The Evolution Of Bicycle Touring Clothes

Bicycle travelers are a strange bunch. We are cyclists, and yet we aren’t racers. We are travelers, and yet we have bicycle-specific needs. And because of all this, finding the right clothes for a long-distance bike tour can be a bit difficult. In most cases we are forced to wear clothes that were originally designed for other industries and other purposes.

Some traveling cyclists lean to the left and choose to don clothes made specifically for the cycling industry. They wear bright colors, tight Lycra shorts and fancy cycling shoes. These people see themselves as cyclists and they dress accordingly.

Others go in the opposite direction, choosing to wear clothes designed more for life off the bike. These kinds of riders tend to wear more neutral colors, baggier shorts, and tennis, walking, or mountain bike shoes.

The Right Type Of Clothing For Bicycle Travelers

I am talking about bicycle touring clothes here, but this article isn’t about the “right” type of clothing for bicycle travel. Whatever clothes you choose to wear on your travels, that is entirely up to you. However, the clothes you select for your travels are important as 1) you will be spending a lot of time in them, 2) they need to hold up to the demands of life on the road, and 3) they say something about you whether you like it or not.

I’ve been thinking a lot about clothing lately (and the clothes I’ve worn on my previous bike tours) and I noticed something interesting. But before I share my findings with you, take a look at the photos below. These are photos of me and the clothes I wore when traveling by bike in each of the corresponding years:



Can You Spot The Trends?

You probably don’t notice anything spectacular going on here. My clothing has stayed pretty much the same over the years (and I still haven’t perfected my model pose). However, you should note that in years 2001, 2002, 2008, and 2009 my clothing is notably more neutral and less athletic looking than in years 2003-2007.

What I’ve noticed over the years is that my clothing choices started out being very loose and dark in 2001 and then quickly moved to being bright and tight in 2003. As the years progressed I continued my bright and tight clothing streak until 2007, when I started to drift back to my roots with looser clothing and more muted, lifestyle driven colors.

If I had to put my clothing choices in graphic form, they might look something like this:


Why Exactly Is This Happening?

I have a lot of theories as to why this is happening, but I’d like to hear what you think first.

But before you say anything, it should be noted that I am not the only one who is changing the way they dress both on and off the bicycle. My recent trip to the Interbike trade show in Las Vegas, Nevada only confirmed the fact that the bicycle industry is making a swift move away from the bright and tight styles of the past and embracing the lifestyle driven designs and colors that I myself (and countless others) have been drifting toward over the past couple years.

I know that there are a number of events that have brought this change about, but I’d like to hear what you have to say.

Why do you think myself and others in the bicycle world are beginning to drift away from the bright and tight designs of the past and move toward styles that are more neutral and lifestyle driven? Do you think the bright and tight clothes of the past are completely over? And what do you see in store for the future of bicycle touring clothes?

If you have any ideas, insights or suggestions, please leave me a comment below. I’m just thinking out loud here, so I’d love to hear what you think.


0 thoughts on “The Evolution Of Bicycle Touring Clothes

  1. Jim McCracken says:

    When I’m on the bike I’m light & tight. When I finish the day’s ride I like to shower if possible or at least wash up and change into regular clothes before dinner. For me, lycra is comfortable for riding in and washes & dries easily.

    I could see dressing in street clothes on some tours, Europe for example, where towns are close together and you’re stopping a lot to walk around and see the sights and you want to blend in more.

    If I’m riding to work I can wear my normal clothes because my commute is less than 3 miles and not very hilly. If I’m going to work up a sweat then I prefer bike specific clothes.

  2. ToddBS says:

    I think it has to do with the growing popularity of “utility” cycling and the efforts underway by various cycling organizations to get more people on the bike. We’re in the midst of a new bicycle revolution, really. The clothes normally associated with cyclists, the lycra shorts and day-glo, gaudily decorated jerseys, give off an air of exclusivity. They tell people “you have to dress like me to ride a bike”, and that’s something that keeps a lot of people from riding and hence something that organizations like the ACA are trying to get away from.

