Shorts — Old and New

Over the last few months, I have finally acquired some new bike shorts. I’ve been riding the same ones for about four years now — no, wait — five. It’s time to replace some of them.

In our family, the biking clothes of choice are Pearl Izumi. We know they’re not the cream of the crop, but they’re pretty good quality and have served us well. This time though, I wanted to try something different, just for the sake of being different.

Performance Ultra.

Performance Ultra.

My wife gave me a pair of Performance Ultra shorts for Christmas. These shorts, and the Performance Elite, have gotten good reviews online for several years. Furthermore, several members of my bike club wear them, and like them as well.

I was pleased with them from the first ride. The only thing I noticed was that they are a bit snug fitting. They compress my waist so that I look like my belly is even bigger than it really is. They do a nice job of compression of the thighs, too. And they’ve got a feature I hadn’t seen before: the leg grippers are about two inches above the bottom of the leg, leaving the bottom two inches feeling looser. Neither I nor my wife, who also got a pair, liked that at first. Now, we’re used to it, and it feels fine. The Performance shorts also have a feature I really like: a modesty panel. That is a piece of material that extends forward and up from the chamois and flattens your, uh, package, so it’s not as obvious when standing around in mixed company at a coffee shop or convenience store stop. I wish all short makers would include one of these.

My second new pair of shorts, which I bought as a birthday present for myself, was the Top Shelf by Aerotech Designs. I’ve read favorable reviews of Aerotech’s products for several years, especially in  regard to big and tall sizes. So, I thought I’d try a pair to see if they worked as well for a guy who has a belly, but would like to think he’s not fat — yet.

The Aerotechs are closer to true sizing, and don’t have the tight feeling of the Performance shorts. The leg grippers are in the traditional spot, at the bottom of the leg. But the biggest difference between the two is the chamois pad.

Aerotech Design Top Shelf.

Aerotech Design Top Shelf.

The pad in the Performance shorts is what I would call a traditional size and shape. It’s similar to the pad in the Pearl Izumi shorts and bibs I own. But in the Aerotechs, the pad is a pad. It’s a bit larger, and feel something like a thick diaper is between your legs. Some cyclists wouldn’t want that. But it suits me just fine. Maybe it’s my old guy flat butt, but I need extra padding in my shorts, or I’m uncomfortable after the first hour in the saddle.

The subtle differences in the two shorts came to the fore during rides this week. On Tuesday, I wore the Performance shorts on an 18-mile cruise through my neighborhood. Despite their tightness when I stand in them, they feel fine when I’m in a more aero position over the handlebars.  I do move around on the saddle more often during the ride, but I would grab this pair anytime.

I wore the Aerotechs for a 32-mile ride Friday. Here’s where the big pad separated itself from the rest. I was comfortable throughout the ride, climbing tough hills, roaring down others, riding tempo, and just rolling along easily. After two-plus hours on the bike, I was as fresh as when I started.

It might be unfair to review biking shorts after such a short period of use — three months for one pair, one month for the other. If the shorts are not comfortable that soon for whatever reason, there’s a problem. It will be interesting to see how they hold up over time. I have a nice pair of Sugoi shorts that also have a large, thick pad (although not quite up to the standard of the Aerotechs) that I like to wear on longer weekend rides. But the Sugois are separating along the seams where they connect the legs to the pad, and these shorts will not be around for much longer. My Pearl Izumi shorts have just about run their course, but the pad is still in great shape. So even though they look terrible, they still feel good on the bike, so I’ll keep them around a little longer.

Anyhow, if you’ve been considering a new pair of shorts, you can consider either the Performance Ultra or the Aerotech Designs Top Shelf. Choose according to your preferences for padding, and remember that the Performance shorts run a bit tight. I’m sure you’ll be happy with either kind.

Shedding Layers

Took a nice Sunday ride with my buddy Maggie. The main club ride left at 8:15, and during winter, I’m not ready to go then — maybe after Daylight Savings Time begins. We decided to leave an hour later and head for Creedmoor. No other B riders joined us. The Bs in our club don’t do club rides during winter, but they’ll be out in force once the weather warms up.

