I don’t know if anyone has completed a naked end-to-end on a bike. Someone has walked it naked (apart from boots, a hat and a rucksack) but it took them seven months because they kept on getting arrested and spent two spells in jail en route. A couple of lads started in their underpants with no money or equipment whatsoever. Their mission was to complete the end to end in three weeks by relying upon the generosity of the Great British public. They had to blag everything from food to bikes to accommodation to clean pants. I’m all for reducing the equipment list but that might be taking minimalism to an extreme! It makes a great read though – if you are interested google ‘Free Country book’.
But, for those of us that want to wear clothes on the ride:
What should I wear?
This is very much down to personal choice and depends on what you are used to cycling in. Some people like to wear normal casual clothes that they feel comfortable in on or off the bike. Others like to wear technical cycling clothes designed specifically for the job. I once saw a rider in a time trial skin suit and a rider in corduroy trousers and an Argyll knitted tank top on the same sportif (in fact the latter was passing the former up a very steep hill).
Not that I would recommend corduroy trousers and an Argyll knitted top for your trip. In fact I personally favour the technical cycling kit option for a number of reasons:
- It is shaped to fit the body most comfortably when in a cycling position.
- It does not [or at least should not] have any seams in positions that will rub.
- It is close fitting so cuts down wind resistance.
- The fabric is designed to draw (wick) sweat away from the skin to evaporate in the air.
- It is lightweight and packs down easily.
- Padded bottom area! [you have a very long way to go and you will be in the saddle a lot]
- Back pockets on cycling tops are ideal for carrying food and gels so that they are easily to hand without having to stop.
- Can be washed in the shower and dried out in an open window over night.
The downside of cycling specific kit is that it is not ideal for wearing off the bike so you might have to carry some casual clothes if you intend to eat out or socialize in the evening. I took a pair of three quarter length lightweight hiking trousers and a long sleeved base layer, both of which were very light and could be packed down as small as possible. In the end the only time I wore them was on my journey to John O’Groats.
Shoes are another factor to consider. I have cycling shoes with cleats that attach to the pedals on my bike. This makes pedaling more efficient and requires less energy over a long distance. But it does make walking awkward when off the bike.
So I had to find a lightweight, easily packable pair of shoes for travel and evening wear, if required. I must admit that I struggled but in the end hit upon karate shoes. The pair I chose had a thin, hard, flat soles and the uppers were of silk and lay completely flat when not worn. They were a non descript black and cost less than £5 online.
There are cleated cycling shoe/pedal systems with a recessed cleat so the shoe retains a flat sole, which are comfortable on and off the bike. These are very popular with regular tourers because they negate the need to carry additional ‘off the bike’ shoes. This requires the capital outlay for both new pedals and new shoes though and on my original trip was out of my budget. But if you are intending to move to a cleated system or need to replace your shoes or pedals anyway it is a system worth looking at. When I re-rode end to end in 2013 and 2014 I moved to this system and have not returned to the more race orientated form of cleat. In addition to being able to walk easily off the bike it is considerably easier to start on an incline because you do not have to be cleated in properly to apply pressure to the pedal without risk of your foot slipping off.
Regardless of whether you wear cycling specific or normal clothes you should aim to wear a number of thin layers that you can strip off or pile on depending upon the temperature and weather. One layer should be a rain jacket or cape because the chances of riding the entire length of Scotland and England (and maybe a bit of Wales) without being rained on are small. Very small.
The other necessity is padded shorts. If you prefer baggy shorts or trousers you can purchase padded short/trouser liners [no not a nappy]. If you have no padding take extra butt cream (see stuff to put in bags section).
This is a list of the clothing I took with me:
- Shorts (x2)
- Tops (x2)
- Leg warmers
- Arm Warmers
- Socks (x2 pairs)
- Wind stop/rain top
- Chest strap (for heart rate)
- Cycling shoes
- Other shoes – karate slippers
- Long Sleeve top – base layer
- Long Trousers – nylon hiking ¾ trousers
The shorts, tops and socks were duplicated in case I was unable to wash and dry them overnight. It meant I could wear a clean, dry set and strap the damp kit to the outside of my bags to dry [unless it was raining – obviously].
I set off each morning before 6:00am so even in early July it was chilly. So I would start each day with my shorts, top, arm and leg warmers, gillet and windstop/rain top on. Then, as the day warmed up I would take off first the windstop/rain top, then the leg warmers and gillet and finally the arm warmers. If I was cycling late the reverse process happened in the evening.
You may notice as your tour progresses and you get tired that your body is less able to regulate your temperature. This means you will remain chilly for longer each day and strip off less and less. Certainly on my last day I cycled nearly all of it in my arm and leg warmers and a gillet despite it being a sunny (if windy) July day.
Remember that you have to carry your clothes so weight is an issue. Even if you are wearing most of it you still have to carry the weight. And packability is also an important factor. Some lightweight clothes (like fleeces) can still be very bulky and you need to be able to stow them all in your bags.
Wash your kit in the shower. Rub some soap or gel into the pad and other smelly bits and then dump it underfoot at the beginning of the shower. Tread it, like grapes, throughout the shower, trying not to trip or slip. Once you are clean give the kit a final rinse to make sure the soap is all out and then wring out as much water as possible. Once you have dried yourself lay your kit out flat on the towel and roll the whole thing up as tightly as possible. Repeat with a fresh, dry towel if you have one. Leave for a minute or two so that the towel can absorb any excess moisture. Unroll and hang your kit in an open window to finish drying over night (or put on a radiator if there is one on).
Another tip that I have yet to find written down anywhere (except here) is that if you are wearing cycling specific shorts (with a pad) you do not wear underpants. The seams and creases can cause abrasions and sores.
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