Plastics are playing an ever growing role in cycling, particularly the increasingly popular sport of road racing in which plastics help serious cyclists achieve peak performance.
Plastic reinforced with carbon fibers is the material of choice for manufacturers of high performance bikes due to its unique combination of low weight and high strength. Many of today’s highest performing bikes use carbon fiber reinforced plastic for the frames, handle bars, stems, seat posts, rims, cranks … even the small and intricate derailleur that is responsible for quickly and precisely shifting the gears. (And of course plastics have long been used in many other bike parts, such as seats, cables, hand grips, reflectors and more.)
Beyond the bike, cyclists take advantage of plastics from head to toe to help the ride stay as aerodynamic, cool, and safe as possible. Starting with the toes, cyclers’ shoes often are made from a combination of plastics — nylon, Velcro® and carbon fiber reinforced plastic — making them light weight yet durable enough to withstand punishing amounts of torque and pressure.
Cycling shorts often are made with comfy, stretchy spandex (plastic fibers) that sometimes are treated with an antibacterial substance to ward off infections or a moisturizing lotion to help reduce chaffing. Cycling jerseys are designed to be longer in the back than in the front to adjust for the riding position, with a snug fit to reduce air resistance. These jerseys typically are made from quick-drying, lightweight polyester that wicks away moisture, helping keep cyclists dry.
Eyewear is also important to shield cyclists’ eyes from sun, wind, dirt and debris. New designs actually help cyclists see their competitors and the road or track more clearly by cutting down on glare and increasing sharpness. Eyewear worn by cyclists is typically made of shatter-resistant plastics that do not add significant weight and can be contoured to improve aerodynamics.
The bike helmet is essential for road racers and all cyclists. In a collision or fall, the helmet can help save a cyclist’s life. Most bike helmets are constructed of lightweight polystyrene (plastic) foam that absorbs crash energy and capped with an impact-resistant plastic shell, made with polyethylene, polycarbonate or other tough plastics. Helmets are shaped aerodynamically to reduce drag while also providing air vents to help keep cyclists cool.
From the Tour de France to the neighborhood bike race, plastics help keep cyclists cooler, safer and closer to peak performance.