The Great Tweed vs Lycra debate in cycle wear


There isn’t one.

Well at least according to a Welsh Pole I know when I suggested this as a topic to him…so out of spite, I thought that I would do a little research to prove him wrong, as that is how I get my kicks.

Obviously there  has been the Tweed Revolution as outlined in the Chap Manifesto – “THOU SHALT ALWAYS WEAR TWEED” being the first commandment. However after an initial grand start around 2004, they seem to have rather faded away from the public consciousness, and appear to content themselves with loafing in the most idyllic of fashions locked away in piles stocked full of whisky and gin. A terribly genteel revolution, the sort that seems to have sputtered and taken a doze in the smoking room of debate just before any real action. There’s little mention of cycling in their literature and the appropriate garb, but their first commandment seems pretty all consuming and does not leave much whisker room for movement on what is the right apparel for cycling.

Then there is the commendable Tweed Cycling Club. These fellows seem to have begun the debate in some earnest, and appear to be made up of a close knit group of English sorts harking back to the days of yore when elderflower cordial was a seasonal homemade drink and bananas were considered exotic.

However, as worthy as these two efforts are, they have always somewhat faltered at the first furlong lacking that one crucial element – an opponent willing to enter into the debate with the men and women of tweed.

Now the Guardian Bike Blog does occasionally dip its toe into these potentially turbulent waters, but really to my mind little more than that. Always it seems some sort of argument over style vs practicality, while never really investigating further than a few idle comments as posted by its diligent readers. There are few, if any,  practical tests nor is there any suggestion of real seriousness in discussion which such a weighty topic deserves.

Clearly this needs to be addressed further…and further address I will after I have had a good night’s rest.


11 responses to “The Great Tweed vs Lycra debate in cycle wear

  1. spiteful!..
    i’m not convinced by either. your article lacks lyrca based material, so i can see which side of the argument you are dressing on. i think the answer is neither. straight down the middle of the two. a bit like hoy in the photo.
    (a knob-centric comment but in keeping with the blog, i feel).

  2. How generous of you to call this an article…and as perhaps you will notice I have mentioned that I will continue the debate after I have slept. I however wanted to give you something to read for the morrow, but could not be bothered to finish it last night, so settled for this.

    Ungrateful bastard.

  3. I wonder, On the Bummel, if now that you are well-rested you would care to return to the issue you’ve raised?

    I for one know which side of the bench I am sitting on and it is most certainly the more robust and traditional fabric which I think should rule the day. Put simply, outside of the olympics or a serious competition of that nature, lycra is to be abhorred. The men – and it is almost wholly men – who wear it tend to be prats of the highest order and I would ALWAYS want to chat up a chap in tweed. The end.

    • Pants…I have overly restrictive internet settings at work which means that this is my third attempt at scribbling a response!

      However it went along a little like this…

      Return I will Miss Hannah – just once I have left the plutonian shores of this bloody office!

      You raise an exceptionally good point though – one which both the Chap Manifesto and Tweed Cycling Club ignore: namely that there is a time for lycra. However it is the times not for lycra which I believe my thoughts will try to identify over the next couple of hours before I jump once more into the fray of this crucial and lively debate!

  4. Who says lycra can’t be fashionable…

    If Jerome K Jerome saw a man pedaling down gower street under a top hat and tails and on top of a disproportionately over sized front wheel proclaiming the benefits of wooden tyres and the ability to peer into ladies’ boudoirs on the first floor, I’m fairly sure JK and his chums would have tried to physically assault him. Now i’m not saying that you should be physically assaulted, i’m just saying that in the days of On The Bummel tweed was the most practical and efficient material for outdoor activities and so the fashion of choice for the cyclist, much like Lycra is now. In fact, if your hero Jerome was alive today he would be cycling in Lycra.

    I also read that you are a disciple of chappism and I don’t doubt you look very dapper in your tweeds, corduroys and brothel creepers, but for cycling? You must agree that there is nothing worse than a chaffed chap…or maybe that’s to do with the shoes that you wear xx

    ps, Kudoes for the Kapuscinski bit

  5. arite chris oy. as me mam says, at leest wid lycra yous is only covered in yous own piss anyhoo. unlike tweed, man, wheres a sheeps gone pissed on yous first.

    (betta be no joekin about me surname here, mind).

