Tips for women who want to look good both on and off the bike
“The bicycle has done more for the emancipation of women than anything else in the world. ~ Susan B. Anthony 1896”
Imagine that: a simple device turning the tide toward gender equality. But it’s true. Before the bike became popular, women in the western world had little to no means of getting around on their own. The ability to jump on a bike gave them a way to, quite literally, take off.
But with this newfound freedom came certain challenges. Namely: how to dress on a bicycle, out in public? And the challenge, for many women, still exists today.
Cycling became fashionable in the 1880s, a time when women commonly wore corsets and petticoats – not very practical, or comfortable, on a bicycle (much less anywhere else). Thankfully, the bike changed all this and yards of material and centuries of tradition gave way to bloomers, divided skirts and knickerbockers, predecessors to our modern-day skorts and knickers.
In 1895, Demerarest’s Family Magazine published the following:
“The bicycle will accomplish more for women’s sensible dress than all the reform movements that have ever been waged.”
The modern Cycle Chic
Fast forward 117 years and we’re still working out how to dress on a bicycle. We don’t want to show up anywhere (except maybe the gym) looking like we just got off a bike. God forbid you head out for work or the store or the bar and look like a MAMIL (middle aged man in lycra) or a hipster (unless of course, you are one) or a crossing guard (decked out in safety yellow).
After seeing the women of Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Paris and New York riding in style (and comfort), I have a new mantra:
Dress for your destination.
If I’m going to a meeting, then I dress in business attire. If I’m meeting friends for coffee, I wear cafe attire (whatever that may be). A good friend just told me that the other night she rode to the opera – in an evening gown!
I’ve learned that my daily ride can be done comfortably and fashionably. And since I get most places on my bike, I buy clothes for everyday life that work on and off the bike. Some are cycle-specific brands, other are not. But I always dress for the destination.
Here are some of my favorites.
Let’s start at the bottom. I’ve learned that I can ride with my bike’s flat pedals in any shoe (including heels, boots, dress shoes and sandals) as long as they have rubber soles. “Heels?” you ask: “Are you insane?” Since only the ball of your foot rests on your pedals, you can rock a pair of heels on a bike. I ride San Francisco hills in mine.
Fortunately, there are a million great shoe styles on the market with non-slip soles, comfortable insoles and materials that hold up in the elements.
For amazing boots try La Canadienne. They’re a bit pricey but worth every single penny. They’re really comfortable; many are water resistant and most can go anywhere in total style.
For everything from boots to shoes to sandals, try Aerosole. I’ve often thought of them as a stodgy brand, but they’ve proven they can do style and comfort, and they work on and off the bike.
Moving up to the legs. Thankfully, someone invented spandex. And then someone with an even bigger brain (and perhaps thighs) introduced it to denim. A match made for the bike. I can ride in nearly any pair of jeans if it has a bit of stretch. And if it has a slim leg, in or out of a boot, all the better. I also wear bell bottoms and suit pants on my bike. With an ankle strap, I’m totally fine.
Leggings are also a perfect choice. I wear them on their own or under skirts and dresses. On an unusually warm San Francisco day, I wore a skirt without leggings. In a sudden gust of wind, I flashed all of Chinatown. Sadly, no one seemed to notice. But I learned that it’s wise to wear something more than just panties under my skirt.
Leggings and tights are great for cooler weather. And for longer bike commutes when you want some padding (chamois), try this lingerie knicker from Sheila Moon under your dresses and skirts. The little bit of lace around the knee is nice for the girly-girl in some of us.
If you love skirts and dresses, as I do, wear them! Just watch out for skirts that are too short and ride up (see Chinatown incident above) or too long/flouncy and could get caught in your chain or spokes. At bike shows over the past year, I’ve found skirts that are intended for riding, but I wear them everywhere.
Sweet Spot makes these ingenious wrap-around, snap-on, reversible skirts that you can wear over a cycle short or, if you’re like me, over a pair of leggings and boots. They come in every color and pattern imaginable. They are killer! And every time I wear mine, I get compliments. Every time.
You can wear just about anything on your bike. Skirts, skorts, shorts, dresses, tops, pants, leggings, jackets (phew!) all come in fabrics and styles that work for the ride and the destination.
There are so many great brands, stores and websites for finding women’s clothes that pair functionality with fashion. Here are some of the best:
YMX by Yellowman
The bicycle is still one of the most liberating ways to get around. If you’re inclined to commute by bike but not sure what to wear, try some of these recommendations to see what works for you. You’ll look good and feel good, along the way and at your destination.
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