Do We Need Bike Fashion?

Riding a bicycle as part of my daily life means I’ve made minor adaptations to my wardrobe selections.

For most city riding experiences you shouldn’t need special clothes. Particularly if your bicycle trips are like mine and relatively slow, on an upright bicycle, and your destination is within 5 easy miles (8 km) of your starting point.

Can I ride a bicycle comfortably wearing any of the clothes that hang in my closet? For the most part yes, but there are exceptions. If my skirt is short or tight, I am completely restricted to riding slowly to keep from flashing passers-by. If my dress or my slacks are too long or wide, then I could get fabric stuck in my bike – even with hub-mounted brakes, a full chainguard, and a skirt guard.

Riding a bicycle as part of my daily life means I’ve made minor adaptations to my wardrobe selections. Whenever I buy clothes, I always think about how they’ll feel when I am riding my bike.

Recognizing some of these issues – and as a response to the growing number of people riding bikes in cities – there has been an influx of bike fashion in the North American marketplace. Entire companies are designing clothes with riding in mind. Smaller brands, like Outlier, Swrve, Dish, Proof, and Iva Jean, have launched bike fashion lines. Larger brands, such as Levi’s, have targeted city riders with a specific line.

Bike fashion has not always been as sophisticated and attractive as it is now. Slapping a piece of reflective material on trouser cuffs or a back pocket is by no means innovation in fashion design. Some designs go to the extreme. No one really needs a suit designed for riding a racing bike when upright city bikes work well for almost any ready-made suit. Thankfully, most brands focus on features that do matter. Minor modifications such as a wider hem around the thighs and added length in the arms can make clothing enhance your daily rides.

Special clothes are never a necessity for biking. However, current bike fashion does allow you to add well-made pieces to your wardrobe designed specifically for riding. I consider these a wardrobe upgrade. I do hear complaints from readers that bike fashion is expensive. True. You will pay more for well-designed pieces of clothing made in small batches. Well-designed and well-made clothing can be expensive, whether for riding a bike or not. It comes down to choices. Your local thrift store can be a good bet for quality clothing as well. And if that doesn’t work for you, there is always a sale at H&M.

We want to hear your thoughts on bike fashion. Let us know in the comments!

Mia Kohout, editor-in-chief  |  mia@momentummag.com  |  @MiaKohout

15 Comments

  • Jaded

    I agree about the comments below re: sizing and function. I have no desire to be a sporty cyclist, and if I ever did I think I have plenty of suitable workout clothing.

    But as a 16, if I wanted one of those bike friendly shirts, or tops with light wicking and still look like normal clothes, too bad for me!

    I’d love to find a useful rain coat or cape that meets my preppy style. Or a stretchy but reflective jacket for cooler nights, but they do not exist or come in my size.

    Apparently, in the “sports world” you can only be sporty if you wear under a size 10 or so if you want cute clothing.

  • Marie

    For me, I take my work clothes with me and wear cycling appropriate (weather appropriate gear) to and from work. What hangs in my closet usually isn’t fit for sweat. Nothing wrong with changing in the bathroom at work! Fashion might apply if you have a really short commute but let’s be realistic: cycling means you are going to sweat. Might as well wear clothes meant to keep you comfortable. I don’t advocate wearing dresses while biking, but if that makes you happy and gets you away from using a vehicle, then go for it chica!!! It’s better to bike in your heels then not at all.