  6. One must be suspicious of the apparently active cycling gentleman or woman dressed in tweed. For three reasons

    Firstly, the United Kingdom, Britainnia, our Albion has many advantages. From the beer to our powers of teamaking one has to agree that it is a most excellent place. However, this green and pleasant land is green for a reason. And that reason is precipitation, or to put it in plain english, rain. When tweed is exposed to rain it becomes heavy and smells lightly of sheep. This is not desirable

    Secondly, tweed is a heavy material conducive to the internal warmth generated by persons cycling. Women glow and gentleman do slightly more. Although tweed does allow evapouration to a limited extent, it is better suited to men of a certain age strolling around the park or golf course. It is not suited to even mild energies on the open road

    Thirdly, when shooting grouse the camouflage colours of tweed are advantageous. When smooking a pipe on the balcony in a low key fashion, the appearance of tweed is ideal. But on the lanes, streets and highways of the 21st century being slightly inconspicuous is not a positive attribute. When one is faced with a “Yummy Mummy” in her chelsea tractor and talking on the mobile telephone, one needs to be instantly visible in a glance.

    In conclusion, tweed and the bicycle do not mix on the roads of today.

    • Oh I would beg to differ on several of these points…though really most of them are quite convincing and I heartily appreciate you taking the time to make them. And really it is not that suspicious to engage in the wearing of tweed…just perhaps a little twee.

      Firstly – I am in complete agreement as to the wonders of this isle of ours, and its close relationship with rain. Tweed however is actually one of the better natural fabrics for rain – the natural oils allow a certain amount of run off (much like say the proverbial duck) and in heavy downpours though the weight increases, much of the heat insulation qualities remain. As for smelling of damp sheep, this is much better than damp dog, and really is not so offensive – at least to my nose which was brought up in close proximity to both creatures.

      To your second point, it depends upon the type of tweed you wear, and whether it has been worsted etc as to its weight. I remember reading a couple of years ago that some tailors had remade the tweed outfits worn by Mallory and Irvine, which were found to be lightweight, warm and breathable – and prohibitively expensive. Mountaineering is clearly an energetic activity, and such clothing when put to the test was found to be more than adequate. I would seek out this article were I not at work. I am also relatively young and can be found using tweed without breaking into a terrible sweat – at least no more so than wearing a woollen jumper or synthetic windbreaker. I only however wear it in the coldest of the winter months, and am generally more a fan of a fisherman style jumper – such as the Guernsey or the Breton style fisherman jumpers. The tweed I wear is a thick Harris tweed jacket and provides ample warmth and ventilation – mostly through the holes that one picks up through wandering in the countryside.

      As to your third point, I could not agree more. Tweed is inconspicuous, but no more so than most of the other garments you see other cyclists wearing – luminescent jackets withstanding. Just as anyone else who would rather wear dull colours in their normal day to day garb, I would recommend being festooned with lights and other paraphernalia such as reflective baldricks etc. Safety should never really take priority over fashion or comfort.

      I would therefore like to conclude that tweed has a place on the roads, just as lycra and all the other fabrics employed by today’s cyclist. I suppose I should have made it clear in the blog (which it clearly is not), that by using the terms “tweed” and “lycra” I was trying to be generic – with tweed being natural fibres and lycra standing for synthetic.

  7. Pingback: The Greatest Tragedy ever to befall the Penny Farthing – the Great Lycra vs Tweed debate round 2 « On the bummel·

  8. The Manifesto could not have been more clear on the matter, THOU SHALT ALWAYS WEAR TWEED. So please do refrain from questioning the manifesto, as questioning and manifestos often do not go well together.

    About “the range of clothing items suited to the vagaries of weather and the demands of vigorous exertion” Richard Mercredy via Vic Darkwood Esq. states in his lovely “How to Make Friends and Oppress People”, or “The Lost Art of Travel” for those residing in England:
    – Drawers, should be dispensed with, unless they’re necessity during winter.
    – Trousers, not to be worn while cycling under any circumstances!
    – Knee-Breeches, should not grip the knees at any time and are preferred over knickerbockers.
    – Head Gear, The wide-awake and deer stalker, as well as helmet are recommended.

  9. Oh questioning manifestos is surely what they were designed for, no? A manifesto that cannot withstand vigorous debate is not worth the blog spot it is printed on.

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