COMMUTER CLOTHING 101
If you want to commute to work, you face a few challenges: potholes, traffic, flat tires and angry drivers, just to name a few. But one of the most common issues faced by commuters is the problem of sweaty and mud-splattered clothing -- a big problem if you work in an office or other formal environment.
Fortunately, there is a lot that can be done to improve the clothing situation for riders. It all starts with having the right stuff -- the clothing that can be used for riding and allows you to keep your clean change of clothes safely stowed in a backpack or pannier bag.
Clothing for commuting runs the gamut. Some riders who only have short distances to ride choose to use normal casual clothing that is non-restrictive and allows freedom of movement. Others choose to go all-out and invest in high-quality, high-performance clothing. Let's take a moment to learn a bit more about cycling clothing for commuters.
Spandex: The foundation of it all
There are good reasons that most cyclists wear spandex cycling shorts. They provide breathability, moisture management and -- most importantly -- protection from chafing and rubbing in the sensitive groin areas. Spandex is really the most comfortable option for cyclists who are riding any sort of distance and should be the basic layer for most commuters. Investing in a pair of spandex shorts will make your rides vastly more enjoyable.
For a more casual look, mountain biking shorts often come with a spandex under short (which is usually removable and can be worn with other clothing) and provide nearly the same level of comfort and protection as road bike shorts, with a vastly more stylist look.
Weather Protection: Jackets
If you are commuting, you don't want a little wind, rain, or even some sprinkling snow to stop your ride. So the next thing you might want to invest in is some good weather protection gear. First up is a jacket. Most cyclists have two types of jackets: a lightweight, super-small, water-resistant jacket that is carried on every ride for emergency use when a storm comes up out of nowhere, and a thicker, fully waterproof jacket for use when you know you will be riding in wet and/or windy conditions.
Both are a good idea, and don't think that you necessarily have to buy something new. Chances are you have a jacket that fits into at least one of those categories; you can use that while you get started. Over time, you may come to realize that you need some of the cycling-specific features found on commuter jackets -- things like high-visibility and reflective colors, extra-long sleeves to make sure your wrists are covered, vents in the back panel to maintain high breathability while powering up hills, and extra-long back panels to protect your seat area and make sure your jacket doesn't ride up over your lower back.
Cycling jackets run the gamut of price and performance, with simple models available for $20 to $40, and high-end Gore-Tex or eVent models costing several hundred dollars (and providing performance and durability to match their price).
Finger Protection: Gloves
Most commuters will eventually want to invest in a pair of cycling gloves. Gloves serve many purposes: they use gel or padding to dampen vibrations from the road, they keep your hands warmer and protected from wind and weather, and they protect your skin from scrapes and cuts in the event of minor falls.
The average cyclist will be well-served by the standard fingerless gloves that are often seen. Riders who venture out even in inclement weather may want to look at bike gloves made for the wet and cool, which feature waterproof or resistant layers and insulation. Don't go overboard, however -- most riders will be fine with a thin, water- and wind-proof glove, even in the wintertime (unless you live in a very cold climate).
Feet Protection: Booties and shoes
Riders who venture out in cold or wet weather may also wish to consider using booties or overboots -- layers of neoprene or other materials that are shaped like a shoe with no sole and can be slipped over your shoes and secured with elastic bands. This sort of gear can be a big help in keeping your feet warm and dry and your shoes in presentable condition.
Some riders who go out rain or shine may want to combine booties with a water resistant or waterproof shoe, either clipless for pedaling efficiency or with a normal sole. Cycling shoes provide a stable platform for pedaling and can make biking a lot more comfortable. Flip flops aren't going to cut it!
Head Protection: Helmet liners and hats
Most hats are just too big to fit underneath a helmet, so riders who want to keep their noggin warm often use a helmet liner -- a thin, form-fitting hat the fits underneath the helmet. Like with gloves, unless you find yourself in an extremely cold climate, a thin type of helmet liner should be more than enough to keep the chill off.
Eye Protection: Cycling glasses
While not really clothing, sunglasses are a crucial piece of gear for commuter cyclists. Even if you live in a place like Seattle that is often cloudy, the glare off the road can make riding without sunglasses dangerous. And even for those days that are truly dark, many bike glasses have interchangeable lenses and come with clear lenses that provide protection against dust and insects in the air. A good pair is invaluable!