I’ve been cycling in London for over three years now, which might not make me an old-school expert but I’m at least a seasoned urban biker, riding about on my trusty Raleigh Chloe. One aspect of biking that I’d not given much thought to before getting on the saddle properly was what to wear. There are a few things that can go sartorially wrong when you’re cycling – knicker-flashing, shoe-slippage, lower back and/or boob exposure, oil-splattering. All of these things have happened to me (a loosely-tied Zara kimono top might be fun for working the pyjama-trend but those people at the lights were not looking at me because they were admiring my hot pink pedals! Oops).
Me on a rental bike in barcelona in 2010. NB: ill-fitting jeans and no helmet is not an ideal cycling look! but i'd just got off the plane.
Since becoming A Cyclist I’ve reluctantly had to change my look from ‘vague goth’ to incorporate elements of ‘practical tomboy’. This tricky style evolution begun for me on an early Thames-side bike date with my now boyfriend when I panicked and decided that the only appropriate outfit I had was a vintage sailor playsuit and some red tights which was way too try-hard, a confused mix of practical (shorts) and cute (nautical).
I haven’t invested in an entirely new wardrobe though - most of my journeys are under two miles and my office is casual so I ride in my day clothes and needn’t get lycra’d up. When I’m thinking about workwear the first thing I now wonder is ‘does this match the bike?’ and then more seriously, ‘is this outfit safe?’ Cycling can be a messy business and snagged stockings, dirty hands, wheel rub marks and puddle-splash are all real threats to the pristine outfit so a relaxed attitude is key alongside a machine-washable rail of clothes.
My beautiful bike hanging out by a lamppost on Redchurch Street.
Pencil/maxi/tight skirts are all no-nos and I save them for my on-foot days. Trousers need to be narrow at the ankle with some stretch for knee-bending and then it’s opaque tights for winter, cycling shorts under A-line or umbrella summer skirts and dresses the rest of the time. In terms of accessories, scarves are best tightly wrapped to avoid danger and footwear-wise platforms, flip-flops and dainty sandals won’t do. The sole of your foot needs to have a sense of the pedal and you use the top of your foot too. And yes it’s possible to cycle in heels, but I can’t handle anything over two inches. Forgive me!
It now sounds like my ideal ensemble is a polo-neck unitard with trainers and a bumbag (hmm, Jessie J’s OK then), but my only two real rules are safety and modesty (judged on your own scale of course). My own essentials are some oddly sexy Stella McCartney for Adidas gloves which make me feel like Madonna, a Bern helmet and some basic ASOS cycling shorts.
So help me out here - do you cycle in whatever you like or stick to technical gear and get changed in the loos? Have you also flashed a passerby on your bike? Or have practical restrictions put you off cycling altogether?