Thursday, 19 July 2012

Dress for the destination

Enjoying a ride in heels and a long skirt. a perfect match
Photo by David Phu
With all the riding I've been doing this summer, along with all the riding I do most of the year, I get to see an array of fashion choices from my fellow bike riders. I also get to see their quizzical looks my way as I pass in a variety of presumably strange looking outfits. On a typical summer day, that can include a brightly coloured sleeveless top, a skirt, and a pair of gladiator sandals. My family and I are firm believers in dressing for the destination, meaning that someone can ride to where they are going in exactly the same clothing they would walk, transit or drive in without buying all sorts of activity specific clothing.

The notion of buying dedicated cycling clothing is still quite a new idea for me, and when I started riding my bike for commuting more consistently a few years back, I totally started buying in to what seemed to be a popular idea for most people on bikes. I bought the rain pants, cycling shorts and was completely ready to purchase a pair of clip shoes. In my defence, I was planning on participating in a long haul ride from Vancouver to Seattle, but when that plan fell through, the desire to get "kitted out" didn't go with it. 

My husband a son on a fall ride sporting stylish
wool coats. Photo by David Phu
Then it happened, one day I decided to ride to work in a skirt without my cycling shorts underneath because they added too much heat at a time when we were experiencing a heat wave. I was deeply concerned that while I was much more comfortable riding, my skirt would blow up at any moment, giving much of East Vancouver a show. But instead, I had a revelation! My concerns had no basis in reality, as my skirt stayed put for the most part, even as I pedalled up one of my notoriously large hills on the route home. Better yet, I realised that riding in my normal, every day clothes was completely doable, without all the special gear, and I was set free to look as stylish as I saw fit on two wheels. Nowadays, my main concern when dressing to go out is which shoes will go best with my outfit. 

My daughter on her way to school, in a dress as usual
I often think that something was lost along the way somewhere between childhood and adulthood for many (but not all) of the cyclists I pass when I'm out on my bike on the way to work, school, the park or a play date. In our years as children and teenagers, cycling gear was an extremely foreign concept, I, myself, riding to meet friends in whatever I happened to be wearing at the time they called. The same still seems to ring true, as many of the people I pass that are head to toe in dedicated cycling clothing are adults. Meanwhile, the children I see on their way to school when taking my daughter in the morning are decked in running shoes, jeans and a t-shirt, the perfect ensemble for running, jumping and playing with their friends at school.

I should explain that I understand wholeheartedly that dressing for the destination doesn't apply to those that are, in fact, training for a race or long haul ride. I have a neighbour I see coming back from a training ride looking like she's about to ride the Tour de France. But to me, it's not strange to see her that way, as it's highly likely she has just completed one third of her daily training for one of the numerous triathlons she does throughout the year. So for her, cycle gear makes sense, especially when she's booking it at top speed.

Here in Vancouver, there is a lot of talk about increasing the mode share of cycling, to help us achieve the goal of being the world's Greenest City. To increase mode share, riding a bike needs to be appealing to anyone and everyone in the city. The best way to do that is to show people that riding a bike is easy and takes little to no effort. This means seeing people riding bikes in normal clothing, and letting people know that you don't need specialised equipment to do it. 

My husband on his way to work this
morning, dressed for a casual day
at the office
So I would like to set out a challenge to my local readers, and to any other readers who tend to wear lots of lycra, waterproof clothing and other specialised gear. When you get on your bike to ride to work or what have you, try setting aside the cycle gear and just ride in what you planned on changing into when you got to your destination. This may mean riding a bit slower to reduce the amount of sweat you produce, and choosing a less challenging route to get there, but you never know, you may have a revelation, too. It could be the start of something, and the journey to your end destination may be forever changed. 

Happy riding!

Here's some info that may help:

1 comment:

  1. Good article! I think all the spandex & technical gear does reinforce the idea the cycling is a specialized sport that's not for everyone. Promoting it as a normal way to get around means wearing normal clothes while doing it. :)

    That said, I was one of those yellow & black lycra-clad cyclists when I was commuting to work about 250 days a year. I've got special shoes, shoe covers, pants, jackets, gloves, jerseys, shorts, tights, socks, glasses, hats & ear warmers. I shudder to think about the amount I spent on it over the years. But then again, compared to driving or even a buspass--it's pocket change.

    I admit that a lot of the time I could have just worn my work clothes while riding. Except in the rain--which is a big part of bike commuting in winter in Vancouver. I've yet to find a waterproof vented jacket that also has sleeves long enough that isn't a cycling jacket.
    Another factor was that I had access to a small gym, changing facilities & shower at my last 9-5 job.

    Now that I work mostly from home, & when I do go out it's usually with my toddler, I don't have the luxury of time or pannier space to change clothes. I ride in skirts & dresses on the hot days, skinny jeans & cotton jackets on the cooler ones.

    I guess you could call me a reformed gear-head?