Cycle chic? Mais non

Yes, this really is what I look like on my bike (helmet aside - I now have a lovely purple Bern one)

Yes, this really is what I look like on my bike (helmet aside – I now have a lovely purple Bern one)

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.

15 thoughts on “Cycle chic? Mais non

  1. Oh I agree – well dressed on a bike is strictly for very short, slow rides! My commutes have always been about the same distance as yours, sometimes longer, and I always wear lycra and ugly rain jackets – but then again so do all the other commuters I see! Come down-under, the well-dressed-cyclist-around-town is non-existent here, nobody to make you feel bad 😀

    • I live in Hackney, which is probably the worst possible place to live if I want to feel good about what I look like on my bike. I’m literally surrounded by people who are the epitome of effortless cool.

  2. The woman with the perfectly tousled locks, pretty frock and basket of flowers on her bike is a myth. Or if she isn’t, you must have spotted her in that tiny moment before she got pooped on by a pigeon, her skirt snagged in her chain, and her flowers fell out and got squashed under wheel! 😀

  3. I’m actually kind of tired of living up to whatever cycling trends there are. I give my reasons why I don’t cycle in lovely dresses, skirts..except for a skort. Nor do I cycle in my business dress pants. Hell, I paid $100.00 for them and they are great for work. It’s tough for a petite women to find business clothing that is cheap:

    I have to be very practical: I’ve been cycling for last 22 yrs. as part of my lifestyle. I don’t have a car. So I can’t afford to stain, rip my work clothing.

    The closest to non-lycra wear on bike, is walking shorts that I wear half of the time in the summer. Unpadded cheap black poly-cotton tights to get to work in fall-winter.

    And no, I can’ cycle in dress shoes/high heels. I can’t imagine cycling in flip flops: ouch. I actually have been wearing custom shoe orthotics for the last 15 years. Otherwise I will have foot pain and cannot walk far.

    I don’t care how lovely or unlovely I look on bike. People see me for less than 20 sec. when I’m cycling.. maybe 2 min. most at a traffic light. Then I’m gone on bike.

    • Thanks for your comments. You have some very sound reasons for wearing what you do on your bike. I don’t think you, or anyone else, should be made to feel bad about what you choose to wear for cycling in. I certainly don’t judge anyone for what they wear on their bikes (well, apart from overweight middle-aged men in the too-tight Lycra…only joking, of course). I personally find it liberating to be able to wear my ordinary clothes on my bike, and to just be able to hop on and off my bike in the same way as I would, say, a bus, without having to wear or carry any special gear or clothing. I’m quite lucky in that I don’t have to dress smartly for work, so I can wear things like jeans – which would be very easy to cycle in. Unfortunately my current commute is just too far for me to feel comfortable doing it in my ordinary clothes.

  4. You look great! I have the same problem feeling bad that I don’t look as smart or pretty as other women’s do!! I sometimes cycle in “standard ” clothes, especially over the weekend, but I need to choose something that is comfortable as not too tight trousers and flat shoes. And then when I hop off the bike I always feel underdressed! It’s very nice to read about other women’s concern about this issue.

  5. Well, I’m a bloke, so I can’t think about fashion as women do…but when I see a lass on a bike (any bike), dressed in anything other than cycling gear, I wonder would she go skiing in a ball-gown? Play football in a judoka’s outfit? Go horse-riding in a bathing costume…? Nope, you look pretty good just as you are, and if you dump the squishy (?) soft-sole trainers and get a pair of hard-sole cycling shoes, riding will be easier As a 20-mile-a-day commuter you are indeed a proper bikie. Oh, and with a pair of track-mitts to protect your hands from (heaven-forbid) road-rash, you’ll look even more tickety-boo! All t’best.

    • Being a bloke doesn’t preclude you from thinking about fashion (although you’re right, perhaps not in the way we women do). I think wearing cycling gear to cycle is all very good and well if you see cycling as a sport, and you’re doing it as a sport. I don’t – for me, cycling is mainly a way of getting around, albeit one that also gives me some exercise as well.

      It’s like this – I wouldn’t deck myself out in hiking gear if I were just going for a walk around a city, but I might if I were heading up into the hills. The difficulty for me in choosing what to wear for my commute is that it’s somewhere in between a wander and a proper hike.

  6. Hi.. The problem is that most of cycling apparel is of the kind of race/workout. On the other hand women’s cycling is promoted either as a leisure cycle chic activity for very short distances or a sport race activity for female athletes..
    Being a 45 y.o female commuter located in Athens Greece, a city that lacks of any kind of cycling infrastructures, I find really hard to fit my self in either of these two scenarios. No cycle paths to ride with my “granny” bicycle, ( if I had one in the first place.. in fact I’m riding a road bike), wearing my every day clothes without sweating or afraid that I will destroy them and lot of working commitments, where I can’t present my self dressed in shiny lycras, tight padded leggings and road bike shoes.
    It would be nice if some of the sport cycling apparel looked like normal clothes but there’s no such thing.
    So I have to mix and match different kind of clothes in order to be decently dressed for my activities.

    The worst problem is shoes as Jean mentioned in her blog. Too dangerous to commute in heavy traffic, wearing clipless shoes, and too difficult to find normal shoes that work well with toe clips or grip properly on flat pedals without looking so sporty.

    Sometimes I wonder if major cycling apparel companies have any idea of female cyclists’ needs. Do these companies know what kind of cycling, women commuters really do? I doubt. In fact I think that they have no real “connection” with what’s going on the streets..

  7. Hello, I’ve come late to this discussion! The whole point of cycling is you do what suits you isn’t it, without pressure either way. I have a 6 mile round trip to work that’s downhill all the way. So, as long as its not lashing it down with rain, I’m fine to out on my normal work suit or clothes and just coast down. I have mostly parks on my commute so not a lot of traffic, and although its uphill all the way home, who cares what i look like when i get back! But if its raining, I’d clearly look like a plonker in high heels so always make sure I have a spare outfit or two in work so I can get the waterproofs on and get changed if I need to. I’ve cycled in long and short skirts, in suits, in Lycra, and everything in between, all depending on the route I’m taking and how the traffic is. Lots of articles suggest women get put off cycling because they “don’t want to wear Lycra” – quite sad that people are more worried about their looks than their health but that’s the story of the beauty industry isn’t it! Best to take the focus off what you wear on a bike altogether,as you say. Ps top respect for you for braving London traffic on a bike, I was never brave enough!

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