12 August 2008

Cycle Chic Guide to Bike Commuting #2 - Cycle Clothing

Right then. Here we go. The second, long-awaited installment in the Copenhagen Cycle Chic to Bike Commuting. On today's programme: Choosing your cycling clothing. A follow up to Choosing your Bike.

It's not a complicated post, from a Copenhagen perspective. But believe us when we say that we know what you're up against in North America and the UK, among other places.

Just look at the website for The League of American Bicyclists. Click on Clothing Materials. This organisation is, on paper, one of the prominent bicycle advocates for cycling in the US. Under Clothing Materials they highlight five 'fabrics'; Lycra/Spandex, Coolmax [what the fuck is THAT?], wool, goretex, nylon. This is what the 'League' recommends for cyclists. Silly gits.

Seriously, I don't own anything with four of those, except for ski trousers and gloves. I have a handsome longcoat and a couple of sweaters in wool, though. You'd think that this 'League' were slightly more on the ball, wouldn't you? Fuhgetaboutit. Let's ditch this bike geek / sports nerd mentality, leave them in the dust of their mountain bike trail and move on to the issue at hand.

Namely, Selecting Suitable Cycling Clothing for Urban Cycling - Copenhagen Style.

A Dozen Layers of Shopiliciousness
A cyclist shopping for important accessories.

New Boots On
Cyclist trying on newly-purchased cycling boots outside department store.

Shop Window
One of my favourite cycling clothing shops in my neighbourhood. Zornig.

Another favourite cycling clothing specialist - Tiger of Sweden. Although I prefer Day Birger et Mikkelsen at the moment.

Window Dressing
Wifealiciousness shopping for cycling clothing one evening in Paris.

Carmen and Fantasio
Funky cycling clothing at a second-hand shop in Copenhagen. Carmen & Fantasio.

Sale on cycling clothing in the Vesterbro neighbourhood of Copenhagen.

Commes des Garcons Interior 2
My favourite store for cycling shoes when in Tokyo. Commes des Garcons.

You get the point. And this post doesn't suggest that you MUST dress as we do. Buy your clothes at Walmart for all we care. We're just saying that you already own cycling clothing. Just open your closet. It's NOT difficult. It's normal for millions of people around the world each and every day. Buy the clothes you like. Just don't buy the bike geek hype.

Thankfully, there are good role models [I know, I know... we were the first] who are getting media attention. This article in the New York Post by Kirsten Fleming shows that The Normalisation of Urban Cycling is underway. [Can't believe I just linked to the Post...]

These designs are actually on sale on the internet. To the first one we say, "Bullshit", unless you're referring to John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever. To the second we say, "Chic, not Cheek. Choose Style over Speed".


Andrew J. Besold said...

Damned! You beat me to the punch again! You already had a link to that NY Post article before I could tell you about it. The Post has been anything but friendly to cyclists in NYC so this was a very welcomed surprise.

Yeah, the League of American Bicyclists (LAB) along has been a little slow on the uptake on this issue but so have many other U.S. cycling organizations. These groups are never going to attract new cyclists if the first image they show on the "Getting started" page of their websites is a bunch of guys wearing spandex, riding $5000 racing bikes!

Fortunately, most advocacy groups are starting to "get it".

Now if we could only get the manufacturers to start making many more practical "town bikes" then we would have something!

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

hahaha, excellent post, Mikael, on more for the 'kick in an open door' category :)

Colville-Andersen said...

indeed, andy b.

reuben: as always with this blog we are speaking to the vast majority of city dwellers who don't live in a place with adverse weather conditions.

but the point is... open your closet. you already have the clothes. you live in minnesota so here's me assuming you already own clothes appropriate for that climate.

use them on a bike. you don't need to buy 'specialist' cycling gear. when i ride in below zero snowstorms with a wind approaching hurricane strength, i dress for it. Using my winter wear.

Unknown said...

I'm in somewhat of a similar situation to reuben, but I've made the choice that I wouldn't take my bike on days where the climate is too adverse (which is a large chunk of the winter here in Montreal, unfortunately). Do not worry, I both live and work close to subway stations, and do not even own a car these days (the closest being a member of a car sharing cooperative).

