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Kit Critic: Love your kit like you love yourself

Tips and tricks for getting the most out of your gear.

Kit Critic is a new biweekly column on cycling style by Aliya Barnwell, the founder of Ride Up Grades, a cycling instructor, and a longtime rider. 

When you’re spending the equivalent of a 2021 BMW payment on one outfit, you want to make sure it fits correctly, that you take care of it, and maybe even that you make it entirely unique with a little personalization. Figuring out how to choose the correct fit online is a skill that I am still honing, but I have some tips on what to look for there, as well as some tricks for care, cleaning, and customization of your kit.

Know thyself. And also thy sizes.

To choose a garment online, the first step is to be one-hundred percent sure of your measurements and decide how you want the kit to fit. If you want a roomy fit, and not a race fit, allow for that when choosing a size. 

Evaluate the material for elasticity. The more elastic content, the more stretch the garment will have. If it’s unclear how much elastic a particular piece has, ask! It may annoy whoever has to reply to your question, but it’s more annoying if that same person has to process your return should you buy something that doesn’t fit. 

The stretch will help you determine how to gauge your sizing. The more stretch a garment has, the smaller the size you want if you want a tight fit. Conversely, if the kit has very low elastic content, like less than 5 percent, that’s going to be a comparatively unforgiving material and you need to be sure your measurements are correct and order exactly to the size chart. For help with the fit dilemmas, you could check Kit Fit, where people share their measurements and kit collections. I’m still updating my own collection there. 

A printed garment stretched thinner than a pro rider mid-Tour produces grin-through, where stretched fabric looks white or unprinted. A dyed garment is colored through and through, and as a result provides richer colors, even when stretched.

Baby your kit, and buy some Murphy’s

Treat your flawlessly fitting Gucci cycling kit like your firstborn. While quality kit is tougher these days, I have ruined one pair of bibs by sitting on rough concrete during a mid-ride break and, most recently, I destroyed one pair of bibs (my Bontrager Meraj, one of my favorites) but I’m not quite sure how – possibly by riding with a backpack or something heavy in my jersey pockets that caused the back of the bib to rub see-through in a single ride of less than 40 miles. I still mourn their loss.  

Okay, maybe most people are more careful in their kit than I am, but even the most careful cyclist has encountered the dreaded chainring grease stain. Fear of the “Calf Tattoo of Shame” kept me away from white socks for years, until I found that Murphy’s Oil Soap takes out seriously set-in bike grease. We’re talking grease that lingered through many washes with other kinds of detergent, taken clear out of white and pink socks, not to mention other random places on my kit where it can pop up after changing a tire or when moving bikes into or out of tight spaces. Let me know if other vegetable-based soaps work to remove bike grease with the same success. I am not a shill for big Murphy’s Oil, but I do think it is the ultimate cyclists’ soap.

Cyclists, Murphy’s Oil is your friend and a vanquisher of the chain marks of shame.

After lovingly caressing your gold- and gemstone-embroidered kit with Murphy’s Oil Soap and elbow grease to get out the dirt deposited by your shamelessly neglected drivetrain, you can toss it into the washing machine. But do follow the directions on the label and manufacturer’s website. It’s almost always wash cold, inside out, with all zippers closed. And if you’re washing your gloves at the same time, close the Velcro and put them in a net lingerie bag so the rough hooks don’t shred anything else. And of course, hang or lay flat to dry. I have friends that toss them in the dryer, but if questioned in court I’ll deny I know them.

Personalize it — with caution

Now you’ve got this worn but wonderful kit, but everyone else also has it, so it’s starting to feel a little bit like a uniform. And you didn’t join any Service that you’re aware of. Time for some customization.

Or, say you’ve purchased a club or team kit with the intention of looking like everyone else, but you still want to have a little flair. I think kit modifications should be encouraged. If “bikers” can put patches and pins on their gear, so can you. You can dye it as well. 

Pins and patches? I say yes!

I’ve never tried the dyeing process, but a fellow cyclist made a video about the process and his results on YouTube. I prefer patches and lapel pins, because the former are funny and the latter are fun to collect. I can also change them according to my mood.

A few warnings about these customizations: Dye smells horrible, and the result can turn out horribly. It requires nearly boiling the fabric, which depending on its makeup will have different reactions, such as warping and uneven dyeing. Patches require putting needle holes in or a hot iron to the fabric. In either case, you’re burning or stabbing the precious infant you delicately laid to dry what seems only a moment before. 

I generally iron on my patches, but that’s a quick fix. They need to be sewn on. Glued-on patches will inevitably peel, especially if the jersey is tight against the curve of my body. Also, the glue is permanent; sewn-on patches can be removed later. The garment will still show pinpricks, but sewing makes sure the edges of the patch lay flat, leaves less of a mark than gluing, and is less dangerous to the rest of the item (do not touch a jersey or bibs with a naked iron at all). 

For lapel pins, be careful where you stick them; on a printed jersey they will expose the interior threads and leave so it really is best to keep them to the collar and seams, and dyed jerseys are preferred (because the interior threads of a printed jersey are usually white). I use rubber backs because I wear race cut and metal backs are uncomfortable pressed into my neck.

Or, you could just wear regular clothes, or less than regular clothes à la Shirtless Keith, and ride your bike; the riding is the important part. Oh, and the washing part. Clean, non-smelly kit is cool to everyone.