  • pdxeater

    I’m a 14-16 size and yeah, finding good bike commuter clothes is tough. I’m busty and have a 11 inch waist/hip differential, so clothing in general is always a bit of a challenge. I agree that you don’t need them to ride a bike, but it sure makes my kindergarten drop off and then go to work commute easier. When we start out we’re often biking in -5C, I have a 200 vertical foot hill to climb that makes me sweat like crazy and then I have to turn around and go back down before I bike to work, so technical clothes really help. I have written to several manufacturers, including Outlier, Proof, Swrve etc, telling them I would give my kingdom for some non-roadie commuting pants in my size make from Schoeller fabric. The more of us who speak up the better! I have found that Smartwool and Icebreaker make some stuff that fits very well and works well enough on the bike. I buy my merino at Sierra Trading Post because you can’t beat less than 50% of retail, Team Estrogen is a great site for finding lady-centric stuff of all sorts, and Showers Pass does make (ugly, imho) functional rain jackets up to an XL (the transit jacket is the most generous cut). Swrve has some ladies’ biking knickers I like from Schoeller, and I’m about to try their men’s pants to see if I can make them work on my body. Lastly, http://www.burgesscustom.com/custom-outerwear.php
    http://outaware.com/ were recommended to me by the guys at Mountain Soles when I contacted them about tailoring some rain pants for my mom (who has an even bigger challenge at 3X).

  • workablekitchen

    I hadn’t thought of myself as plus-sized (I’m a 12-14) until I started to try shopping for bike commuter clothes. I’ve switched from my road bike to an electric assist cargo bike, and I ride a long way across Los Angeles (from 1-16 miles at a go) several times a week. I do want specific things from clothes I wear while riding: not to get pants stuck against the chain, breathability, pockets that are reasonably secure, reflective details, bends in the right places, non-abrasive fabric, reinforcement in the crotch, etc. But shopping for these things has been SO much harder than I expected and I wind up reverting to my road riding clothes more than I would like. According to Athleta I’m a 1X, and several of the clothes I’d like to try are simply not made in my size; REI’s Novara line has weird dimensions that make no sense (fit around the waist but either pinch or billow around the legs); boutique lines seem to stop at a size 10, and to be cut to fit women whose bodies look like 12 year-old boys’. I’m willing to pay more for a product that is well designed and will last–it seems hard to find for a diversity of body shapes. My impression is that the options are growing for women but for a relatively narrow group of women; it would be nice to see a growth of possibilities across a broader spectrum, which seems like it would encourage more women to ride in the first place!

  • Cross Wizard

    Cycling is 90% how you look! Whether you are fitting in with your crew, showing your individuality, or just being comfortable. If the question is whether we need purpose-built clothing, that has a place too. Good quality, purpose-built clothing can make biking better and more comfortable. P.S. Helmets are cool.

  • MiaMSB

    I am a “plus size”, and for jerseys I love Twin Six. They are actually made to fit a larger female (I could fit into their clothes at a size 16, and now that I’m a size 12 they’re STILL the only jersey I can wear).

    Athleta is also a good brand, but very expensive.

  • Scott Montgomery

    I feel strongly we need fashion, function and options to enjoy cycling. Who would go skiing or surfing in jeans – I did in my 20’s but is stunk, and now as our world has improved options we have more fun, stay more comfortable and stay out longer. We are now tracking worldwide some 55 companies producing cycling specific casual-performance apparel. Everything from giant companies like Paul Smith in London, to our small but growing Club Ride in Sun Valley. I believe that if you “build it they will come” and that is our goal, improve the performance, function, style, offer great pockets, wicking fabrics, reflective accents and embrace all the great places we now have in the world to ride. Mia thanks for all you and your staff are doing to embrace this activity we all enjoy, I never ride my bike and think, “I wish I had driven my car today.” Ride Daily,
    Scott/CEO, Club Ride

  • Montréalaise

    Hello Laura,

    I have no idea where you live, but here in Montréal there is a business called Sportive Plus that carries sport and outdoor clothing in larger sizes. They do also have items that would be useful even for urban cyclists who want attractive but practical garments for cycling to work and such.

    They have boutiques here, but you can also order online. I have NO commercial interest in this firm. http://www.sportiveplus.com/

    I don’t usually take a plus size (I’m short and plump) but Mountain Equipment Coop and other sport and outdoor chains are sized so small that I can’t even wear many of their garments, and men’s clothing doesn’t fit me at all because I’m very “curvy” rather than straight up and down. I think the sizing is due to a silly prejudice; the idea that larger-sized people are all couch potatoes. An attitude that discourages fitness!