I got to Starbucks as Maggie was unloading her bike from the car rack. She was wearing a short sleeved jersey with a long-sleeved tee under, and long socks. I was wearing a base layer, a short-sleeved jersey, arm warmers, leg warmers, and a windbreaker. The temperature was about 45 degrees (7C).

“I think I overdressed,” I said.

“I feel pretty comfortable,” she replied. “Do you want to put some stuff in my car?”

“You know, I usually dress this way when it’s in the 40s,” I said. “We’ll wait until we get to Creedmoor, then see.”

It was a great day for biking. The sun was out, traffic was still light at this hour on a Sunday, and the wind was an easy breeze from the north. We chewed up the miles heading southeast of town.

The only casualty during that first leg was my camera. I had the bright idea that I would snap some shots as we rode, but caught the battery door with the heel of my glove and the batteries fell out. So no pictures on this ride.

One highlight of the trip was our ride past the exotic game ranch behind the landfill. Various species of African antelopes were much closer to the fence than usual (Because I was unable to take pictures, I assume). Some had long horns that curved back from their heads (scimitar oryx), while others had those horns that spiral (perhaps a lesser kudu?). One of the biggest ostriches I’ve ever seen was by itself farther down. No zebras today.

Sixteen miles and a little over an hour later, we pulled into the convenience store in the crossroads hamlet of Creedmoor. I took off my windbreaker, and debated about whether to just remove the sleeves and keep the vest for the trip back. I decided it was now warm enough that I could stash the entire windbreaker. It stows in its own pocket, and fastens with a locking strap. But it made a pretty big ball, even after I compressed it as much as I could. Maggie jammed the windbreaker into the back center pocket of my jersey, after I moved all the stuff out of it (ziplock bag with cellphone and money, fig bars, cleat covers) into the other pockets. The result was an ungainly-looking lump on my lower back. I unzipped my leg warmers and pulled them down, too. They fit more easily into one of the other jersey pockets, and my accessories went into the third. I think the temperature was well into the 50s by now, although I didn’t bother to check it on my bike computer, since that’s notoriously inaccurate.

A few minutes later, we were ready to head back. We take a somewhat different route that gives us a longer return leg.

“You lead the way,” Maggie said. “I always miss that first turn.”

I headed out of the parking lot, and immediately wondered if I’d made the right decision about clothes. That breeze from the north might have been light, but now that I was facing directly into it, I could feel its effects. One thing about that windbreaker — it does its job well, but it does make me sweat underneath. Now, the wind was hitting my damp jersey and arm warmers, and I was cold.

And that’s the problem with layering. It’s the best way to adjust for temperature, but each time a layer is shed, the body chills. By the time we’d gone a couple of miles and were on a fast stretch of country road, I didn’t notice it anymore. I was concentrating too much on keeping the bike under control going downhill at 35 mph and being passed by locals on a two-lane road with no shoulder. The folks out here are used to cyclists, but that doesn’t mean they like them much. Once, a car passing me stayed in the oncoming lane a little too long, and an oncoming car had to brake and hit the horn. Nice to see them call out other drivers instead of cyclists.

We got back to our Starbucks starting point, and found some members of the morning’s A ride already there. I sat down at an outdoor table in the sunshine, and realized that I was now quite comfortable. The breeze from riding had dried off my clothes. At home a few minutes later, I got ready for a shower, and found my jersey, base layer, and arm warmers to be soaked through. A warm shower took care of any residual chilling I might have had.

How about you? Do you struggle with layering? Do you have any strategies you use to keep from sweating too much under layers? Or is that just to be expected?

Sketchy Shorts

I was doing some laps on the nearby Veloway recently, when I ran into the president of our neighborhood cycling club. We rode together for a bit, and then he said, “You know, when I got my white bike shorts, everybody was quick to tell me how bad they looked. I’m going to do you the same favor. You need new shorts.”

But my shorts aren’t white. Turns out, that’s not what concerned him.

The shorts I was wearing that day are a black pair of Pearl Izumis that I’ve had for probably four years or so. They’re pretty good shorts. What he was pointing out (that I already knew) was some discoloration on one of the legs. It shows up as a whiteish blotch, and resembles salt stains more than anything else. The discoloration doesn’t affect the performance of the shorts, which are still in fine condition, even after all these years and miles.

It might be a bit tough to see the stain-like marks, but they're there.

