You've got to wear something or you'd be cycling naked, which is unheard of, though I'd do it for a bet over short distances. Much of the clothing specifically designed for cycling is garish and ludicrous in appearance. Unfortunately, it also has specific properties that make it almost essential. As we already know, most of the energy of the cyclist is spent displacing air. The design of the bike can reduce this a lot, but so can the right clothing. Smooth lycra garments that allow air to slip non-turbulently over their surfaces can make big differences to cycling efficiency. Unfortunately, a lot of this clothing is made with the riders of regular bikes in mind. One of the commonest countermeasures to the pressure of the saddle on an upright bike is to wear shorts with padding in them. These are ubiquitous and cheap, but the padding is counterproductive on a recumbent, leading to chafing and over heating. Ordinary athletic shorts made from Lycra are fine, but watch out for thick waist seams which can create pressure on the skin in the small of the back. In reality this isn't too much of a problem providing you turn the waistband up or down every 100km or so, but it would be nice to have some specialised clothing with either no seams, or very thin seams at the back.
While air resistance must not be forgotten, I cycle in all weathers, and the prime purpose of clothing is to keep the rider warm and dry whatever the prevailing conditions. My basic garb is polypropylene fibre underwear made by the Norwegian firm Helly Hansen. Its principal property is to wick sweat away from the skin to the outer surface of the garment. This really does work. The only downside from the stuff is that after about twenty four hours it starts to smell pretty bad, and after forty eight it's bad enough for you to start to fear the company of anyone other than farm animals. Fortunately you can wash it easily on the move. Just wear it into the shower, soap your armpits twice, once with it on, then, once with it off before rinsing it out in a wash basin. Wring it viciously with your bare hands and put it back on, and it'll be dry in about thirty minutes. There's generally no need to wear Helly longs in summer, but I take them along to put on before sleeping.
My outer shell consists of a Gore Bikewear jacket which is excellent for recumbent wear. It's a bit on the large size because it also incorporates a zip-in fleece which is great in winter but a bit much for the rest of the year. Without the fleece it's a bit flappy and unaerodynamic, but you can minimise this with drawstring adjusters and it's very comfortable. The pockets are great pockets, and the hood that you can zip on in a thunderstorm has a peak to keep the rain off my glasses and is cut away at the side to maintain peripheral vision. I have a pair of Pertex longs that are fairly close fitting, and work well. I used not to believe in Pertex, thinking well, what's the point if it's not waterproof? Well, the point is, it's very light, very smooth, pretty hard wearing, completely breathable, almost entirely windproof and therefore warm, and if it rains the moisture wicks out in the fabric and evaporates almost immediately. I have been cycling in temperatures as low as minus 20 degrees Celsius sandwiching a thin pair of cotton lycra leggings requisitioned from my girlfriend, and I was toast.
I never feel so alive as when I'm riding in cold weather and feeling toasty warm. As the guru says, "There's no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing."
I carry/wear the following:
From Novermber to March I carry the fleece liner to my jacket and I definitely plan to get some overshoes: when your feet get wet on a chilly spring day, it doesn't take long for the wind and the slipstream to make them very cold indeed.
Shoes are vitally important also. Cycling is all about the smooth transfer of energy from your legs to the road, and one of the weak links in this process is the interface between your foot and the pedal. A shoe that is too soft forces the small muscles of the foot to tense in order that the force is transmitted to the pedal. Much better to support the whole of the underside of the foot with a very stiff sole and allow the large muscles of the leg to take the strain.
The toe clip and strap is practically obselete as a way of transferring energy to the pedals, though the toe strap still has a multitude of handy uses in cycle maintenance. Most cycling shoes come with a variety of holes for attaching cleats, which in turn attach to the pedals using springloaded bindings analagous to ski bindings. It takes a few minutes to get used to the sensation of externally rotating your hip to bring your heels out and snap the binding off the pedal, but it soon becomes an unconscious action. And yes, the couple of times that I've crashed the bike, my feet snapped out of the pedals in a satisfactorily automatic way.
There are many pedal systems, but I have experience of only one--the ubiquitous SPD ("spud") or Shimano Pedal Dynamics. These have the advantage of only requiring a small cleat on the shoe, which means that shoes can be constructed to nestle the cleat within the sole, and allow you to walk easily off the bike. The disadvantage of the shoe is the small cross sectional area of the cleat and pedal generates more pressure on the centre of the foot than the sides. On the longest events the 3rd and 4th toes of both my feet were numb for a couple of weeks after. Although a rigid sole did seem to minimise this, it's still a problem, and it may be that a Look-type cleat with its cross-sectional area almost as great as the entire ball of the foot would lessen the problem further.
©Douglas Carnall 1999