Bike Fashion: The Lowdown on High Style for Cyclists Text & Photos by Jennifer Worley

Let us now observe a moment of silence for the shiny lycra stretch pants and neon nylon windbreakers that have been considered, for the past ten years, de rigueur for anyone traveling on two wheels. For the days when calling oneself a "bicyclist" means donning an array of specialized garments just to ride to the grocery store are numbered as the focus of the velorution now shifts to that final frontier: fashion.

The makers of athletic clothing do their best to convince us that it's risky at best to ride without stretchy, shiny leggings, hard little shoes that attach us to our pedals, and layers of the latest high-tech material to keep us arid and aerodynamic. But all that specialized clothing is only necessary for serious racers and long-distance touring.

A fashionista friend tells me of taking her bike into a local shop for repairs and being confronted by gear-clad folk who stared aghast at her perfectly bike-friendly, flat-heeled, white vinyl go-go boots and asked "But how do you get them in the clips?"

The truth is, you can wear just about anything you want when you ride - there are no rules and no dress code. People have been riding bikes much longer than toe-clips and lycra have even existed, and they've done just fine in everyday clothes, from white cotton bloomers to white vinyl go-go boots.

Sure, some basic precautions are necessary: loose pant legs can get caught on chainrings, and open-toed, high-heeled shoes are not a great idea (some would say in general, but this writer thinks they have their place). But if you just want to start riding your bike to work, you don't need to spend a fortune to coat your body in synthetic fabrics with names that end in "tex"; nor do you need to sacrifice a drop of style.

In support of my claim, I present these fabulous velo-fashions fresh from the streets of San Francisco, and fashion strategies for comfort, visibility, and style while cycling:

  1. Layers let you strip down and bundle up as your body heats up and cools off. Front zips, snaps, and buttons rather than pullovers make it easier to add and remove layers while you wait at a stoplight. A cotton layer next to your skin will absorb sweat and keep you from getting too skanky on your commute.
  2. Light-colored clothes and a few reflectors are a good idea at night. A simple white or yellow jacket will do wonders for your visibility.
  3. Gals of all genders: Don't rule out skirts and dresses! They make great cycling wear because you don't have to worry about pant legs getting caught in the chain. Just make sure the skirt is loose-fitting, or, if you like a slimmer fit, think knits and slits - a bit of stretch and/or a slit that extends above the knee can give you the leg mobility you need for your bike commute. You can get a tailor to put a slit in any skirt for about $5.
  4. Roll up your right pant leg or get a velcro strap at the bike shop to keep your pant leg from getting greasy, or worse, caught and torn on the chainrings.
  5. Wear sneaks and carry unbikable shoes in your bag, or keep them in your desk at work.
  6. If you're one of the few, the proud, the brave who dare to wear platform shoes while cycling, remember this: raise your seat by the same height as your shoes raise you and your knees will thank you!
  7. If you're a flamboyant dresser, work this angle for greater visibility and friendlier interactions with motorists! A hot-pink boa works as well as a lime-green gortex windbreaker to make you visible on the road. And between you and me, no one curses out a cyclist in a sequinned bustier, crinoline, and fishnet hose - even if she's taking the lane!
  8. Two words, ladies: white gloves. They're not just for traffic cops and those famous elderly twin ladies anymore. They make every outfit look to die for, keep your hands from slipping on the grips, give you that prim, law-abiding look that makes even the worst road-raging latte fiend think twice about running you down, and virtually guarantee that any cop will take your word over the SUV driver's. Pick up a pair at any thrift or vintage store for a buck or two.
  9. Run right down to the SFBC for your "Bikes Allowed Use of Full Lane" t-shirt, available in regular cut and now (finally, thanks to Nancy Botkin, SFBC's resident trend-spotter) in that adorable little Jennifer Aniston baby-tee cut for all you sex kittens out there. So assertive! So affordable ($15!)! So many colors! Buy three!