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cycling in your work clothes

September 1, 2010
Teacher Cycle Chic

While some seasoned transportation cyclists are exploring non-cotton alternatives for their more aggressive rides, I’m still testing the everyday things in my closet for their ‘wearability’ on a bike. I’m increasingly finding that most anything I would wear while walking or driving, I can wear while cycling. Including most of my skirts and dresses. As the semester ensues, I will be dressing professionally most days of the week and I will continue to put my teaching wardrobe to the ‘cycle chic’ test. I plan on commuting everyday, rain or shine. I’ve found that it makes little difference in my short (less than two mile) commute to campus whether it’s raining (unless it’s a total downpour) because my helmet keeps my hair dry and I can throw on a little rain jacket to protect my clothes if needed. My fenders and chain guard do the rest of the work.

Some clothing works better than other in keeping the appearance of professionalism after a bike ride to campus. Dark colors or whites and off-whites show wet marks the least; sweat or rain drops are largely concealed. Pattern functions similarly – a tip I picked up from Velouria of Lovely Bicycle. Grays (especially gray cotton) are major no-nos since they change color drastically when wet. Same can happen to medium tone colors that become much darker when wet, unabashedly betraying my commute.

This will be my first fall of bike commuting and I look forward to temperatures dropping and the leaves changing color. It will be nice to pedal to work while getting to enjoy the beautiful changing season and the morning fresh air.

Do you wear pretty much anything you own for cycling? Have you found some everyday clothes preferable to others?

31 Comments leave one →
  1. September 1, 2010 11:43

    Great Look! I am impressed that you are planning to commute by bike in the rain as well as clear days. Kudos to you. I am not as brave, as the part of my hair below the helmet would puff out to extraordinary fullness, and I’d have helmet hair on top! Have a great academic year!

  2. September 1, 2010 12:27

    oh goodness. I need all the help I can get here!
    I am beginning to commute by bike to school and the sweat is killing me.

  3. September 1, 2010 12:33

    I haven’t thought much about colors when I’m commuting on my bike, though I put a lot of thought into the fabric and cut of a garment. Good call on the gray, though.

    And I love your commuting outfit. The menswear/professorial chic is fantastic!

  4. sassandpancakes permalink
    September 1, 2010 13:31

    I’m glad you posted this! I started biking this summer (to the train that gets me to campus to teach) and the rain had me utterly confounded: to bike/not to bike?? And what about lightening/thunder? (Or is it just my irrational fear of getting hit?) –Love your blog btw!

    • September 1, 2010 13:51

      I probably would opt out on days when it’s thundering and lightening! Just to be safe. I don’t mind a slight drizzle or light rain, I’ve found that the rain drops dry pretty quickly on my clothes and I put my hair in a braid or low bun and then cover it with the helmet. Good luck commuting! Please chime in with tips as you go forth with it!

  5. September 1, 2010 13:57

    i’m glad to see you have a coffee cup holder for your Sport, that was one of the first things i got for my bike… it makes a commute fun sipping and riding your 3 speed..

  6. September 1, 2010 14:56

    i bicycle to school every day, and i’ve come to realize that you can bike in just about anything (the exception being straight skirts that don’t have any lycra and are short–so unforgiving!). my commute isn’t very long either (under 2 mi) and there’s nary a hill in sight, so i can don pretty much whatever i want–it’s awesome!

  7. September 1, 2010 15:11

    I tend to wear loose fitting, light colored clothes when biking in the heat and humidity. I also have a spare set of clothes in my office for when things get really bad.

  8. September 1, 2010 15:19

    I don’t own any cycling specific clothing, but I wear plenty of athletic-style clothes that I use for other athletic things like jogging. I’m most interested in being comfortable and practical when I ride. I’ve found that the best system for me and my commute is to wear athletic clothing while I ride, and shower/change when I get to work.

    • September 1, 2010 16:18

      Reuben – does your work place provide showers? That’s pretty great! My former university built a new union building and had shower facilities put in for non-car commuters. I thought that was a great initiative, although I’m not sure how many people used it. I tend to dislike the idea of having to change but that’s because most work places also don’t offer good solutions for that. It would be great if more places made showering or storing your clothing an easy option.

