The Tightness of Being

Sprezzatura. Leave it to the Italians to dedicate a word to trying to Look Fantastic without looking like you’re trying too hard. I’ve haven’t spent much time in Italy, but I automatically love a country where an entire nation holds aesthetics in the same high regard that I do. Not to mention their dedication to drinking espresso and wine. A bottle of wine at lunch? I can work with these people.

Sprezzatura for the Velominatus applies to every aspect of the sport; how we set up our bikes, our style and technique when riding, and how we select and wear our kit. Looking good in the summer isn’t very complicated; any fool can look good in short-sleeved kit adorned with tanned guns. Where things start getting tricky is when the cold and wet sets in and we need to add more kit to the equation. How does one control the chaos as leg warmers, long-sleeve jerseys, caps, gloves, rain jackets and overshoes are added to the mix?

The basic concepts have already been covered under the principles of wearing one’s Flandrian Best; always wear as little as possible, never wear an accoutrement below when a complimentary set is not worn above (i.e. no knee warmers without arm warmers), and never – under any circumstances – wear full-length leggings.

Which brings us to today’s lesson: how to wear full-length leggings and still look as Fantastic as possible. Sometimes it is simply too cold for three-quarters and there is no denying the Pro-ness of casually wandering about sipping a pre-ride espresso in sandals, full length leg warmers, and a long sleeve jersey – especially on a warm summer day. Sprezzatura is an art, and it should not be taken lightly.

The fundamental problem with leggings is that they make the guns amorphous; lots of fabric without any points of definition give the eyes nothing to focus on. If you have amazing calves (which I don’t) then you may be able to break up the monotony with your bodacious leg curves, but the rest of us are going to need some help.

  • Always go with leg warmers and not one-piece tights. The reason for this is simple: the legs of your shorts will provide the first visual delineation for the eyes to grab ahold of.
  • The leggings should also always have an elastic gripper around the ankle, not a stirrup. This is Cycling, not ballet. Better yet, the ankles should have a short zipper to ease pre-departure removal of said leggings and also to provide a little more delineation.
  • When it comes to materials, the more matte the better. In fact, I prefer wool. Thick materials are also handy, as they add some bulk and make the guns look less spindly. All good things.
  • Look for some leggings with good, thick seams. Again, this makes wool a strong candidate. Align the seams carefully to accentuate whatever curves your leggs can muster up, and make sure both legs are symmetrical. We are not savages.
  • Wear a contrasting color sock. White is preferable, of course, as demonstrated by Diego above but any color works so long as its not the same as the legging (which should obviously be black).

Related Posts

117 Replies to “The Tightness of Being”

  1. Good piece. Here in WI full tights are a must if Rule #5 is to be followed. (When the wind chill is in the teens, then damn right I’m leaving as little flash exposed!) My issue is, a lot of tights have loose ankles. I don’t think my lower leg is particularly slim, but I’m amazed at how many tights are a bit loose down there. Luckily, if it’s cold enough to be wearing tights, then a bootie/overshoe can sometimes mask the worst of it.

    Colors? Black, black and black. A wee bit of white sock works too.

    Arm warmers? Never wear them. It’s long sleeved jersey or short sleeved jersey. If it’s warm enough for shorts, it’s warm enough for bare arms.

    I’m looking forward to the first shorts ride of the year, but slightly horrified at the prospect of showing the world how white my guns are after the winter. Tan lines are almost imperceptible by now.

  2. “and never – under any circumstances – wear full-length leggings” ???

    Are you serious?  Why don’t you tough guys come up north and ride when it is 14 degF in your groovy knickers with your frost-bitten calves sluffing off in big black chunks.  With two pair of full-length fleece tights and one pair full-length regular tights I still am lucky if I can do 12 miles without feeling like I won’t even be able to get off my bike, much less strut around showing everybody my delineation.

    Do you ever even wear full-fingered gloves?  And you call yourselves tough.

  3. @piwakawaka

    Socks should never go over tights. Thats the equivalent of tights over shorts.