But there's the rest of the year, where the weather is nice enough. Then I agree, there's no reason to be wearing spandex. I'm not particularly stylish, I'm afraid, but I wear whatever I'm wearing that day when I bike. My bike doesn't have a chainguard, so I keep one of these old school metal trouser clips to keep my trousers intact, and off I go!

There are some here who ride all year round, but it is unfortunately the kind of thing that requires both a specialized bike/clothing, and quite the determination. See this poor cyclist just a few streets from where I live:


But, oh, are the summer months glorious in return!

RH said...

Greetings from Mozambique! Your blog continues to be one of my favorites and I would like to tell you that a new blog has come up to show the Mozambique bike culture. I already have put a link to your blog. Please consider doing the same and tell your readers about this new blog. Pictures and shorts texts to show a bit of the cycle scene here in the south of the African continent. Many thanks!

The Mozambique Bike Culture Blog

Anonymous said...

Ruben - When it gets cold like that, I opt for my skiing underwear and a few extra layers. Making sure that the outer top is windproof also helps, and a scarf to stop heat loss around your neck is great. Oh, and skiing mittens to stop my hands from freezing.

Mikael - hotter weather seems to cause people problems here (roughly the same climate as Copenhagen, but less rain & snow - go figure). When I tell people to just take it easy and they won't get all sweaty & need a shower, they look at me as if I'm losing it. Any suggestions?

Gratistotal said...

i have just arrived from my holidays, what about copenhaguen fashion week?? have you shown any images?

Anonymous said...

Well, this past winter was particularly horrific in Montréal - I don't cycle when the weather is in that photo either, but I do cycle most of the year - the year before there was no lasting snow at all until mid-January - the climate has really gone a bit daft. I also live very close to a métro station - mostly work at home, can get to almost all clients' offices and all out-of-home work places via public transport very easily.

Yeah, prob is that the "League of American Bicyclists" wants people to wear techie fibres in California...

raquel, zak's wife has a blog that concerns design and no doubt fashion.

Anonymous said...

I learned to ride the bicycle in my early childhood in Germany and I have never worn spandex or any other special clothes. I am really happy that the bike has always been a perfectly normal and everyday mean of transportation for me - not an unusual and dangerous "sports machine".

Unknown said...

lagatta à montréal: Last winter was indeed exceptional, and while it's good for being able to bike around, I'd rather have the normal winters.

Colville-Andersen said...

pierre: here's me at the beginning of a snowstorm. Fair enough, we have bike lane snowploughs to help us out but still, hundreds of thousands of people seem to manage fine without specialised gear.

once you've seen a petite mother with a kid on the back seat, two bags of groceries dangling from the handlebars, heading home in a sudden snowstorm, you realise that there really is no excuse. :-) How to dress for a wind chill -20 C.

Karl: the good old "100 million Europeans seem to manage fine on a daily basis... why can't you?" always works a charm. :-)

well said, zweiradler.

Unknown said...

Hehe! Nice that they use the snowplows in bike lanes too! We have those too here, for the sidewalks, but they wouldn't help all that much. When there is a snowfall, it can take days for it to be removed (and "removed" is a relative term, that usually means a centimetre or two of hard-packed snow left, easily turning into rock-hard ice sheets in spots). The snowplow make the sidewalks survivable. See this photo in the morning, and this one in the evening of the same day, downtown, where the snowplows have done their work (there was no snow at all the evening before, and it didn't snow during the day itself). On a more typical day, it looks like this, a little bit of snow during the night (there's a few centimetres on the cars), but the snowplows have done their work (putting 30 centimetres tall "lips" of snow near the sidewalks, where I'd crash into when a car comes by).

Here, there's almost twice as much snowfall than a place like Sweden, and the average temperature in the winter is colder than Moscow. I lived for a year in Europe, and I can confirm that your puny oceanic climate is no match for our brutal humid continental climate. ;-)

But don't get me wrong: spring, summer and fall here are perfectly fine for cycling, and there's no reason why people should put on spandex for cycling. Montreal cyclists can be quite stylish, in fact. :-)

Anonymous said...

