Underdressed for Your Bike??

DBC Swift Ladies', Test Ride
from a recent email (published with permission):
"Weirdest experience this morning! Was about to go for a ride on my gorgeous Abici, then caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror and thought better of it. I was working from home and looked a mess! Stained cargo pants, old T-shirt, ratty ponytail, ugh... Do you ever feel underdressed for your bike?"
Okay, that's pretty funny. And I admit I've felt the same. On a day to day basis I could be wearing anything, depending on what I am doing - from a business suit to paint-stained rags. And when it happens to be the latter, I do feel self-conscious getting out there on a nice bike for the whole world to see me all disheveled. Not self-conscious enough to actually go and change, mind you. But enough to make a mental note to dress better next time.

Could it be that all the so-called "cycle chic" imagery is getting to us, so that we actually feel pressure to dress up on our bikes?

It's possible. But I think the more likely explanation, is that traveling by bicycle can make us more self-aware and self-conscious, simply because we are more visible. Sure, we can hop in the car wearing old sweats with our unwashed hair up in a bun, drive to pick up some milk, and no one will be the wiser. But on a bike we will be observed. If we ride in the same neighbourhood as we live and work, we may not want our acquaintances, romantic interests, or colleagues to see us in that state.

Then again, it may simply be the bike. Owning an elegant, civilised bicycle can make us want to follow suit. And maybe that's not such a bad thing.


  1. I think this was more the case when I first started riding. Now, I don't really think about it much. I ride in a suit to/from work, come home, change into ratty jeans, t-shirt and flip flops, and head to the store. Dirt-stained gardening clothes? Sure.

    I suppose it partly has to do with the fact that I don't have any other vehicle - so I'm either going to get on my bike, or go change my clothes, and I'm much more apt to just get on my bike.

  2. Of course you are the center of attention on a bike in an environment where you'll stand out as one of few who bike.
    However, if your bike is of a higher visual standing than the person riding it, boy, will people be staring...
    Especially here where everybody will assume you stole it or bought a stolen one knowingly.

  3. "Especially here where everybody will assume you stole it"

    Ha! Oh man, that did not even occur to me : )

  4. Velouria

    Montreal worships clunkers... things are sooo bad sometimes... 150$ for a bike is already good money.
    Only sports folks flount nice flashy bikes. Everybody else's is rusty, rattles, squeaks, looses parts, and is held together with duct tape.
    So if you start cruising around on a sexy bike dressed like you spent the night in the compost... Ahem... let's say that you'll be more than suspicious!

  5. When I was growing up, if my dad had been working on the car or house or lawn, and needed to go to a hardware store or autoparts store, he would come in, shower and change before he went to the store. He just believed that one didn't go out in public in torn/stained/dirty clothes, and that one was treated more seriously if you dressed carefully.

    I think that that has a bit of truth to it- people judge us on our personal style, and treat us accordingly. Unlike my Dad, I will hop on my bike in "dirty" clothes to run to the hardware store, but I does feel a little strange, especially to ride in shorts, which I almost never wear unless I'm gardening or doing grubby work.

  6. cycler - It was the same for me growing up. As my parents got older, they stopped caring. But then the general culture has changed and there is no longer an emphasis on being "presentable" in public. In some European countries it still exists, but even there not as much as a couple of decades ago.

  7. I guess I should put in the caveat that I tend to dress fairly nicely most of the time, and I don't ever really get completely filthy, so I'm talking about kind of a moderate range of dress here :)

    But I don't mind getting on a bike in my gardening clothes with a little dirt on me.

    I suppose you could also say that my bike is one that maybe a lot of people who are into bikes would consider kind of a clunker (it's obviously old, paint is weathered, decals fading, bits of rust here and there, etc), but many "normal" people find eye-catching.

  8. "Especially here where everybody will assume you stole it or bought a stolen one knowingly."

    This made me laugh, but it's so true! My hubby commutes to work and it's not pretty. An old T and cargos, or a ratty sweatshirt. In the summer sometimes he stops at the river on his way home, so he rides half the way soaking wet. Even in a reasonably bike friendly town he has noticed people treat him differently than those dressed nicer or in bicycling clothing.

  9. Peppy (the amazing cycling cat "the fluffy one")July 29, 2011 at 6:34 PM

    I always go out in my birthday suit when I'm out cycling.

    That is to say, luxurious furs.