    You got that right. The lead picture is a shocker. Ok, so he wants to show off the sponsor logos on his socks (a modern abomination IMHO and the real culprit in the ever heightening sock debate) but if it’s cold enough for full leg warmers, wouldn’t a nice knit overshoe look more pro? Merckx knows these guys must have access to the full range of team gear.

    While we’re doing fashion police duty, those hi-viz yellow socks Katusha wore for MSR were shocking in more ways than one. Baseball caps on the podium again . . . sigh. I’m not a super fan of the BMC kit but when the rain gear went on they looked the best. Most teams end up looking like a bag of washing.

  4. I have newly discovered nanoflex leg and arm warmers.  Great stuff, for those looking to spend a bit to make your regular kit more versatile.  They have them in a couple different lengths for those full leg phobic.  Ha!  Love the things.

    Seriously though, socks, always wear them inside the warmers.  But….I think the outside look is a bit Sprezzatura and the V seal of approval may make me change my ways.  Frank, please enlighten me on this.

  5. I’m with Frank on the full-length tights, there is something slightly drag-queenesque about them, leg-warmers every time.

    On that photo, however, I’m fairly certain it is some kind of test. Socks over leg-warmers is a definite “Nope”. especially, as in this case, when the socks are semi-opaque and you can see the leg warmers through them… And while i’m being OCD he really should have lined up the velcro straps on his shoes properly.

    This whole photo suggests to me that a Rule #87 violation was about to occur and that he had to hastily pull himself together!

  6. True story: One Saturday I was sporting leggings and my two compatriots took note and asked a few questions as they had tights over their shorts (t’was cold) and liked the look of my shorts over the leggings. The following week I wore my standard knee warmers and they appeared to have leggings too. When I shed the warmers later when the temperature rose, there was a long pause from one of them and a quiet “oh, so that’s why you weren’t chafing wearing them like that…”

  7. Another request that if full leg warmers are worn then socks be worn inside the leg warmers.

    Then all Frank’s well-taken suggestions about the leg warmers can apply.

  8. @Walbly

    Do you ever even wear full-fingered gloves?  And you call yourselves tough.

    I prefer full-fingered gloves. My best pair from GIRO I refer to them as Mary Tyler Moores — they are slim.

  9. I trained outside much of the winter either on my rain bike, cross-bike (studded tires), or fat bike (snow and ice covered roads).  I found wearing some great Roubaix fleece lined shorts, to keep the bits warm enough, knee warmers under a pair of Pearl Izumi Pro leg warmers that block the wind was more than enough on the coldest days.  If you double up that way to keep the knees warm, you will not have an issue with the cold.  I now own four sets of knee warmers and four sets of leg warmers.  No tights.  They are not versatile when it warms up or you start to warm-up from multiple V efforts.  If I started to feel the chill of the wind I would head toward another climb.  I live in a valley, so cat 2 & 3 climbs are plentiful.

  10. Another vote for socks under leg warmers.  The line has to be drawn somewhere short of frostbite.  Below 40 that means full coverage.  Hate to admit it, but for long cold overcast or dark rides practical experience forces me to toe warmers (not visible of course) and shoe covers (smooth, tight well fitting ones).  I have come back too many times not able to feel my toes.

  11. So what’s the ruling on toe covers for those days when it’s too warm for shoe covers, but cold enough for knee warmers and wool socks? Those toesies aren’t going to stay warm on their own.

  12. Either that word is becoming strangely popular…or you picked it up from John McPhee’s piece in the New Yorker. It’s a very good word. Nice application to the style necessary for Rule V cycling.

  13. I regularly wear full length non-cycling specific leggings. Under my shorts, obviously. I think it looks reasonably pro unless you look close. I tend to be a bit of a lone ranger on rides in the winter, and I’m always moving to fast for anyone else to get a good look.

    Overshoes are very useful for covering the gap between base of leggings and top of chosen sock combination. Looking forwards to legging-free rides soon.

  14. Confusion all around: “…and never – under any circumstances – wear full-length leggings. Which brings us to today’s lesson: how to wear full-length leggings and still look as Fantastic as possible.”