I really like cycling in my bike shorts. Yes they look geeky. But they're comfortable. Given that my shortest daily trip is 9km each way and my longest is 25km each way, comfort is important to me. I've cycled in skirts and the last time I did it I was heartbroken when one of my favourite skirts got caught in the spokes and got covered in grease. Not to mention that I found it distracting to have to dodge Toronto traffic and potholes while simultaneously dealing with the wind kicking up my skirt and revealing my underwear.

So for safety and comfort, I prefer to trade my skirt for bike shorts (or leggings in the cooler weather) paired with whatever top I have on and my running shoes.

I just returned from vacation in Seattle where I got grief for not having "bike shoes". Now I feel like I'm getting grief from Copenhagen Cycle Chic because I like to cycle in bike shorts. Could everybody just lay off and let me get from A to B by bicycle please.

As for the comment made about wearing your ordinary winter clothes to cycle in, that's just too funny. Sorry but that won't work at all. My regular winter clothes would be far to warm to wear cycling and if I dressed for cycling I would freeze instantly the minute I stopped. That's one of the reason I chose to switch to public transport in the winter time. That and hauling around hockey equipment on a bicycle in the dark on icy roads is not my cup of tea.

I guess the main thing I'm trying to say is that different people and different regions have different needs/requirements. We should be celebrating that we're all riding bicycles without judgement. More of a live and let live attitude. And I direct that comment to both sides (ABL and CCC).

I like your blog best when you're celebrating your cycle chic. I'm really not found of this mud slinging and passing judgement thing.

End of rant


Anonymous said...

Spandex and lycra: It's a spiritual thing. Some day, you'll come around.

Then we can talk about bib shorts.

Colville-Andersen said...

veronica: you KNOW, deep down, that we love you.

Dave: that's funny. :-) although we've managed fine for 120 odd years so don't bet your racing bike on it. :-)

Anonymous said...

"A Dozen Layers of Shopiliciousness." Obviously not taken in Copenhagen. Germany?

Colville-Andersen said...

well spotted. berlin. mitte, actually. but it's a Danish friend/cyclist in the shop.

Anonymous said...

Good, it was meant for a laugh. I enjoy your blog very much. Well done - consistently well done.

Colville-Andersen said...

thanks so much. :-)

deansangie said...

My communtes got about 600 feet of climbing. hella cold or hella hot. I'm gonna choose my clothes wisely.

kareninprogress said...

I appreciate the fashion inspiration of Copenhagen Cycle Chic and definitely favor style over speed. Here in Northern Arizona I try and practice Cycle Mountain Chic, having found a great Patagonia skort with clean lines and no fussy details that looks like a regular skirt. It never wrinkles and looks fresh after each ride. I top it is simple and elegantly designed Patagonia tees and tanks in breathable fabrics, as our challenging hills do leave one prone to perspiration. I favor black, tan, white and light blue since they all work together and help me stay connected with my urban roots. I am still struggling with footwear but since part of my route is over gravely urban trail I usually wear my Dansko clogs or Teva casual slip ons. Not high heels yet but I still feel put together. This is such a fun blog!

Anonymous said...

I thought that you were about style over speed!
Are you trying to say that spandex isn't style?

(In all fairness, though, sometimes crazy bike gear is just practical. And in some places-- where I live, for instance-- you can't just take it easy and not get sweaty. Even though I wear ordinary clothes, I'm lucky that my ride to school is mostly downhill and that nobody has to see me after my ride home. So I don't blame people who do wear techie fabrics and whatnot. And they're more likely to come in crazy neon fluorescent colours so I'm willing to tolerate them.)

Colville-Andersen said...

hundreds of millions of daily cyclists all over the world get by without 'gear'. many with lengthy, demanding commutes. if they can, anybody can.

Unknown said...

I'm with veronica. I love this blog, and I love choosing "style over speed," but let's face it, sometimes the utility of 'gear' is just more attractive than the style of 'no gear'.

Mostly, I just don't there's anything particularly stylish about showing up at work drenched in sweat or with my dress pants covered in dirty slush because I refused to wear cycling clothes.

So I'm with veronica. I love this blog, but it's best when it simply celebrates those who choose "style over speed."

