Ride Far, Stay Comfortable

Di Carolin has clocked many a mile on the bike and knows a thing or two about both comfortable and uncomfortable kit. So here’s what you need to know about cycling kit, before taking off on a long ride or doing a big race. 

Be prepared for all weather because you don’t want to get caught out, especially now in winter. Let’s start with the feet and move upwards. Firstly you need a good comfortable pair of cycling shoes with a stiff sole for support. If they have cleats, be sure to check the screws are tight as losing one on a ride could be a disaster, believe me, it has happened before. Be sure that your shoes fit properly and if it’s cold and wet get some toe covers, or full booties to put over them, to keep your feet dry and warmer.

Get a set of toe covers to keep your feet dry.
Get a set of toe covers to keep your feet dry.

In winter I wear two pairs of socks, or you can get a pair of merino wool socks, which are really warm and will keep your feet drier than ordinary socks. Next you’ll need full leg warmers or knee warmers depending on how cold it is. These are a must to keep your knees warm and to keep the white winter legs hidden! My knee warmers have neoprene knees and they are wonderfully warm. You will find them at most bike shops that stock clothing.

Then I suggest, that if you are riding a lot and are doing rides longer than two hours, that you wear bib shorts with a good quality chamois as there is less chance of getting saddle sores and you can do without those. When you buy your shorts make sure they are ladies specific, as we have wider hips than men and need a wider cushion between us and the saddle! You can get ladies bibs that have clasps to undo on the straps so it is much easier to take a nature break. (Check the Gear section in this issue of Full Sus for a ladies bib shorts review.)

Plus, remember the Chamois Cream. There are many brands, so find which one suits you. My favourite is OH LIEF’s baby bum balm, as it is totally natural and contains tea-tree which is a natural antiseptic. Rub it in to the skin on your sit bones area, and if there aren’t any cooling or tingling ingredients you can put it on your delicate bits too to prevent any chafe. Don’t overdo it, but also make sure there’s enough to do the job. Getting the exact amount right is very much up to your personal preference.

Helly Hansen Women-s-Dry Original Base Layer
Helly Hansen Women-s-Dry Original Base Layer

Next is the under layer. Get a good quality mesh vest for cooler days and a thermal long or short sleeve vest for winter. It should be made from a quick wick/drying fabric and be designed for sports activities. Now, sports bras! Don’t use a normal bra when cycling as it will be exceptionally uncomfortable. You need a well fitting sports bra that will keep the girls firmly tucked away. Make sure it isn’t too tight or you will struggle to breathe when you hit the hills. My favourites right now are Craft and Newline. To keep your arms warm get yourself some arm warmers, because they vary and some are thicker and warmer than others, perhaps get two pairs. My favourites are Castelli nanoflex as they are rainproof and warm. Be sure to check that they have a decent sticky bit and are tight at the top, so they don’t keep sliding down your arm. It can be most annoying.

In summer fingerless gloves are great. But in winter you need something to keep your fingers from becoming numb and blue. I recently bought a pair of Giro winter gloves and they are brilliant. We raced in -2 degrees at SA Champs and my hands were just perfect in them. Make sure for mountain biking that your gloves have grip and padding and fit properly.

There are a huge variety of ladies tops beginning to appear in the bike shops now. Make sure it fits snugly and isn’t too long. Over your top you can wear a gillet or you can get a long sleeved top that is made of warmer fabric.

This is a gillet!
This is a gillet!

What is a gillet? It’s a sleeveless body warmer to wear over your cycling top. They vary in that they are either light and wind proof or thicker and warmer, or water proof. Again the Castelli nanoflex is brilliant as its warm and waterproof. You will also need a rain jacket on wet days. Be sure that it is waterproof but has ventilation otherwise you will perspire inside you jacket and get wet inside as well as out. It also helps if your rain jacket folds up small enough to fit in a pocket as tying it around your waist will be a hazard. If you have space in your pockets or pack, always take a jacket. You never know when you may need it.

If it’s super chilly then a Buff is a must, either around your neck or over your head, under your helmet. You lose a lot of heat from the top of your head. Glasses are important, especially when it’s muddy. They protect your eyes in more ways than one. There are so many brands. Choose one that you can afford.

Top it off with a well cut water-proof jacket.
Top it off with a well cut water-proof jacket.

Last, but not least: your helmet! Make sure that it is the correct helmet for mountain biking and that it fits properly. It should not sit on the back of your head, but firmly on top and the straps should be tight enough that it stays in place but they don’t throttle you. You can adjust the ratchet at the back to tighten the helmet around your head so that it stays snugly fitted. And please make sure you put your helmet on the right way around…

Happy riding ladies. Keep safe and have fun.

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