Chris Davis | 25 May 2019
I vividly remember as a boy growing up in Singapore, mounting my Raleigh Tomahawk in my shorts, t-shirt and flip flops with no thoughts other than spending the day terrorising the neighbourhood. It dosen’t seem so easy these days: the clothing and footwear that is. Flipping through any modern bike mag, you could be forgiven for thinking it inappropriate to jump on a bike without first being subject to a significant make over, involving reassuringly expensive technical wear.
Just the other day, Jim was recounting taking part in national time trials in his woollies, and this got me thinking more deeply about what riding kit I’ll be using. I like the spirit of old, and don’t want to be become a kit obsessive or slave to fashion, but I do recognise that selecting good quality and comfortable kit will be a very important part of undertaking this adventure, particularly as I plan to only take only what I am wearing at the start (which could lead to a pretty repugnant smell by the end!).
I tested some of my preferred attire on a recent trip through Europe with Sam, a young and extremely talented bike builder at Enigma, with mixed success.
My father always wore handmade shoes and swore by them. I’m more of a cheapskate, and more fool me – after experiencing the delights of Quoc shoes. Quoc, like Enigma, are also supporting the Pan Celtic, and through this connection have kindly given me a pair of their Grand Tour shoes. They are pricey, and in truth I would have struggled to justify the expense on my budget. But after 3 days through Holland, Belgium and France, I cannot sing their praises enough. Not just the comfort, but their ability to hold their own stylistically during a bit of mid-ride R&Rindulging in a fine, boozy lunch set in a smart Belgium town square (in hindsight ill advised, as we had 7 and not the planned 3 hours still to ride that day). Moreover, as they were so light I was concerned they would be sufficiently stiff, but I need not have worried – I felt no compromise in power transfer. So, I’ll be comfortable on the bike, and they can stylishly double as off bike shoes too, saving space and weight.
My compromise hi-vis breathable pac-mac from Trespass was not quite so successful. It got the nod due to low price and low packing volume. But the reality is that despite the cold, I got so sweaty underneath that this had the converse effect of chilling me. So, this is now being donated to my partner/wife?! Sam to use on her cycle commute to and from school where she is a teacher. My lesson and advice: spend some money, as much as you can afford, on a quality cycling jacket. I’m looking for one now.
Strangely, shorts seem to be a hot topic. The obsessives at work are pushing me to wear bib shorts. I’ve avoided these (admittedly on style grounds – not sure I want to look like Borat) but apparently, once tried, I will not look back. Well, that’s now never going to happen. Watching Sam try to negotiate his bib shorts for an al-fresco ablution stop has convinced me to stick with shorts. Can’t imagine going through that rigmarole for 2 weeks! Mine are cheap and cheerful: one of our cycling gurus at work, Richard, who is also Enigma’s sales manager, has assured me that rear end comfort is more dependent on finding an appropriate saddle shape. And I have to admit, rear end comfort over 2 weeks is my biggest concern. So I’ll try a combination of saddles and shorts and report back.
Another success story for the reconnaissance trip was the trusty old t-shirt. I find a good cotton t-shirt incredibly comfortable to ride and run in, and I’m sticking to my guns on this one. Given the time off the bike in an adventure race, I’ll also feel more natural off the bike/then. So, t-shirt it is. But to avoid smelling like a skunk (incidentally, I ran past a couple of these during a recent early morning run in Sacramento, USA, where Enigma were exhibiting at the North America Hand Made Bike Show – a must for bike nuts), I’m looking into Merino jerseys and socks at the moment.
Now, decisions on other kit – to bike pack or pannier, to tent or bivvy, choosing a synthetic or down sleeping bag – these are existential issues I will go into on following blog posts. Likewise, my choice of bike and components, which I find most exciting. But for now, I leave you looking and feeling good.