It might be a bit tough to see the stain-like marks, but they’re there. I find that moving around, changing your viewing angle, will help see them.

But it does make the shorts look ugly. I know that. That’s why I ride them only on my neighborhood rides, when I intend to ride by myself. Meeting him this day was a fluke.

Frankly, I have wondered what causes that? My wife has a pair of PI shorts, and it’s really bad on hers.

The problem is a lot more obvious on my wife's shorts, because it's a lot worse. (Click to embiggen.)

The problem is a lot more obvious on my wife’s shorts, because it’s a lot worse. I think I’ll be getting her a new pair soon. (Click to embiggen.)

I have a hunch that it goes back to when we were new bikers. When we washed the shorts, we would also toss them in the dryer to dry. Of course, we had the dryer on the lowest setting. Later, when we read that bike shorts should be air dried, we started doing that, and they haven’t been in the dryer since.

By the way, the problem seems to be confined to Pearl Izumi products. I also own shorts by Sugoi, Nashbar, and Castelli, and none of them have had this problem. The Nashbar shorts have been around even longer than the PIs, and are still the same shiny black color they were when they arrived in the mail years ago.

Can any wiser, more experienced riders suggest what causes this problem?

The Drooping Leg Warmer Syndrome

Not Maggie -- not me -- but you get the idea.

Not Maggie — not me — but you get the idea.

A couple of weekends ago, we were out on our Sunday morning club ride. Maggie, new to the club, was with the B group as we headed southeast to Creedmoor — about 17 miles away from our starting point.

I noticed while riding behind her that the leg warmers she wore were giving her some problems. They drooped. They left a noticeable gap between her riding shorts and the top of the leg warmers.

She did the best she could to yank them into place, which is a pretty neat trick while still riding. But when we got to our turnaround, she tugged harder at them to rearrange them on her thighs.

“I’ve never used leg warmers before,” she said. “I’ve always had tights.”

“Listen,” I said, “That’s happened to me, too.”

“Yeah, but this is only the second time I’ve worn them,” she replied.

Yes, I also have had the drooping leg warmer syndrome. Surprised the heck out of me on a cold January morning. But since then, they haven’t bothered me much. I don’t know if it’s because I take more care to pull them into place when I’m getting dressed — or if my thighs are getting fat enough to hold them in place.

Whatever, it’s worth putting some effort into, because you gotta admit — droopy leg warmers do not an attractive sight make.

With any luck, we’ll have an early spring this year, and I won’t have to worry about them anymore.

How Long Should Your Shorts Last?

Like most cyclists (and that’s a big assumption on my part) I rotate through several pairs of bike shorts during a typical week. They vary quite a bit in terms of style, quality, and performance. But I’ve got one pair I prefer over all the others.

They’re by Sugoi, the Canadian maker of bike wear. I’ve made mention of them here in the past. I like them because they are probably the best quality of all the shorts in my drawer, and they have a chamois pad that’s bigger and cushier than any of my others. I know some people think that might be a strike against them, because thick pads could lead to their own kind of discomfort in the saddle, but for me, they give the best on-bike feel.

Imagine my chagrin, then, when I put them on on New Year’s Day, just before taking my first ride of the year. I discovered a hole along the seam near the bottom of the shorts!

Not just one hole, but two!

Not just one hole, but two!

A bit out of focus, but you get the idea.

A bit out of focus, but you get the idea.

Now, I’ve had tears along the chamois on some of my other shorts. A cheap pair from Nashbar is slowly losing its foam pad, but the spandex itself hasn’t come apart. My Castelli bibs are in like new shape. My Pearl Izumi bibs are showing some unraveling along the seams of the shoulder straps — but the seams in the shorts part are still solid, as are the ones on my Pearl Izumi shorts. Even my other cheapo Nashbar pair is holding together with no rips anywhere.

So, is it unusual that I’m seeing this kind of wear and tear on the good shorts? On the other hand, I got them just under four years ago. Maybe it’s not unreasonable that they’ve seen better days.

How long have yours lasted? Have you had any experiences with poor quality shorts that came apart after a relatively short time? What brands do you recommend?

New Kit

At this morning’s ride, lots of club members were sporting our new kit. For several years, we’ve had a design that emphasized blue, yellow, and white — sometimes with blue dominating, sometimes with white the most prominent color.

