Doctor's Orders: Ride Naked

BluesCatBluesCat is a resident of Phoenix, Arizona, who originally returned to bicycling in 2002 in order to help his son get the Boy Scout Cycling merit badge. His bikes sat idle until the summer of 2008 when gas prices spiked at over $4.00 per gallon. Since then, he has become active cycling, day-touring, commuting by bike, blogging ( and giving grief to the forum editors in the on-line cycling community.

In an article I wrote about sweating I mentioned how important it is to “wear the proper clothing on bright, sunny days.” To me, as a backpacker, that has always meant light colored, loose fitting clothing.

For years, cargo shorts and a T-shirt one size larger than “my size” has been the official BluesCat uniform whenever I’ve ventured outside in the summer. Except for one little wrinkle in the uniform (pun intended), it has always crossed over pretty well as a biking uniform.

I’ll get to the wrinkle in a moment, but first I want to mention what I think is the ideal riding garb for you members of the fairer sex. About this time last year, Ted Johnson wrote an article about Burley trailers, and he included a photo of gorgeous actress Cote de Pablo on a cruiser bike.

Cote de Pablo on a cruiser bike
Photo: FixieBuzz

She was wearing a strapless sun dress, and it occurs to me that this is probably excellent attire for walking around or riding a bike in the summer. (Minus the red stiletto heels, of course.) The fabric is very light colored, light weight and — most importantly — is not close fitting.

I’ve firmly believed that tight bicycling duds are not the way to go when riding in the heat. I fist pumped in victory a few weeks back when I was listening to NPR and I heard a segment which validated my stance on loose-fitting exercise clothes.

The program was called Summer Science: Clothes Keep You Cool, More or Less, and was hosted by a guy named Joe Palca. He was interviewing a researcher named George Havenith, a professor of environmental physiology and ergonomics at Loughborough University in Leicestershire, England. Havenith has a PhD in Medical Physiology from Nijmegen University, and studies physiological responses to heat stress. So he’s a genuine doctor on this subject, folks!

Here’s an excerpt:

But if you’re not an Olympic track star, skimpy Spandex is not the way to go. Think light and loose. That’s because even if you don’t feel like you’re sweating, you still want to evaporate moisture off your skin. The loose clothing allows air to pass long the skin and exit, speeding evaporation and carrying off excess heat.

There you have it, right from the doctor’s mouth. But wait! There’s more:

To help the sweat evaporate, you want air to flow over your skin as much of your skin as possible. So the best clothing for people to wear when exercising is none at all … They would probably want to wear some underwear to just cover up and be comfortable in that way. But in terms of the heat loss, the naked person is best able to lose heat. That’s only if the sun’s not shining. If the sun’s out, you need clothing to protect your skin from burning.

Wear light, loose clothing during the day … and ride naked at night. Anybody have Cote de Pablo’s e-mail address? I need to let her know how she should be dressed when riding that blue bike after dark. I would also like photographs, Cote.

Naw, ain’t gonna happen. In addition to resulting in fines and incarceration for indecent exposure, there is that little wrinkle I spoke of earlier. Actually, it’s a major wrinkle because it involves the major point of contact between the body and the bike: the saddle. You do not want to expose your naked nether regions to a leather or vinyl bicycle saddle. This is because you always slide around on your saddle as you ride, and if it is your bare skin sliding around against that seat it will rub … and chafe … and … well, you get the picture.

You need some kind of clothing buffer between your delicate private parts and the saddle. On cooler days, a regular pair of underwear under a pair of shorts works really well. In the summer, however, the wrinkle created by common undies becomes an actual, physical wrinkle. When they get wet, natural fibers like cotton will stick to your skin and bunch up. This means they won’t slide around easily against your skin, but will rub and chafe and will be worse than having your bare privates in contact with the saddle.

Endura Burner Shorts
Endura Burner Shorts | Photo:

Most manufacturers of bicycling clothing realize this. They make their baggy cycling shorts with an inner liner of a man-made fabric which hugs the skin but slips easily around against the outer part of the shorts. In addition, the man-made fiber wicks the moisture away from your skin, similar to evaporation, so it’s the next best thing to riding naked.

The Endura Burner Shorts and the Specialized Women’s Cycling Skort are good examples of this type of bum-friendly construction. I have a pair of similarly designed Specialized Atlas Shorts which I’ll use if I’m riding my road bike or I’m going for a ride off-road on one of my mountain bikes.

Although they work really well, I have a few objections to these types of shorts. They seem to follow the color scheme of the Ford Model T: you can have any color you want “so long as it is black.” I’ll trot out another quote from Joe Palca’s NPR story:

Another big question in the summer clothing world is color: dark or light? Researchers have studied the heavy black robes worn by Bedouins in the desert. They say the key there is thickness. The outer layer of fabric does get hotter because the black color absorbs more heat. And that heat doesn’t get transmitted to the skin because of the thick fabric. But thin black clothing transmits that heat to the skin, making a person hotter.

A second problem with these shorts is that there are not a lot of pockets. Sometimes I don’t want to wear a backpack; or I don’t want to have to transfer everything from my pockets to an on-bike bag, only to have to transfer them back into my pockets when I lock up the bike in a public place. Cargo shorts have buttons or Velcro on the six or more pockets, which keeps your keys and wallet and other stuff secured.

Unlike cargo shorts, these biker shorts look like geeky bike-wear. I think a lot of people will be unable to wear these shorts around as “normal” clothes for their “normal” activities. And the only “style” they impart is that of a rabid Tour de France fan.

Also, at around a minimum of $70, they are much more expensive than a $12 pair of cargo shorts from a Big Box store.

ExOfficio Give-N-Go Brief
ExOfficio Give-N-Go Brief | Photo:

Isn’t there a way to wear regular duds and still be comfortable on your bike? Yes, but you’re going to have to avoid the cheapo underwear in that Big Box store I mentioned. You need to go to a sports shop or search online and look for underwear made with a blend of nylon and spandex.

This underwear will wick moisture from your skin into the air space between them and your shorts, plus they will slide around easily against the fabric in the butt of your shorts. In addition, these undies have a “flat seam” construction, which is another key to biking comfort (you know what I mean if you’ve ever ridden ten miles in a pair of blue jeans with that big, thick seam running up the middle of the rear; think butt floss made of razor wire). It’s a win-win-win situation: less friction and more comfort at your point of seat contact, and cooling of your skin as the underwear wicks sweat away from it.

Here are a few examples of this type of underwear:

Dick’s Sporting Goods

The above products are pretty good, but my money goes to Duluth Trading Company:

Duluth makes stylish clothing for real working men and women; folks who bend, stretch, crouch, kneel, etc., as they contribute to the economy. As such, their apparel is just what the doctor ordered for active bicyclists. Unless you wanna go naked, of course.

Whew! I gotta wrap this up, friends! I can’t believe how hot ‘n bothered I’ve gotten just from sayin’ naked so many times!

Post navigation