I was adamantly anti-Lycra when I started mountain biking in high school. I wasn’t into the cycling culture and didn’t have many friends who were cyclists. So we’d go to Red Rocks with our rigid hardtail bikes (suspension bikes were few and far between in the early ’90s) for some occasional fun.
As I got more into biking in college, I decided I really wanted to be a mountain biker. But the thought of donning a chamois still never occurred to me. It’s funny to look back at our University of Colorado Ski Team training camp picture from Moab in 1996. I was wearing a white cotton T-shirt and cotton shorts and boxers. Everyone has to start somewhere, but what was I thinking? No butt pad and a cotton shirt — not cool-looking or cool-feeling.
It was at some point in those formative college years that I was enlightened to the wonderments of the chamois — that lovely pad in bike shorts that protects our sensitive areas that come in contact with the saddle. That was truly a revolution in comfort and a key lesson in one of the many nuances of a dedicated rider.
I moved to Steamboat Springs in 2001 right out of CU, and my first band of friends was pretty heavy into mountain biking. Through them, I discovered our amazing trails, night riding and a true love for the sport of mountain biking. But still, wearing spandex was the furthest thing from my biking mind. It just didn’t seem cool.
One day years later, a pretty lady asked me to do the Gore Gruel (the predecessor to the Tour de Steamboat). Heck, I thought, why not do a 100-plus-mile ride for my first-ever road ride? What a Steamboat dude won’t do sometimes ...
I was warned strongly against wearing baggy bike shorts for the big ride and, threatened with visions of evil chafing, I succumbed and bought my first pair of Lycra shorts. I was mortified at the thought of being seen by anyone, let alone by buddies, in those heinous shorts. But I wore them for the Gore Gruel, had a blast, protected my, um, assets and decided I needed a road bike.
It wasn’t long before I was convinced to start racing my mountain bike. I fell in love with it even more, started to take it seriously and began riding for my employer, Honey Stinger, which eventually led to the formation of the Honey Stinger/Bontrager team that I still ride for. Sponsors want their logos seen, and I now had a uniform, so I started racing in the spandex and logo-laden team “kit.” Still, I did not want to be seen riding around in those unmanly spandex.
Then, one day last year, I was overheating in Fruita, caught my baggy shorts on my seat, splayed a starfish and crashed. In that moment I came full circle — no more baggy shorts. I no longer could see the point of them besides getting in the way. And with the exception of a few cooler night rides, I now ride only in Lycra, and I much prefer it. My, how things change.
The publication of this article no doubt will bring on some playful jabs from friends who wouldn’t be caught dead in Lycra. Bring it on, I say. Some certainly will disagree with my position on bike garb; I know a guy who has done some hardcore racing in Carhartt shorts and tightie-whities, insisting that spandex was the most painful thing he’s ever ridden in. And maybe one day I’ll change my mind again. To each his own, I guess.
Nate Bird has been living, working, and playing in the Yampa Valley for 11 years and fancies himself a bike racer and writer. He can be reached at email@example.com.