Clothes Make the Rider
I don’t fully subscribe to the saying that ‘the clothes make the man,’ or that the gear/tool makes the craftsman. There are many instances in which people achieve great things with limited resource – a skilled photographer can take stunning photos with a pinhole camera; a dedicated fisherman can catch dinner with a piece of willow, string, and a hook; and a resourceful medic can perform a tracheotomy with a bic pen (okay, that might be an urban legend). From what I’ve experienced so far, that doesn’t hold true for mountain biking. Yes, it’s possible to ride a fixie down the hill in jeans and skate shoes, but you aren’t likely to enjoy it or to look like you know what you’re doing. Riding clothes are designed to help your body do what you want to do – they flex and bend with you, provide vital protection and sometimes actually make you a better rider.
I learned these truths about riding clothes pretty quickly when I started riding and, after just one pretty short trip, bought my first essential piece of riding gear – padded riding shorts. All of a sudden I understood how people could ride for more than half an hour. The shorts are not something I think should ever be seen out in public (as I’ve mentioned elsewhere, I’m a pencil skirt and pumps girl most of the time), but these shorts sure do the job in terms of protecting delicate tissue from pressure. My Louise Garneau shorts were unfortunately navy, but happily on sale at MEC. In addition to the chamois protecting the crotch, the lycra seems to help allay muscle fatigue.
For several months I borrowed a helmet. It was fine. It did the job of protecting my head. But it smelled funky, as borrowed riding items tend to, and the liner was worn. Every now and then a piece of foam and fabric would bunch up, or dangle down, or otherwise distract/irritate me. So buying my Bontrager Quantum helmet put a big smile on my face. Fit, comfort, and confidence that my brain bucket hadn’t been compromised in a crash all go a long way in making a girl feel good about having helmet hair. The Bontrager was a great deal at one of my local bike shops The Trek Store, and I really appreciate how lightweight it is, how easy it is to adjust, and the confidence to try new things that safety brings.
From my first ride, I knew that gloves would make a difference for me. I am a glove girl, though more traditionally leather lined with virgin wool and used for driving. Gloves protect my manicure and my tender ‘I’m paid to use my head not my hands’ hands, and maybe even make me look like a little more like a serious rider. They’re a triple-threat accessory. Luckily, my boyfriend/outfitter Rivers is also a GloveWhore, so there were always lots of spares around for me to borrow. Unluckily, Rivers’s fingers are about an inch longer than mine, so the available gloves were a tad spacious, and I was constantly tugging, tucking and trying to avoid rubbed spots on my skin. And, like the borrowed helmet, all the graciously loaned gloves had a distinctive locker room odour that was less than ideal. So, when we stopped by the little bike shop on Hornby Island during our first weekend riding trip, I thought ‘why not get a souvenir that I actually need?’ I bought a lovely pair of SixSixOne Gloves. They fit, well, like the glove mentioned in the cliché about fitting like a glove. The Spandura fabric is light, flexible, and responsive. And they’ve stayed light, flexible and responsive through my ‘wash after every ride’ mini-OCD.
Finally, the piece de resistance that brings it all together, awesome MEC riding shorts – they are much too flattering to be called ‘baggies’. For months I had been wearing either hideous canvas baggy shorts that were not designed for riding, or more comfortable but even less logical yoga pants. The canvas waistband of the baggies pinched. Yoga pants are too lightweight. In short, both solutions were functional, but barely that. And then I found MEC’s Prolix shorts. They come in decent colours (charcoal with purple trim or dove grey with mint trim), have a pinch-proof un-waistband and side fly (to clarify, the side fly is DEFINITELY NOT pinch proof – you want to be careful zipping and unzipping), and great lines. These shorts wash well without losing shape, dry fast, and are incredibly comfy. Of all my ‘buy to ride’ clothes, these are the only ones I would and have worn out in public off of my bike. More to the point, with these stretchy, light-weight overshorts, my legs are less prone to fatigue than when they were struggling to fight against drab canvas.
I still fight against my tendency to prioritize cute sweaters and even cuter pumps above full-length riding pants, a long-sleeved jersey, water proof jacket, and solid riding shoes. There’s a long way to go before my riding wardrobe is complete, but I no longer believe that the clothes don’t make any difference – they actually make all the difference between enjoying riding and not wanting to get out there again.