Haute-couture for the freewheeling freelancer

Trip update. This week tested a very important aspect of living on the road: leaving my bicycle to take a short-term assignment at a distant location, then returning to my bicycle. I have written about this in past blogs in the context of an interpreting assignment, but this opportunity was different. JPD systems of Fredericksburg Virginia, hired me to facilitate an all-day seminar on revision. Revision is often called editing or proofreading, but in the translation industry, it is a special service performed by a second translator, namely, reviewing the translation for errors. Obviously, the reviser needs to be bilingual, and as competent in the subject matter as the translator. Thus, high-quality human translations actually require two professional translators, in addition to the other professionals on the project team.

I am indebted to Jean-Paul Dailly and Hillary Hall of JPD Systems for organizing an exciting, interesting and enjoyable day. There were six other experienced revisers in the room with me, so the discussions and the information exchange were at a very high level. I found it stimulating and professionally rewarding.

With respect to the Freewheeling Freelancer and this blog, the assignment involved my leaving the bicycle in Old Lyme, Connecticut, and taking the Northeast Regional train to Charlottesville Virginia. My business clothes and my car were in Charlottesville. If I had been going to another city, I would have had the box with my business suit shipped ahead to the hotel.

After the assignment, I took an extra day to repack some of my boxes. On Thursday, I boarded the Northeast Regional again, and returned to my bicycle in Old Lyme.

Yesterday, I finished repacking my bicycle, cleaning the chain, and pumping up the tires.

I all fits!

It all fits!

Today I am on my way to Andover, Connecticut, where I will stay with my sister and brother-in-law for a day, then continue my trip North.

“Oh dear, I haven’t a thing to wear!”

I have often been asked for advice about buying things related to bicycling. Probably the most common set of questions concerns clothing. Sometimes people are attracted to the high-visibility color schemes of my jerseys. Other times, cyclist are contemplating shorts, or shoes, or a helmet, and they wonder if such things are worth the money.

I am not going to cover everything about bicycle clothing. However, here are the answers to some of the questions that I have been asked. What you are reading is strictly my own opinion. It could change tomorrow if I get new information, or discover a new product.

Helmets. Starting from the top, a bicycle helmet remains one of the best investments a cyclist can make. There is a problem with the helmet safety standard in the United States, but that is not a reason not to wear a helmet. The helmet safety standard was designed in the early 1950s to protect race car drivers (NASCAR) from skull fractures. The ubiquitous helmet of American football was designed to do the same thing, using approximately the same safety standard. You can drop a heavy weight from a great height on the helmet and your skull will not crack. However, the helmet does nothing to protect against concussion, which research and injury data over the last 60 years has taught us is the most common problem in either a football collision or a bicycle crash. This is because the brain sloshes around inside the brain case, and the helmet only keeps the braincase from cracking.

There are new helmets that protect against concussion. They were developed in Europe, and they’re not available for sale in the United States yet. Scott Sports sells one of the two major designs (the Taal helmet) (http://www.scott-sports.com/). They feature a suspension system that lets the head twist a little inside the helmet, reducing the angular stress that sloshes the brain around.

A safe head.

A safe head.

Always buy a new helmet, and change it after six years, because the Styrofoam inside the helmet ages and becomes brittle. You can choose the helmet for looks, style or weight; they all meet the same safety standard, so they all protect your head. This means that you can let your child pick any helmet she likes in the bike store. There is nothing safer about the others.

Eye wear. Below the helmet are the eyes. Whether you need prescription glasses are not, I would recommend always wearing some kind of eye protection. Personally, I buy polarized lenses with the biggest coverage I can find. I like them with a plastic, sealed nose area rather than nose clips, because the principal purpose of glasses for me is to keep bugs and rocks out of my eyes.

I recently learned that blue UV radiation has long-term effects on retinal health. If you happen to be ordering new sunglasses for any reason, you might consider dark amber, rather than the default smoke, green, or gray. Amber will block the blue radiation in sunlight.

