Cycle specific attire: the good, the bad and the worth owning

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Riding a bike in the city wearing business attire is like walking a dog in Central Park. It’s an innocuous, necessary act for some people, but one that they obviously love for the opportunity afforded to parade yuppie status. If carrying a mug of tea made at home past all the cafes is too gratuitous, then a slow bike or a bag full of dog shit is your kind of trick. You want to show all those wannabes that you are a local—just subtly.

Circumstance has spared me from ever being so smug. I’ve never lived a short ride from a high paying executive job, or owned a dog in New York. All I ever did was pretend. I rode 30km per day, for a few months, in woollen trousers and a suit jacket between home and work. The crotch wore thin (not as bad as the crotch of my jeans), the jacket lost a good deal of shape, and both top and bottom are now impregnated with the dried residues of my athletic sweat.

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Riding the distances called for by cyclists in sparse Australian or American cities, or even dense cities if they are big ones like London or Paris, simply ruins contemporary clothing. Note how I didn’t say “plain”, “ordinary” or “regular” clothing. The clothing most people wear these days is far from ordinary, in my opinion. Today’s fashions are a product of peculiar times when clothing is not required to actually do much. We have made a world so excruciatingly soft with indoor environments and transport machines that clothing is purely symbolic. Don’t these skinny white legs look tough in torn jeans:

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Bike commuters are the exception. All the bullshit you read about cycle specific clothes surviving the perineum’s war upon the Brooks saddle and vacuuming sweat like a nappy, is not complete bullshit at all. Pockets on the back of business shirts… okay, so those are symbolic, and bullshit. On the whole though, bike clothes are better for a life exposed to the elements. They can make your one or two hours in the saddle each day much more comfortable than if you were wearing wet cotton jeans with your scrotum peaking out of the crotch seams. And that’s not the worst!

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I have the idea with this post, that maybe some sort of comment thread will wend its way down the screen, providing the world with a more reliable buyers guide to bicycle clothing than the washing machine post has thus far provided. My god, that blog is verbose! (Not like mine). And other bike clothing review sites just copy the guff on the label. It falls to me, yet again, to save the world.

The Good

If you have a long ride every day, with hills involved, there’s a good chance you’re leaning on drop-bars. That means you wear gloves (or maybe you’re stupid, who knows). I benefited from mates-rates at this joint in Portland 4 years ago when buying a pair of Dromarti string/leather mitts. A used pair, I’ll warn you, will look nothing like the seductive photos you will see there on pinterest—more like something a vet has worn to reach in and grab foals. To the touch though, they’re fine, and feel as though they will only get better as we grow older together.

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Though not technically clothing, I have two Brooks accoutrements that have brought me more pleasure than pets: my Islington Rucksack and my drive-side Devon rear pannier, both of which I found online for about half the price advertised on the Brooks website. Both work precisely as touted and have aphrodisiac effects on females looking for mates. One thing the rucksack doesn’t come with, that you will need to add, is a light and a whistle. That’s to frighten the shit out of the other passengers when you wear on it planes as your hand luggage. “What? You don’t have a parachute?” you can say to anyone nervously glancing your way.

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Astronomers are closer to naming all of the stars than I am to knowing every rain jacket on the market these days. For $40 you aught to grab anything light to carry scrunched up in case of emergency. The holy grail though is the waterproof jacket that can be worn inside buildings without making you look like a Swedish backpacker. I studied options to the point of revulsion, almost deciding my skin would suffice as my waterproof layer. But I kept coming back to the Cafe du Cycliste Geraldine City Jacket, $282 at Always Riding. Perhaps I just liked that the promotional shots have it worn with my Brooks parachute/rucksack.

