The art of cycling in a skirt

Proper cycling gear?

Proper cycling gear?

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?

19 thoughts on “The art of cycling in a skirt

  1. My 4yr old has a similar problem with skirts, so I’ll be saving this post for when she wants to cycle to school! It’s worth asking, though – what about a more Dutch-style set of wheels? Surely that’d make the whole skirt thing easier?

    • Thanks for your comment. I’ve thought about a Dutch-style bike, but I’m put off by the weight of them. I wouldn’t like to try navigating through rush hour traffic on one. Having said that, when I have more money and space to store bikes, I’d like three – my current trusty steed, a nippy single speed and a Dutch-style bike.

  2. I way prefer cycling in skirts (with tights, leggings or tight shorts underneath for modesty) than jeans…no nasty seams to contend with. Anyway, great to read your blog! Jill

  3. I cycle in skirts a lor – just did it again this morning, a long one as well. But yes, the new style women’s bikes with a middle bar just as high as a men’s bike do make it difficult, which is why I opted for a city bike. I grew up in Germany where everyone cycles and we wear our normal day-to-day wear, no lycra in sight. I always cycled in skirts. Not so much a tight pencil skirt, although it is possible, but your average floor length. A good chain protector and a low-step-through bike is all that is needed, oh, and plastic pedals, as I don’t want to ruin my high heels either (and have been known to cycle barefoot).

  4. As a person from Copenhagen, who moved to London – i obviously brought my bike with me. In Copenhagen I’d never wondered if a skirt became too short, or had the tendency to crawl up my leg while cycling. Somehow this became a problem in London, even though it was the exact same dresses.
    It took me a few London rides to realise the difference. In Copenhagen I would most often only cycle with one hand on the handlebar, the other on one leg, thereby unconciusly keeping my skirt down (if wearing trousers, the hand would be situated in my pocket) – I had never actually thought of this ‘weird’ one handed cycling, as I basically grew up on a segregated bike lane.
    – Obviusly cycling one handed in London is not worth even trying.

    So you want a tip from a Copenhagen’er?
    You know those cheap, black, stretchy, slim-fit, tube skirts (H&M, 4 pounds)?
    When wearing tights and a dress, I’d wear one of these tube skirts as an under-skirt. The tube skirt is tight enough to stay in place, but stretchy enough to cycle in – and short enough not to be seen when you’re once again off your bike and walking into the office.
    In summer i’d add a pair of small, stretchy shorts under my flowery dresses, to get the same effect.

    Then no worries if your dress begins that awkward crawl up your leg or a wind catches your skirt – the under-skirt is still in place to protect your dignity, and let you worry about staying safe on the road, rather than having to worry about a misbehaved skirt.

    After years with this technique on London roads, I’m now back on the bike paths of Copenhagen – but I’ve continued with the under-skirt technique. Think those years might have made just a tad older and a bit more concerned about what I show to people, in case my skirt gets caught in a flirty wind.

    Good luck, and happy cycling 🙂

  5. Jude, I know you’ve had your blog for ages but now I’m cycling in London more often it’s a mine of information for me! I was cycling in a knee-length half-circle skirt near Hampton Court recently when a car passed me – its passenger wound down the window and complimented me on the “beautiful view”. Eep. I’d been flashing most of the borough of Richmond… but OTHERWISE I do cycle in skirts quite often and without incident. Once you’re on, and you’ve got the fabric safely tucked under your bum, you’re laughing.

    • Haha! I had a similar wardrobe malfunction recently. I was wearing a top with quite a loose neck – a cowl neck top, you’d probably call it. Anyway, I was merrily cycling through Kilburn and realised I was getting a few odd looks. I glanced down and discovered why – my top had been blown to one side and I was flashing my bra. I hastily tucked the top into my bra, and continued my journey in a more modest fashion.

  6. Have you tried using a safety pin to connect the front and back of your skirt between your legs at about knee level? I haven’t yet, but I’m going to. I think it will only work with full skirts — otherwise I won’t be able to pedal — but it’s worth a try if it lets me dress normally (I mostly wear skirts).

    • Oooh….I hadn’t thought about that. I’ll give it a go and see how it works out. I suspect it’ll work better on a bike with a lower top tube that I have on my Trusty Steed (as an aside, I was actually meant to be taking a couple of such bikes out for a test ride today – bloody rain!)

      • My bike is step-through (I feel so lady-like when I dismount! 🙂 ) The safety pin probably does work better on such a bike. I don’t think I would like a crossbar. Apart from being able to use it to carry things like tool kits, can you see any benefits (except on sports bikes)?

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