Dressing like a biker

Photo courtesy of Brian Fanelli.

Photo courtesy of Brian Fanelli.

The way we choose to dress is not a fringe or frivolous issue. Women’s bodies are policed, especially in professional environments, so being able to bike is often dependent on being able to look put together. One of the most frequent questions I’ve gotten from other women, especially women who don’t bike, is how I end up looking clean and well dressed as I arrive at work. I’ve heard questions targeted at fellow biking babes expressing amazement that they bike in heels, wear make-up while biking, or don’t carry a change of clothes. This amazement comes from a place of misunderstanding what a biking life can be like. You do not have to have a special spandex wardrobe. You do not have to bike so fast that you get really sweaty. You do not have to carry a change of clothes if the clothes you have fit your lifestyle.

There’s no definitive answer to why women are less likely to bike than men, making up only a quarter of the bike commuting population. Over at FiveThirtyEight, Mona Chalabi writes about how both fears of traffic and crime, coupled with additional care taking duties and lack of wealth, combine to make it difficult to suss out women’s one ultimate barrier. One study found that women’s barriers to cycling are mainly the same as men’s: distracted driving, hostile road conditions, and insufficient bike facilities. In that same study, about one third of respondents said they “have to wear nice clothes and look well-groomed at [their] destinations.” That doesn’t mean that fashion prevents women from biking, but it does indicate that it is a consideration for many women-identified bikers.

We live in a world that tells women they cannot be seen sweating, they cannot show a glimpse of thigh while biking, they cannot deviate from the employee dress code, and they must look feminine and professional. And then, even if they do all these things, they still aren’t respected or paid as much as men. These expectations create barriers to riding a bike, especially riding a bike to work and integrating it into the fabric of your life. Even if you do bike, drivers honk at you when you’re biking in a skirt, strange men under bridges approach you and ask if they can ‘be your man,’ your boss gives you a hard time for wearing a sleeveless top when you’re hot from arriving by bike, or your relatives criticize your helmet-flattened hair.

For me, dressing like a biker means making my own clothes. It means being able to choose the way that I express myself while ensuring I’m comfortable on a bike and in a wide variety of social settings. I don’t have to be limited to the narrow band of styles that are in stores. While I choose to make my own clothes, this is a recent endeavor that came out of frustration with the options available to me. I understand that most folks don’t have the time or inclination to do it. There are plenty of ways to find personal style, be it through clothes that are handmade, thrifted, swapped, or bought new.

Sewing means I can make dresses with traditional feminine silhouettes that fit my personal style and my particular body, but that are made from modern materials to allow for movement.  I hate having two wardrobes, one for work and one for play. Dresses allow me to feel like myself in most any situation. And since I have a one-track mind, I like the consistency and simplicity that comes with having a uniform. For rides shorter than three miles, I don’t wear bike shorts, but for longer ones I do. I don’t wear a helmet. I often ride slowly. I like that my wardrobe and the bikes I ride are stylistically similar, it makes me feel like I’m firmly planted right in the middle of a Venn diagram of beauty and practicality.

In her essay, Dressing like a feminist, Morgan at Craft & Bee writes that “making your own clothing can be an act of resistance to the shortcomings of mainstream fashion.” So often, the clothes that women are told to wear are constrictive, revealing, or impractical for biking. On the other side, the clothing that’s made specifically for bikers is often primarily sporty, available in only certain sizes and colors, and, in some cases, produced by a company that objectifies women in their advertising. Developing a personal style that combines form and function allows us women-identified folks to navigate the world in whatever way we prefer.

How do you think about fashion and biking?


Looking good while biking


On a normal evening, several weeks after my roommate moved in, she looked at me and said, “Whoa, you’re wearing pants, I’ve never seen you wear pants before.” This same realization happened among coworkers after I’d been at my job for a few months. I’m not one to wear pants, okay? Pants can be constricting and uncomfortable. I’m much more of a leggings and dresses kind of gal. The reason I like leggings and dresses so much, besides style, is because it’s super comfortable for the main things I like to do: biking, stretching, and sitting in a very unladylike fashion with my legs perched up on a chair.

