Before moving to the UK, the concept of cycle clothing had never crossed my mind. No one had ever asked me what appropriate wear for cycling would be. Cycle clothing was simply whatever clothes you had put on that morning. Nothing more, nothing less.
Of course, I noticed all the sports cyclists tackling the Danish plains with the same seriousness as if they were climbing Alpe d’Huez. Fully kitted out with skin-tight Lycra leaving little to the imagination. But they were a different species. Nothing like the rest of us simply trying to beat the morning traffic.
When I arrived in the UK, I realised the proportion of regular cycle commuters was disproportionate to the hardcore cycle enthusiasts. Most of the cyclists I saw out and about would either be wearing in-your-face Lycra or just some regular sports clothes. Not that there is anything wrong with that.
The point I’m trying to make is that when all you see is sporty people on bikes, it’s hard to imagine how cycling can fit into a lifestyle where sports attire may not be the appropriate dress code. And if you can’t see it, it’s hard to be it.
At the Hubs, we are often approached by women asking what clothes they need in order to go cycling. My immediate response is that they can cycle in anything they want but I understand such a statement needs clarification. And perhaps anything is a slight exaggeration – there are indeed clothes I wouldn’t feel comfortable cycling in. A long tight denim skirt would be one of them.
However, there are ways around most of these troubles. The key to good cycle clothing is adaptation. After all, the reason we wear regular clothes is to be ready for the day – not to be covered in oil and sweat for your Monday morning meeting.
Keep on reading and I’ll give you some of my favourite tips on how to adapt your everyday clothes to fit your cycle commute:
Dresses and skirts
During a Cycle Trainer course, I was told skirts and dresses were considered inappropriate cycle clothing. My immediate reaction was that such a statement was a load of rubbish, excuse my language.
There are so many ways to go about wearing skirts and dresses while cycling. First of all, it’s only when a skirt or dress becomes of a certain length that it is of any safety concern to the rider. Yet, the shorter skirts and dresses may reveal more than you would like as they could crawl up while cycling.
Luckily, there is a simple solution to the shorter skirts or dresses: inner shorts. These shorts are skin tight and can be discreetly worn underneath your skirt or dress. An added bonus is when you get off your bike, a sudden gust won’t put your knickers on display – we live in windy Scotland after all. Also, in summer inner shorts can be a life saver against those warm rubbing thighs, I talk of experience.
However, when it comes to the longer skirts and dresses, we have to be slightly more wary. A tighter skirt might limit your movement while a loose-fitting dress could get caught in the mechanics of the bike. Not only can this become a messy affair with oil stains and dirt, even worse it could get you hurt.
Again, there are solutions to the problem. If your skirt or dress is loose-fitting, you can either tie a knot or use a scrunchie to make the dress a knee-length size keeping the loose fabric away from the chain and corks of the bike.
If your skirt or dress is tight, you have the option of folding it up slightly to allow sufficient movement of your knees. That said, some tight skirts and dresses are certainly not made for being folded up. Similarly, some loose-fitting dresses cringle far too easily to simply tie a knot or use a scrunchie. In those instances, it might be worth simply bringing along the skirt or dress and change when you get to your destination.
Trousers are usually no problem when cycling. However, if they are loose-fitting around the ankles such as with flares or wide leg trousers, they can also get caught in the chain. And believe me, there is nothing worse than turning up at your destination with oil-stained trousers.
Here, there exist more formal methods to keep your trousers clean. There are the typical reflective bands or slap bands as some might call them. These are both helpful for your visibility in dark conditions but they also fold in your trouser legs nicely. You can similarly get clamps which do the same job. Personal preference determines which one is best for you.
If you don’t have any clamps or reflective bands lying about at home, you can also easily tuck your trousers into your socks if both the socks and trousers are of an appropriate length.
Otherwise, there is also the option to use scrunchies or other loose hair bubbles to tie in your trousers. While these can be super convenient as many of us have these lying about anyway, you will have to consider whether they can go around your shoes or whether you have to take your shoes off to get them on and off.
Speaking of shoes, when choosing which ones to wear for your cycle commute, there are in my opinion very few limitations. As we typically cycle with the ball of our feet, most shoes will cause you no bother when cycling. For example, you can cycle in heels should you fancy. Just be wary of how confident you are in your heels as well as on your bike before taking them on for your ride. If you’re a tad wobbly just walking in your heels, it might be worth steering away from cycling in them.
There are a couple of other things worth bearing in mind. If the shoes are loose around your heel, your foot might slip out when planting your foot at a stopping point. Some people won’t mind, while others will find this uncomfortable. If this worries you, simply put on the shoes lift one foot from the ground and check if the shoe stays on the heel. If it does, you should be good to go.
Some people also recommend steering away from peep toe shoes given the risk of grazing your toes against the ground. Unless you are brand new to cycling or planning to take sharp corners, I wouldn’t be too concerned with this. Yet again, this comes down to personal preference and you should always choose what you are comfortable with.
There is, however, one thing I would highly recommend: waterproof shoes. Living in Scotland, the odd shower has never been uncommon and while you can easily pop on your waterproofs, it’s easy to forget about the feet.
Other bits to consider
Aside from your clothing, there are other nifty things to improve your cycle journey:
Pannier bags and baskets: Makes carrying things on your bike much easier. In particular, if you’re worried about getting a sweaty back from a backpack, these are a life saver.
Chain guard: Some bikes come with a chain guard while some bikes don’t. If you’re worried about oil stains, attaching a chain guard to your bike can make a huge difference.
Type of bike: The type of bike you are using will have a significant impact on your choice of clothing. I would personally say that Dutch styled bikes are the most versatile when it comes to adaptable clothing. The lower bar means you can step in rather than swing your leg over the back of the bike, which could be restrictive in certain clothing. That said, you should always choose a bike you are comfortable with.
There you have it. My best tips on how to adapt your clothing to suit your cycle commute. Have I missed anything? Let us know in the comments!