Cycling to work in style

posted in: Style advice | 16

Last week I met a man with a broken pelvis who had been pushed under a car by a “fellow” cyclist. And one of my colleagues fell in front of a van when another cyclist forced him to pull out. His broken leg is healing but will never be the same again.

I tell these tales of cycling woe and danger to explain why my cycling is restricted to weekend parkland tootling around on a Boris bike. Lots of fun and low on danger. I wear my weekend outfit – jeans, trainers, a jacket and gloves. With a hat if it is cold and sunglasses if it warm.  We jump on the sturdy hire bikes, cycle madly across Hyde Park, and dock them conveniently close to an art gallery or museum.  We have taken the odd cycling holidays in France where, although it is a country which embraces the cyclist like none other, I felt a bit embarrassed about getting my lunch in padded shorts and a fitted T shirt.

My friends Clive Turner and Sam Tennakoon both suggested a blog on: “What should you wear when riding a bike”?

What if you are a cycling commuter (we have 70 or so at my workplace)? Do you ride in cycling gear then shower and change at work? Or do you try to find a set of clothes that work for cycling and everyday life? Here are five Polish cyclists wearing the national flag. I think they look very strange. One’s eye is inevitably drawn. To the helmets.

six men in red cycling shorts
Men in shorts

The most comfortable version of the Lycra cycling shorts (originally made with padded chamois) are those (like my camisole skirt) without a waistband. Here are a pair – obviously posed by a cyclist rather than a professional model.

cycling shorts
Bib shorts

But for stylish cycling we only need to consider the days before performance wear was invented. Shorts, divided skirts, ankle socks, polo necks, attractive blouses, sensible footwear and possibly a jaunty hat. They look great. So what is the answer for today’s cyclists?

If you cycle long distances to work, and want to use it as your main exercise then obviously wear exercise clothes. They don’t have to be black, and it is possible to look attractive in sportswear.

  • cycling shorts with sufficient padding (these are invariably black, unfortunately)
  • light weight top
  • waterproof jacket
  • hat and gloves for colder weather
  • safety helmet
  • cycling shoes
  • waterproof backpack

If you are more of a leisure cyclist, or cycle at weekends, then style should be a consideration.

  • shorts or trousers with some lycra in them
  • leather trainers in dark colours
  • stretch top – long sleeved T, lose-fitting shirt or jumper
  • jacket that doesn’t constrict you when cycling
  • hair band
  • small backpack or handbag that can be secured to the bike when travelling

This outfit is sufficiently “street” to look quite normal when you park your bike and go to the shops. The trainers (rather than cleets) mean you won’t have to hobble around with bandy legs.

Of course if you don’t know what to wear you could always join the annual naked bike ride through the streets of London.

Naked bike ride
Naked bike ride

16 Responses

  1. Ahhh yes … “to the helmets” indeed. 🙂

  2. My son has a green and black outfit and, apart from the clanky shoes I think he looks really neat, but he is as fit as a flea which makes a difference.

    I hope you will be taking your Boris across to the V and A to see the Alexander McQueen exhibition. I love his style and would really like to see this. You can be my eyes and report back.

  3. Ha, those flag guys are a hoot!
    I restrict my bike riding to Sunday’s, far too dangerous on our city streets for me. However, I do think it’s very cool when cities have them to rent at one spot, then drop off centres elsewhere. One of my favourite memories is renting bikes in Ottawa and riding the bike paths, it was so fun.
    Do you recommend shorts under skirts Kate.

  4. You are so funny. I used to commute to work by bike when I worked on the other side of the river. This basically ended when I took a slide on slightly wet pavement on my back, across an intersection…fortunately I wasn’t hit by a car. A colleague got hit last year and his right arm was literally shattered. Not good. No more bike commuting for me, although I don’t need to as I live closer to work now. We have wonderful hills to cycle in just outside of the city so I like to do a good ride on Sundays, when they close the roads to car traffic. We also have nice bike paths, fortunately, but those are reserved for weekend fun for me.

    In terms of bike fashion though you missed one thing: the padded cycling skirt. Like you, I feel a bit silly in tight, padded bike shorts when I am going to get my lunch (though I have done it on a few bike tours in Italy (my friend Marco is a cycling guide), where cycling is very popular, as in France – less so for women than for men, but still well understood). I have a cycling skirt that has a padded undercarriage so to speak, in which I feel a bit less self-conscious when I get off the bike to go into a resto.

    • Hmm. Thank you S. I hadn’t heard of the padded skirt. I do have a pair of knickers with padding that you can wear under anything, but I don’t really rate them.

  5. Love this post!
    Cycle style is something I spend a lot of time thinking about. I work 4 days a week and cycle each day. It’s 4 miles from home. I’m in Manchester and my journey is reasonably safe, going through a park and along a stretch of cycle path. Because it’s only 4 miles I wear my everyday clothes, topped off with a very unflattering hi vis vest. I tend to mostly wear skirts – as long as they have enough width for peddling and with it being still cold thick tights which cover up any thigh flash. Come the warmer weather I’m going to make some long shorts for underneath.
    I’ve been looking into making some ‘bike’ trousers. Levis have a commuter range of jeans which have a W/R finish and 4% lycra and reflective in the turn up. There are also trousers made from ‘soft shell’ fabrics which again have a W/R (water resistant) finish and are 4 way stretch. I’m liking these http://shop.outlier.cc/shop/retail/lsd.html
    I’m trying to gather fabric samples at the moment. Shoeller fabrics, when you can find them, are very expensive so I’m looking for unbranded versions.

  6. Those stories are seriously terrifying – no wonder your cycling is recreational only! I haven’t cycled in a long time because traffic here can get really bad and it’s dangerous for cyclists; walking is bad enough! LOL

    I had a serious giggle at those Polish outfits and the facial expression on the man wearing the bib shorts. I don’t know where you find these images but you never fail to amuse!! ^__^ Naked cycling – I’ll pass, thanks, but hilarious nonetheless! ^__^

  7. Demented Fairy

    MY EYES!!!

  8. Good grief, I would avert my gaze, but those polish fellas could at least co ordinate their dressing side! My hubby cycles excessively – 300km last weekend, with 4km of ascent. He and his mamil pals usually set off at 5am so as to avoid cars. I think more and better cycle paths are the way to go. In Copenhagen we noted they put parked cars between the cycle paths and the traffic which makes much more sense than protecting parked cars from driven cars with soft bodied cyclists. Those Scandys are so clever!

    • I love Scandinavia too – they really know how to live. We had a week in Copenhagen once, in a house with bikes and a car thrown in. We never used the car but loved cycling around safely. The traffic gives priority to the bikes and it feels so much safer.

  9. Men and Lycra….not the best combo but way better than men without Lycra and bare skin on leather seats! OH MY!

  10. The last photograph! How uncomfortable.
    The UK has a brand of v. expensive but quite terrific street casual cycling clothes Rapha – jeans, t shirts that are long at the back, jackets with room for leaning forward. http://www.rapha.cc/au/en/womens-shop/city/category/womens-city
    I vote for the cycling skirt too – Jalie’s exercise skirt http://www.jalie.com/jalie2796-multi-sports-skort-sewing-pattern.html with padded knicks underneath – not suitable for work, but not at all bad for wandering around the Sunday markets in the middle of one’s ride.
    I am cycling in France with my husband and son in September, so am very interested in these clothes at the moment. I definitely do not want to wear technical cycling gear and have to look at museums whilst wearing lycra.

    • Thanks so much Kbenco. Super advice and suggestions. I hope you have a great time in France – we have had some marvellous cycling holidays in Provence and the Loire Valley.

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