      • September 1, 2010 18:15

        Yes, there are showers at my office. It’s a fantastic amenity. Showers are becoming increasingly common. I think showers are pretty well standard equipment in most new office buildings. Showering at work is a great option for people that don’t do a lot of primping. For people who would have to get out of the shower and then do a lengthy process of blow-drying, styling, or make-up applying, I imagine it’s not as convenient.

  9. Sara Katherine Staheli Hanks permalink
    September 1, 2010 15:50

    My work wardrobe is pretty flexible – jeans some days, skirts and blazers on others – and I’ve been pretty much fine biking in all of it. Day before yesterday, though, I made the mistake of trying to ride in a pencil skirt without much give. RIP! Luckily, I was close enough to home to just go and change quickly. My new approach: when in doubt, wear some casual shorts for the bike ride and change into the cuter option once I arrive at my destination.

    • September 1, 2010 16:15

      Yikes! What a sad way to lose a pencil skirt. Most of mine have a bit of elasticity in the fabric so I’ve actually come to love them more than flowey skirts for cycling because they stay put and don’t get blown ‘open’ in the wind.

  10. Kelly permalink
    September 1, 2010 15:55

    I’m lucky in that my cycling commute is less than 2 miles, and in that I currently live in the UK where it doesn’t get hot and humid like in the American South where I’m from. I cycle in anything and everything – yoga clothes, skirts long and short, trousers, academic regalia, evening dresses and 3-inch heels, you name it! One thing that’s a bit tricky are wrap dresses – a stiff sudden breeze can make you into an unwitting flasher.
    My one gripe is the rain – but a good wax jacket, a waterproof hat, and a pair of wellies will take care of that.

    • September 1, 2010 16:14

      Kelly – sounds wonderful! I want to live in the UK an commute in evening dresses and high heels :)

      For wrap dresses, I keep a safety pin pinned to the inside of my bag that I usually carry and I safety pin the skirt or dress flap down during the bike ride. Once I arrive, I unpin it again.

      • Kelly permalink
        September 1, 2010 21:56

        A safety pin – duh! Don’t know why I never thought of that :)

      • Kelly permalink
        September 2, 2010 02:44

        Love those pink shoes, btw!

  11. September 1, 2010 16:54

    I have a light grey skirt which is amazing for biking in the rain in, any wet areas are really obvious while they’re there, but they’re gone in about 2 seconds! I don’t know how or why but it’s the fastest drying item of clothing I’ve ever owned.

  12. September 1, 2010 18:00

    I’m so glad to see this post as I’ve just been thinking about the same thing. I decided I would bike in to campus MWF this semester because those are my non-teaching days (I spend them working in my office or at the library, so I can be more casual). I tried getting on the bike in a pencil skirt once but with my horizontal top bar I couldn’t manage it without hiking the skirt up too high. I haven’t tried it in a flowy skirt yet, but that might be better. At any rate, I am now more encouraged to try biking in on teaching days, too — at least if I am wearing pants!

    • September 1, 2010 20:29

      Kate – yes! Do it! :) Dressing for horizontal bar bikes isn’t so bad, although I would avoid pencil skirts and do it with knee length looser (flowey) skirts or pants. If your commuterbike is a roadbike with a horizonal ‘top tube’, you just have to experiment with what works. I just saw a really cute girl on campus on a road bike wearing a dress and she looked totally fine and fierce doing it.

  13. erinsuzanne permalink
    September 1, 2010 22:22

    I teach high school science, and bike to school nearly every day that it isn’t icy/snowy. I wear mostly skirts and dresses fall and spring, and transition to dressy pants once it gets cold. I bike rain or shine, I have good rain gear from backpacking so the weather bothers me less than many people. I do try to either dress very lightly (sweaters or other warm layers travel in my bag) rather than overheat on my commute and then feel sweaty and dirty when I get to school. I am not a “primper” in any way, shape, or form; but I do find that if I leave the house with my hair still damp from the shower, once I take my helmet off and run a brush through it at school, i have less chance of “helmet head” than if my hair is completely dry and I leave a stash of hair clips/bands in my desk for bad hair days caused by the 2 mile commute!

