Can I wear ‘normal’ clothes to cycle in? Don’t cyclists all wear lycra? What do I do if I want to cycle somewhere and then mix with regular people. I need to find some clothes I can cycle to work in and then wear at work or in a social environment.
Although the ideal clothing to wear on a bike is lycra, with its snug fit, wicking properties and perfectly padded shorts, what do you wear if you don’t want to look like a cyclist? With many big clothing brands now trying to get in on the cycling boom there are more options than ever. Sometimes it’s just not practical to wear lycra.
You can wear any clothes on a bike, in summer it’s a far easier option. If you have a good weather forecast all you need is some cargo shorts, a breathable t-shirt and maybe a light jacket just in case. Of course, you’ll also want to either have flat pedals or spd pedals and shoes that offer a little more practicality once you’re off the bike.
When the forecast isn’t so good, or you plan on cycling year round, then you might need to think a bit harder. Brands like Vulpine, Meccanica, Road Rags, Rapha and the Giro New Road range have a great selection of clothing designed for on and off the bike.
Why should you spend money on these clothing brands that charge a premium because they call a pair of jeans ‘cycling jeans’? These may have some of the following features to distinguish themselves from non cycle specific ‘normal’ clothes. Jackets and shirts will have longer sleeves to prevent the arms riding up when your arms are stretched out on the handlebars and longer tails, or even stashable tail pieces to hang down and keep your back dry.
Jeans, trousers and shorts will have a higher cut at the backs of trousers to prevent draughts and indecent exposure. Carefully placed folds and stretch panels will enable easier movement on the bike, whilst maintaining a fitted look when you’re in the pub. Harder wearing materials will be incorporated in places to increase durability of the garment, and maybe protect you in case of a spill.
Reflective strips or material will be used and placed to be effective on the bike but not too obvious when in a meeting. Luggage may have pockets and straps designed to secure certain cycling essentials like locks and pumps. Lightweight, breathable materials will be used; Merino for warmth and the reduction of odours and waterproofing treatments and fabrics for when you get caught in a shower.
Generally the same applies as to a lycra based wardrobe. You should wear a wickable base layer to pull the sweat away from your body. Merino makes a good base layer because it wicks away sweat, insulates against hot or cold temperatures, and has natural properties that help control odour. Then a breathable top layer which ideally has pockets that are closed with either zip or velcro.
If needed you’d wear a warmer jacket over the top or take a packable windproof/waterproof layer for emergencies. With regular type clothes you might decide on a messenger type bag or panniers to carry things that would normally live in jersey pockets. You need shorts or trousers depending on the weather. Socks and shoes don’t have to be cycling specific, but you would be more comfortable with some light, wickable socks for summer, and some merino ones for colder times.
You can get walking shoes that are waterproof, to use with flat pedals, something with a nice grippy sole. You can get spd shoes that look like trendy skate shoes, like the DZR H2O we reviewed. A rain cape or poncho is a good option for heavy rain. You keep the wet out but don’t get too sweaty.
Hiplok manufacture padlocks that you wear around your waist like a belt, which we reviewed previously. They also sell D-Locks that clip onto a bag strap or pocket.
Lastly, the accessories. Wearing normal clothes doesn’t mean you have to forego safety. You can wear normal gloves, or cycling gloves. There are helmets that fold up to fit into your bag, like the Morpher, Overade Plixi or Biologic Pango. Hiplok manufacture padlocks that you wear around your waist like a belt, which we reviewed previously. They also sell D-Locks that clip onto a bag strap or pocket. I’d also recommend using a bike which has sturdy fitted mudguards to prevent getting a dark stripe up your back and a chain cover to stop loose clothing getting snagged.
You can wear anything to ride a bike. Cycling shouldn’t be exclusive and you shouldn’t need to buy special clothing to ride your bike. If you’re cycling as transport, or cycling short distances, then clothing choice won’t affect your enjoyment as much. If you are regularly cycling on a commute or to get around responsibly without using a car and you’re out in all weathers then you should consider buying some of the cycling specific casual clothing mentioned above.
Of course, if you’re racing, or riding long distances you will probably find that you’re more comfortable in lycra with its singular purpose of being comfortable on the bike. Take a look at some of the brands mentioned above though, some of the kit there is still suitable for a club ride, but in understated colours and designs that don’t mark you out as a cyclist the moment you step off the bike too.
As a parent, when my kids were younger I could happily rack up the brownie points and escape for a day out on my bike either by myself or with friends. Just last week my 4 year old finally managed to ride his pedal bike with no stabilisers. Now cycling is something the whole family can do, so we can enjoy family days out on the bikes. The problem with this is that it would look mildly amusing with my wife and kids on ‘bikes’ in their normal clothes and me on my carbon road bike in tight fitting lycra.
I’ve also started wearing ‘nice’ clothes again as the sticky fingerprints and patches of food on chairs have started to become less of a hazard. I need clothes I can wear on the bike and look normal riding with my family, then be able to ride to work, go to a meeting or on a night out, or even go for a detour on the way back home without being uncomfortable. I’ve started mixing in certain items from some of the brands mentioned above and you’ll start to see some reviews on here soon.