I started a group on Flickr recently called Vélocouture. I was inspired by the wardrobe_remix group, a place where people post their daily outfits and talk about what they’re wearing. I thought it would be useful to start a similar group where cyclists could show the stylish and functional outfits they’d put together for cycling.
Here are some of the photos that have appeared in the VÃ©locouture group. Many thanks to these cyclists and all the others who have contributed â€” it is a real joy to see all of the examples of humans cycling stylishly.
There’s a widespread impression among people in the United States, cyclists and non-cyclists alike, that you have to wear some really strange clothing in order to operate a bicycle. I do understand the need for cycling-specific clothes for long or multi-day rides. However, if you’re a transportational cyclist, most of your rides are not like that. You can usually pedal away wearing normal, or even fashionable, clothing, with just a few key adjustments to how you normally dress.
A topic addressing this very question just came up on the wardrobe_remix group. I wrote a rather long response with some basic advice about practical dressing for stylish cycling, and I thought I’d re-post it here. This is in response to a query specifically about the warmer spring weather, so I don’t address rain gear, which is a topic all its own. Onward:
—First and foremost, realize that not all clothes that you like to wear are going to work for all cycling trips. I have some clothes that can easily handle a trip downtown but would be uncomfortable for a longer ride, and I have other clothes that I can ride in all day and still look and feel great. Oddly, my fancy dress suit is very comfortable on a bike, since it’s made of lightweight wool fabric and is cut to fit me well.
—Wear wool next to the skin. Nowadays you can get lightweight merino wool t-shirts in nice colors. (Worry not: merino wool doesn’t itch.) Merino wool t-shirts are very expensive (compared to cotton t-shirts) but you only need one or two, and they don’t need much washing. Wool pulls moisture (sweat) from your skin as you work, keeping you cool as you heat up; and it will also keep you warm if you cool down. It dries quickly if wet, and drapes well. And, oddly, wool doesn’t pick up odors very quickly. Those sheep have really designed a wonderful fibre for us.
—Similarly, get yourself some quick-drying non-cotton undies. This is a crucial comfort factor. Lots of clothing designed for travel or "adventure travel" works well for cycling too. I wear only Ex Officio undies nowadays, and boy, was I happy when I made the switch. No more bunching or chafing after 5 miles. For women, Holly recommends Champions 4611 hipster brief. It’s seamless, with no tags and good circulation.
—Wear many light layers, as opposed to a few heavier ones. This way, if you get too warm on the way to somewhere, you can easily strip off a layer and stash it in your bag.
—Speaking of bags, use a basket or some rear panniers/baskets to carry your stuff. One thing I do a lot is just stick my daypack in my basket and go. Then when I get to my destination I grab it and carry on as usual—nothing on my bike to get stolen, and my “regular bag” is with me, so I haven’t left any of my necessaries behind. You could do the same with a purse, handbag or satchel. Panniers are definitely more common, but a basket (front or rear) is much more useful for everyday urban transportational cycling, in my view.
—For outer layers, consider light wool, nylon, or other non-cotton options. There is a lot of "performance" clothing â€” some of it just looks like regular work clothes, and some of it is rather stylish, such as Prana’s clothing. Anything designed for activity or freedom of movement will serve you very well. Also, for cheaper options, check your thrift and vintage stores for older wool garments, especially shirts, jackets and skirts. There is a fabric called "tropical weight wool" that is common in dress clothing, and it’s fabulous for cycling if you don’t pay top dollar!
—To avoid getting muddy or wet, equip your bicycle with a good pair of fenders, and mudflaps front and rear. Avoid light colored fabrics, since they show mud spatters and grease spots like no-one’s business.
—Keep your bike clean and in good operating condition. This may not sound like style advice, but believe me, since I got better at maintaining my bike, it’s a lot less dirty, and I get a lot fewer grease spots on my clothes and my skin. And when your bike is in good shape, you’re less likely to have to stop and fix something, which activity can be a rather messy addition to any ensemble. Speaking of which, carry a clean-up cloth or latex gloves in your bag, in case you need to make an on-road adjustment or repair. (Or: wipe your hands clean on the grass.)
—Remember, if nothing else will do, there’s always the phone booth trick. This is where you are going on a long and/or hot and/or rainy ride and need to wear more cycling-specific clothes for the ride, and you change into something more appropriate when you reach your destination. It’s much easier if you are going somewhere like work, since you can stash your nicer clothes at the office. But there are lots of other ways to do it. For example, if you have a job interview downtown, arrive early enough to cool down, find a restroom in a coffee shop or somewhere near the interview (but not in the same building!), and do your changeup and a little primping.
These are just the basics. Over the past few years, Holly and I have tried out quite a bit of clothing on our bikes. Now that we’ve had a chance to let these garments prove their worth, some specific reviews may be in order. More on that soon.