fingerless or full finger, don't leave on a ride without them. Sure they are somewhat uncomfortably warm in during the summer months and I personally have yet to find a "summer weight" pair that aren't, but they easily hand wash and occasionally need it. Why do I say this?
My glove story.... About 50 years ago, my first motorcycle, a nice new 350cc 2 cycle crotch rocket, young and dumb, on my way to work, NO GLOVES, not speeding or doing anything untoward, transitioned from a paved street to a highly crowned down hill gravel one, slid out and went down fast and hard, peeled all the skin off the palms of both my highly calloused workingman hands and was off work for 2 to 3 weeks unable to use them for much of anything. Gravel and paving are not kind to skin. Since then, Gloves Always, helmets not quite so much. Maybe I'm just old and dumb now! Never could get along with hats or helmets much.

R said...

I will '2nd' the motion above about suggesting gloves... Once upon a time on Gravel, I tried to sled through a 6" road-graded-drift of gravel-rock-dust - at too shallow an angle - (an upcoming pickup prompted me to 'get over' quicker than I normally would have) - well, my front tire slid out, leaving me to drop my hands down to the road to break my fall... a pair of gloves that day - would have been Real Nice! Instead, I cut open a deep wound on my lower right palm, rode back to town - basically one handed. For two weeks, I picked small pebbles out of both my hands... Gloves are a good call!