Urban Cycling and Everyday Attire
As a lifelong cyclist, I ride for the sheer joy of every experience. My Brompton folder (nicknamed "vespa"—"wasp" in Italian since it's yellow and black) allows me to run errands or visit friends in our Ballard neighborhood or as far as the University District. Since my wife also rides a folder (a Giant Clip she fondly calls Betty Blue), outings are fuss-free occasions. Anything from Sunday rides to quick grocery runs are without worries about traffic jams or finding parking spots.
When doing last-minute grocery runs (like getting bread for breakfast from Ballard's neighborhood bakers) or library book returns, surely one doesn't have to change into special "cycling" clothes and shoes? Not at all, of course.
Though I also ride fast road bikes (classic Italian steel and current carbon fiber/titanium, if you must know), I don't wear form-fitting (i.e. racing) cycling clothing except on long group rides. For neighborhood rides, I need clothes with many pockets to access wallet, keys, notepad or compact camera (for seasonal landscape shots, since I teach photography). Besides, who am I kidding, I don't need to be aerodynamic at 10 to 12 mph on main street Ballard or on Burke-Gilman Trail on the way to Fremont! My autumn or winter cycle wear are, usually, a waterproof shell jacket over layers, plus khaki cargo pants (elastic-waist, fleeced lined with water-repellant shell). This combination suits me perfectly even though never originally intended for cycling.
So my street clothing are my cycling clothing. In other words, I still dress much the same way as when cycling as a kid, with no special clothes needed other than some basic safety precautions. Like a pair of pants-leg clips that help prevent the dreaded chain-suck and greased socks.
But I've discovered that it's possible to ride with comfortable street clothes that are also very snazzy. Right here in our City of Rain, birthplace of grunge, is Hub & Bespoke in Fremont (around the corner from PCC at 513 N 36th St). This store offers cycling clothing (and a wide range of bicycle and bicycling accessories as well) that are practical and chic at the same time, for men and women. What's more, they look like elegant casual clothes. Think European chic plus American practicality at their best, with high-tech designs, fabrics and construction as well. But no shiny nylon fabrics in sight, plus they don't scream "cycling clothing"! (At this point I must confess to a weakness for timeless designs in clothing.) I really like the idea of easy transitions from two-legged mobility to two-wheeled mobility, back and forth seamlessly without fuss. But definitely with style.
Just imagine going to a meeting at work wearing a sport coat meant for cycling. Or a pinafore that allows safe, discreet yet stylishly feminine cycling for women. No more bulging pannier bags for a change of street clothing upon arrival (and no more wisecracks at cycling clothes from co-workers: "So, how's Lance [Armstrong] doin' these days?").
By Boon Goh
Boon, who unfailingly dresses appropriately and elegantly for all occasions, rides several accomplished and elegant bicycles just about anywhere. He's an exacting commentator on several topics including fashion, bicycling, photography, writing instruments, watches, multiculturalism, music and cats—while having no commercial ties with any of these 'industries'. Boon is currently teaching photography and completing his Ph.D. in Literature.
My point is that cycling is just one aspect of my daily routines. I don't want to make such a big deal of it, especially not change in and out of cycling clothes all day long. It's reassuring (to my vanity and practical sense at the same time!) that clothing that help one look good exist (even for a style maven at that), but that won't impede the joys of cycling (and also protect from our great Seattle weather). One added benefit when wearing street clothes for cycling—for me at least—is that I feel no sudden urge to overtake when I spot cyclists ahead of me. When I wear spandex, I know I have to overtake right away. I'm not making fun of spandex, I wear them too, just not when I'm off on my "vespa" to get a 16lb bag of kitty litter, or return my wife's books to Ballard Branch Library.
From this daily-cycling clothes perspective, I also hope there's a perceptual/practical bridge of sorts between commuter cyclists in street clothes and fast recreational cyclists in full racing gear (I'm both, though mostly the former lately). Group identity may not be so important after all, the more one thinks about it. Our roads can accommodate all kinds of cyclists, and besides, there are bigger things to worry about (like fast cars and trucks on dark rainy nights during rush hour). Clothes make the man, it has been said. Does it make the cycling woman or cycling man too, by extension? Make him or her a more civilized, neighborly cyclist who is in touch with the world, and not in a terrible hurry, hopefully? I still strive to be such a person and I know I'm not alone.