Summer is coming. Your bicycle is calling. And the question presents itself: What are you going to wear?
If you love nothing more than going for 50-mile rides out in the country, sure, you might want to invest in skin-tight bike gear with padded shorts and little pockets on your lower back.
But for everyday riding around town, your summer bicycling wardrobe is probably already in your closet. As a general rule, if you can walk in it, you can bike in it.
A few thoughtful modifications to your every day wardrobe, though, will make bicycling an even greater pleasure.
Your ideal bike-y summer wardrobe is clothes that you love wearing that make you feel comfortable and free.
What you wear depends on how you ride. If you’re a slower, easygoing rider who likes to feel the breeze and check out back-street gardens as you go, stick with lightweight cotton—it’s much more breathable than synthetics.
But if you want to tear around town all day and still look great in your sundress, synthetic materials will hide the inevitable sweat stains that being in a hurry on a 90 degree day will produce. Patterns and light colors hide sweat as well and make you more visible at night.
On Your Head
There’s a reason light, cotton cycling caps are so popular. Their small brims keep the sun out of your eyes, and their tight, high profile fits neatly under your helmet while catching sweat and keeping your hair from getting all wild. Portland has a profusion of cap makers, with Little Package and Deller Designs being the standbys.
You can bike in any shoes at all. Stiff soles will make pedaling easier on your feet and legs for trips longer than a mile or two.
High heels are beloved by many daily riders—it’s the ball of your foot that meets the pedal, so the heel is irrelevant… and sometimes extra helpful in allowing you to put your foot down at a stop light without climbing off of your seat. When you’re on your bike parking is a snap, so you’ll rarely have to walk far in whatever unsensible footwear you’ve chosen.
Your first summer on a bike, you will discover the phenomenon of “the stripe,” the part of your lower back exposed when you lean over your bike. Remember to use sunscreen there and look for shirts that are long in the torso.
Another accessory to try out is arm warmers, which you can find in warm knits or light cotton. They’re like wearing a long sleeve shirt that’s breathable where you need it to be and can be changed in or out of without removing your helmet.
Layers are the key to bike clothes in all weather. Bring a cardigan or lightweight jacket everywhere, as you’ll often cool down once you reach your destination (and conceal any sweating you may have been doing).
Whatever you wear, make sure it isn’t too tight across the shoulders. Shirts and jackets that fit well in an upright posture will often groan at the seams and contort you uncomfortably once you’re bent over your handlebars.
When you wear long pants, you’ll want to get in the habit of rolling up that right pants leg before you hop on, or you’ll quickly amass a collection of chewed up, greasy cuffs.
For less hassle and more symmetry, many daily riders simply wear pants that stop a few inches below the knee.
Whether you hem or roll, knee socks are a staple of fashionable daily bicyclists. Head to Sock Dreams in Sellwood for a wide selection from plain to plaid.
Skirts and Dresses
Go with hems above the knee and cuts that are flared or blousy. If your skirt is too tight, you run the risk of a split seam, or worse, catching it on your seat and causing a crash. If it’s too long, you risk catching it in your spokes or brakes. Wraparound skirts are a no go—if you have a favorite one, it might be time to sew it up.
The world doesn’t need to see your underwear—but assume they’ll see whatever you’re wearing under your skirt and choose accordingly. If you don’t want to look like you’re hiding what’s underneath, show it off by wearing leggings or cycling shorts a bit longer than your skirt.
There’s no reason you have to keep wearing your under layer all day at work or all night at your party. But if you plan to keep it on all day, make sure it’s breathable.
Once you start bicycling, you’ll never look at pockets the same way again. Consider the belt pouch—or as we used to call it, the fanny pack. There are some great locally-made options that don’t come with bad fashion flashbacks.
If you want to look your best on arrival, whether it’s at work or a date, consider leaving ten minutes earlier and adjusting your route, so you can ride a bit slower. You’ll smell more roses and arrive at your destination smelling more rose-like yourself.
Your favorite summer bike accessory may end up being a front basket for your steed. You’ll never need to sweat under a backpack, endanger yourself by dangling a grocery bag from your handlebars, or be without the means to transport spontaneous picnic supplies.
Cleaning and oiling your chain and maintaining your drivetrain regularly will prevent the sort of fiasco that involves wrestling with your chain on the side of the road and arriving late, sweaty, angry, and covered in grease.
Even without such annoying events, chain grease has a way of mysteriously getting everywhere. A bottle of citrus-based solvent will get the stuff out of nearly everything.
So long as you love what you’re wearing, there’s no reason you can’t wear it on a bike. What are your staples and strategies for summer riding?