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The Bad

If you regularly cycle, chances are you have crushed a few lovers with your incredible thighs. That means you will never manage to squeeze them inside Rapha’s jeans—your thighs, that is, not your lovers. And while the denim seems durable, it is interwoven with superfine fishing line which makes it unbearably hot in warm or even mild weather. And for all that discomfort, this special denim wears out in the crotch just as quickly. Absolute rubbish. The following photo was taken moments before the crotch of my Rapha jeans exploded like Mr Creosote’s belly. Rapha graciously replaced them, at no cost to me. We’ll see if the next pair last more than a year.

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Anything made of Gore-Tex is rubbish as well. Whoever makes that stuff ruined my phone.

The Worth Owning

There’s a boutique company making raincoats in Cambridge that I think every style conscious cyclist should know about. I’m not sure if I’m intrigued or confounded by their refusal to improvise upon the design of a raincoat from the time of King Henry the Eighth. All they have done is update the fabric. What you get then is a classic raincoat that will make the Vice Chancellor think a dignitary has come onto his or her campus, but one that moves silkily with your body while you’re riding a bike. It could have a back-vent. It could have something to stop the front flaps splaying apart and exposing your thighs. But it could not be more waterproof, silent or stylish. I wrote a complete review of it here.

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Now to the tootsies. I would not want the job of devising an ad campaign for overshoes, any more than having to make puncture repair kits seem sexy.  Overshoes remind us of everything that presently sucks about cycling. (Don’t worry, one day I will convince planners to cover all bikeways. But that’s a while away yet.) Overshoes suck to put on and perform torture-by-zipper on your Achilles tendon if you wear your trouser on the outside to shed water. But if you have to ride any distance in drenching rain, in shoes you have chosen for your destination, you have little choice. My best pair are by grip-grab, a brand some friends in Rotterdam put me onto a few years ago. They’re made for cleated racing bike shoes, but fit over dress shoes as well.

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There are lots of beanies around. My personal favourite is by culturecycle and is crocheted from cotton and glass strands. The later return the light of their headlights to the eyes of car drivers. I wrote a review of these products here 

Impossible to find anywhere

I wish I could recommend a pair of trousers that neither wear out from rubbing on the saddle, constrict monstrous thighs, take ages to dry, or feel horrible when they are wet, but alas, I’m yet to find any. My Rapha soft shell trousers feel good on the bike in the rain, but feel like an ill fitting wetsuit when you get off. My regular Rapha pants are rubbish in the rain, but I must say, are proving quite durable. You’re sure to enjoy this little clip:

But durability and style isn’t enough. I want all-weather comfort! My Primrose swears by her Outlier trousers, but she doesn’t spend enough time in the saddle for me to vouch for their durability. I’d be curious to hear from anyone who has owned a pair of epic cotton trousers for more than year. I would bet they’ve got a hundred-hour life span while riding.

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I’ve given you the best of my knowledge, and finished with a look at my wife’s bottom. All I ask in return, is that you share a little of your own knowledge of worth-owning clothes for urban cyclists.

(There’s another thread of responses over at Reddit. Thanks again to Andrew Priest).

About Steven

I'm on a mission to put cycling on the agendas of architects, urban designers and fellow academics, who see the potential for bicycles to change cities and buildings. My PhD is in architectural history and my interdisciplinary research spans art theory, philosophy and cultural studies. I teach architectural history and theory and design studio at The University of Tasmania, Australia, and formerly worked as an architect designing large public housing projects in Singapore.
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47 Responses to Cycle specific attire: the good, the bad and the worth owning

  1. James says:

    I haven’t bothered to wear gloves for maybe 15 years. The only exceptions have been a few times over the past 3 years since I joined a veterans racing club and raced some criteriums, where the possibility of a crash is increased. My hands are fine, but of course not soft like a babies, and I ride a road bike and MTB over plenty of hills. To me, the *need* for gloves is like the *need* for a helmet. Better to learn not to crash than be encumbered by more bits of safety gear. YMMV, Steven.

  2. Easy says:

    I only bike 2 miles each way, so don’t have too much bike-specific clothing.