    Also, I learned the hard way…I just keep a safety pin (or two!) attached to the inside of all of my wrap dresses, so that when I hop on my bike, I can pin them shut. In my normal frantic morning routine, I would forget to grab a safety pin and end up clutching my dress shut as I rode around town. I also ride my bike daily, so it would be rare for me to wear a dress and NOT get on a bike! My wardrobe has to be bike-friendly, or only be worn in the winter!! (No pencil skirts for me)

    • September 2, 2010 00:57

      erinsuzanne – great tips, thank you! I also do the safety pin thing (I’ve been keeping one pinned to the inside of my bag) and my helmet hair trick is that I wear braids or low buns often, which work well underneath a helmet. That’s awesome that you bike everywhere, in dresses and skirts and all :) Love it!

  14. Michael permalink
    September 2, 2010 04:31

    Yay, bunches of women who bike commute! It’s mostly us guys where I’m at.

    I usually change my shirt when I get to work.

  15. AcademicUnChic permalink
    September 3, 2010 05:05

    I too have been wearing whatever I was going to wear anyway on my short bike commute in Berkeley (skirts, wide trousers etc.) BUT I have yet to master the art of wearing sandals or cute flats while biking. They either fall off, or then the left shoe tip gets really scuffed up when I lean on it at a stop light. So I’ve been biking in a pair of Tsubo sneakers and carrying the shoe of the day. How do you pros do it?

    PS: I used to wear bike shorts under A line or flared skirts, but in the last month or so I’ve decided I don’t give a toss if the world gets an occasional peek at my now super toned upper thighs. ;-)

    • September 3, 2010 12:31

      that’s the spirit! I really don’t bother with shorts because the commute is too short and I just want to hop on and off the bike without added fuss (and garment changes). As for shoes – my flats and sandals work really well, but I’m not doing anything special for it. The heels I just kind of hook in by wedging the pedal snuggly in front of the heel. I did notice though that my mountain bike pedals don’t have as great of traction so my shoes slip off in cases where they don’t on the Raleigh. So it could be your pedals?

      • AcademicUnChic permalink
        September 4, 2010 07:57

        Hmm. Pedal snuggly in front of heel…will have to experiment with that and pedal traction. Thanks for the tip!

  16. September 7, 2010 04:39

    I bike in my work clothes, although I admit I generally don’t wear skirts to work. I do use velcro bands on my ankles if I’m wearing long/loose pants, although I haven’t really had any trouble when I don’t wear them, either (I do have a partial chain guard).

    I wear Skechers Mary Janes both for cycling and for work.

    I only cycle about 2 miles one way, and I take it slowly. I don’t see any need to go as fast as possible, so I don’t work up too much of a sweat. If it’s very warm out, I cycle in a t-shirt and then wipe down and put my work top on when I get there.

  17. Cammy permalink
    September 7, 2010 18:16

    This is great. I am starting a new job. Office and home are both easily accessible from the same city bike trail, and I just discovered my office has a shower! So, even though I haven’t biked in years, I’m thinking of giving it a try, one or two days a week. That means I first have to buy a bike. (I found an old-fashioned cruiser at Target for $100.) The commute is about 7 miles one way, and I’m not sure how long that will take ambling along on a 3-speed. As far as I know, the path isn’t too hilly. Any guesstimates?
    I’m thinking on a cool fall day, I might not even work up a sweat. But I’m also wondering, if I’m not sweating, am I not getting the cardiovascular workout my doctor wants?
    I almost always wear skirts, often with T-shirts. I’ve been trying to figure out what to wear on the bike, but maybe I’ll take my cue from you, and just wear what I normally would, and arm myself with a safety pin and extra T-shirt just in case.
    Anyway, thanks so much! You’ve given me inspiration to just try it.

  18. September 12, 2010 02:08

    When I cycle, I definitely try to wear clothes that will minimize sweat stains. Think drapey tops and cardigans and slacks/jeans/shorts. I’ve only cycled in a dress once or twice. At this point, I still feel a lot more comfortable in pants.

  19. September 12, 2010 02:38

    Sweating is not a big problem most of the time in low humidity Flagstaff so I usually wear what I plan to wear at work. Since it is often very windy here I wear shorts or leggings under skirts for modesty’s sake. During those summer days when it is a bit hotter and we do have a little humidity I like to wear patagonia brand clothes because they are usually made with wicking fabrics that don’t hold perspiration.


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