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I took @Jason's and @Neil's advice and practiced wearing clipless pedals in cold weather. I fell three times (nearly four) last week, all at very low speeds: twice because of ice, and twice because of having my shoes clipped to the pedals and not unclipping in time.

Falling didn't hurt: at all. At the time I was wearing a short-sleeve shirt, and a long-sleeved uninsulated Gore-Tex wind-and-rain-proof anorak (and jeans and gloves and a hard hat). I bruised my hip slightly, one of those time; never any cuts or abrasions.

The weather is getting better (it's above freezing, this week). Eventually, it will be hot. I commute and I don't know about specialist bike clothes. I expect I might wear, I don't know, summer shorts and a T-shirt in hot weather (and shoes and a hard hat and maybe gloves).

Ought I, for safety, to wear long sleeves or something, even in summer, in case I come off again? I can't see myself wearing a wind-proof anorak in sunny summer when the temperature is in the +10C to +25C kind of range.

Should I have something though, to protect my arms if I fall? Would long sleeves make a difference? Is there a fabric that's protective yet cool?

I don't see myself wearing armour just for commuting. On the other hand, my fear / worst case scenario is that I might fall, leave bits of elbow tendon behind on the pavement, and then people say "what a fool: didn't he know he's supposed to wear XXX for, you know, basic safety when cycling?"

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I only use platform pedals when riding on snow and ice. You need to be able to get your feet off the pedal and on the ground RIGHT NOW... Anything that ties you to the bike is bad news. :-) –  Brian Knoblauch Mar 17 '11 at 12:01
    
@Brian I agree. I have that kind of pedals which clip on one side, and not the other. The first time I fell was sheer inexperience: riding the new bike home from the LBS, after dark, and crossing a frozen puddle on a bike path. After that I always unclipped (and try to turn the pedals over so that I can't accidentally re-clip) when crossing snow. The second time I fell was hitting some loose chunk of ice out in the otherwise-dry road, that I hadn't seen. The 3rd time was stopping at an intersection, getting confused/distracted by a car, unclipping only my left shoe but going down on the right. –  ChrisW Mar 18 '11 at 2:49
    
I make an effort to wear (loose-fitting) white long sleeve shirts in the summer here for sun protection. I find that it keeps me cooler -- especially if it is button down because they permit lots of air flow (when not tucked in). It is frequently over 100F (38C) here in Tucson. –  Joe Jul 29 '13 at 0:46
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8 Answers

up vote 4 down vote accepted

As the weather and your skills improve, do a continual risk/benefit analysis of your ride safety outfit.

As has already been said, you will get better and better at riding clipless. Right now, you are learning under the most difficult conditions--judging from your question, two of the four falls (50%!) simply wouldn't have happened if you had taken this up in the summertime.

So by the time weather is good, you will be even less likely to come off of the bike. As you've probably figured out, the learning curve is generally steep for clipless pedals.

Just the same, it isn't unreasonable to think about protecting bare skin from a fall.

On the flipside, you should consider the potential for heat injury while riding in the summer. You can hydrate, sure, but you will need to keep your body from overheating if you are riding hard under summer conditions. In central California, riding my bike in long sleeves really would create more risk of heat injury than riding in a t-shirt's risk of abrasion.

I don't often fall off of my bike, but when I do it hurts.

I don't often suffer from heat stress but honestly, if I do, it has the potential to be just as injurious!

That said, I never wear long sleeves in summer while commuting--I wear sunscreen lotion and a t-shirt. I do, however, often wear long sleeves in summer while riding my mountain bike on rugged trails.

Your risk/benefit analysis may yield different results than mine... but that's how it looks from this end.

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Mmm - heat injury! A whole new, fascinating world to explore and to experience (sometime in the future; I don't know anything about it yet). –  ChrisW Mar 18 '11 at 2:51
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I avoid riding on ice these days (way too old for that anymore), but I've only fallen three times in ten years and about 10,000 miles of riding. Two of those were in the first week of using clipless pedals.

The trick with clipless pedals is to unclip BEFORE you need to. Generally you can unclip (at least one foot) and ride with the arch of your foot for a considerable distance without difficulty, and you need to get into the habit of doing this as you approach difficult intersections, etc.

My third fall was a "planned" one four years ago when I had to bail out on a steep hill (my old polio is catching up with me). Skinned up my leg a bit but I don't recall any arm injuries.

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For protection from slow speed falls and stumbles in winter football (soccer) goalkeepers kit is cheap, warm and has protection for knees, hips and elbows. Its very popular for cycle speedway racing.

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You ONLY fell three times in one week? It really sounds like you should get a studded front tire next winter. If you take off your front wheel and spin it while holding on to the hub, you will notice that the centrifugal force prevents you from turning it exactly right or left, but it will very quickly and easily zip diagonally down and out. This is the path it takes when you slip on the ice and this motion is so fast that it is just a roll of the dice what part of your body gets smashed. Studs will give you great peace-of-mind next winter.

Nokians are the ones to get. Two local bike shops are selling them in a buy one get one free deal. That is an excellent deal! You would be set for the next 10 winters.

You will soon get so used to clipless pedals that popping out of them in a hurry will be second nature. Keeping feet free will probably NOT make a difference for your ice falls. When I have fallen on ice, my front wheel zipped out from under me so fast, there was no time to even move my feet. If you feel like you MIGHT fall and then put a foot down on ice, that foot may slip.

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Summers in my area get up to 90-100 during the day, and I would not ride around in a long sleeve shirt.