    Maybe it’s because English is not my first language and I am more of a visual guy but could someone post pictures of do’s and don’ts? Btw, I fully agree socks should be white and worn under the leggings.

  15. A fleeing wild Tugman, as captured in his native habitat, sporting winter coat and coloring. This specimen is partial to 3/4 length bib tights during Autumn and Spring, and can be seen only in shorts during the short, but extremely hot Summer months of the Great Lakes region. Due in part to the musculature of his guns, wearing full length tights would have him mistaken as a has-been obscure pro wrestler, fat ballerina, or Peter Pan wannabe.

  16. @KogaLover

    It’s my winter coat! Plus,I work outdoors year round, so I need all the fuzz I can get! Some days I wish I were woolier, just for that reason alone. Will shave/get sun when it’s above freezing out.Which should be aroud August it seems…

  17. @piwakawaka

    Socks should never go over tights. Thats the equivalent of tights over shorts.

    that’s the truth….  like arm warmers over your sleeves…

  18. @RobSandy

    I regularly wear full length non-cycling specific leggings. Under my shorts, obviously. I think it looks reasonably pro unless you look close. I tend to be a bit of a lone ranger on rides in the winter, and I’m always moving to fast for anyone else to get a good look.

    Overshoes are very useful for covering the gap between base of leggings and top of chosen sock combination. Looking forwards to legging-free rides soon.

    Full length leggings, below 1° – 2° C, always under the bibs (and over the socks).  Knee warmers otherwise.  That’s only a handful rides for our winters.

    I do enjoy chatting up the folks whilst wearing less kit, especially if they’re mumbling through their ninja ski masks…..

  19. @Dave

    Another vote for socks under leg warmers.  The line has to be drawn somewhere short of frostbite.  Below 40 that means full coverage.  Hate to admit it, but for long cold overcast or dark rides practical experience forces me to toe warmers (not visible of course) and shoe covers (smooth, tight well fitting ones).  I have come back too many times not able to feel my toes.

    Toes are critical.  I can do less kit than many I ride with, but not for my feet.  Woolies, heaters, covers, all winter…..

  20. okay, upon further investigation of the top photo, Diego clearly doesn’t have my kind of cold sensitive feet….  if the chap can go without shoe covers or wool socks, what’s the the need for leg warmers or tights?

  21. @VeloSix

    @Dave

    Another vote for socks under leg warmers.  The line has to be drawn somewhere short of frostbite.  Below 40 that means full coverage.  Hate to admit it, but for long cold overcast or dark rides practical experience forces me to toe warmers (not visible of course) and shoe covers (smooth, tight well fitting ones).  I have come back too many times not able to feel my toes.

    Toes are critical.  I can do less kit than many I ride with, but not for my feet.  Woolies, heaters, covers, all winter…..

    I’ve learned to forget about my toes and DeFeet woolie boolies make it easier.

  22. Yesterday’s temp was 34 F with 15 mph wind. Tights under shorts with two pairs of wool socks. Tights zipped over the socks.

  23. The question of whether socks should be worn over or under full length leg warmers has to take into account that if it’s unless it’s cold enough that are necessary overshoes/socks you should be sticking to knee warmers.

    And if you think that having a bit of sock poking out of the top of your overshoe/sock whilst covering part of your leg warmers is stylistically acceptable, you’ll probably find you’ve got your bibs on over your jersey.

  24. @unversio

    Defeet merino wool is awesome. Socks, gloves, knee warmers, arm warmers form the backbone of my winter riding. Also works perfectly well when wet.

  25. I firmly believe in the rules and try to follow them when possible.  However, as someone who has worked outdoors in weather most people couldn’t begin to understand (Tugman, you’re excluded here), staying warm has NO fashion rules.

    I do agree that we should at least TRY to look our best while on the bike, but shouldn’t we be out riding instead of foraging through our drawers and closets….

    I’ve seen some pretty silly things worn to stay warm, but, the person was outside doing something instead of in front of the boob tube.

