It seems that cycling has become a more popular hobby of late, in my hometown anyway, but I suspect the local is not a completely unique sample section. Sure, I have memories from childhood of the group of Sunday cyclers who would clog local roadways in their tour around town, but it seems that more and more regular people are making a more regular habit of donning their cycling uniforms and taking to the streets on their bikes. A friend of my parents, who is a local restaurant owner, regularly bikes fifty or so miles around the metro area. My brother recently purchased himself a new bicycle that he rides around the University campus from class to class. I still have my Grandpa’s old Peugeot that I’d like to restore; I just wouldn’t mind spending some time on two wheels again, as it’s been since my teens that I last really rode a bike on a regular basis.
They are fascinating devices. Today’s carbon fiber wonders with intricate gearing mechanisms make my childhood Huffy look like a dinosaur. The Oklahoma Museum of Science has a small but interesting exhibit of historical bicycles. Although it almost seems there is more lore about the origins of the bicycle than history, it is widely accepted that the first one was invented in 1817 in Germany by Charles, Baron Von Drais. Unlike the modern bicycles that we know, this early example had no drive mechanism, but did sport a padded seat and a steerable front wheel. To all you cyclists out there, did you realize that your hobby turns 200 next year?
Back when foundational garments for women included girdles, these now archaic garments were being made from rubber up until the material was in a shortage due to the efforts in World War II. In response to the rubber shortage, Dr. Joseph Shivers, PhD, working for DuPont, began research to develop a new material that could be used as a replacement for rubber in clothing. Through much effort and perseverance, and over a decade later, he and his team invented “Fiber K,” which was renamed “Lycra.” This fiber stretches up to 600% and returns to its original length, in a slimmer, lighter, and more breathable package than its rubber predecessor. Over the course of the next few decades, Lycra, or Spandex, found its way into specialized garments and textiles in applications so varied and vast that I doubt Dr. Shivers himself could have imagined the impact.
Sometime in the 1970s, purpose-made cycling clothing was made from Spandex blends for competitive cycling. Over the subsequent decades, these clingy garments have trickled from the race track to the aforementioned town cruisers. As I wrote in the original paragraph above, regular people will put on their cycling uniform to pedal the local streets. So essentially, for well over 150-years, people managed to enjoy cycling without junk-hugging Spandex. But, my how times have changed! Now we live in a world where it’s hard to go into a coffee shop without seeing some folks nonchalantly meandering about in their skin-tight bike outfits. That stuff leaves nothing to the imagination!
I kid, of course. At least these people are generally in better shape than your average Walmart shopper. As much as I like to rail on people for fashion (not pants!), I honestly don’t care what people choose to wear. Apparently, there are good reasons to go Spandex if you’re biking the long haul well beyond looks or aerodynamics. Heck, maybe I need to get Grandpa’s Peugeot up and running so I too can justify wandering into the bagel shop clad in nothing but skin-tight Spandex and a pair of Oakleys. I think Grandpa would roll over in his grave.