Jerseys. Probably the most visible part of my clothing is my bicycle jersey. I believe that I cannot wear a jersey that is too bright. 2014-05-24 SeeMeWearMy favorite design is the chevron by See Me Wear (http://www.seemewear.com/). There are various neon-colored jerseys by other manufacturers in most bike stores. I also prefer full-zipper jerseys, because they are more convenient to get in and out of, and because I can zip them as far down as necessary during hot weather.

Shorts. The common feature of all bicycle shorts is the chamois insert. You can find the chamois insert on cargo pants for mountain biking as well as the traditional spandex bicycle shorts. This chamois is not truly a leather product in most cases. Instead it is a high-tech, multilayered pad that serves many purposes.

2014-06-27 bib shorts

Personally, I prefer bib-style bicycle shorts, because the shoulder straps keep the entire assembly neatly attached to my body. With any kind of physical activity, spandex shorts tend to crawl up or crawl down. This does not happen with bib shorts. Before I could afford bib shorts, I started using traditional suspenders under my jersey, which is still an option.

Socks. All my bicycle clothing is made of high-tech fabric, which washes out in cold water and dries overnight in the summer. Cotton and wool socks are good for hiking, they are not necessary for bicycling, except in deep snow in Canada and Minnesota.

Shoes. Obviously, I wear bicycling shoes. However, I cannot carry extra pairs. 2014-07-11 23.40.16I wear Shimano® MT22 shoes with cleats. They are plain suede, with traditional shoelaces. I dyed them black, because that is the most common color for any activity, including those rare occasions when I must wear street clothes.

I have given away more than a half-dozen pairs of bicycle shoes since I began living on my bicycle. The lesson learned is to make sure that my shoes fit generously. Feet swell during a long day in the saddle and few things makes my feet go numb faster than tight shoes.

Because it is a hassle either to walk with cleats on hard floors or concrete, or to take the cleats out, I have a pair of Teva® water shoes in my pannier. I wear them when I stop riding my bicycle for the day. These are the same shoes that sports stores sell for kayaking and other activities around the water. I have had them for almost 2 years, and they are still not showing any wear. They crush up to nothing in the top of my pannier.

Many of you ride bicycles, and clothing is a very personal subject. Do you have any personal likes or dislikes to share about bicycle clothing, or clothing for long treks?

This is the month of both the Tour de France and the World Cup, so next week’s sea story will be about the XVII Olympiad in Rome. Until then,

Smooth roads and tailwinds,


4 thoughts on “Haute-couture for the freewheeling freelancer

  1. I have a distinctly “blue collar” background and my riding originated as transportation. In fact, transportation is still my most important mode of cycling. It shows. I wear street clothes and a construction-worker vest. I would not carry spare shoes; I use toe clips and straps with walking shoes as my first choice. I am beginning to recognize that I need cycling shorts for longer rides, say over ten miles. I own a pair, too, but I’m too embarrassed to wear them.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Dear Foothillbilly, Thank you for your comment.You have given me a trip down memory lane. I have always used my bicycle for transportation, and until I began living on it, I dressed just like you, and used toe straps. I did not even consider bicycle clothing until I started riding with cleats in my shoes. Once I tried cleats, I never wanted to go back.
      SR&T, Jonathan.


  2. Jonathan, thank you for yet another great post. The tip on amber lenses is most helpful. Is UV protection for the skin an issue for you, and if so, how do you address it?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Dear David, thank you for your comment. I am sure that UV protection for the skin is an issue for all human beings, regardless of their pigmentation. My approach is to carry some all-natural SPF 30 sunblock in my bicycle bag at all times. I use it whenever I’m going to be exposed to the sun for more than about a half an hour at a time. I never know when that will happen: last autumn, I had to use sunblock between Fort Worth and San Antonio for just one day. So far this year,all my riding has had so much tree shade or cloudy weather, that I’m not even getting much of a tan!
      SR&T, Jonathan.


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