What to Wear for 160 Miles

I sent my deposit. I signed the waiver. Next weekend, I’ll be biking to and from Santa Cruz.

Last week was my biggest of training, with a goal of 160 total bike miles — because if I can do it in four days, I can do it in two, uh, right? I made it to a little over 40 during the week with one bike commute and one intense computrainer class. That left me with 120 for the weekend, which I split as 45 Saturday/75 Sunday.

Saturday’s 45 crawled by. I’m not sure if I was just tired of the route (home to Aquatic Park to the Presidio to Ocean Beach to Lake Merced until I’m sick of going in circles to Twin Peaks) or if I ran too much with TAG in the middle (I meant to run no more than six miles but a combination of hill repeats and running by time instead of mileage left me at almost 7.5). All I know is that I spent the better part of an hour fantasizing about how good it was going to feel when my Garmin finally clicked over to 38 (I’d ridden 7 miles to TAG earlier in the morning, which might be cheating, but whatever: my rules).

Or maybe I was just nervous about Sunday. That 75 miles was my longest ride to date, and I had absolutely no idea how my body would react or how I would entertain myself for what I figured would be five to six hours on a bike. My solution was to favor company over novelty and did the first leg of my ride twice — out and back to the Cheese Factory with the TAG group, then out again on my own. It seemed a little silly to make the full out-and-back loop when I didn’t have to — especially because part of it goes through stoplight-studded Novato — but having people around for the first 25 miles made a world of difference. I was at 36 by the time I hit the Cheese Factory for the second time, 45 in Point Reyes. The last 30 miles were not fast — it was more than two hours of riding — but they were so much less of a slog than any part of Saturday’s ride. I did get a little lost at the end — which, it turns out, a way to make me angry is to have me ride randomly through a neighborhood at mile 73 of a 75-mile (now 76-mile) ride — and I started wanting food that didn’t come in bar or gummy form after a couple of hours. But physically I was fine, and mentally I was 90% there, even when I rolled up to my car after 5.5 hours covered in road grime and dead bugs with only a bag of Chex Mix to look forward to.

(I do wish exercise were more meditative for me, because I can only imagine what big thoughts I might have had over the course of all those solo hours on a bike. Instead I sing dumb songs to myself and occasionally think about how much I wish I could think better while exercising.)

This weekend I’ll do something like 45/25 and then I’m ready to go. I guess. I mean, I have no idea. But I’ve decided that’s what it means to be ready, so it is.

Except there’s one last question: What the hell shorts do I wear?

Background: Last year I switched to wearing tri shorts exclusively. I’ve never been a fan of bike shorts (diaper-y) and I also thought it was a little unwise, if I was training for triathlons, to have comfort in training that I’d never have on race day.

Here’s my current roster:

  • Houndstooth SOAS: I bought these last spring after being convinced by the damn blogosphere that they were worth it. I was skeptical of the no-drawstring waistband (I do not have the kindest proportions for keeping pants in the right place with my body alone — or, as a friend put it, “that seems like an idea that doesn’t scale well”), but to my great surprise, they stay up. I wore my houndstooth shorts for every significant ride last year. I’m not saying they’re magic, and they still have some seams and some weird chafe-y parts in unpleasant places. That said, I think they’re my favorite all-around tri shorts.
  • Teal SOAS: I was wearing the other shorts to death, and when I saw some of the older patterns going on sale last year, I bought a second pair. But the shorts I got as pair #2 don’t fit as well as the houndstooth ones — even though they’re the same label size. They’re shorter and smaller in the waist (see below), and the fabric feels heavier to me.


    I still wear them, because even on sale they weren’t cheap, but I feel itchy and uncomfortable in them and I don’t have a particular desire to feel that way for 6-8 hours.

