What Not to Wear, Bicycle Edition

We’re big believers in the fact that riding a bicycle doesn’t have to mean compromising style (and when we say style, we mean YOUR personal style, not any sort of catwalk ideal). So we’ve tried wearing just about everything in our closets on our bicycles, and have found that there are very few items that absolutely won’t work (or aren’t worth the trouble of hacking). Here’s our very short list.

  • Pencil skirts (without slits)—the tight, hobbling skirt doesn’t allow enough freedom to pedal, unless you convert them.
  • Bellbottoms or extremely long or loose pants—the flares can get caught in your chain or crank, and the extra material slapping against the chain case or frame as you pedal can be annoying. Of course, binding the pants at your ankles can fix this, but for simplicity’s sake we prefer to just go for an alternate pants style.
  • Miniskirts—unless you don’t mind being known as the girl who flashes people on her way to work. If you love miniskirts, try leggings, tights or bike shorts underneath, or get a big ol’ basket for the front.
  • Evening gowns—this is as much a safety issue for the gown as it is for the individual! But long trains, gauzy overskirts, etc can be especially challenging on a bike.
  • Platform heels—there just isn’t enough sole surface area at the ball of your foot to make contact with the pedal.

Readers: where do you draw the line when it comes to bike-friendly clothing? Tell us in the comments!

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28 thoughts on “What Not to Wear, Bicycle Edition

  1. Krissa Corbett Cavouras says:

    I think another thing I can’t quite wear (without modifying it) is a really billowing skirt, because the breeze blows it up. Oh! And until I started riding in hot New York summers, I didn’t have any problem with wearing synthetic fibers regularly, but boy howdy, good old cotton does make for a cooler ride, so now I have some nylon jersey dresses that are on the no-no list for summer commuting.

    However, I do have a clothing-related question for the LGRAB readers and riders! I’m starting a new job here in Brooklyn that means I can finally ride to work every day and I’m also facing down the barrel of my first riding winter! So I’m also wondering about coats – I have a perfectly decent swing coat, hits just above the knee, wool with some stretch and lots of extra room in the shoulders (this has always bugged me, style wise, but it’s perfect for accommodating handlebar reach), that I’d be happy to wear every day for riding. I’m not keen on buying a new “riding” coat when I have a perfectly serviceable one. Do any cold-weather riders have feedback for me on what it’s like to ride in a knee-length coat?

    • LGRAB says:

      Krissa, Dottie and I both bike in our regular coats all the time. It sounds like your coat has the necessary requirements (enough shoulder room, and a wide “skirt”), so give it a try! Let us know how it goes. I also really like my black wool cape, which is not specifically for riding either.

      • Redeyedtreefr0g says:

        I’m excited to have found a pattern for a cape- I’ve always wanted one since I was a child. I’ve decided to use my leftover PUL waterproof breathable fabric and make a “rain cape”. We’ll see how it goes.

        I have trouble using my regular jackets because they are all too hot! I used a thin windbreaker last year (it pretended to be water-resistant, so it worked out for all but the wet-snow and raining days) and usually ended up unzipping it all the way down the front. My upper torso, armpit area, and upper arms get mighty hot, even as my hands and face freeze. Perhaps I need something with vents? Or a cape :)

        • cycler says:

          Like Redeyedtreefr0g, I find I don’t need as heavy a coat as I would if I were walking/ taking the train. I actually keep a down vest at work for layering if I walk outside at lunch.
          Knee length or longer is good in terms of keeping you warm though if you get cold easily. Some people feel the need to dress/coat guards, although I have never had a problem without them.

          • Krissa Corbett Cavouras says:

            Thanks, everyone! This coat is actually a little under-equipped for New York winters (Land’s End rates it as ‘warm’ but I found the wind would cut right through it on the coldest of days) so the heat I work up while commuting might actually make this the perfect winter coat, where it wasn’t previously!

            • ridonrides says:

              i think your coat will be fine! i miss wearing cute wool peacoats. like other commenters, i got through chicago winters with a hoodie with a windbreaker layered over it. do think about how to cover your face and hands. insulated gloves are a must! i wore a scarf at the beginning of my commute and would take it off in the middle.

              in regards to the original post, i miss wearing sandals! i’ve seen plenty of cyclists wear flip flops. but i would be worried about cutting up my toes.

        • I have lovely wool coats, but even in the cold of winter, I overheated. I ended up using my fairly thin raincoat (the one I’m wearing in the picture) as a winter coat. It cut the wind and kept me dry in snow and rain. I layered underneath with wool on the coldest days.

      • Krissa Corbett Cavouras says:

        Ooooh, an excuse for a cape. C’mere, you.

  2. Lizzyisi says:

    Mules. I have a lovely pair of backless, closed-toe, incredibly-comfortable-without-sock shoes that I wear all summer, *except* I can’t bike in them. I’m not sure whether it’s the sole or just how easy it is for my foot to slip in and out of them.

    I recently bought some sock garters (with clips) from sockdreams.com and now there pretty much isn’t a skirt in my wardrobe I won’t wear on my bike. I just clip the hem to the garter (one clip for most skirts, two for especially billowy ones) and there’s no flashing, no riding up, no getting caught in the wheel. I love it!

