Lycra the wonder material for sports clothing with just one of its many uses being cycling clothing is also known as Spandex an anagram of the word “expands”. This amazing material was invented in 1959 by a chemist called Joseph Shivers while in the employ of DuPont’s Benger Laboratory.
This comfortable stretchy material that retains its shape at the same time holds our shape in a modest form was originally designed to replace rubber in clothing that had a limited life and durability. The actual Lycra fibres are not used solely on their own and are blended with such materials as cotton or polyester. Prior to the introduction of Lycra cycling clothing it was made out of a wool blend even the cycling shorts with a leather chamois. Over the years the materials have developed in use with the weave and blend of materials.
Lycra is best worn skin tight as it is purposed it is not meant to be loose fitting. If starting out in cycling and not sure of the value of the Lycra clothing be assured that money spent on a good pair of cycling knicks with a reputable chamois is better use of money than spent on a cycling top. The next question you may well ask is whether to purchase bibs or straight knicks and is best put to male and female preference. There are a number of good supporting reasons for either and the answer can simple as the amount of time you intend spending in the saddle. Knicks certainly make it easier to go to the toilet when not having a full length zipper in cycling top. Bibs offer better comfort being less likely to cut into your belly with the added advantage that most bibs also offer more coverage of the lower back area.
Lycra can keep you warm with enough under layers and quite cool on a hot day as it wicks the sweat away. The material offers wonderful sun protection and some manufactures are now offering a much lighter product that is UV protective for the legs and arms as well as a skull cap.
Like most cycling analogies how you look after Lycra it will return the favour of longevity. Washing your kit is important and good quality products will have a preferred and suggested set of washing instructions making it in your best interest to follow. When laundering Lycra, do not use bleach. Bleach will break the Lycra fibres as well as result in discoloration. Other rules of thumb are along the lines of; Read the care instructions that came with your garment, if available, and follow them. Some spandex items can be tossed in the washer and dryer, while others require more tender care. Pre-treat stains by spot cleaning them with a gentle fabric detergent. Hand or machine wash in warm (not hot) water, on a delicate cycle, using gentle fabric detergent. Hang to dry trying not to stretch the material and inside out will help retain the vibrant colours, or place item in the dryer on a low setting.
Cycling knicks have strategically placed seams which we would hope needs no explanation when thinking of the tenderness of the region of skin that largely makes full contact with the cycling seat hence the use of a chamois. A seam could create a lot of discomfort in a very short time and find you needing to stand and cycle as sitting can be a painful experience.
Apart from the washing and drying being an important feature of clothing care and presentation there are a few other tips that can lengthen the life span of your cycling knicks. If you are finding the material around the hips deteriorating this is due to the manner in which you are stepping into your knick and then grabbing a handful of Lycra to pull them on. Try turning the knicks inside out and stepping into the legs (to get the concept think of reversing the process of taking the knicks off rolling them by holding the tops and rolling them down like a sock).
Please also be mindful Lycra when nearing the end of its life becomes see through which is not a pretty sight. Certain colours are more flattering while others can be more revealing the best part is there is not a body shape that cannot be fitted out to keep the comfort and advantages that good cycling kit provides.
Looking forward to seeing you on the road soon God willing