  • Cheapo Zoot tri shorts: I have 2 pair of these. Super thin/light under a wetsuit, but they don’t have enough padding to even vaguely consider wearing them for 75 miles (or, like, 30 miles).
  • Coeur Chevron: When a bunch of the former SOAS blog ambassadors started repping Coeur, I was curious — and more so when I found out Coeur was the new project of one of the SOAS founders. But I didn’t like the designs, so I’d more or less written them off. What got me back was this blog review pointing out that the chamois padding goes all the way down the leg, meaning no weird crotch seam to rub between my seat and my leg. How is this not even mentioned on their own product page? (They did finally blog about it this week, but seriously? I’d be screaming it from the rooftops if I were them!) The fit is very similar to my SOAS shorts, but the fabric is lighter (more like a bathing suit). The downsides are that they feel flimsier/more likely to slip — which I don’t care much about in this case since I’m not running — and that the gray fabric shows sweat/moisture extremely quickly. It’s not a fashion show, I get that, but I try to minimize the amount of time I spend looking like I’ve just peed on myself. I wore these on Sunday and for about 60 miles they were very comfortable, then after that I really wanted to not be sitting on a bike any more. (But that might not be only about the shorts.)

So the Coeurs will cover me for one day. But will I want something more forgiving on Day 2, especially since I’ll be sitting on my bike for another 6-8 hours and, oh yeah, probably riding into a headwind?

I’m interested in seeing if I can find any traditional, more heavily padded bike shorts that won’t chafe or feel saggy. I’m not getting my hopes up too high, but I am going to REI, armed with a gift card, to see what I can find.

My question, for anyone who’s done multi-day or otherwise long rides before: What might I want on day 2 that I’m not thinking of? I have noticed that changing brand/fit of shorts between the two days makes a big difference for me, but is my instinct right that I will want more padding on day 2? And who’s got a favorite pair of shorts to recommend?

(Yep, this has been a lot of words about my bum.)

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8 thoughts on “What to Wear for 160 Miles

  1. Layla says:

    I don’t have any answers or experience, but my instinct would also be to change brands so the seams hit differently. However, if there is absolutely no chafing after the first day, maybe my thinking is wrong, and you should stick to the same ones?

    The Coeur chamois kind of blew my mind — yes, why hasn’t this been talked about?! I’m not thrilled with their light colors (white tops? really??? I sure can’t ever where those!), but you may have just sold me on the shorts, especially since I’ve been wanting “thinner” ones. If they definitely don’t chafe, maybe wear them the first day and your favorite SOAS ones the second day?

    Regardless, I think you’re definitely prepared for this bike ride. You’ll be great!

    • kimretta says:

      Re: the Coeur chamois: RIGHT???? How is that not the FIRST thing I knew about them? It’s really plush and comfortable, too.

      They also now have a “little black” tri short and tri top, though I’m not sure if any darker colors have rolled out to the run or cycle stuff. I might just have to get a pair of the “little black” shorts for the arsenal.

      • Layla says:

        So I just dug up your old post about the Coeur shorts, due to our recent tweets about them. This spring, instead of trying the Coeur shorts for $80, I tried a pair of Novara shorts from REI — regularly $60 but I had a 20% coupon. The seams are basically non-existent, there’s less padding in strategic places, and they actually fit me properly. They’re kind of long, but I think maybe that helps them stay put. Here’s the link: http://www.rei.com/product/826636/novara-mezzo-road-bike-shorts-womens (That said, I really really want to try the Coeur “little black” shorts…)

        • kimretta says:

          Ooh, awesome! I tried on some Novara shorts but not these; these look nicer. I don’t think I ever updated on here, but I ended up with a pair of Canari shorts via REI that have more padding but not as much as most bike shorts I’ve tried. They’re decent and I still wear them, but I think I generally prefer tri shorts at this point since I’m so used to them.

  2. Theodora says:

    oooh! I can’t wait to hear about this 🙂

  3. Kristina says:

    That’s awesome that you’re going – sounds like it will be an amazing experience! I have no advice about the shorts, but I did end up getting a tri team kit which uses Voler. Other people raved about their shorts (the nicer end ones which were still pretty cheap). Last week I went for a longer ride with a pair of Pearl Izumi that I’ve always liked but they gave my first saddle sores (first time for everything), so then this weekend I had a longer ride with the Voler shorts – and they were great! Not that any of this helps you…
    My other discovery these two weekends – I stopped thinking about my bike shorts and how I felt ‘down there’ when I was cursing the hill or the road or both. Amazing how other sort of suffering will distract me from minor discomfort.

    • kimretta says:

      Yeah! I had a little bit of that last weekend, where when I set out on ride #2 my butt muscles were like “uh no thanks” but as soon as I started climbing a hill I totally forgot about it in favor of other discomfort. I don’t know what it says about people like us that we’re cool with that, but I can deal. 🙂

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