What to Wear on the Bike

yellow jacket

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.

Cycling on High Street Oxford

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.

Cycling Oxford

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!


3 Responses to What to Wear on the Bike

  1. ken downing January 31, 2012 at 11:35 am #

    Clothing for cyclists at topic so vast. Club cycling in the sixties,our club Askern C C we had club shirts purple red and yellow ,yuk, this kit was if i remember only worn when we were time trialing.
    The rest of the time clothing was quite drab. I guess we did not what to be laught at,today no one really notices cyclist wear lycra in bright garrish colours.
    I`m in my late sixties now i`m back on the bike after 30 years and loving it,my mate and me are in training for a two up 10 T T for BHF and some fun. WE what some flashy lycra,to give averyone a big laugh.

    • R Marshall February 25, 2013 at 7:50 pm #

      Hi Ken
      Clearing loft and found scrap book of Askern Cycling Club 1962 to 1966 so did search on Askern C C and found your comments. Most are press cuttings from Doncaster Gasette and Cycling and relate to Pete Hill Robo and Dennis Brunt ect. If you are interested I would scan the info and put it on a disk and post it to you.

  2. MJ Ray January 31, 2012 at 8:50 am #

    I’m atypical. I wear a helmet to keep my head warm but ventilated and not for protectiom. I don’t think they protect much. I wear a fluorescent jacket because the one I have looks like it might be a council or police one and seems to make drivers cautious. The main way it reflects local conditions is that drivers need to be more cautious. OK it wouldn’t be needed if drivers were generally good but I feel it is more about local road users than infrastructure.

    The cycle infrastructure south of Kings Cross seems pretty good now too. Around the station is poor but maybe it will improve when it is no longer a builing site. In 2015. Bah.

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