Lately, I’ve been curious about how other people think about biking and fashion. Over the last few years, I’ve encountered people who avoid biking on certain occasions because they don’t know what to wear or how to look put together when they reach their destination. I’ve talked to others who think you need to wear bike-specific clothing to bike. As my experience with biking has evolved, I’ve realized that you can bike in anything. I’ve biked to in all sorts of outfits: business casual, formal interview attire, Halloween costumes, dresses that were too short, and a shiny, sequined 80s prom dress.

I put together a short survey on biking and fashion, which I shared with the Grease Rag Facebook group. If you’re not already familiar, Grease Rag is a group that hosts rides and bike workshop nights for women/trans/femme (WTF) cyclists in Minneapolis. They’re fucking cool. The cycling frequency of respondents varied widely, some biking 10 to 20 miles per week, and others biking upwards of 100 miles per week.

While there were interesting responses to many of the questions I asked, I want to explore what people wear while biking and how being a biker affects their fashion choices, if at all. I was most interested that a number of responses discussed choosing skirts and leggings because they’re bike friendly, and I sensed an undercurrent of distaste toward jeans. It may be a little thing, but this preference made me feel a sense of unity. I love the image of a crew of babes biking around in skirts.

What I loved most about these responses is that I’m not the only one who spins my wheels about this sort of stuff. Looking put together and getting places are things that most of us have to do. I love the ways that different people manage these two together, undoubtedly with their own flavor of flair and panache.

Go ahead, explore some of the answers yourself:

What do you usually wear while biking?

“Whatever I’m already wearing, unless that’s jeans (except when it’s cool out). I want biking to integrate seamlessly into my life, and clothes are a big part of that. I get sweaty and smelly in the summer and I don’t really care. Sweat dries.”

“My favorite, most comfortable weekend outfit is leggings with a stretchy short skirt, tank, scarf, funky socks and boots. During the week it’s usually jeans and a tank or sleeveless tee. Dresses are always so great as well.”

“Whatever I am wearing that day.”

“Clothes. If I’m going under 5 miles I don’t put on anything fancy, a sundress and sandals or whatever I want to be wearing. In the winter I wear a little boy’s snowmobile suit to keep my clean and usually wear “business” clothes tucked inside it. I like goggles in the winter and a balaclava. I use a backpack year round.”

“Usually whatever I’d wear normally, but with an extra layer (winter) or bike shorts underneath (summer.) Plus helmet, bag, and lock.”

“i prefer pants, shorts or leggings. Skirts always have bike shorts or leggings underneath. I like to layer so that I can shed them as I warm up. I can’t wear long skirts because they get caught in my wheels.”

Does being a biker influence your fashion choices? How so?

“My style choices have absolutely evolved to fit my biking lifestyle. I wear comfortable clothes, a lot of wool and synthetic materials that don’t stink when I sweat. Especially since I work as a mechanic, I tend to wear dark clothing that hides grease marks! When I choose to dress up, I rely on spandex shorts under skirts, or close fitting jeans and boots that won’t get caught in the chain.”

“I stopped buying non-breathable clothes when I started biking a lot but that’s it. But most of my clothes are pretty functional to begin with.”

“Yes! There are definitely days that I want to rock a pencil skirt so I need to jump on the bus. I’m trying to be braver with heels on my bike.”

“I’ve always been a layering-type, but I’m especially conscious of it since I started bike commuting regularly. I don’t do backpacks in order to reduce the likelihood of a giant patch of sweat on the back of my shirt. I take careful note of where shorts sit at my thighs and whether it will ride up and rub as I ride. But I always wear spanks or leggings or bike shorts with my dresses and skirts so I don’t have to worry about their fluttering.”


“I like huge earring but don’t wear them much because they get all flappy. I have a stronger interest in wind-proofing than in warmth in my winter tights/leggings/cardigans etc.”

“Yes. I went on a mission last year to find pants that I could wear biking and to work. As I’ve incorporated biking into my life more and more, I find that I increasingly make clothing choices based on being able to be bike in them. I’m still figuring out biking in the winter. I find it easier to wear layers that I know will keep me warm and change when I get to my destination, which is fine for work but more challenging when trying to bike to other destinations.”

“Yes – I don’t wear things that show sweat, or don’t hold up to pedaling. I don’t wear heavy, stiff things that don’t breathe well. I love cute coats but find they don’t usually work on the bike because they’re typically too warm, so I only wear them when I’m not biking – otherwise I wear a light hoodie or a raincoat for almost all cool/cold biking.”