  10. Whether vintage or new, I ride nice-looking bikes. I feel I need to at least wear clothes that somewhat compliment the them. I don't go overboard as its too hot most of the year. I make more of an effort in the winter. Visibility and weather are priorities I work around.

  11. Well, since I get absurdly filthy working at the donkey farm I really have no choice but to be seen riding in clothes covered in mud/dust/sweat/manure/grassy saliva smudges etc. I just shrug if off and go about my business. I get to make up for it going to my AM job. I get to dress cute and ride the Pashley then.

  12. I often feel the opposite, not because of the bike but because most other cyclists tend to deliberately dress down or wear something sporty to ride in, which can make me feel overdressed in my normal smart-ish clothes. After your recent post about (to paraphase) finding the one "perfect bike", I'm beginning to think even more now that mine is. It's an old black raleigh mixte with the odd bit of rusted paintwork and scratched decals but still basically an elegant bike so suits a dressed up or dressed down look. It would't be perfect for everyone but it is for me (but that doesn't stop me wanting a sturdy hub geared full chain case bike for winter and heavy grocery loads, and a sportier touring/road bike for faster group rides!).

  13. I think my bike and I both possess a certain air of genteel scruffiness. Neither of us are usually all that tidy, but we're well-mannered, capable and clean up pretty nicely.

  14. i recently let a teenager ride around the backyard on my vintage cruiser. since it was off the road, she didn't wear a helmet and she just looked so pretty and graceful with her hair blowing around. and it made me wonder if i looked adorable riding my bike. i don't, not with my super dorky helmet. i do get lots of compliments about my bike's looks, and it does make think i should step up my game.

  15. Of course, there's a reason to dress down a bit in my line of work, as illustrated by Yehuda Moon http://www.yehudamoon.com/index.php?date=2011-03-19

  16. Nice clean bike means nice clean causal wear.

    Or take the beater bike! :^)

  17. My problem is not that i`m dressing down, but that i can`t dress up. Living in Norway where only 6% commutes on bike, and 90% of bikes being sold are mid to high level mountain bikes, the only bike-specific clothing you can find are of the lycra, "i`m-gonna-win-Paris-Roubaix-next-year" kind.
    I tend to ride in stretchy jeans, or baggy pants, but i also pick bikes after what i`m wearing (i have five of them) :P If i`m just going to the shop in my work cloths, i will take my dirty trailbike etc.
    If only someone in Norway would start importing smart-looking, casual bike wear, i would be all over it. I like seeing people matching what they ride. I actually gave away a rather nice 1976 model Italian roadbike to a girlfriend of mine, just because her looks matched it so well :) I look a fool riding down the street on my mint condition, 32 year old roadbike, wearing a hoodie, washed out jeans and dirty trainers. My only comfort, is that the people riding next to me, wearing bibs and florescent windbreakers, look even worse :)

    PS: Love your blogg.

  18. I remember that once I was riding my lovely old Raleigh Sports 3-speed to work as a nursing assistant, and it was predicted to rain rather hard, so I wore my torn-up Showers Pass rain jacket and polyester knickers. The jacket is at least light blue as opposed to yellow, but it's plastic-looking, with the dropped tail and reflective bits.

    I generally feel silly wearing that jacket on my 3-speed (as opposed to my touring road bike). And sure enough, I end up stopped at an intersection next to a gentleman on his really nice Dutch bike, wearing a gorgeous wool coat and dressy pants.

    I felt ridiculous, like I was somehow betraying my lovely old Raleigh. I actually felt the urge to say "I normally don't wear this jacket on this bike," but I think I refrained, and instead told the gentleman I was jealous of his generator hub.

    BTW: I keep wanting to comment on all your posts but I frequently just don't have time, since I often have limited internet time. It drives me crazy to have something to say and no time to say it! Gaaah!

  19. I have the opposite problem. Normally, I'm not much for dressing up. Yesterday, I rode in a dress for the first time. I think I wear skirts/dresses about five times a year. It was not an enjoyable experience. I kept exposing my knees *gasp*. I had shorts on underneath, too, so it was all in my head.

    Anyway, I had on a black sundress and cute red strappy flats and I felt like a total dork. I felt like I was trying too hard. Cycle chic, I guess, is not something we do much of in Seattle. Fleece, yes. Chic, no. I felt totally overdressed.