  26. @unversio

    @VeloSix

    @Dave

    Another vote for socks under leg warmers.  The line has to be drawn somewhere short of frostbite.  Below 40 that means full coverage.  Hate to admit it, but for long cold overcast or dark rides practical experience forces me to toe warmers (not visible of course) and shoe covers (smooth, tight well fitting ones).  I have come back too many times not able to feel my toes.

    Toes are critical.  I can do less kit than many I ride with, but not for my feet.  Woolies, heaters, covers, all winter…..

    I’ve learned to forget about my toes and DeFeet woolie boolies make it easier.

    Love the woolie boolies, and they do help, but apparently in temps that freeze liquids, my blood stops flowing past my ankles; without some added assistance from human ingenuity.

  27. @Chris

    @unversio

    Defeet merino wool is awesome. Socks, gloves, knee warmers, arm warmers form the backbone of my winter riding. Also works perfectly well when wet.

    Swiftwick delivered some extremely thin and warm socks too — durable as well.

  28. @PeakInTwoYears

    Another request that if full leg warmers are worn then socks be worn inside the leg warmers.

    Then all Frank’s well-taken suggestions about the leg warmers can apply.

    Always, although Diego Looks Fantastic, despite that obvious transgression.

  29. I sensed this piece was coming when you wrote about your exposed shins feeling as if they were being stung with needles in the Badass Within article. Your shins have done you in!

    For me, and I’m blessed to be in a mild climate, I generally go with the Kneekers for really cold road rides and reserve the full leggings for CX riding.

    Opening photo – I’ve been working on perfect my PRO mounting technique. Those guys make the leg swing and slide into the saddle look ace! Don’t know how anyone can wear summer weight socks though in weather that requires a gilet and full leg warmers. My feet are far more sensitive to the cold than my shins or torso.

  30. 1 pair of full tights and 2 pairs of bib knickers have been living in a box under my bed since I moved south four years ago. As soon as I buy my house this spring and make this Southern Living a confirmation, those things are being shown the door…

    I’ve said it before, but one awesome thing about The Rules is that they simplify life. There are those early or late season rides when the weather and temps are borderline and you have trouble figuring out what the hell to wear. Then you recall The Rules and realize it’s simple. No jackets, no tights, none of those bs neck warmers (futbol players and cyclists now in them?!), just the regular kit, with a gilet, arm warmers, leg warmers, maybe oversocks.

    I did pick up some Sealskinz oversocks for rainy commutes. Boy oh boy, I look so much cooler than I did with the whole wheat bread bags.

  31. For the coldest weather I do own a pair of full windproof tights with stirrups, though they are never seem seeing that if its cold enough for them, its also cold enough to warrant shoe covers.  Generally though I subscribe to the full length warmer with some embro under them as needed.  I would never think to tuck them into my socks though.  I’d rather go with a thin sock and then a thin shoe cover like the Defeet Slipstream.

  32. For those looking for more definition while wearing legwarmers, these are available…

  33. @frank

    @John

    @Dave

    I love my toe warmers. Great for between 40 and 50F. How do you keep them not visible?

    By never wearing them.

    Hell’s bells John, you had to see that one coming!

    Holy Merckx, my gear’s been getting a workout here in Wisconsin. Over the last 6 weeks the temps I’ve ridden have ranged from mid 20s to high 60s. That’s going from full on fleece-lined neoprene booties, windfront tights, triple layer up top, heavyweight skull cap and gloves to knee warmers, shorts and medium long sleeved jersey. Various other grades of headgear, shoe covers, gloves, gilets have been employed too. Likely this summer it’ll get into the 90s at some point and at that point it’s bare minimum on gear: socks., shorts, jersey, helmet. It must be weird living in a place where the temps don’t vary much.

  34. @wiscot

    @frank

    @John

    @Dave

    I love my toe warmers. Great for between 40 and 50F. How do you keep them not visible?

    By never wearing them.

    Hell’s bells John, you had to see that one coming!

