Cycling on the roads is inherently dangerous. You’re out there with cars and trucks and in a collision with either, you’ll always lose, so sticking out is always advisable. You want to stick out – to be visible on the road.
Sticking out like a sore thumb? Not so much.
We’ve got a guy who used to show up every now and again to ride with us who was so dangerous, we had to be aggressively mean to him to get him to either, A) think about the others in the group or B) leave. He chose the latter. To be very clear, the guy had no business in a group. He was a danger to himself and others every time he rode with a group bigger than one. He was also a disheveled mess – I believe he actually wore his helmet backwards. More than once. He also rode in cotton T-shirts tucked into his shorts. On a triathlon bike. In a group. He stuck out, alright.
That’s the bad kind of “sticking out”. There is a saying in golf that works in cycling, to an extent: If you can’t play good, look good. Never mind the improper English, there’s something to the saying. For cycling, if you can’t ride fast, look fast” (or perhaps, look good slow) is a little closer.
It’s fairly obvious what will stick out and what won’t as colors go. Think “bright”. Black isn’t great, gray is worse, but if you’re riding in a group that’s fairly large, you won’t have much to worry about. Reds, whites, pinks, oranges, bright blue, the neons… these are all winners in the “Hey, look at me” colors for cycling. Also, and this is my favorite, people who like to fancy themselves “intelligent” love to tell you not to wear red because “science” says it blends in too well. Don’t wear black because it “matches the road”… First, don’t fall for “studies showed”. Studies may have shown that red blends, but who are you going to trust, studies or your lying eyes? Red sticks out better than neon yellow in many settings, for God’s sake. Blue and white are also fantastic.
So what if you absolutely, positively have to wear black? Black does stick out a little bit in the sunshine but it’s not great in the shadows or on a cloudy day. Gray, is even worse. The equalizer is a taillight. A taillight can make a big difference if you have to dress all Johnny Cash on the bike.
Some things to look out for – things we seasoned cyclists notice in an instant that’ll show a noob’s noobishness:
- T-shirts. Cotton is for the couch after the ride. Cotton is the third worst fabric to wear on a bicycle behind only rubber/neoprene and plastic. Who would wear a wetsuit on a ride? Exactly. Nobody…. except the guy would would wear a T-shirt. Tucked into his cycling shorts. Shorts and T-shirts are great for puttering around in town to head to a restaurant. They are not for a pace-line. And you don’t have to spend an arm and a leg to look good. The Black Bibs are phenomenal at just $40. Jersey deals abound online if you look closely. Enter “Cycling Jersey Sale” into a search engine and go to town. Just look out for the junk… stuff that has a really weird name is usually a dead giveaway. Specialized, Trek/Bontrager, Pactimo, Castelli, Gore, Primal, Funkier, Giant, Cannondale, Pearl Izumi, Louis Garneau, Bellweather, Giro all have decent cycling clothes. Jerseys have three back pockets to carry essentials (onboard fuel – gels & bars), spare tube and tire levers, etc.. Cotton is horribly uncomfortable when wet or sweaty.
- Underwear. Especially ladies. You DO NOT wear underwear unless you want to feel like you’re riding on barbed wire… or just wait till you step into the shower after the ride! WOOO! That’s pain, baby!
- Plastic rain jackets. We all have to learn this once on our own. You can wear a plastic rain jacket in Canada in the middle of January with just a light layer underneath and you’ll sweat to death inside of 30 miles. A plastic rain jacket won’t keep you warm in the rain. It’ll cause you to melt.
- Dirty clothes. Second-day cycling stuff doesn’t work. You sweat too much and once you remove the garments, bacteria grow. You want to know the meaning of the word pain? Wear the same shorts three or four days in a row without washing them. Just be prepared financially for a long stay in a small hospital room. If you make it to the hospital. You have been warned (and this isn’t hyperbole).
- Choose your colors wisely. “Peacock” doesn’t apply to bibs/shorts. Unless the bibs match a kit, stick with black. Maybe a colored band at the bottoms of the legs, but otherwise just black. Socks, however, are your chance to show some flash. There aren’t many rules on socks except this: don’t wear those silly compression socks that ride up to the knee till after the ride.
- Be yourself! Wisely.
UPDATE: For a further “how it’s done” scroll down to Brent’s comment. There are a few great tips in it.