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Bicycling Gear - Function Over Form

By Charles Hopkins Published 04/24/2006 | Sports
You have all see them around the town where you live. A grown man or woman, riding a two wheeled contraption that looks like a larger version of what you bought your kid for Christmas last year. Wearing tight clothing, helmet and gloves, they look more alien than human as they ride around in strange attire and what looks to be a most uncomfortable position.

So what is going on with bicyclists? Why do they wear weird looking clothes? Is all that gear they have really necessary?

A bicyclist is always in a constant struggle against wind resistance. It is a battle that can never be won. Everything from the bicyclist's helmet, shorts, shoes and bike are made to make the fight against wind resistance easier.

A rider's position on the bicycle is designed to reduce the area of the body that comes into contact with the air. The more aerodynamic the position on the bike the less power the cyclist has to produce to maintain, or achieve, a given speed.

Bicycling shorts have always been the brunt of many jokes from those who do not understand the function they serve. The shorts are skin-tight to reduce the air resistance and to keep the fabric from rubbing and moving next to the skin which may create a sore spot.

Of course, what may be the most desirable feature of cycling shorts is the padding which is built into the seat. Because the bicycle is built in such an aerodynamic form, the seat is made to be as slim as possible. This does not make it very comfortable to sit on which is where the padding in the cycling shorts makes a difference.

Your ability to pedal into the wind resistance is what propels you down the road. Many cyclists use a special shoe and pedal combination which helps deliver a more efficient pedal stroke to the bike. The shoes clip into the pedal via a cleat on the bottom of the shoe that connects firmly onto the pedal mechanism. This allows the cyclist to focus more power on the pedal and can both pull up and push down on the pedal stroke.

Helmets are necessary due to safety concerns. However, the shape of most helmets are built so that they are as aerodynamic as possible. The front of the helmet is rounded toward the side and back. Numerous air vents are built in to the helmet for comfort on hot and humid rides.

Bicycling gloves are worn to help absorb the road shock. The gloves have padding built into the palm. Most bicycling gloves do not fully cover the fingers. The reason for this is it makes it much easier to grasp fully the brakes when needing to slow down or stop. The gloves do not necessarily help with aerodynamics, but they do make the ride more comfortable, which gives you more energy to ride and fight the air resistance.

Bicyclists love to ride. They may look different in their gear, but it is out of necessity that they wear what they do. The fight is against wind resistance. They look no stranger than a football player or race car driver in their gear. The difference is a bicyclist has to use the gear in public every time they venture out to ride his bike and wage the battle against air resistance.