  20. zomg... I'm so glad you brought this up! On days that I work painting sometimes I can't be bothered to change because I'm in a hurry. The Dutch just don't dress down. They look at me weird in the stores. If I'm wearing an artist's button down smock, I suddenly have a "professional uniform" on and no one looks at me funny!

    The Dutch never dress down as far as I can tell. They have dress standards for most every job. I often see the older generation working on roses or other flowers with a suit jacket on. <_< Older gents still wear suit jackets and dress hats to the grocery stores. Older women wear panty hose and dresses, even in the coldest of winter and pushing a rollator. It's so different from my American farm community upbringing.

    Dutch construction workers all have uniforms. Jeans and t-shirts are unacceptable. Subcontractors wear printed t-shirts with the company information and work pants.

    It's hard to dress down over here on a bike or not.

  21. Recently when experiencing a tiresome bout of the flu I reached my lowest ebb in cycling style (and it was already pretty low, I have been known to cycle in wellies on a rainy day). I thought about my friend dropping the kids off at school whilst wearing her dressing gown. Why should car-encumbered, virus-ridden gals have it so much easier? I didn't want to get out of my comfy PJ's as it was a wet, cold day and I was toasty warm and snug. I ventured out with my waterproofs zipped up at the neck and the overpants velcro-ed at the cuff. It took 20 mins to duck into the deli for soup, chocolate and paracetamol. It is the only time I have cycled in my stripey Jimmyjams. I think I got away with it, but, the Surly is not going to put up with that sort of behaviour regularly.

  22. I wear whatever I'm wearing, b/c I feel fairly confident that no one cares about how I look on my bike. I have a dirty/sweaty job anyway, so I tend to look bad on my morning commute, worse throughout the workday, and absolutely terrible on my way home. I couldn't care less, and most of my bikes are pretty grubby-lookin', too.

  23. I do think about what I wear because I'm sort of an ambassador for biking in my funny part of the world; while there are a lot of sport cyclists here, there are very few sport / transport cyclists here, though I've managed to convert almost 10 people to riding around (plus the ones that I don't know who likewise ride around town (about 5 more) (LBS keeps a kind of census going / plus mutual acquaintances tell each of us about others in the confederation)

    So I tend to have a "uniform", and while I do a lot of dirty work, and am frequently muddy / dirty / debris covered, most people who see me on a daily basis see that uniform - knickers (horrible word), sometimes even cycling specific ones, if I'll be riding distance, and a shortsleeved shirt with a collar. In cooler weather, wool shirt, and then as it gets cold, windbreaker / parka etc on top.

    I don't have a huge amount of clothing, so pretty much my entire wardrobe fits the parameter of work clothing / cycle clothing. And as an aside...Calvin Klein knickers from the OUTLET, didn't sell too well in their main stores I suppose, but they're perfect riding pants - just like swerve trousers, they have a little stretch, they're rip stop etc (oh - and I'm, uh, a guy so they're guy specific; don't know if there's a ladies iteration; probably not as utilitarian. As a further ridiculous side note - I run a monthly documentary series + moderate a monthly seminar at the library, and as I always come by bike, I'm always wearing my uniform. I get constant positive feedback about my peculiar clothes, and it's gotten a few people on their bikes, as they realize that then they don't have to wear lycra etc. And also, then I've brought them mountain bike cassettes and derailleurs for their road bikes, showed them how to put on a rack / big saddlebag whatever. And I think all of this engendered by the accessibility of clothing / uniform.

    Oh dear, it's been my semi-annual espresso...sorry...and that is also why I wear a helmet... because I'm a public figure (in that people see me all over town), and I feel a certain responsibility to model what people perceive as proper behavior.

    One last bit of blather (for today) - way off topic - so sorry - is that people are always saying to me - "oh I see you on your bike all the time", to which I answer (my true experience), "and, I see you in your car all the time" (so what in either case? (ie really what you're seeing is the ability to get around in a vehicle, and perhaps that loosens them up as to the possibilities.

    So yeah all because of clothing.

  24. If I'm taking the Pashley to the shops I'll change into half decent clothes.. She deserves it :)

  25. I don't think about being dressed up or down so much as "do I look like myself?" I bought a bike in a neutral color that's both useful and beautiful. That's how I generally think about the objects I want in my life, the clothes I want to wear, the things I want to sit on etc. So whether casual or less so, I just am trying to apply my own taste in a thoughtful way. And that saves me from anxiety about it, generally.

