Dear reader. I have a confession to make.
Almost every day I see lots of well-dressed women on their bikes. Women in leggings and short skirts, in skinny jeans, in peg leg trousers – even in leopard print dresses. Women riding rattling old road bikes, traditional uprights and shiny new step-throughs. Women, in short, who are the embodiment of cycle chic.
You may think, from reading this blog, that I’m part of this stylish sisterhood.
Alas, dear reader. You would be wrong.
You see, my tales of mastering the art of cycling in a skirt and of searching for the perfect bike bag are perhaps misleading. Most of the time my cycling attire is chosen more for function than form: usually a pair of leggings teamed with a baggy Glastonbury recycling crew t-shirt (I have six to choose from – one for each day of the week, with one left over).
It’s not an attractive outfit. I know that. One look at the photo above tells me so.
But it works for the kind of cycling I do, which is mostly to and from work. I have a long commute – the best part of ten miles each way, across north London. I even go up a hill or two. I get sweaty. It rains. I get covered in dirt. I wouldn’t want to spend all day sitting in the sweaty, wet and dirty clothes I’ve cycled in, so I don’t. I let my ugly leggings and t-shirt take the brunt, and save looking fabulous for when I get to work – once I’ve had chance to clean up and get changed.
But when I catch sight of myself – in my hallway mirror as I leave my house in the morning, or in a shop window en route – I can’t help but wish I’m wearing something smarter. More stylish. Something that makes me look more like those other women I see on their bikes.
In my quieter moments, I realise that this is somewhat ridiculous. Why, when I regularly cycle almost 20 miles every day of the week, in all weathers, am I worrying about what I look like while doing so?
The answer to that, of course, is because I’m a woman. There’s a multi-million pound industry dedicated to making me believe that my self-worth is somehow linked to my appearance – and that I’m less of a woman if I refuse to buy into this myth.
I don’t pretend to be immune to any of this.
I like pretty things. I want to look as good on my bike as the next woman. I dearly wish I could look like those other women I see on their bikes, and still get to work looking immaculate.
But if I were to try that, here’s what I reckon would happen.
I would almost certainly cycle more slowly, to avoid getting sweaty. As a result, I’d have to leave the house earlier in the morning, as my journey would take me longer. I’d also be less confident about being able to pull away from the lights quickly, so I’d be less likely to position myself ahead of the traffic.
I might find myself paying more attention to what I’m wearing – like whether my skirt was riding up my legs, or adjusting that awkward crotch seam on my jeans – than on the traffic around me.
If something needed adjusting on my bike or – heaven forbid! – I got a puncture, I’d be less willing to fix it myself for fear of getting oil and dirt on me and my clothes.
And if it’s raining, or too cold…forget it.
In short, I’d be a less confident, less assertive cyclist.
I’m not saying I don’t cycle in ordinary clothes – I do. I’ve ridden my bike wearing jeans, dresses and skirts…all kinds of different outfits. But it’s usually for shorter distances, on quiet streets and definitely not during the morning rush hour.
One day, though, I will. When I have a shorter commute and negotiating heavy traffic isn’t such an issue – perhaps once we have proper space for cycling in London – I’ll look just as fabulous on my bike as all those other women.