But this year, the powers that be came up with a new design. It’s mainly white, with black and red trim. The “legacy” club logo remains in yellow. That bothered me, because I’ve never been a fan of yellow on white. But the finished kit looks pretty good.

The new kit. Hard to see, but the one it replaced is at back right.

The new kit. The one it replaced is at back right.

I showed up at the ride wearing my 2010 jersey, with blue as the dominant color. You can see it in the picture at the top of any Bike Noob page.

And here’s my dilemma: While I enjoy being part of the club, and the social benefits that have accrued from it, I don’t feel compelled to buy the latest new set of club kit that comes out.

It seems a new design comes out almost every year. Some members have every iteration in their collection. I, however, am content with one version.

Why? I’ve just got too many jerseys, that’s why. Cycling jerseys hold together pretty well, and ones that I bought five years ago are still in regular rotation.

“How many jerseys do you own?” asked a fellow club member, when we met on a ride a few months ago.

“Seven, I think,” I said. Let’s see…there’s the 50-Plus, the MS 150, the club jersey, the Hotter ‘n Hell, the old yellow one, the Penn State one, the old white and blue one, the red long-sleeved one, the summer weight short-sleeved one…why do I need another jersey?

Or should I suck it up and show my loyalty and pride in the club and pop for one of the new ones?

Wool Socks – A Treat For the Feet

It’s autumn now, and temperatures are already getting cold in the northern U.S. Even down here in Texas, we’ll soon be breaking out the arm warmers and the windbreakers and the wool socks.

Except me. I won’t have to break them out, because I’ve been wearing them throughout the summer.

Huh? Wool? In 100-degree heat?

Sure. What I found soon after getting my first pair of wool socks is that they keep you warm in the winter, but cool in the summer. It took me a little convincing, but now if I’m going to be on the bike for a two-hour ride, or longer, I’ll dig through the drawer to get the woolies.

Not only are they comfortable on the feet, the socks have an added benefit. They prevent hot spots on the soles of my feet. That’s a problem I have if I’m wearing my polyester socks and I’ll be in the saddle for awhile on a hot day. Last month when I did the Hotter ‘n Hell Hundred, I wore the wool socks, and although I had other kinds of problems, hot spots on my feet weren’t one of them.

Wool, of course, does a great job of wicking moisture from the skin, so even on hot days, your feet won’t get sweaty. That really adds to the comfort.

I liked them so much I got a pair for my wife, and now she’s looking to get some more.

The socks I wear are by Defeet, and are available all over for about $10 or less. They’re relatively thin, but feel thicker than the Coolmax socks I wear other times. Softer, too.

If you’re bothered by hot, achy feet in the summer, do what you probably already do in the winter — go for the wool.

Are You Wearing Arm Coolers Yet?

It’s mid-summer in Central Texas (and everywhere else in the Northern Hemisphere) and that means blistering sun and hot, hot temperatures. Most of us grit our teeth, make sure we have ice in our water bottles, and slather on the sunscreen before heading out on a ride. But this year, some riders are showing up with another arrow in their anti-heat quiver: arm coolers.

We who live in climes where the temperature gets below 65 degrees (18C) probably have a pair or two of arm warmers — those slip-on black sleeves that we can pull off once the temperature rises enough. Arm coolers serve just the opposite function: They keep the arms cool under the burning sun.

At least four members of my cycling club have taken to showing up on ride days sporting these things. And they swear by them.

Do they keep your arms cool? I asked my friend, Laura.

“Oh, yeah, they really work,” she said. She’s been wearing them every week for at least a month.

Janice echoed that opinion. “They do,” she said.

Janice (left) and Laura show off their arm coolers before a recent ride.

But there are some actions users must take to get the best out of them. For example, in our ride Sunday, we faced the usual hot sun and high temperatures, and Laura said she’d forgotten one important thing.

“I forgot to wet them down,” she said. She, and the others who use them, pour water over the sleeves before heading out into the elements. But Laura didn’t do that Sunday, and she said the sleeves didn’t cool her arms.

Janice said that’s okay. “I use mine as suncreens,” she said. “My skin is so light that I need all the help I can get.”

