cycling kit and safety

As I get more and more into cycling, I’ve been spending more and more money on cycling kit — fancy jerseys, cycling pants with decent padding, comfy gloves, cleats and shoes, helmets….. not to mention different kit for the changing seasons. And this is on top of the $ I spend on the actual bike itself, which is another small fortune.

I used to approach purchasing cycling gear with an attitude of pragmatism over aesthetics, but as I increased my cycling mileage, I’ve learnt that there’s a reason why some kit costs way more than others.  After falling off my bike on a descent on a rough patch in Hebei province in late April, I’ve learnt that good quality kit was not only more comfy, especially on long rides, but they actually reduced the extent of my injuries and saved my life.

Pre-crash outfit

The crash happened so fast, I had no recollection of what happened right before I lost control of my bike and landed on a haystack. I ended up with scrapes, bruises and swelling mostly on the left side of my body. Thank God I didn’t break any bones and felt strong enough to cycle another 15 km to the nearest town where a kind local took me to at a hospital to get cleaned up and checked out.

After getting back to Beijing, I’ve been reflecting on how I could’ve prevented the crash and how my kit’s (literally) saved my skin, if not my life:

  1. Helmet

Apart from a dent, my helmet was pretty much intact, which spoke volumes about its quality. This helmet has served me well since I bought it from a Swedish friend’s going-away sale mid last year. He bought it for his wife but it was too big for her, so it was almost brand new. I used to think any old helmet will do as long as I’m wearing one when I’m cycling. My first bike helmet was the cheapest one in the shop and a little too big for my head, so I gave it away after I got the Orbea. The Orbea was the right size for my head and had an adjustable dial at the back which I’d loosen when I wore a cap underneath my helmet in winter, and tighten when I don’t. I’m now wearing my aunt’s  very fancy and comfy Rudy Project helmet. I’m definitely not skimping on my next helmet purchase.

2. Prescription sports sunglasses

I bought these from Beijing’s spectacles wholesale market in Panjiayuan about two years ago on a friend’s recommendation. The whole set came with five interchangeable lens with the prescription lens wedged behind. I bought these after getting annoyed at the inadequacies of my normal specs. They kept slipping down my nose and didn’t provide any coverage against dust and whatever else the road threw up. Even though the spectacles broke into pieces on impact and scratched my left cheek, my eyes were thankfully unharmed. I still have a faint ‘Z’-shaped scar on my left cheek which will hopefully fade over time.

3. Cycling clothes

On the morning of the ride, I was still contemplating whether or not I should wear my arm warmers. I figured if it got warmer later, I could always take them off and stash them in my jersey pockets. Boy, was I glad I never took them off, because they literally saved the skin under my left forearm when I fell from my bike later that day. As the arm warmers were over a year old, they took quite a beating from the fall and I wasn’t able to wash out the blood stains. They were thrown out together with my beloved helmet.

My jersey protected the rest of my left arm and showed no sign of damage, as you can see in my Powerman duathlon pictures.

For the longest time, I’ve always regarded cycling gloves more as items of comfort rather than safety. I’ve been blessed with palms that don’t perspire as others and so I don’t have to worry about losing my grip. This fall has caused me to look at cycling gloves with fresh eyes.

Last but not least, my favourite Pearl Izumi cycling pants were not just the most comfy cycling pants, they were also resilient. Even heavily discounted, they’re the most expensive pair of cycling pants I’ve ever bought (RMB 800+). I’ve worn them so much over the past two years, the logo has fallen off.  My left thigh still bear the scrapes from the fall, but these cycling pants are still in pristine condition, apart from a couple of tiny holes and a tiny bit of scratchy fabric. My Castelli cycling pants didn’t fare so well after my fall in Yangshuo last Feb.

What’s your favourite cycling kit? I’m looking forward to hear from you and discover cool new kit.


my vintage love affair

I bought this top from these ladies for 30 yuan (US$5)
I bought a gorgeous top from these ladies for 30 yuan (US$5)

As with everything in life, I discovered the wonders of vintage shopping later than everyone else. I remember reading about it in fashion mags from the US and the UK and seeing friends with amazing purchases from St Vinnies and the like, but I’d never bought anything second-hand before.

It was when my friend decided to throw a 60s themed hen’s party that I felt compelled to seek out vintage dresses.  I decided to head over to the Drum and Bell Tower avenue, Beijing’s vintage central, to see if I could buy something appropriate to wear for the party at a vintage market held in a dinghy nightclub frequented by teenagers and twenty-somethings. Having shopped most of my life in brightly lit malls and boutiques, it was squinting at random clothing with no sizing information, hung haphazardly on racks with no visible price tags.

Vespa Fair at 2 Kolegas
Vespa Fair at 2 Kolegas

It was a very hot summer day, the air conditioner didn’t seem to be working and there were no windows in the club.  After a mere 15 minutes, I wanted to leave the place but I was also determined not to leave empty-handed. I pulled out a couple of dresses and asked the male stall owner if I could try them on. In typical Chinese efficiency, he took one look at me, proclaimed that the dresses wouldn’t fit me, and proceeded to pull three dresses from his rack at light speed. He shoved the dresses at me and said these were the only dresses he had that would fit me.  I didn’t particularly like any of the dresses he gave me, but chose the one I disliked the least, paid whatever he asked for it, which was probably about US$10 and left the market as quickly as my legs would take me. I never tried the dress on.

I found out afterwards that I couldn’t actually make it to the hen’s night after all. So my first vintage purchase was relegated to the back of my wardrobe, as I waited for an occasion to wear it to.

18 months passed. I was rummaging through my wardrobe looking for something to wear to work on a warm spring day when I chanced upon my first vintage purchase. On a whim, I decided to try it on to see if it actually fit me. It did, like it was made for me. The dark brown silk dress with an orangey red leaf pattern that looked dowdy to my untrained eye was instantly transformed once I put it on. It gave me a waist, flattened my tummy and made me stand straighter, taller.

I wore the dress to work and became the envy of my female colleagues, especially when I told them how much I paid for it.

From that day onwards, I became a vintage junkie. I went to so many vintage markets, I was recognised by sellers who’d give me and my friends exclusive discounts. I became so accustomed to buying silk dresses for less than 100 yuan (about US$15) apiece, I began to see paying 79 yuan for a tank top at Uniqlo as a luxury.  Wearing a well-tailored, one-of-a-kind dress with a history just seems so much more fun than wearing a brand new dress churned out by the hundreds and worn by as many others, not to mention the waste created.

I’ve enjoyed watching the attitudes of the local Chinese slowly thaw towards vintage clothing, especially in light of their deeply ingrained belief to always buy new things. Friends in Beijing, I look forward to see you at the next vintage market.