Do you need indoor cycling specific clothing?

With an ever expanding range of indoor cycling kit available, we ask if it really makes any difference?

In the past few years, indoor cycling has been completely transformed - from a means to an end that was only mildly more preferable to watching paint dry, to an entertaining form of exercise and a racing genre in its own right.

Like any emerging trend, this has resulted in an explosion of products available to enhance the experience – including an influx of indoor cycling specific clothing.

The most recent brand to join the party was Rapha - with a sleeveless technical t-shirt, vented 'indoor training cap', alongside the existing Cargo waist shorts also on offer in the “outdoor” standard range.

Back in 2018 Madison launched with the men's turbo bib shorts and jersey - both garments feature fast wicking fabrics with anti-bacterial properties, and the chamois has been specifically designed with indoor training in mind.

Interestingly, whilst Rapha promotes its Cargo core shorts, with pockets (perhaps for stashing the TV remote during intervals) the Madison jersey notably has its pockets removed.

Claiming to be first on the scene was The Sufferfest, with the ‘Suf Indoor Cycling shirt’ – a loose fitting technical top minus pockets and zips.

Founder David McQuillen told us: “Since keeping cool is critical to performing at your best, we created our SUF Indoor Cycling shirt as a super light weight, loose and comfortable garment that keeps you cool even when you’re working hard.”

So - do we really need indoor cycling clothing, or is it all a gimmick? And with brands sending mixed messages about what's actually required in a turbo garment - what does the ideal indoor cycling kit look like?

Former Lead Physiotherapist at British Cycling, Phil Burt, believes there is certainly a place for indoor cycling clothing. The expert bike fitter at the eponymous Phil Burt Innovation says that the number one consideration in a piece of kit created for the turbo is the chamois.

“You haven’t got air flowing over you to help out with heat management, and the forces involved are different to outdoor cycling – you’re sitting in a static position so have a lot more saddle contact time and increased friction.

“The chamois needs to get moisture away from the skin. It doesn’t necessarily need to get sweat out of the chamois – the pad can be heavy and wet after sessions long as your skin is dry. There are amazing ways you can layer your foam up now, and you can include channels to get sweat away from the skin too.”

Riding indoors, you’re much less likely to get out the saddle – in fact you might not do so at all if you’re a fan of training on rollers.

“The chamois you use when training indoors needs to manage pressure well. You want a pad that doesn’t bottom out completely when you’re loading it for a sustained amount of time, because then the skin and soft tissue will take that pressure.”

Discussing Madison's turbo bibshort, with its specifically designed chamois, apparel designer Rachel Preston said: “Indoor turbo training sessions get much warmer than outdoor rides due to the lack of natural airflow.  Sessions are usually short - 30 to 60minutes - but we did find that our riders would shuffle around a lot in their saddles.

"As a result we selected a pad that offered fantastic moisture management, and offered really good elasticity to accommodate the continual position adjustments between different types of riding efforts during their workout session.”

Five turbo mistakes 

Burt recommends increasing the comfort of your indoor sessions by training in a well ventilated room, enlisting the support of a good quality fan, as well as using chamois cream before and after sessions to “let the skin recover.”

Heat dissipation elsewhere is important, too, and this can be achieved by using a lightweight or mesh fabric.

“Your quads are a big surface area of skin where your body is looking to get rid of heat, that’s why they go so red when you’re hot. You really just want a mesh fabric there, this allows for heat dissipation and there’s no need for much else.”

It’s fair to say that not everyone is on board with the concept yet. British Cycling National E-Racing Champion, Rosamund Bradbury told Cycling Weekly that she’s yet to invest.

The former British rower explained: “To be honest, when training indoors I wear normal cycling bib shorts, like those I’d wear outside. Then obviously because you’ve got everything with you, you don’t need a normal cycling top - so I tend to wear the stuff we had when I was rowing – we called them ‘tea rags’ – but they’re base layers made from a mesh fabric.”

Having taken the National E-Racing title in March 2019, she’s eyeing the UCI World Championship scheduled for 2020, though taking it “step by step,” noting that the pool of riders experimenting with indoor racing is ever growing.

It’s likely the range of indoor cycling clothing options will grow in the coming months and years, but it remains to be seen if top athletes such as Bradbury will become adopters themselves.

The final say

No: Rosamund Bradbury, British Cycling National E-Racing Champion

“I think the most important thing is that your kit keeps you cool, as you get so warm inside. I don’t find I need an indoor specific chamois – but I think I do move around a fair bit anyway even indoors, otherwise it’s just too uncomfortable.”

Yes: Phil Burt, bike fitter at Phil Burt Innovation

“If you allow the area to get hot and wet and apply pressure, you’ve got a recipe for a certain type of saddle sore. Indoor cycling clothing, if it evolves, will help some people out.”

Our View

A quick poll in the Cycling Weekly office reveals that none of us are using indoor specific kit yet. The most important thing is that you’re well ventilated and the chamois is providing you with enough cushioning for the efforts you’re doing. Some riders will find they're able to meet these needs in their standard kit - but if you are experiencing discomfort, the indoor ranges may be your answer.

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