My personal favorite shirt to wear is something like the Pearl Izumi Attack Short Sleeve Jersey from Performance Bike:

It's my favorite because of the color - "high visibility yellow". Most of my riding is on local streets, and it makes me feel better knowing I'm nice and bright-colored. I prefer this over a regular t-shirt because it lets more air through, doesn't get heavy as it absorbs my sweat, and it has handy-dandy pockets in the back (great for my work ID, so I don't have to dig through my bag to find it to swipe in the building).

You can check with your local bike shop and see what you like - I'm not a very skinny guy, so the tight-fitting bike jerseys don't look good on me. There are a lot of biking shirts that are looser fitting, some being designed as "mountain biking" clothes.

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I've ridden in long sleeves (and long pants) at 45 degrees Celcius which is quite hot in fahrenheit (115-ish) and find it at least as comfortable. Mostly because down here someone poked a big hole in the ozone layer so we get more UV than they do, and us pasty white guys sunburn easily. But also because a layer of cloth helps keep the sun off so you stay cooler. See also traditional arab clothing. –  Мסž Apr 27 '11 at 2:55
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In my experience any road accident fast enough to hurt will injure you through any clothes you are wearing. I've ended up with badly gashed shoulders and haunches where my shorts and jersey have just been scuffed.

The thing that I took away from my last big crash (35km/h onto rough tarmac) was the importance of a helmet obviously, but also how mashed my fingers were, and how bad my palms would have been if I hadn't been wearing mitts.

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Yes I'll always wear gloves: I've gloves made of leather and sewn-in foam on the front (which cover the palm and the first joint of each digit), and webbing/netting on the back; effectively backless, they're cool enough to wear in any season. There might be such a thing as bike shorts with protective padding in the hips, if you want them. –  ChrisW Mar 19 '11 at 14:53
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I hope that by the summer you'll be so used to clipless pedals that you won't be falling any more.

I wear long sleeves because as a pasty white guy I need all the sun protection I can get. From experience they only help a little tiny bit in a major fall because they just abrade away to nothing wherever they get stuck between your skin and the road. But where long sleeves really help is turning a bruised graze into a bruise - the shirt helps soak up some of the damage so you bleed less in minor falls. Like the low-speed ones you've been having. Expect the fall to leave holes in the shirt, dirt embedded in it and if you're unlicky, blood on it. But it's been a long time since I even fell off, let alone did more than roll a couple of times and say "oops".

As far as fabrics go I find cotton t shirts work fine. Yes, proper synthetic fabric cycling shirts work better but they cost more and it's hard to find them without advertising on them. If I'm paying to advertise something I want it to be something I support. Land rights for gay whales or whatever. I also like the shirt to be one I don't feel obliged to change out of as soon as I get off the bike, plus I already own a collection of long sleeved cotton t shirts. Some with hoods, which is even better. CafePress sell them

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So, to summarise: shirts help to soak up the damage (less bleeding); and, expect to damage the shirt; also, hope it doesn't happen. You say, "cotton T shirts work fine": do you mean short-sleeve, or long-sleeve? Are there long-sleeve T shirts? What does "proper synthetic" mean (and, is some kind of "improper synthetic" a possible substitute)? I would't mind changing shirts when I get off. I'll be going from a cycle to an air-conditioned, 8-hour office day, so I'm already expecting to change into jeans (I'm already changing gloves, shoes, and hat: pants and shirt, no big deal; also, +1 whales). –  ChrisW Mar 17 '11 at 4:02
    
@ChrisWL "proper" means the lycra cycle stuff you get from bike shops and more general sportswear. It wicks sweat better and survives being left damp longer. I have long sleeve cotton t shirts, they're not common but they are available. –  Мסž Mar 17 '11 at 5:16
    
Usually wear a poly T shirt (coolmax/underarmour/whatever is on sale) underneath and a cotton or fleece long sleeve. Or MEC / REI do plain colored long sleeve cycling tops, with no logos, - but some of us are getting too much midriff to look good in them –  mgb Mar 17 '11 at 6:22
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Unless you're out derbying or have a complicating balance issue I wouldn't worry about it. Falling off a bicycle when commuting or recreational riding should become an extremely rare experience with practice. Tank tops and shorts are perfectly acceptable bike wear in the summer.

Ice is of course a different beast; the best advice I have for ice is that you should be prepared to fall and do not have anything in your pockets that you don't want embedded in your leg.

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Currently there's grit and gravel on the road, especially in the bike lanes: left over from the months of winter ice. I'm dubious about that: one of the times I fell was on sheet ice (i.e. a frozen puddle); but another time was the front wheel touching and slipping off a chunk of something while my feet were clipped in. I also, riding in a bike line lane, occasionally get cars passing me with about 15 inches to spare: if one of them ever miscalculated and touched me then I'd be going down at speed. –  ChrisW Mar 17 '11 at 5:29
    
My understanding is that motorcyclists, for example, don't expect/intend to fall, but they wear leathers or equivalent, andpeople think it's strange/reckless if they don't. I was wondering what bicyclists "should" wear. But you say tank tops are OK. –  ChrisW Mar 17 '11 at 5:30
    
Yes I've been keeping keys etc. in my jacket pockets. I'll need to put them somewhere else when I don't have a jacket: perhaps in the pannier. –  ChrisW Mar 17 '11 at 5:33
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Put keys, cell phone somewhere you have a bit of (natural) padding underneath. Road -> keys -> rib hurts ! –  mgb Mar 17 '11 at 6:20
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@ChrisW - Motorcyclists are going much faster, such that substantial amounts of skin can be removed entirely in an accident. Also, they're not exercising, so that stuff doesn't lead to overheating. For normal cycling, don't compare to motorcyclist safety equipment. –  freiheit Mar 17 '11 at 21:17
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