  26. Eh me I'm not so much worried bout what others think bout the way I dress when I ride. I ride for me and no one else. Usually though I do ride in my work clothes like my bike I'm dinged up and scratched in places so it works for me. Hell honestly if I ever actually buy real cycling clothes I would feel big time overdressed. But hey that's just my 2 cents.

  27. For those of us who read cycling mags, look at bike porn on the internet, the cycle chic might be getting to us. However I was raised to dress up even though I mostly grew up in a part of Canada that rarely dresses up and now live in an area that never ever dresses up. My job requires jeans and layers of jackets-not what I want to wear, so on days off I go all out even if just to the store.
    Yesterday I was going to a dinner party and it's hot and summery so had a nice dress on. I got sooo many cat calls, horn blasts from truck drivers and various whhoooos from the endless ferry traffic. While flattering in a way, I thought of how visible we really are on bikes. People always tell me they see my riding my bike. Much of the time I am biking to and from work so not exactly in what i would like to be wearing. But i don't care because people out in the pnw dress like slobs to steel against the rain most of the time.
    I like to imagine myself wearing lovely wool outfits and fine leather boots while riding a lovely upright gleaming bicycle.

  28. I should also say that I have been transportation cycling since my teens so was always biking to university, to work etc.. Clothes and image mattered so much more when I was younger, and when I had 'proper' jobs. Since moving to a rural community, all my jobs have required rough 'work' clothes. I yearn for the day when I have a job that requires I dress up.
    but otherwise, I don't give a second thought to how I look on my bike, other than hoping other cyclists see that they do not have to wear lycra shorts and cheezy polyester jerseys.

  29. BB - Oh I've worn my pajamas, albeit disguised under a structured winter coat, on countless errands!

  30. For me, the season dictates what I can and cannot wear on the bikes, regardless that I have now 2 Dutch bikes.

    South Florida has 4 seasons: Not so Hot, Hot, Hotter, and Christmas. We are now in the Hotter season which sees normal daytime highs in the low to mid 90s with a heat index of 100-110. I dont like to ride in shorts because they just suck with the chafing on the seats for anything more than 2 miles ride. So right now its all my skirts and dresses. I actually prefer anything that's semi long and with sleeves because not only is it blisteringly hot, you also can't get away from the sun and I'm really pale and would prefer to stay this way. Today I rode 20 miles roundtrip to a bike shop to fix a problem on the vintage dutch bike that only this one guy can fix. Everyone else is really an idiot in South Florida. Most don't know what a dynamo is. I had on a long fluttery black skirt with a pretty Scandinavian pattern and a white half long sleeve shirt and to top it off, a big floppy sunhat with a flowery scarf holding it to my head in the wind. Our cat calls here are usually HOLA! How I deal with wind and skirts? Using one of those big black document clips from work that have the two metal things on each side..works wonders.

    When we transition into the Christmas timeframe where the heat is turned down around November, then I can wear pants and capris and leggings (and lose the black binder clip) and I won't overheat and hyperventilate. The rest of the Not So Hot season ends around March and then is when it's time to lose the pants again.

    Winters in South Florida are awesome except that they are windy. It lets me wear things other than cotton and October starts the Farmer's market here. On cool frosty mornings it's so much fun to ride to the market in a coat and boots and eat apple cider donuts :)
    Last year we had a record 12 straight days of temperatures in the 40s as highs so it does get cold here. You know its winter when the sky changes from its summery pastel twilight colors to chilly orange-blues.

    However it really sucks right now in the summer. If you don't want to overheat or get sunburnt, not a lot of choices and sunblock only works so long...

  31. I find that the more I "dress up" and then hop on the bike, the more I enjoy the ride - as putting in too much effort makes one all sweaty and yucky by the time the destination is reached!

    I also find traffic treats me differently - despite using my flat bar road bike for both fitness (wearing more sporty gear) and commuting (wearing less sporty, but somewhat functional clothes).

  32. Around here, I've never seen anyone over the age of 18 on a bike who wasn't wearing full-on lycra jersey, bike shorts, etc. Seems like biking for fun or to actually get somewhere just doesn't exist.

    Being an adult and biking in street clothes (clean and neat or grungy) feels like an act of rebellion in and of itself!

  33. Very late, I know, but came across this.
    Might interest you:


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