    • LGRAB says:

      I don’t really wear mules, but that makes sense. They usually have sort of heavy soles, too, which makes it easier for your foot to fall out, I think. I have a pair of clogs with a backstrap that I don’t like to bike in, but it’s more because of the platform sole issue.

      Re: garters, I’ve been trying out a garter recently and have mixed feelings about it…will be posting a review soon. I am glad you love your sock garters; I don’t think I have come across that option before, but it seems they are pretty similar.

      • cycler says:

        Not as fancy,but for $1 in materials at my local fabric store- a clip and a piece of stretchy lace, and 5 minutes of hand sewing, I made my own garter with clip. I’m contemplating a few design changes, but it will let you test to see if you like it before buying a fancy one.
        Also, I find that the garter doesn’t necessarily keep the skirt down, but it does prevent a complete blowup in event of a sudden gust.

  3. AdamHerstein says:

    I love riding in my Levi’s commuter jeans. They’re cut slightly skinnier at the ankle than the standard 505 fit, so I don’t have to wear a pant strap. They’re also slightly stretchy, which makes them even more comfortable on the bike.

  4. Cosmo says:

    For me riding in wide leg trousers is the worst. They always get caught on my crank and it drives me crazy. I can’t stand to cuff my pants because I hate the resulting wrinkles.

  5. G.E. says:

    Ugh. Ditto the wide leg pants – although, I don’t have the body for skinny leg pants/jeans, so I just learn to deal with it. It’s quite a pain at times though. Really, if I can get away with knee-to-mid-calf pants even in the winter, I will do it. Often tights and long socks help out (though not always) with these types of pants in colder months.

  6. Oooooh – I break all the rules.

    love to ride in my heels, platform or otherwise. I call them safety shoes. If you’re on a horse, you’d be a fool not to have a heel on your shoe, cause it will catch you if your foot slips off the stirrup. My heels catch me, too, on those rare occasions when my platform slips off the pedal. It is a little trickier to ride with a platform, but every shoe has a sweet spot which works on the pedal. Still, platforms are not for everyone, that’s for sure.

    I’ve been riding in my pencil skirts, too, and though they do hike up to about mid-thigh, they are still long enough that I don’t flash people. I ride in my everyday slim skirts, too, and while they look like minis when I’m riding, my knickers don’t show, so I’m ok with that.

    A mid length coat is perfect for riding in! I ride in long skirts and coats, too, but don’t do it without a skirt guard and a chain guard. As long as you’re riding a step through bike with these features, there really isn’t much you can’t wear!

  7. Alyson says:

    I managed to bike in my wedding gown, though, I wouldn’t have tried if I hadn’t been riding my step-through Dutch bike with enclosed chain, fenders and skirt guards.

  8. I had a full plastic chain guard added to my bike – it’s not super pretty, but I can wear any pants without catching. Originally the water bottle cage would catch wide legged pants too, so I took that off.

    I’ve been riding in flowy skirts all summer, and tried garters (ok, but awkward to detach gracefully at work) and weights (they hurt when they blow around) but settled on bike shorts underneath. Not ideal, but the only thing I could find I can stand. The nice thing about fall is: tights are back, and that makes everything easier.

  9. [...] for women on what not to wear when riding. Dave Moulton says — and I agree — that we need to keep the bad news in perspective. Background [...]

  10. As a girl who doesn’t generally wear pants – apart from athletic gear, which I break out when I’m biking further than 10 miles at a time, as for my commute – I bike in skirts all the time, and can definitely say that I prefer biking in short, fitted skirts over longer, flowy skirts. I haven’t found a way to keep longer skirts secured, so they end up blowing up to my waist anyway. With a short skirt, at least I have only one thing to worry about: making sure I sit on it when I have to stand out of my seat to get momentum going.

  11. donna says:

    Sneakers with thick soles/treads which I had to resort to once when the weather was yucky and I didn’t want to sacrifice my nice flats. They make my knees hit my handlebars (I guess I’d have to lower my seat) and are too slippery to grip my pedals. I find sneakers way too bulky to wear when cycling, but that’s just me.

  12. Carolyn says:

    Long pants are the worst! I have a hard time finding pants that I can ride with as most seem to have a wider pant bottom. I do have pants straps..but they don’t look the best. I am glad that at least in warm weather I don’t have to worry about pants getting caught in the chain as I mostly wear shorts then, but as it gets colder…. I am reminded about that problem. I wish that there were more biking friendly pants out there…

  13. Christina says:

    When I bike in longer skirts (calf or knee-lengthish) that have a tendency to blow up in the wind, I use a binder clip to secure the skirt opening. I either bunch it to the side to make things a little tighter, or clip the material together between my legs to make an impromptu riding “skort.” It’s not as elegant as a garter, but it gets the job done and prevents what I call “the Marilyn effect.” :)

    • LGRAB says:

      Oh, clipping the ends together to make a skort — what a great idea! I’ve tried the binder just as a weight and it works OK, but am going to have to give this one a shot.

  14. Lisa Corriveau says:

    I find that riding in some of my snugger fitting jackets/blazers isn’t comfortable–they’re too tight across the shoulders & upper arms when I’m riding. My bike doesn’t have drop bars or anything–it’s a comfort hybrid commuter thing–but having a stretchy or looser in the shoulders jacket is better, I find.

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