I have come across several resources that list the clothing requirements for cycle touring. These generally list a capsule wardrobe (panier) of cycling specific, figure hugging items made of high tech fabric. Well actually, ‘figure hugging’ is a bit of an understatement, ‘spray on’ may be a better description. There are a few very scary examples on YouTube …
And this one, which is a bit better than the ‘never wash scratchy guy’. Interestingly, he also appears to be a Hobbit fan … what are the odds!
However, for several reasons, these items of clothing are not what I’ll be taking on my trip.
The first reason is that synthetic fabrics bring me out in a mental rash. I was brought up in the era of Bri-Nylon and Crimplene and have very vivid memories of being stood in the bath by my mother while she applied camomile lotion to my chickenpox spots, and then having to climb into a pair of ‘brushed Bri-Nylon’ pajamas – it is a fate worse than death, believe me. Since then, I have been unable to look a synthetic fabric in the face never mind put it on!
The second reason is that having lived in France and visited many of the countries on the list for The Trip, I know that what you wear is an important form of communication in Europe. In New Zealand, both a millionaire and a student are equally likely to sport the national dress of board shorts, T-shirt and jandals. This is normal and accepted, and says nothing about the wearer. But in Europe, what you wear makes a clear statement about your social standing. If you are poorly dresses, you will be overlooked and disregarded. Entering restaurants and accommodation, and gaining good service will be a challenge. In my opinion, a string of pearls and an Yves Saint jacket (or similar) is an important part of a European capsule wardrobe, what ever your form of transport, if you hope to be taken seriously.
The third reason is that my sense of dignity and respect for the visual experiences of others prevent me from condemning the good people of Europe to the sight of my backside exposed in Lycra. Full tour de France attire, including brand logos, could potentially bypass my second point when in France but there is NOTHING that could negate this third point.
The fourth reason is that I simply don’t want to scream ‘tourist’. I would like to fit in and experience the reality of the country we are visiting. It always amuses me that apparently if you get off a cruise ship, you require zip-off, beige adventure trousers, a Gortex storm-proof rain jacket and full-on walking boots to go shopping in Queen street. Everyone else is of course walking around in normal clothes and they work just fine for the job at hand. Yes, if it rains, the tourists will be able to stand in the rain for many hours and remain dry, and if the temperature suddenly changes, they will be able to convert their trousers into shorts, but generally they just look silly.
When I assess the recommended clothing lists that I have found from a practical perspective, they seem to convert to regular clothing types quite easily. I think that regular clothes, and might I even suggest stylish clothes, would work just fine given that speed and distance endurance is not our intention. It was not that many years ago that everyone used to cycle in normal clothes. It was only when the sales and marketing people got involved and realised that you could sell people ‘special’ expensive clothes to cycle in that they became a ‘necessity’. I have ridden about 50k in a skirt and heels and had no problems at all, and this is the kind of distance that I plan to cover on ‘The Trip’. I might reconsider the shoes for regular cycling days of this length, perhaps well fitting flats (or low heels) with good padding in the sole might be better. I also don’t own any shorts or trousers, cycling specific or otherwise, as I never wear them. I see no reason to change this habit now and I find skirts are perfect for cycling – there are no seems in inconvenient places and there is plenty of ventilation.
So in short, I intend to cycle in Paris, the Loire valley, Berlin, Seville and other such gorgeous places in the same clothes that I already wear to cycle around Auckland; clothes that I already have in my wardrobe (although, a little light shopping might be called for!), clothes in which I feel comfortable; clothes that won’t make me look out of place; and clothes that won’t cause people to giggle or run away. It sounds radical but I think it might just work!