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Dear Frank: Lycra in the office

Frank Strack
20 Jan 2016

There are those who think Lycra can be a little inappropriate. Frank Strack explains The Rules governing the right way to dress.

Dear Frank

After a colleague suggested that it was unseemly for me to turn up to the office in Lycra (too revealing, apparently) I have taken to slipping a pair of ‘modesty shorts’ over my bibs for my ride to work. I feel like I’m letting the side down. What do you suggest?

Jon, by email

Dear Jon

First things first: I am seriously concerned that this line of thinking is going to lead you to The Worst Aesthetic Atrocity I can fathom in this world: tights with shorts over the top. This is the domain of clumsy park joggers and should under no circumstances ever be considered. So let me just stop you right there. I’m serious. Moving on.

We don’t have it easy, us cyclists. We don’t look like everyone else, wearing Lycra and shaving our legs. (You do shave your legs, right?) Our kit gives us sharp tan lines and our pasty, skinny upper bodies don’t factor high on the ‘beach body’ scale.

People also don’t understand the sport. We use a lot of foreign words when we talk about cycling, and foreign words tend to confuse those not accustomed to ‘culture’. Which is almost everyone who isn’t a cyclist – the savages. We also like to stare at bikes quite a lot. And we like to talk about bikes, again using loads of foreign words. For the sake of variety, we’ll intersperse talking about bike racing with other talk of just bikes. With foreign words.

Long story short, we don’t really fit in with the rest of society. Either that or the rest of society doesn’t fit in with us. They don’t understand our lot, and we do our best to tolerate theirs. It is the way of things, but we like it this way. We didn’t start cycling because we wanted to be popular or needed to fit in. We started cycling because we love the feeling of speeding along, gliding over the road surface like a bird in flight. Everything else is nonsense.

Our kit is an essential part of not only plying our craft, but also of our identities. In summer we recognise one another from our shaven guns and crisp tan lines while out in civilisation. For those of us contravening Rule #22 (Cycling caps are only for cycling), we will spot the stubby brim of a cycling cap from across the room. These are badges we wear with pride.

The Lycra thing appears to be a hard one for outsiders to get over. Admittedly there are challenges for those who are a bit on the heavy side, and of course there is the question of putting your junk on display. The former should eventually resolve itself if the individual continues riding, and the latter is easily remedied by a discrete rearrangement of the unit immediately after dismounting. Sorry if that sounds crass, but these are the facts.

Yet Lycra angst has spawned an industry  of high-performance casual cycling wear. Talk about an oxymoron. I rode with a buddy who was wearing a casual jacket on a windy day. It blew up like a sail and the rest of us spent our ride waiting for him to catch up after every headwind section where his kit turned into a parachute brake. It certainly made the case for why cycling kit is supposed to be close-fitting.

I ride to work because I’m a cyclist, and I use the commute as an opportunity to train. That means I kit up with as few concessions as possible, such as a backpack. I happily wheel my bike into the office while fully kitted out as elegantly as my cleated feet allow.

I am already an outlier, balancing my passion for cycling with the demands of my job, and if that means a few punters in the office are uncomfortable because of my attire, so be it. They can do with having their boundaries pushed a bit and I’m happy to be the one to do it.

If you’re genuinely concerned, I would start with the basic rearrangements recommended earlier, followed by the option of the ‘casual performance’ kit as a substitute for real kit. But ultimately I would ask myself why on Merckx’s green Earth you would let an office mate’s narrow opinion influence how you approach your chosen craft.

Carry on as you were, I say.

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