In defense of spandex

Over several years of reading mainstream articles about cycling, I’ve noticed a tendency for writers for criticize cyclists for wearing spandex. Henry Jeffreys, a cyclist who has worn spandex in the past stated (presumably somewhat tongue-in-cheek) that it’s “bad for the soul.” Certainly, spandex cycling clothes are not the most flattering, but does one always have to look good when exercising?

I often care about looking good while biking. I was rather mortified on my first date – a road ride- with my now husband when I saw that I was wearing spandex and he was not. Generally, If my main purpose for going on a ride is to get somewhere, then I’ll usually dress for my destination more than my mode of transit, although bicycling does tend to put a damper on wearing silk. My commute is only two miles, so I bike in whatever it is that I’m planning to wear that day, which might consist of a dress or a blouse with a skirt or narrow pants. When I ride to work, I also tend to ride my upright bike with platform pedals so I don’t even need to change my shoes.

For many people, casual riding (or even less casual riding) in every day clothes may work perfectly well. Much of the time, I’m happy to throw on whatever and bike. However, spandex cycling clothing serves a purpose. Well, it can serve several purposes, but I’m not here to argue for or against wearing team kits when not racing or whether or not riding covered in logos is problematic. I’d argue that it’s main purpose is comfort, and regardless of how silly it may look, it certainly succeeds at being comfortable.

As much as I don’t especially enjoy standing around in padded shorts, a chamois really does make a huge difference on longer rides. I have regretted most rides over about 15 miles when I haven’t worn cycling shorts, and yes, that includes longer rides on my cruiser. I don’t especially care about jokes about spandex. Trust me, I get that bib shorts look silly, but I am troubled by the animosity towards cyclists, which seems to be magnified when cyclists wear spandex. I also realize that on the internet one can find someone who hates pretty much anything imaginable, so I try not to read to much into it, but here I go, reading into it.

Understandably, people associate cyclists who ride very fast regardless of context with spandex, but I’ve seen people do absurd and dangerous things on bicycles wearing all kinds of clothes (never a ballgown, but I’ll let you know if that ever happens). But this association between cyclists in spandex and biking like a jerk does not necessarily reflect reality.

Jeffreys wrote that it’s more common for Lycra-clad male cyclists to act like maniacs, and that it’s rare to see women who aren’t racing wearing Lycra. His statement is at least anecdotally accurate, but I don’t really think it’s their tight clothing that’s the problem. I also see plenty of women riding in spandex, although it’s true that most of us aren’t wearing team kits. Certainly, I’d love to see more women, perhaps myself included, joining racing teams, but that’s tangential for the moment.

Not being part of a team, my spandex cycling apparel is admittedly a bit visually quieter than that the costumes worn by your average male road rider. Yet, it’s functionally pretty much the same: the shorts protect me from discomfort and the jersey allows me to carry objects without having to load down my road bike. Unlike when I ride in a skirt, I don’t have to worry as much about my clothing staying in place.

Without conducting research, I can’t say why many cyclists choose spandex. I’d hazard a guess, however, that many people would say that when going on long rides, it’s the best choice because it’s more comfortable and practical than any other option.

 

 

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4 thoughts on “In defense of spandex

    1. I have no problem with people not wearing spandex, of course, but you’re braver than I to race cross. Maybe someday when I no longer have stress fractures and can actually run again.

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  1. I think the attitude to Lycra stems from the effect it has on non-cyclist in two groups: drivers, and potential cyclists.
    A disproportionate number of people who cycle on the road by default wear Lycra, while of those cyclists who tend to avoid roads the proportion is overwhelmingly reversed. Drivers see a cyclist and get held up, so they make an association. When the cyclist is wearing Lycra the ‘otherness’ makes it easier to dehumanise them from the driver’s point of view.
    Then as a potential cyclist, the impression of a Lycra-clad cyclist speeding past is likely to be that this looks like a very athletic activity which you, the observer, will never be fit enough to fit into. And it’s very revealing, so you’re also rather exposed from a self-confidence point of view. This is likely to put people off cycling. Obviously it shouldn’t!
    Anyway, that’s my analysis of it. I hate wearing Lycra, but it is damned comfy…

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    1. This makes sense to me. I will say, however, that where I live (Minneapolis) the majority of cyclists on the road aren’t in spandex. I see way more cyclists on paths in spandex. However, we have an exceptionally good trail system. In many places, the road is the only place one can bike, of course, so I would expect to your hypothesis to apply more outside of places with good bike infrastructure. It would be interesting to see how that affects people’s attitudes.

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