Colville-Andersen said...

we are, without a shadow a doubt, pleased that you love the blog.

we will continue doing what we do. that may however involve reiterating the fact, for the benefit of those who are not aware of it, that normal people in normal clothes on normal bikes is the norm across large swathes of the planet.

there are particular regions where the message - and by that we don't mean 'chic' but rather just normal clothes - has trouble getting through. it baffles us but we'll just keep on showing the best of copenhagen and inspiring readers who have changed their way of thinking if we're lucky.

Anonymous said...

I'm not really a blog kind of person. Isn't it for people who can't get published? But Jesus I love this blog. An eye into another world.

I hope you're being selective with your photos too, are the women that gorgeous in Copenhagen? Maybe it's all that cycling. Maybe a blog on this, with a top 10 women count down? PLEASE? :)

I admire the style over speed sentiments. Too often the bicycle courier - lycra - tour de france crowd get all the attention. They intimidate others basically. COPENHAGEN proves otherwise, especially here in London.

Keep it up.

Colville-Andersen said...

thanks joschmo. i've spent so many years being published that a blog is refreshingly low maintenence.

selective. perhaps a little. but our concept is merely taking photos on our own A to B routes through the city and not going out of our way for a photo.

at the bottom right of each page we have a series of photos that are the most popular on flickr. a kind of top ten

Anonymous said...

Any chance you could post a link to where you can get those designs you dislike at the end of the article? I'd be happy to wear them and know folk who it'd be right up their alley.

Colville-Andersen said...

found them ages ago... i believe it was on cafepress.com

Anonymous said...

I find cycling too mucky for the wearing of smart/expensive clothes and gave up. I can't afford to replace or dry-clean clothes so often and would get upset at frequently spoiling favourite garments. If not attracting grease and grime from my own bike, I was brushing against other peoples bikes when parking and getting dirty, getting splashed by other traffic in wet weather or wearing out my trousers from the constant rubbing against the saddle.

I now either wear old clothes or proper cycling gear. Lycra has its place - and its on a bicycle.

Colville-Andersen said...

Each and every day over 500,000 cyclists fill the streets of Copenhagen. They don't seem to have these problems. Nor the millions of Dutch cyclists, or German, Swiss, Belgian... indeed 100 million Europeans each day.

Maybe you're doing it wrong?

Anonymous said...

Interesting thread and awesome site!

I totally agree that specialist 'gear' is unnecessary for day-to-day cycling. What's more important is wearing clothes you feel comfortable in, whether they be the clothes you will wear for the rest of the day or something else. For myself, I wouldn't dream of donning lycra/goretex/other man-made fabric of fancy names, but neither can I cycle to work in my full business suit (70% humidity + 28 degrees celcius by 8am + lots of hills + business suit on bike doesn't go together so well). A slight compromise is needed - but yes, normal clothes, on a normal bike, can be done, even in the heat! I get plenty of confused looks (as almost every cyclist I pass, or who passes me, is in lycra or sporty clothes), but also plenty of compliments and interested queries.

Although I must say that I am looking forward to being back in CPH again (visiting my boyfriend's family), riding around on nice safe bike paths with a stylish scarf and coat (and enjoying the cold, at least temporarily!).

Anonymous said...

I see that no one answered your question about Coolmax, so:

Coolmax is a trade name invented to get people who wouldn't be caught dead wearing anything but a 100% cotton T-shirt (because it gets really hot and really cold where they live; and polyester is just "icky") to pay up to 10 times as much for a polyester T-shirt (because it gets really hot and really cold where they live; and cotton is just "icky").

Yeah, there's a little more to it than that; it's a "technical" polyester (the fibers are grooved, not just round), but it's still just polyester.

Colville-Andersen said...

thanks for that explanation... sort of... :-)

joncrel said...

I just like tight pants :-)

Unknown said...

OK, So I know I know, this has been discussed before, but I've been to Copenhagen in the summer, it gets HOT! How can you manage to cycle without sweating a lot? This is a genuine query, I don't seem able to do it...maybe I just sweat a lot, lol :) Here in Ireland the temperature usually sits around high teens/low twenties in the summer, but still I get so warm once I'm on my bike! for me I don't wear special gear, just change my top when I get to work. No matter what, it's glorious to cycle in the warm weather, hate being cooped up in a car :)

Colville-Andersen said...

personally, i just ride slower. it seems the other 499,999 of us do the same. :-)

Unknown said...

lol, maybe that's it, tho I'm not sure I could ride much slower, I'm quite puny really!!! Well I figure once it gets warm, it doesn't matter if I'm walkin or cycling, bound to get a little heated! And it's def a small price to pay for being out in the open, and enjoying all that goes with it(loved the cycling senses blogs btw) :)

Unknown said...

