How to be comfortable, look good and stay fresh smelling for over a week with virtually zero baggage allowance (having used it up on bikes, luggage and gadgets)
I needed to look tidy and businesslike for the conference and meetings with colleagues in Tokyo. Luckily the design community doesn’t care if you wear a suit or a Hawaian shirt as long as you do it with confidence. I also needed to cope with two days of serious cycling and a lot of cycling around and sightseeing in Tokyo.
In late October Japan is still very warm by British standards, an ideal time for a visit and I faced the usual problem of the out of season traveller, most shops at home had cleared out their supplies of summer clothing. I also have the old-fashioned idea that it is undignified to dress up in strange shaped, close-fitting clothes covered in garish advertising for products I have never heard of, which seems to rule out most “proper” cycle clothing.
However I had been working on the clothing problem for a few years so I had some answers already. During the summer I had made a one week cycle-camping trip round the western isles of Scotland and that had helped me test some different options.
For several years I have been trying to find some trousers that were suitable for cycling, especially on workdays where you want to look tidy and deal with rain showers. I’m no longer a slim youth and a lot of specialist outdoor clothes in clever fabrics seem to be tailored for unfleshed climbers and hikers. After a lot of false starts I eventually discovered Craghoppers Kiwi trousers which are reasonably flattering, lightweight, comfortable, and dry in 30 minutes after a rain shower. (they take a bit longer to dry if you aren’t inside them warming them up and moving them about)
Craghoppers make a version of these trousers with zip-off lower legs, which I had rejected as being a bit odd. However I eventually tried a pair for my summer trip and was completely won over. A pair of shorts that instantly converts to long trousers, dries easily, doesn’t need ironing and looks OK (if you don’t wish to be perfectly groomed) is exactly what a cyclist needs. In fact they are now the only trousers I wear in summer. I packed one dark blue pair (doesn’t show dirt) and one pale khaki pair (looks a bit more stylish) and that was all the trousers I needed.
I took one pair of padded cycling shorts, the best ones I have come from Edinburgh Cycle Co-op. In very hot weather I just wear those on their own, at other times I cover them with my blue Kiwi shorts which makes you look a bit more like a real person off the bike. For a longer trip you probably need two or three pairs of cycling shorts.
My top was protected by some Lowe Alpine Dryflo teeshirts that I had found at a reduced price at CCC in Sheffield, a good place for outdoor bargains. These shirts are an inoffensive blue-green colour with a discreet logo on the chest and their performance is remarkable. They feel very comfortable, breath well and you can wear one for several sweaty days if you really need to without feeling sticky. They dry easily so washing them overnight isn’t a problem. My friend Jane Barnes of Bicycle Beano cycle holidays commented that some early technical fabrics worked well but smelled horrid, I don’t think that can be said of the dryflo fabric.
I also had an Odlo lightweight fleece, in an unusual texture that has a more natural look and feel than the rather synthetic quality of most fleece. Unfortunately you can’t buy them any more but it provided me with a good light breathable pullover. Apart from that I just needed a cycling waterproof which I wore very little (mainly on a cold early morning ferry trip) but it gave me a windproof layer and insurance for if the weather had been wetter and colder.
For the times when I was mixing with other people I took a couple of short-sleeved shirts. I’ve become hooked on checked seersucker as an ideal summer fabric and I was pleased to find a Karrimor grey and white checked mock-seersucker (lumps rather than dimples) shirt in a super technical fabric at a local outdoor shop, Foothills. In Scotland I wore it every evening and it was still crisp and comfortable at the end of the trip. It washes and drys easily and you can roll it up for several days in the bottom of your bag, pull it out and it looks as though it had just been ironed. Perfect.
Of course the shop had sold out and nobody in the country seemed to have one left so, for my second string, I had to settle for a similar style of shirt by Rohan, who are supposed to be the best makers of travel and hiking stuff but I always think they miss the point. Their shirt was limp, in a mauve colour that made me look ill and it was an odd size, slightly too tight so emphasising my paunch. This year I looked again but checks are out of fashion and I can’t get the Karrimor shirt or anything like it. Note to self (again) – always buy several of anything you find that is good. At least I have two of the Odlo sweaters but I should really have bought four.
I took two pairs of shoes – a pair of Diadora fabric cycle-touring shoes and one pair of black trainers (Reebok classics – proper old-fashioned ones just like the Nike Internationalist shoes I wore in the first London Marathon back in 1981). The trainers are very comfortable and, being polished leather, you can wear them with anything. I don’t have any other kind of shoes for everyday use these days. The best thing about them is you can go back and buy an identical pair a year later (so far). The hard-soled touring shoes are necessary because my feet would be buzzing after two days pedalling in soft soled shoes. They are comfortable enough for use off the bike but you wouldn’t wear them all day if you had a choice. I bought them from Albert Butterworth’s bike shop in Abberdale Road, Sheffield.
I must say something about Albert Butterworth. In a world of endless, pointless choice, and bicycle boutiques staffed by ignorant poseurs, we all need an old-fashioned place that sells everything you need but only offers you a choice of one, with the cheery assurance that “we’ve found this to be the best value”.
Butterworth makes no concessions to stylish retail interior concepts. The shop is shabby and crowded from floor to ceiling with stock and a fine collection of miscellaneous old bikes that people bring to the shop for Albert to breath new life into. If you want to try on a rain jacket you have to wait while he patiently moves half a dozen bikes out of the way, repair customers seeing his shop as a convenient place to leave their bikes rent-free in the rainy season. He is knowledgable, skilled and apologises if he can’t fix your bike straight away although he rarely keeps you waiting more than a day or two. His prices are reasonable and when he has given your machine an overhaul it feels just like a new one.
For me, his finest hour was when the quick-fire gear levers on my touring bike started to fall apart. Knowing that my gears were long out of date and I was unlikely to find a new pair of levers I asked Albert what he could do. He dived into a cardboard box under the counter and pulled out the exact item I needed (old stock that he’d kept just in case). Not only was it the right part, it was the superior version that I had always wanted, with a neat indicator to show which gear you are in.
As far as socks and underwear are concerned, I just took what I had. However I’ve recently discovered the wonders of the Tilley company, who not only make the world’s best hats (I can vouch for that) but also supply a number of very practical items including socks and pants that are breathable and quick drying. The company claim that you can tour the world with just two pairs of each since you can wash and dry them overnight. So next time I am looking forward to saving even more weight.
Not having a Tilley hat at that point I took a Goretex baseball cap. As a long-term baldy I am more at risk from skin cancer than most so I try to keep my head covered. These days I always have my Tilley Airflo hat rolled up in my bag (Like the Karrimor shirt, it has remarkable powers of shape recovery).