    Holy Merckx, my gear’s been getting a workout here in Wisconsin. Over the last 6 weeks the temps I’ve ridden have ranged from mid 20s to high 60s. That’s going from full on fleece-lined neoprene booties, windfront tights, triple layer up top, heavyweight skull cap and gloves to knee warmers, shorts and medium long sleeved jersey. Various other grades of headgear, shoe covers, gloves, gilets have been employed too. Likely this summer it’ll get into the 90s at some point and at that point it’s bare minimum on gear: socks., shorts, jersey, helmet. It must be weird living in a place where the temps don’t vary much.

    Weird, more like outstanding! I have bags of old jackets, bib knickers, gloves, booties, all in the closet. My kit varies not a bit out here. A vest has been worn for a bit but that is as radical as it gets in Hawaii.

  35. @wiscot

    Holy Merckx, my gear’s been getting a workout here in Wisconsin. Over the last 6 weeks the temps I’ve ridden have ranged from mid 20s to high 60s. That’s going from full on fleece-lined neoprene booties, windfront tights, triple layer up top, heavyweight skull cap and gloves to knee warmers, shorts and medium long sleeved jersey. Various other grades of headgear, shoe covers, gloves, gilets have been employed too. Likely this summer it’ll get into the 90s at some point and at that point it’s bare minimum on gear: socks., shorts, jersey, helmet. It must be weird living in a place where the temps don’t vary much.

    Indeed we’ve had a chance to try lots of combinations.  Up north of you we only got into the low 60s, but the same variations of winter shoes, summer shoes, neoprene covers, windproof covers, Belgian booties, merino socks, layered socks, summer-weight socks — and that’s only below the ankles!  I have found my new favorite piece of versatile clothing.  The Bontrager B2 windfront baselayer  makes a nice difference underneath a variety of top layers, all the way from my ShowersPass softshell trainer for colder conditions to under a midweight LS full-zip jersey and lots in between.  I think it will go very well with my Gabba SS and Sportful No-Rain warmers.

    On the bottoms my favorite is my Endura bib knicks with windproof/water resistant panels.  Slightly thicker/warmer than my Nanoflex, works well under my 28-year old (!) PI tights for high 20s/low 30s, and wore them alone today when the high was 38F and 15mph winds.

    Oh, socks of any variety are ALWAYS inside leg coverings…

  36. @Walbly

    “and never – under any circumstances – wear full-length leggings” ???

    Are you serious?  Why don’t you tough guys come up north and ride when it is 14 degF in your groovy knickers with your frost-bitten calves sluffing off in big black chunks.  With two pair of full-length fleece tights and one pair full-length regular tights I still am lucky if I can do 12 miles without feeling like I won’t even be able to get off my bike, much less strut around showing everybody my delineation.

    Do you ever even wear full-fingered gloves?  And you call yourselves tough.

    Two things in life are sure:

    1. If I post a photo of my bike, someone who has not seen me riding it will tell me it does not fit me.
    2. If I propose that tights or saddle bags are for losers, I will immediately receive a nastygram.

    These are the primary reasons I have not yet retired from Velominati.

  37. Crap! I just realized MSR has come and gone and the winter wool still clings to the guns.

    Enough of this banter about what lower body coverage to wear in winter – It’s Spring! Time to work on the mid quad delineation.

  38. @frank

    @Walbly

    “and never – under any circumstances – wear full-length leggings” ???

    Are you serious?  Why don’t you tough guys come up north and ride when it is 14 degF in your groovy knickers with your frost-bitten calves sluffing off in big black chunks.  With two pair of full-length fleece tights and one pair full-length regular tights I still am lucky if I can do 12 miles without feeling like I won’t even be able to get off my bike, much less strut around showing everybody my delineation.

    Do you ever even wear full-fingered gloves?  And you call yourselves tough.

    Two things in life are sure:

    1. If I post a photo of my bike, someone who has not seen me riding it will tell me it does not fit me.
    2. If I propose that tights or saddle bags are for losers, I will immediately receive a nastygram.

    These are the primary reasons I have not yet retired from Velominati.

    I know – right?

    Although I suspect the reason @Walby can only crank 19.312128 kilometers (enough with the imperial measurements everyone – this is cycling, not Nascar) is due to his enormous ballocks stuffed into that much gear.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.