The ‘Legitimacy of Lycra’ debate is, much like a old pair of cycling shorts, a well worn one. Ever more so when the question is applied to commuting. It’s relatively easy to justify the adoption of figure hugging sportswear when going on an extended ride at the weekend but can it really be condoned for a short trip to work?
I cycle to work every day and yes, I wear lycra whilst doing it. I find it better to wear cycle-specific clothing for my ride and then change into workwear – most of which I keep at the office anyway. This allows me to feel like I’m getting good use out of all my cycle kit, keep my ‘off-the-bike’ clothes washing to a reasonable level and – through the use of padded shorts – keep things running smoothly undercarriage-wise. Even in the height of summer though, I wear a pair of baggy shorts over the top for town-riding. It seems to be the decent thing to do.
I do see plenty of exposed-Lycra warriors (some leaving less to the imagination than the Gerard Butler & Co. in the Greek underpant epic “300”) plying their sleek yet lumpy way through the mean streets of London in all weathers. Something I wouldn’t give a second thought about in a cycle cafe on a Saturday morning makes me feel incredibly self-conscious in the city. Maybe it’s the fact that I often to start or end my day with the school-run..
The recent appearance of all sorts of ‘urban ride wear’ seeks to address some of the issues outlined above but the padded shorts part seems to be more difficult to get right than merino T’s and rain-jackets. I’ve tried a couple of pairs of ‘commuter jeans’ but I really wouldn’t want to have to do anything regular comprising more than a trip to the corner shop on them. So I stick with padded shorts. And until recently that has meant bibshorts.
This is not an affectation in some kind of macho “I am a Proper Cyclist” way. It’s more about economics. As my weekend bib shorts wear a little thin (and I risk that most awful of quiet words from a distressed club mate) I downgrade them to ‘weekday’ duty and throw the baggies over the top. This means that I’m left with the shoulder straps hanging around and requiring regular tucking in. They are always an annoyance. Cutting them off has never occurred to me until just now.
The arrival of a pair of HUEZ* Starman shorts last week was therefore something of a boon. Well-made, padded shorts without bibs that, according to the Huez owners who I met at SPIN’s Xmas show, are made with commuters in mind. They have all the technical trickery that you would expect of a £95 pair of shorts – Coldblack material, sun protection, excellent silicone grippers, a Moa Serie 3.2 D/80 pad – and are exceptionally comfy on both short flat rides and on longer efforts when frequent out-of-the-saddle exertions are needed.
The Starman shorts even passed the patent pending JerseyPocket OSIFMU** 9hr longevity test with flying colours. This most robust of cycling shorts trials involves the tester (me) inadvertently forgetting to take a change of underclothes with him to the office and having to wear the padded shorts all day under his work jeans. The padded short/jean combo are then subjected to long, sweaty hours in the office chair, meeting room chairs, often walking to and then sitting down on a restaurant chair at lunch before being expected to perform normal cycling related duties again on the way home. And they must do all this in what I like to call TES – ‘Total Effing Secrecy’. No unusual lumpy bits must be discernible through the seat of the jeans, no awkward riding up or sliding down of hems that might require mid-meeting attention is permitted. And definitely nothing peeking out of the waistband. Those pesky bib straps have been the undoing of many an OSIFMU test, spilling out just as I rise out of my seat to shake hands with a client at the end of a particularly serious presentation. And some of the pads, anti-bacterial or not, have failed to give adequate service under such protracted, hot seat conditions, with disastrous results for the weekend ride a couple of days hence.
So the Starman shorts should get a mighty thumbs up. But I would never wear them without the baggies on top and for that reason they can’t. Why? Because of the pattern on the bum.
The what on the what? Exactly. As noted above I want to minimise the amount my fellow riders look at my butt during our weekend cycle rides so any kind of eye-catching detail back there is debatable at best. Make that detail a shimmery dusting of tiny reflective stars and I find my eyebrows knitted in serious consternation. I’m a big admirer of an occasional reflective detail on shorts, tights, jerseys or jackets – and for those running the nightly gauntlet of London’s cross-town traffic you would think that the more the merrier. But the twin reflective tabs on each leg, along with the reflective logo on the haunch (?) would be quite enough. Covering the whole lower back panel with a galaxy of micro-stars is too much for me I’m afraid. And it’s not just the attraction of fellow club riders that concerns me. Just imagine if I bend over in an important meeting and that little disco effect yawns out. It would be a lot easier to explain away bib straps..
I really want to like HUEZ*. Their striking graphic ident caught my eye a few months ago and the packaging that the shorts (and a bomber jacket which will be reviewed separately) arrived in was beautifully thought out and executed. The garments are well made, comfy and have the low key colourations that I really like. But something jars and I’m struggling to put my finger on it. Maybe it is just that glittery sea of stars on the shorts. Or maybe the baggy cuts they seem to prefer for their jackets. Or maybe its just the inexplicable refusal to let their model wear any socks in their photo shoots. For now something isn’t quite right for me.
I think that there will be plenty more to come from HUEZ*. We’ll be watching with interest.
** OSIFMU – Oh Shit I Forgot My Underpants
* Huez – they just have an asterisk on their logo.