  • Bike Pretty

    I completely agree. Bike Fashion isn’t a necessity. But here in the 1st world, we buy a lot of things that aren’t necessities. Apparel designed for a specific lifestyle and aesthetic just gives people more options. And it can change the way someone sees herself and her own abilities.

    Companies like http://www.Iladora.com are trying to change the expectations we have of our clothes. Instead of working for our clothes, either by treating them with care, or buying disposable “fast fashion”, we should expect our clothes to work for us. To look good and perform well.

  • Michelle Kirby

    I love the new bike fashion, but what I need is a makeover! In the absence of time, I am still riding to work and back (well within your 8 mile limit) in yoga pants and wick away shirts. I’m on a Pashley Princess Sovereign that makes me work hard on hills, but deserves to be riden in style! I’ve got a tweed cap helmet to get me started, but honestly, I’m ashamed of the remainder of my attire. A cape? A pair of boots? Advice and photos, and where to buy as locally as possible would really help (and make my ride more fun)!

  • Susan Stokhof

    In most cases, no we don’t need bike specific bike clothing. As Mia mentions longer sleeves are great but I don’t specifically buy clothing tagged for cycling. I’m lucky that for my height, my arms a bit short and all sleeves are long. But back to the topic; as a business owner of a stylish bicycle accessory boutique (Le Vélo Victoria), I don’t necessarily promote bike-specific clothing. Merino wool is an amazing fabric that is ideal for cycling in and the huge bonus is merino wool fashion is on point with current fashion trends. One exception I will make are jeans. I really can’t tell you how many crotches I’ve blown out of my jeans. I wear nudie jeans and love them for cycling. I cycle everyday and yes, the crotch wears out but they’ve got great videos to help you repair them (bike specific repairs). So bike specific jeans for women is ideal.

  • Rex Redmon

    I think anything that makes people feel happy or more comfortable is great. I do think as cycling gear proliferates there is a some risk of discouraging new ridership. the more gear it seems like one needs to start, the less likely people are to do it. An example I like to use is bike bags. I shake my head at the expensive bike bags I see people toting around at either end of their bike commutes and trips when they only have a few things to carry. They are a big expense and a burden for every ride. An inexpensive $50 open top bag you can drop a backpack or computer bag into would suffice in most situations and you can leave it on your bike instead. Because it lacks the curb/theft appeal you don’t end up being stuck carrying it with you every where but can pop it off if you want to. I use this as an example because I have been commuting for 25 years and worked in 3 bikes shops and spend far less on gear now than I did when I started. I used to think I needed the latest and greatest and spent a small fortune and had some seriously heartbreaking theft losses along the way. I think this is typical in the industry the longer people ride the less they think they really need. People starting out don’t know how to discern what they need from what is being offered as a solution to a specific need of a specific demographic. Perhaps balancing the latest greatest with some common sense solutions would be a thought? Perhaps better clarifying the specific target audiences? All this being said I think it is awesome there are so many solutions being offered and so many people being able to make a living off producing bike gear.

  • Janine

    As a self described sweat pig who is sweating even now, sitting at a computer in a room of moderate temperature, I love bike fashion for the technical materials.

  • Jackie

    I’d love bike fashion even more if it embraced a larger variety of clothing sizes than what’s currently on offer. As much as I wish that these clothing makers would take a change and extend the ranges, I know it’s not going to happen so I don’t get too invested when I see new things. On the other hand, I’ve started sewing again and pattern makers have started to enlarge their size ranges so my hope for stylish and functional cycling clothing (especially things I can wear to work) is not so far out of my reach.

  • LauraC

    Love the fashions available. As a plus sized girl though, I am completely shut out of all these fashions. Makes me sad. I suppose it will be a whole generation before that changes, though.

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