Tan lines are a rite of passage in the cycling world, a hallmark we must all bear if we wish to ride alongside the sport’s greatest. The sharper the line the better; the more your skin looks like a Dulux colour chart the more nods of admiration you’re going to receive from your riding friends.
Scathing looks from onlookers shouldn’t worry you, these lines are a reward for the hundreds of hours you’ve put in over the summer months. Despite their prestige within cycling communities however, and the respect they command while out on the road, is it healthy to continually top them up all summer long? And if it isn’t, how exactly should we hone these beauties responsibly?
The depth of your tan and the precision of the line that separates your lower quad from the top is a well-known barometer for how far and how hard you’ve cycled over the past few months. You can tell more from a cyclist’s tan than they could possibly tell you on a Sunday morning group ride. These lines tell tales of adventure, hardship and leg-breaking efforts; hours spent under the sun doing the one thing that a cyclist’s legs do best – pedalling.
For many cycling circles, keeping the lines on show at all times is one of the biggest unwritten rules; break it with bib tights or knee warmers and you may just be thrown off the ride. This heavy-handed approach is one rolled out by the Velominati, the self-acclaimed cycling prophets that divide the community more than the great sock debate:
“Tan lines should be cultivated and kept razor sharp” the Velominati preach in their cycling bible. “Under no circumstances should one be rolling up their sleeves or shorts in an effort to somehow diminish one’s tan lines. Sleeveless jersey are under no circumstances to be employed.”
Whether you’re a follower of the ‘keepers of the cog’ or not, many of us follow this strict approach to honing our tan lines. And none do it more seriously than the pro riders themselves.
In a 2016 interview with Bicycling, ex-pro Phil Gaimon confessed that he was once a staunch follower of the razor-sharp cyclist’s tan, that is until he came to the revelation that these lines aren’t quite the beautiful marks that they once seemed:
“Tan lines and scars are basically the reason I haven’t been able to date non-cyclists, you think your tan lines are normal… Then you’re at the beach and you take your shirt off, and it takes a minute to figure out why they’re looking at you funny.”
Some pro cyclists, like mountain bike world champ Kate Courtney, have come to accept that tan lines are part and parcel of cycling and so should be sported for all to see:
“My tanline is pretty much a permanent tattoo at this point, I’ve been asked many times if I’m ‘wearing white shorts’.”
Tan lines aren’t revered by all pro cyclists however, for some they can actually be quite a ‘sore’ topic. For Chris Froome these tan lines are just a reminder of the terrible sunburn he got while training in his mesh TT skinsuit back in 2014 – so much for marginal gains, ay?
Is it worth the risk?
Sunburn is a risk that many of us run when we go out looking to hone our lines. If done incorrectly we can be burnt pretty bad, which has far more disastrous consequences than turning up to a group ride looking like a milk bottle.
Every time you tan, you’re damaging your skin by exposing it to UV radiation. A little bit here and there isn’t too bad, but the more time you spend under a glaring sun, the more the UV radiation is going to cause permanent and irreparable damage, like wrinkling and spotting.
Prolonged exposure to UV radiation can also lead to skin cancer, one of the most common forms of cancer out there. As cyclists we’re extremely susceptible to it as we spend hours outside and under the sun, covered by thin and often poorly protective Lycra.
Skin cancer can be easily treated if it’s detected at an early stage, but if it’s left untreated and allowed to grow, you could develop a more serious type of skin cancer known as melanoma. This can look like blisters or lumps on the skin, some even as small as a grain of rice. If you notice one on your skin then head to your doctor straight away before it starts to grow, the earlier it can be diagnosed, the easier it is to remove and treat.
Tan lines should never take precedent over the health of your skin, the largest and one of the most important organs of the human body. But that’s not to say we should avoid them at all cost and trade our outdoor lives for one spent indoors living like a vampire.
It’s a case of managing the risk, and here are some of the best things you can do to reduce the risk of sunburn while you’re out riding:
1 – Avoid riding at midday
Everyone knows the sun is strongest at midday, so try and avoid riding during these times. Perhaps go for a shorter ride that sets off early in the morning or late in the afternoon. Or, better yet, why not time your mid-ride café stop during these hours? That way you’ve got an excuse to spend the next few hours stuffing your face with delicious cakes and pastries.
2 – Wear the right gear
Sunscreen is great, but many dermatologists stress that “it should only be used as the last line of defence on the places you can’t cover with clothes.”
Now it might sound a little backwards to cover your body in clothes when the temperature is warmest, but there are a number of different jerseys and bib shorts out there that offer quality UV protection while also being super lightweight and breathable.
Never forget a pair of sunglasses either. Not only will you save yourself from a banging headache after squinting all day, but you’ll protect your super-sensitive corneas from irreparable damage too. They also help you look super pro, so there’s no excuse for not donning a pair.
3 – Lather up
Yes, we did just stress how sunscreen is the last line of defence and should only really be used on the places you can’t cover with clothes, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t forget it entirely! In fact, with all the lathering up you’ll be doing it would be a good idea to take a small bottle with you on your ride.
Remember, applying the sunscreen is only half the task, it needs to be rubbed in properly and then re-applied after a couple of hours, maybe even less if you’re particularly sweaty.
4 – Know your own skin
We all know how our own skin reacts to the sun so try not to compare yourself or your lathering routine to those of your riding friends. Choose the sunscreen factor that works best with your skin, and if you know you’re particularly susceptible to burning, then consider covering up with UV-protective layers.
Never disregard protection if you have darker skin – all skin types are vulnerable to damaging UV radiation.
Summer is well on its way and that can only mean one thing – more time to spend riding our bikes! If, like us, you’re planning some big trips this summer season, then why not check out some of our insurance policies to find a package that best suits you.