Greetings to Copenhagen Cycle Chic and devotees! Frocks On Bikes is a Wellington (New Zealand) group dedicated to getting women onto bikes in whatever clothes they feel good in - frocks (pretty dresses), sharp suits, stilettos, jeans, boots... whatever!

Wellington is a small city with lots of hills, a tiny handful of stunted cycle lanes and thousands of kamikaze drivers.

We're also going into winter, so it's a challenge to stay stylish through storms that come to us fresh from Antarctica. To survive this and keep cycling, "proper" cycle gear is great to wear under your stylish outerwear: knee- and leg-warmers, arm-warmers, gloves, overshoes and - under skirts or dresses - proper cycle knicks! Lights are one of the key survival accessories these days. Not keep you warm against the elements, but to improve your odds of being seen by drivers peering through fogged windscreens and too irritated to remember to drive to the conditions.

TriciaH said...

Regarding getting greasy...

I'm from Portland, OR. Last year I taught a biking 101 class. After speaking to hundreds of "newbies" and reading this blog I've come up with some observations...

1. New riders (especially) worry about dirt/mess/grease. Their bikes are not set up to avoid it and they don't want to spend money and time until they've really figured out whether they will stick with biking.

2. Average cyclists in the US are not as accustomed to handling their bike as the average Euro cyclist. That means they get dirty more often. Its not a bad thing, its just a learning curve. It seems that the 100 million Europeans learned to avoid the mess at age 5, not in adulthood. So give them a break!

3. People in the US don't dress as well as other places anyway. So why would they start on a bike?

4. Spandex, skirts, bikinis, naked... who cares as long as they're not in an SUV!

And with that said... Happy riding!

Unknown said...

Tricia: your #3 actually got me laughing out loud... Funny because it's true (and I might be part of the problem, but I'm trying!). :-)

I'm totally with you on #4, if people will ride more wearing spandex and a mitre on their head, well, more people riding is more better.

It's just pants clip for me on the city bike, though, until the city bike gets a replacement with a proper chain guard.

Anonymous said...

First chill of autumn this morning . Must admit my old Tweed jacket coped really well great stuff Tweed it looks its best after about twenty years and I did feel quite dapper cycling along in the sunshine

New Yorker said...

Copenhagen is a relatively small city of 91 sq. km. (USians: about 7 x 5 miles) It is not a place where people could have "lengthy, demanding commutes". My city is 1,214 sq km and I, like a lot of other daily cyclists here, spend a couple hours per day in often muggy weather, and slow or not, we sweat and then spend the day in workplaces where a neat appearance is appreciated. The clothes I wear on the bike are what I used to wear in the gym - loose, comfortable, and dry quickly. If I had a shorter commute, I'd wear more stylish clothes, too.

Colville-Andersen said...

You've googled the City of Copenhagen, haven't you? Unfortunately you're missing out on the fact that Copenhagen has the third largest urban sprawl in Europe.

We have debunked this and many other myths over at Copenhagenize.com

regarding heat, the citizens of cities like Seville and Barcelona seem to manage fine.

Anonymous said...

To the question of how you can cycle in summer heat without getting all sweaty and icky, I say:

1. Bathe before leaving, and use a good deodorant; clean sweat does not smell.

2. There is no reason you have to attack your commute as though you were Lance leading the peleton. Leave a little early so you can go at a nice, sedate pace.

3. Keep a stash of wet-wipes at the office. When you get there, a quick dash to the restroom to swab yourself off, and you're fine for the day.

Unknown said...

I live in London and find that my woolly gloves are suitable for cycling however, i would prefer to have designated cycling gloves, but i can't find any that aren't really ugly. Does anyone have any suggestions?

dd.dd said...

I like the direction of your blog, but obviously you must realize that while your cycling style(chic) is top notch your communication style is a little harsh. We can use our voice to inspire and to spread intelligence by giving others real,substantive tips on what to wear when cycling or we can insult, degrade, and lampoon others.