    I like to keep the rain off of me, but get sweaty if I wear a waterproof jacket, so have I have one of these rain capes:
    http://www.bicycleclothing.com/Rain-Capes.html
    They keep the water off from above but let the fresh air in from below.

    • Steven says:

      My wife bought a canvas one. Quite expensive I think. I found water pooled in my lap and felt I was being blown around by the wind. Okay for short rides, I would say.

  3. cyclesnail says:

    I am wearing normal clothes when I am riding my bicycle (up to 150km per week). A pair of trousers that seems to work well for me are from a mob called “Kuhl” (with two dots on the u)

    http://www.kuhl.com/kuhl/mens/pants/renegade-pant/.

    They are meant for tracking, made of some artifical stuff that I instinctively dislike, are slightly flexible, seems to ward of dirt and light rain, and are comfortable. Had them for two years, bought them for travelling and cycling, cycled for hundres of hours in them (they are my summer trousers, in winter I just wear jeans), and they are holding up well.

    • Steven says:

      Thanks! They look okay, and not too expensive. Perhaps a little billowy in the legs, and with too many pockets for a gentleman with my highly attuned fashion sense. Is that America’s Bear Grylls in the video?

  4. Kris Rhodes says:

    Surly are starting to make some pants pretty soon. If it’s anything like their jerseys, they’ll be worth their weight in gold. http://surlybikes.com/gear/pants/pants

  5. Dmitri F says:

    I think Chrome De Haro Windbreaker is an undiscovered Gem. It’s only flaw is that it has velcro to adjust the cuffs, which can damage other cycling clothes. Maybe the pocket layout isn’t perfect. But other than that it is awesome. Packs into a tiny package, into it’s own back pocket.
    Keeps you dry in constant rain for about 40 minutes, and comfortably dry for at least 2 hours. It has a hood, which is almost a must for any rain wear I think.
    It’s also fairly long so it won’t expose your back or stomach to the cold, whether you are cycling upright or lean forward (I do both).

    I cycled 120km in it and it felt great. I also cycle in it every day on shorter rides, anywhere between 20C down to about 2-3 degrees C – just add or remove a layer.
    And it looks great too, doesn’t scream “cyclist”, maybe a little if you look at the material closely… ;-)
    But being able to pack it into a tiny package and just keep it in your bag at all times, it makes for a really versatile jacket.

    Probably the cycling jacket I’ve used most of all in the last two years, and I’ve taken it with me on mini-tours and holiday trips.

    http://www.chromeindustries.com/us/en/de-haro

    As for a poncho, if you want a really stylish poncho, there’s always the Cleverhood, again probably best for shorter rides. A bit too expensive if you ask me, but might protect your pants better than a coat?
    http://www.cleverhood.com/

    Still looking for decent pants and a winter jacket. The Rapha Transfer Jacket is great, sexy and warm for winter riding in the city, but like all synthetic stuff it starts to smell a bit too quickly, and being quite expensive I feel the life span will be greatly reduced by having to wash it as often as I wash my other 7 times cheaper cycling jacket ;-)

  6. Bec says:

    Oh dear, due to the humidity levels in Sydney I am learning towards the ‘sports wear and change’ routine. Ugh.

    Has Mrs Behooving discovered ladies rainwear that avoids the ‘swedish backpacker’ look? A version of the geraldine jacket with a longer line?

    Also for the ladies: Lululemon has a an awesome trouser with reflectors in the turnups. Critical.
    http://www.lululemon.com.au/products/clothes-accessories/women-pants/Bust-A-Move-Pant

    They used to be called the “commuter pant” – mine have probably less than a dozen hours though, so can’t vouch for longevity.

  7. The Hon. Hamish says:

    I have a 7km one way commute in Sydney. I hate changing clothes and showering at work so I just wear some cheap cotton shorts and my freshly ironed business shirt untucked; all year round. I keep jackets, trousers and shoes at the office and change straight into them. In summer I undo the top three buttons of the shirt to let the wind in. This seems to work on all but the muggiest mornings so I usually arrive at the office no more sweaty than if I had walked a couple of kms. On my ride home, when its hotter, I just accept that I will stink like an ape when I get home. In winter I freeze my tits off in both directions; but I’m tough so I don’t care.

