There is a saying that you are what you are wear. A cyclist faces quite a few choices. You can try all kinds of different looks.
- The strict Italian roadie classic look. Immaculate looking lycra with matching sunglasses. Socks at right height (Armstrong’s knee high white socks are definitely out – even if aerodynamic benefits. If you wear arm warmers wear them properly, no skin showing between shoulder and arm warmer e.t.c.
not bad, though jerseys a bit baggy. And those yellow shoes, o dear…
- I’m not a cyclist look. The I’m not a cyclist wears the best possible clothes and then gets on the bike as an afterthought.
- The Defensive Cyclist. The defensive cyclist has been in too many near misses and scrapes to consider fashion or how they might actually look. The defensive cyclist will be a seasoned cyclist often commuting several miles. Visibility, practicality and safety are the highest priorities of the defensive cyclist. A pipe is actually an excellent defensive mechanism against air pollution. He is actually smoking charcoal.
- The improviser. The improvisor is your typical student cyclist who doesn’t want to spend any money on cycling clothes, but wants to make cycling practical.
Good style. Somehow with that bike, you can get away with anything – including trousers tucked into his maroon socks.
- The European Look
If you go to some European cities. People don’t make any effort to wear anything different for cycling. It’s very hard to spot someone who looks like a ‘cyclist’ – They are just people who happen to jump on bikes. e.g. cycling in Verona. Also it all seems so effortless.
When I Commute
When I got my first job, it was three miles down a busy A road to work in a Little Chef. In those days 3 miles to the next village seemed a big deal. So I would go in my proper cycling clothing. The other Little Chef workers thought it was very funny:
- a) Someone would actually cycle to work on the A65
- b) You would turn up to work in skin tight lycra trousers.
I seemed to remember thinking it was great that people got joy from laughing at my cycling attire. But, these days I don’t commute in my usual lycra leg warmers e.t.c. I go dressed for work, not for cycling. My only concession to the bike is sticking my trouser in my sock. Much to other people’s consternation, I then tend to forget to take the trouser leg out. In fact it becomes such a habit, I often took my trouser in a sock, even when not cycling. People think it’s a bizarre fashion trend that never caught on, but actually it’s just the brain operating on auto-pilot.
Keep Cycling Free from Lycra
There are some cyclist advocates, who seem to almost get upset at the idea of people wearing ‘cycling gear’ on the way to work. They argue that we should celebrate the ordinariness of cycling. You should be able to cycle as you are – and not have to get dressed up in all that horrible and unsightly defensive clothing – the fluorescent jacket, helmet, lycra, pollution mask e.t.c.
I have some sympathy with this view. The Cycling utopia would be traffic free cycle lanes, where you can be free to display the height of fashion rather than being lit up like a Christmas tree hoping white van drivers are less likely to knock you off and later say ‘sorry, I didn’t see you mate’.
I hope people don’t get put off cycling because they feel they need to be dressed in suitable attire. But, once you’ve commuted around town a few times, you realise how it’s hard to see many cyclists. Given a choice between fashion and visibility, the Gucci soon gets discarded (not that I have any Gucci to discard), but whatever Gucci makes, I don’t think it is fluroscent orange jackets. It’s also not a coincidence that the way cyclists dress tends to be a reflection of the local infrastructure.
The infrastructure of Amsterdam may well encourage a laid back approach. Cycle around Kings Cross, London, and you can feel like a Lancaster bomber on a low flying mission across occupied Europe – trying to remain unmoved by all the flack coming from every angle. It’s not a surprise American and London cyclists are the most likely to wear a helmet, fluorescent jacket et al. , even if the effect is purely psychological, you feel like you need some kind of protection.
hat tip for Lancaster bombing analogy to Michael Hutchinson’s column in Cycling Weekly. As absurd as it sounds, it can feel true!