    I rarely wear actual cycling clothes these days, and I gave up my clipless pedals as well. On a very long ride, I consider padded shorts sometimes, but I’ve ridden up to 30 miles now wearing a pair of “technical” boxer briefs under some cargo shorts. And had no discomfort whatsoever. I give a lot of credit to my Brooks saddle on that, and to my steel-framed, wide tire touring bike.

    Jerseys are something of an exception for me though. I do have a few jerseys in muted colors. They are mostly made for mountain biking, but there is no hard and fast rule where you can wear them. Zoic makes some very nice jerseys (that even fit true to size!) that are both comfortable and breathable. But I just as often wear a t-shirt.

  3. Dan Kisacky says:

    I just did my first day ride for charity her in PA. and I am some what new to cycling. I am planning a 3 week tour of the east coast in July 2010. With that said when i pulled into the parking lot with my friend to unload the bikes I almost didn’t to get out of the car. All that spandex all those bright bright colors and here I am in my riding brown pants t shirt and black columbia jacket. I do ride my bike everyday to work and this is how i dress everyday. when I finally got out of the car I got looked at and I was thinking man there not even dressed warm and its cooled (38 degress when I started out) Well i put my ankle strap on and rode to check in and then i really hit me I really am the only on dressed like this, I felt like i was in the tour de france but this was just a charity ride. But after the ride I was talking to some of the riders and I had to ask were you cooled out there dressed like that and why do you were all the tight fitting close. There only answer was because that what you were when you ride all riders dress this way then they started to laugh because I ride and don’t dress that way. So they asked me why I dress this way and i said because its me and this is how I dress off the bike and am very comfy and warm. I did revile that I do were riding shorts under my pants. I am new cycling but I feel It comes down to what your comfy in but I think the reason for the change is because there are more people starting to ride like me that do it to be greener and for commuting and we just don’t want to stand out on or off the bike..Also I would like to say I would love riding partner for my ride from Florida to PA in July of 2010 if any is interested email me

  4. Sam Crawn says:

    I ride a tadpole recumbent trike. I have worn the same L.L.Bean supplex shorts with polyester lining for 3 years with one modification. I installed a string around each leg with a drawstring tensioner to avoid showing all as I ride. These shorts have no back pockets, which is crucial for a Bent Rider. Not much out there for Bent Riders in the clothing line, so must improvise. Bent Riders seem to be viewed by diamond framers as non-bikers, so why not be comfortable and blend in when off the bike.

  5. Hans Erdman says:

    I have several jerseys, but I am not exactly a petite, (or even “thin”) so I don’t look really pleasant in tight Cool-Max. Most of the jerseys I have are related to things I do; Christian Cycling Club, Lewis & Clark Trail, Adventure Cycling, etc. When I am on the road/trail, I tend to wear baggy, MTB-type lined shorts, and light-colored “expedition” shirts, loose fitting with pockets. (Pictures on the webste) Usually, these shirts have an SPF factor of 45-50 built in, and are very breathable. They also have tabs and buttons or Velcro to hold the sleeves rolled up on the long-sleeve shirts. I wear a helmet almost religiously, but am looking at lighter alternatives, particularly in the summer sun. I like Joss Summerfield’s idea of a pith helmet. It’s cool, and cool looking yet provides some level of protection. and doesn’t allow the sun through the vents to burn your scalp!

  6. Paul Lieberman says:

    Next time you’re in a car, with cyclists on the road, see which ones you notice sooner, the ones with dark or neutral colors, or the ones with bright colors. It comes down to a choice. Do I want to wear one of those tractor triangles that ACA sells, or a bright cycling jersey? If you can’t bee seen, you may end up as road kill.
    Also cycling shorts are much more comfortable in the saddle. I like good mountain bike shorts, that are loose on the outside, but have a high quality chamois on the inside. Trust me, you do not want to spend days in the saddle wearing jeans and boxer shorts, unless you really enjoy chaffing and saddle sores.

  7. Hans Erdman says:

    Forgot to mention, my expedition shirts are usually yellow, unless I am going to be traveling through backcountry, dirt roads, rarely traveled by motor vehicles. Then I might wear light green or tan.

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