    • Steven says:

      all eminently reasonable Hamish. What do you do on your way to work when it is raining?

    • The Hon. Hamish says:

      I get wet.

      But seriously, I find there’s only 3-5 days a year where it is raining so much that I will be soaked at that time in the morning. I catch the train on those days because motorists tend not to drive to the conditions…

  8. I myself like the Endura Urban Collection, Especially their pants. My personal favorites. http://www.urbanbikewear.com/en/bikewear-men/pants-and-shorts/endura-urban-pant.html

  9. Karl says:

    I also own a pair of Rapha cycling trousers. I rarely wear them as even in the middle of ‘winter’ here in Perth they are too warm and stuffy to wear for anything more than a 5km ride. Let’s be honest for that sort of distance you could probably wear anything you like anyway.

    Thankfully my recent workplace had excellent facilities with shower and change rooms, storage lockers, bike area etc. Made riding into work and then having a shower and getting changed into ‘contemporary’ clothes very easy.

    PS – Check out my blog. I am a disgruntled urban planner and practical cyclist myself. :D http://www.velophile.com.au/ Adios!

    • Steven says:

      Thanks Karl / velophile. I’m not sure if you’re talking about commuting in lycra nicks. It makes sense for long rides in hot climates. The slight problem, for me at least, comes if I don’t go straight home. Regular shorts, fine. But turning up at some gallery opening dressed like Rudolf Nureyev. And if it’s erotic art and I get fluffed?

  10. Karl says:

    Hi Steven

    Yes that is a bit of an issue. On my commute I don’t wear Lycra, but I do wear cycle specific clothing (Ground Effect Zip-Tie long sleeve jersey and regular shorts with padded mesh liner) that looks fine to wear in the shops on the way home but I wouldn’t go to a bar to meet a friend. I got around this as I worked in the CBD (right in the centre) and so I would go to any after work engagements in my office clothes on foot/bus, and then afterwards I would walk back to work, get changed and ride home. A few times I was going back into the office at 12-1am and riding home which was interesting at that time.

    The hunt for truly durable and comfortable cycle clothing where you can ride 10km and meet a friend at a event without looking out of place, and then ride home is still going for me..

    • Steven says:

      that’s our hunt! Personally I’m grateful to people posting suggestions here in this thread. I may have to bite the bullet and buy some outlier trousers.

    • Dmitri F says:

      Those delivery prices are a killer. But the biggest bummer is the surprise bill from the post office for VAT and “fees”.

    • Steven says:

      The Australian tax office has been sleeping on this. We can buy from overseas and pay no sales tax at all. We’ll be the last to implement safe bike infrastructure as well.

  11. crank says:

    “A sign to other cyclists that I’m not poor” — laughing my ass off. That video is great.

    Interesting, I too have found ‘cycle specific’ gear has served me better for general wear than ‘general clothing’. Creux and Osloh are in this group. I tried doing the Hard Yakka/Dickies thing, but found them uncomfortable (for me, maybe I just bought them too small?)

    Trousers I rate:
    – Really like my Cruex chinos (they are warm though) – Aussie brand! http://www.creuxcycling.com/ I ended up getting two pairs.
    – Had very good wear out of two pairs of Osloh jeans and a pair of shorts. Very flattering, many remarks on how sexually attractive they make me appear. http://osloh.com/ I travelled the world for a year with the jeans and shorts as my ‘regular’ wear, and they outlasted my outdoorsy hiking pants.
    – Swrve trouser look shiny and weird, don’t hold a nice shape, although I do like my shorts from them.

    Jacket
    – Have a cool puffy Cadence jacket that “folds into the breast pocket” but that is not so easy – I jam it into a stuff sack instead. Handy for the unexpected Melbourne shower. (I have another Cadence hoody thing which is pilling and not so great.)
    – Otherwise I just tend to wear a regular Peacoat or similar.

