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Cycling Tan Lines: Love them or hate them?

By Sarah Bonner

Cycling tan linesEvery cyclist has an opinion on tan lines. To some, tan lines proudly represent hours of dedicated training and sacrifice. To others, tan lines are a social death sentence that additionally point out hours of spandex-clad activity. These two extreme views are opposite ends of the spectrum. You may be somewhere in the middle, but, before we go through tan line maintenance tips, first there are a few golden rules to remember.


I could spend hours warning you about protecting your skin from harmful UVA and UVB rays, but to put it in a cycling perspective, a skin disease, from bad sunburn to melanoma, will only interfere or inhibit you from riding. A healthy body, including your skin, is a key part to achieving full body fitness and athletic performance. Make sure you apply a sport or waterproof sunscreen so you don’t sweat it off. 


It may sound obvious but I hardly see riders with tubes of sunscreen in their pockets so it needs to be said: one application of sunscreen will not protect you on a long training ride. Reapply according to the instructions. Look for travel size bottles or even solid sunscreens that easily fit into your pockets. No excuses!

So we all have to wear sunscreen, but do you want to hide your tan lines or flaunt them with pride?   

Love ‘Em

Hate ‘Em

1. Hold your line: Multiple muddled tan lines are not cool. If you want your tans lines to be a testament to your dedication then precision is necessary. Ensure your shorts and sleeves fall on the exact same line each ride to ensure maximum contrast and to avoid multiple lines. 1. Switch your line: If you want to avoid tan lines, one defence mechanism is to vary the lengths of your kit. Make sure your shorts and shirts are different lengths each ride so the sun doesn’t always see the exact same spots. If all your kit is the same, roll up your sleeves and shorts to create differing lengths.
2. Not all lines are equal: While shorts, shirt, and even a sock tan line will pass, the helmet strap  and sunglasses tan are not equally appreciated. Sure, they happen, but no one wants to sport racoon eyes at a summer wedding. If you get stuck with unsightly tan lines, try using a tinted moisturizer or bronzer to blend them in. 2. Equal opportunity: Another defence against tan lines is to vary your activities. Along with cycling, you can cross train, stretch on the patio, suntan at the beach, garden, play golf, swim, offer to man the bbq, etc. Just like varying your kit length, exposing different areas and amounts of skin will fend off an offensive tan line. Don’t forget the sunscreen though!
3. Rookie Error: Don’t try to rush your tan line by riding without sunscreen.  Not only is this dangerous for your skin, but a sunburn is just a big rookie red flag. Plus, it may prevent you from riding the next day. The reason cyclist’s are proud of their tan lines is because they do take time and dedication to create them. 3. Rookie Error: Do not try to reverse a cycling tan line by only applying sunscreen to the tanned portion of your legs and arms. From first hand experience, it doesn’t work! If you have already tried the above suggestions, try applying a tinted moisturizer to even your skin tone or a sunless tanner.

Sarah Bonner


Sarah Bonner has lived and cycled in Canada, Africa, and Europe. Currently, she splits her time between the Netherlands and South Africa where she trains and competes at an amateur level. With a Masters in English and a Diploma in Sports Management, Sarah combines her love of writing and passion for cycling to share honest advice and inspiring stories.  
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4 comments to Cycling Tan Lines: Love them or hate them?

  • Our IRONDames Traverse Team wear ours with pride! This spring/summer we lived in our cycling shorts training for our Great Canadian Mountain Traverse fundraising ride from Lake Louise, AB to Whistler, BC in support of Wellspring Halton-Peel’s new Cancer Exercise Facility. We all use lots of sunscreen while training this year, but you can’t spend that much time in the saddle and not have them. The training paid off though, we took our cycling to a new level, made it to Whistler, riding 1,002 K and climbing over 30,000 ft in total elevation over 8 days from September 2 -9 2012, and raised $23,800 for Wellspring’s new Exercise Facility! Check out our Daily Blog on our website at http://www.irondames.ca!

  • Patricia Leah

    I cycle, have a slight tan line, and am a melanoma survivor. The tube of sunscreen comes out everytime the water bottle does. Getting a tan is ok, getting a BURN is definitely not cool. So slather on the sunscreen girls, and get your skin checked out every year by a doctor. and ride till your 63, like me!

  • Roxanne Daniel

    I LOVE MINE. You want to know WHY? because it means that I’m STRONG, ROUGH and TOUGH, and I thank God that I can ride my bike longer than the Energizer Bunny!! :)

  • Kimberly Seward

    I loved this article. As soon as I saw it, I thought, “I have those”. I didn’t plan on having tanlines and I do use sunscreen but I have tan lines from cycling. I guess display them proudly as a testament to my dedication. Still, great article, thanks for sharing!

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