It wasn’t, I have to admit, my finest moment.
I swung my leg over my saddle, as usual, only for the front of my skirt to get caught on the back of the saddle. Struggling to retain my balance, I hopped feebly on the spot for a few seconds before the inevitable happened. I toppled to one side, landing clumsily on all fours. My bike followed a fraction of a second later.
Though it may not have been obvious to the casual observer (a number of whom stood around sniggering as I picked myself up off the ground), there was actually a greater purpose to my actions. I wanted to see if I could cycle in a skirt.
Cycling in trousers or jeans has never been a problem. Aside from a few hairy moments when a trouser leg has got caught in my chain, they’re pretty much perfect cycle-wear. In fact, I’ve been cycling in jeans for as long as I’ve been cycling in London.
But skirts? I’ve always shied away from wearing one while cycling, on the basis that it’s just not practical: it’ll get in the way, or I’ll get it covered in grease. And, well, a skirt just isn’t proper cycling gear is it?
That’s what I used to think. But these days, I’m more of the opinion that there’s no such thing as ‘proper cycling gear’, at least not if you’re just riding from A to B. Cycling is (or at least, ought to be) something you can do in ordinary clothes. I didn’t see people cycling around Copenhagen in full Lycra, but I did see lots of people riding their bikes in everyday clothes – including skirts. And if they can do it, then so can I.
However, as the saddle-skirt incident showed, there is an art to cycling in a skirt – one that’s not as easy as it looks.
It’s not just longer skirts that cause a problem. I remember once trying to get on my bike while wearing a short skirt. I didn’t think it was that tight, but clearly it was: I could neither swing my leg over the saddle nor lift it over the crossbar. In the end I resorted to hoiking it up in a most un-ladylike fashion.
On the subject of un-ladylike, I’ve noticed that skirts have a tendency to ride up my legs while I’m pedalling. The result is that I end up exposing considerably more thigh (and more besides) than I intend to. OK, so all the cycling I do means my thighs are probably more toned and shapely than your average thigh, and – who knows? – perhaps the sight of them could make someone’s day. But even so, I don’t really want to flash every passing motorist.
To protect my modesty, I’ve taken to wearing tights or leggings underneath my skirt. Not only does this keep my thighs safely hidden, but it also helps stop my skirt from riding up in the first place. This, combined with a bit of practice at actually getting on the bike, means I’m pretty confident at cycling in a skirt these days. I reckon I’ve mastered the art now.
Over the recent bank holiday weekend I rode out to Kew Gardens, and found myself caught up in a pack of cyclists on their way to Richmond Park. They were all dressed in head-to-toe Lycra, and riding flashy road bikes; I was wearing a skirt, leggings and floral t-shirt, and riding my trusty steed.
Judging by some of the looks I got, I could tell at least some of them thought I didn’t belong. I didn’t care. After all, who says you can’t cycle in a skirt?