    If I’m wearing ‘sporty’ stuff, I have found Northface outperforms most of the bike brands I’ve tried out.

    • Steven says:

      I might have just enough information now to open an internet clothing store! Thanks for those!

    • Steven says:

      After all of this inquisition I went and bought a pair of jeans for $9 at K-mart— made in Bangladesh which I guess is quite bad.

  12. James says:

    Has anyone mentioned ankle clips to keep your trousers out of chains way?

  13. barefoot says:

    I could never buy pants online – I have enough trouble finding pants in real life that come anywhere near to fitting both my thighs (big) and my waist (small).
    I commute 6km each way year round in office kit, in Ballarat (which has a similar climate to Tasmania, except for the 40dgC days). The best lesson I’ve learned so far is wool-blend. Fast-drying (I only bother with waterproof overpants if it is absolutely hosing down), abrasion resistant, and thermally comfortable in all temperatures. They also hold their shape with a crisp crease despite my poor laundering habits.
    The best work trousers I had were by Perry Ellis. I had two pairs (from the $6 throw-out rack at Dimmeys, so my expectations weren’t high), and they easily fit my cyclist thighs, and they lasted me nearly 3 years before expiring. I’ve also owned another pair of (non-woollen) Perry Ellis trousers that fit me; it could be that Mr Ellis has a cyclist for a model.
    I find cotton pants so impractical to cycle in that I tend to wear my usual black wool-blend trousers with a t-shirt on casual friday (if I bother to casualise at all), rather than suffering jeans or chinos on the bike.

  14. Nick zintilis says:

    Love your article. I live in Amsterdam and in Monaco. In Amsterdam I my bike is Gazelle Tour Populair,similar to yours. I would advise you to upgrade your saddle to Brooks B135. You will thank me one day.
    I dress not unlike yourself But I wear heavy cloth Armani jeanlike pants.
    These I find great. For the jacket I would suggest Armani Creppe material as it will not deform and will give great comfort. I ride 50km a day.
    Please put me on your mailing list!

    Nick Zintilis

    • Steven says:

      Perhaps it’s time I started a mailing list! Thanks Nick. You have given me some window shopping to do about Brooks and Armani Creppe :)

  15. crank says:

    I just got measured up for a new suit. I stuck with double vents, which originally were designed to stop your jacket bunching while on horseback. I figured this is good for cycling – helps the jacket keep it’s shape, sit well, and avoid wrinkles from bunching. We’ll see :) Let the wolf whistles commence…

    • Nick zintilis says:

      When in Amsterdam go to Suit Supply-made to measure.

    • Steven says:

      I just read a review, and am glad I used a local tailor. Fully bespoke, any fabric you like, two fittings, same price as your mates in Amsterdam, 100% made out the back of the showroom, and I got to “design” the suits with every metrosexual flourish that popped into my mind. Man, I should be running tailoring holidays to Australia! Nick, you gotta come for some sun mate! http://www.rundletailoring.com.au/ I hasten to add: if you let a tailor do what he likes, your suit will be baggy and too long in the arms and the legs. It’s so hard to find proper help, don’t you find?

    • Nick zintilis says:

      I like no vents. As the jacket hangs over your saddle it does not hinder your movement.

    • Steven says:

      My next suit will be from the same fabric used in this jacket: http://missionworkshop.com/products/apparel/jacket/waterproof-orion.php

    • Nick zintilis says:

      This a raincoat.?
      Go to Giorgio Armani and ask to see 100%wool CREPE!
      It is wrinkle free and elastic because of the weave.
      Yes it will cost you,but my oldest one is 10 years old and looks NEW!

    • Steven says:

      yes someone has told me about this. Maybe yourself? The nearest Armani store to Tasmania might be in Singapore :)

    • Nick zintilis says:

      Swim?

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