Laura said preventing sunburn was the only real effect the arm coolers had on her arms that day.

On really hot, bright days, Laura and other users have been known to slide ice cubes under the sleeves to beef up their cooling power.

A quick check of some online sites shows arm coolers to cost more than arm warmers — about $30-$45, depending upon the brand and the site. But for those who’ve become hooked on them, that doesn’t really matter.

“I’m going to get some leg coolers to go along with these,” Janice said.

Getting My Gear Together

Guest poster Don Blount deals with an issue that affects many of us from time to time…

I usually keep my biking gear in the same places.

Bike in garage.

Seasonal clothes in a closet and out of season items in a storage bench.

Helmet and a few other items such as my Garmin, spare tube and C02 cartridge, plastic bag for my phone, sunglasses and a pouch with key and money on the shelf of a bookcase in my home office. (I use the space that is available and that my wife does not object to me using.)

Of course this makes riding easy. Either the night before a ride I gather what I need and place them in an easily accessible place, such as my kitchen, or the day of a ride I can get what I need quickly and head out the door.

No rummaging, no searching, all aggravation free.

That is except when my system gets changed.

My mother-in-law was coming to visit for a week and would be staying in the home office, which has a day bed. So I moved my gear and other items out of that room and into my bedroom. It made sense, this way I would not need to go into my office during her stay.

And then the next morning I readied for a ride. Kitted up, prepared the bike and then went looking for the rest of my gear – sunglasses, a pouch with key and money, baggie for phone, baggie with spare tube and C02. And could not find them.

Tick, tick, tick. If I did not get out by a certain time I would miss my morning exercise window. After all, this was a workday and I could not just ride later.

I looked all over the bedroom as I was certain I had placed them in there. My wife looked as well and she could not find them. She even offered to go back into the home office and look to see if I had left them there. But we opted not to do that since her mother was still asleep.

Five minutes, 10 minutes, 20 minutes. Tick, tick, tick, slam.

The window had closed.

So I put my bike away.

I put away my helmet and gloves.

And I unkitted, if that is a word, and then I glanced beneath my wife’s dresser and saw a box that I had moved there the night before. Atop but toward the back of the box were the things I had been looking for. I thought for sure I had looked there. My wife looked there too. They were about two feet from the bed but you had to get down on your hands and knees to see them there. I looked under the bed, I looked under a bench but I had not gotten down to look on top and toward the back of the box.

Oh well.

Now, all of my riding gear is together in a corner of my bedroom. So the next time I plan to ride, I will be able to gather it all, without rummaging or searching and all aggravation free.

When Are Your Favorite Shorts — Not?

Whenever I go on an organized ride, or a club ride, or a ride where I’ll be doing more mileage than normal, I have a pair of bib shorts that I always pull out of the dresser drawer. They’re by Pearl Izumi, and I’ve had them for almost four years. The reason they’re my go-to short is comfort. The chamois pad just seems to fit my bottom well. I’ve been more comfortable in these shorts than in any of my other pairs.

But that’s changed. In last weekend’s Armadillo ride, I noticed some discomfort down there after about 25 miles. That hadn’t ever happened with the PI bibs in the past. At a rest stop, I made some adjustments and thought I had everything worked out. But after another five miles or so, the discomfort was back again. As I alluded to in the last post, I got to the point where all I wanted to do was end the ride.

Oddly enough, once the ride did end, the discomfort went away. Evidently, the pedaling motion of the thighs had something to do with the soreness during the ride.

The next day, I made sure to select my Sugoi shorts, because their chamois pad is the largest one I’ve ever seen. I rode 27 miles and had no complaints in the nether regions. It looks like I’m going to have to adopt a new favorite pair of shorts for my future “big” rides.

I’m still not sure what the problem was with the bibs. Maybe the fact that they’re four years old has something to do with it, although the pad is not noticeably compressed from its original shape. Still, I’ll chalk it up to age.

So what been your experience? Have you ever had a pair of good shorts go bad? If so, what caused it — if you know? Have you determined a maximum life span for your biking shorts? (Obviously, you get what you pay for — but the PIs cost over $100, and I still use a five-year old pair of cheap Nashbar shorts with a single-layer foam pad for rides of an hour or less. They work out fine.