I try to practice compromise and I find it to be the sign of someone who has actually thought through an issue since none of us are ever 100% correct all of the time.

1. When addressing American cycling it is best to address American issues around cycling. Climate, geography, people's attitudes, etc. Your blog is specifically restricted to 50F/10C locales like Copenhagen, which are a rarity in the USA; San Francisco is one such area.
2. I get it that biking clothes can look dorky, good point, but cyclists usually don't listen to such criticisms because they come from people who don't ride bicycles at all or who don't live where they do. What's the solution? Lead by example.
3. Please give suggestions for people living in hot and blistery cold climates as to what we should wear. Western and Central Europe don't have American weather. i.e. you don't sweat in Copenhagen. Copenhagen "heat" is Florida and Louisiana morning, springtime weather.
4. You downplay wool, wool is wonderful and if you don't like it, please mail your wool sweaters to me. Yes it's expensive to buy Merino or Lambswool, but I am sure all those boutiques you show are just as expensive. If not, send me the addresses I need to pick up some new clothes.
5.All the shots you show are in downtown... how many cities in the USA have a vibrant town center where you would actually ride a bike to different areas from an apartment? NYC, Austin, New Orleans, Cambridge, San Francisco, Portland,...Have you noticed something, these are all places that don't have a problem with "bike geek" clothing? But the vast majority of US cities (Orlando, Birmingham, Atlanta, St. Louis, LA) require longer cycling distances from the suburbs - an area in Copenhagen you totally neglect to photograph, because they use mass transit and drive cars instead.
6. You have some good observations questioning the necessity of hi-tech clothes, unfortunately they are not concrete, yet you critique someone else's (League of American Bicyclists) concrete suggestions? Is that fair?
7. Offering well-intended, non-constructive advice is bad. I fear many potential cyclists in cities across the US will attempt your style chic and be discouraged from cycling because they end up a sweaty, smelly mess or get yelled out by motorists for riding their cycles in a city without a grid street pattern with slow traffic.
8. I am all for writing a guide to cycling clothes for different regions in the US. If anyone wants to collaborate with me on it, email me at mohene1@yahoo.com

Reply to Zanesfriend:
3. An alternative to Wet wipes is to carry a wet shower cloth that has been frozen. This works for me in hot climates, where you sweat just by being outside. Also never lock your bicycle in the sun. I have also requested that the bicycle racks - they are a rarity in the Southern USA, sometimes you sweat walking around just looking for a place to lock your bicycle; not so in San Francisco or Chicago - be under shaded areas. But even at night, in places like the deep south you will still get muggy and sticky cycling at a slow pace even at NIGHT; that's why you take that frozen cloth.
But then again, our bodies are all different and some of us sweat easier that others. Some of us smell more than others, so my suggestions are only a starting point. You ultimately decide what is best for your life.


Anonymous said...

I wear normal clothes to cycle to work and most places really.

Been doing it that way for years (late 1980s), and encouraged by shops such as Rivendell when they opened in 1994.

Oh, yeah. I never fell for the American spandex-cyclist thing.
I passed many of those people on a three-speed while wearing jeans and sneakers, so I knew it had nothing to do with performance.

It's partly the bike shops' fault as they have so little business, they push the clothing as comfort and identity items.

Americans are desperate to buy a sense of identity as many feel their own isn't enough.
So continue to sell to them, Mikael for they are easy targets.

Unknown said...

I don't really care what people wear, as long as they're enjoying riding their bike. Lycra or tweed coats are both fine by me. I love this blog as it's inspiring and fun, but let's not get all divisive and mock each other. For some of us, just getting out on the road is a battle without having to worry that the style police are going to give us a hard time. (I live in Australia, in a "4 seasons in 1 day" mountainous area with no such thing as a bike lane anywhere.) Loved my time bike-riding in Copenhagen - so liberating!

TriciaH said...

It's been 4 years since I last posted on this thread and I'm now a Sacramentan. Leaving the cool breeze of Portland wasn't as hard as I thought and now that I've got a toasty-hot climate mastered, I'm even more interested in making the case for the casual rider who's put off by spandex.

I guess my point is: Wearing everyday clothes is possible, even easy, and certainly more comfortable than spandex.

Happy Riding, Tricia