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Old 04-13-10, 11:19 AM   #1
sggoodri
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The cultural implications of bicyclists' clothing

Another thread inspired me to ask this question: What does the clothing worn by a bicycle operator say about him or her, and does this vary based on locality?

Many people may be able to honestly say that they don't care what other people think about them, but in reality many of us are concerned about the superficial first impressions we make upon others to some extent. Each sub-culture creates norms for dress at work, church, night life, etc. Operational issues associated with bicycling create many incentives to trade these clothes for others that function better for cycling. In some cases, such as at a social function, a compromise away from traditional clothing makes the cyclist conspicuous. In other cases, such as when joining a long distance cycling activity, cycling-specific clothing is the norm and the casually dressed cyclist might feel like the outcast.

So here is a thesis for you all to knock down: The social message made by the clothing worn by a bicycle operator is defined by the prevailing local circumstances under which people cycle.

In a compact city with scarce parking, where cycling is more convenient than motoring and walking for many trips, and many trips are only about a mile, cycling in casual, non-cycling-specific clothing will be the cultural norm and cycling-specific clothing will stick out as unusual.

In a spread out suburban area where cycling is inconvenient compared to motoring, and most people of means operate automobiles, cycling in casual, non-cycling-specific clothing will invite assumptions of lack of economic or legal ability to drive a car, or conspicuous aversion to motoring. Cycling in cycling-specific clothing will invite assumptions of participation in cycling for the purpose of exercise or enjoyment rather than compulsion.

Between these extremes are localities where bicycling is somewhat convenient or enjoyable, and there is is a continuum of casual clothing available that functions fairly well for short to medium distance cycling. Think of riding in Seattle while wearing clothes from REI. Where in the spectrum the cyclist finds himself depends on both the local cycling culture and the local culture in general.

I propose that the way the local culture views cycling clothing is based on conditions on the ground, including land use and street patterns, and on local cultural attitudes about nonconformity, outdoor activity, and environmentalism. I do not believe that the cyclist can change the culture's view of cycling by changing what he or she wears; rather, the cyclist should wear whatever works best for his or her cycling needs, and it is purely the act of cycling that has the potential to influence the culture.
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Old 04-13-10, 11:38 AM   #2
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Great start. I expect the finished paper on my desk, tomorrow at noon. Be sure to include IEEE citations.
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Old 04-13-10, 11:42 AM   #3
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Cultural or functional.. Told my workmates who initially did not understand bike clothes.. I got tired of the water blisters on my arse popping while sitting on office furniture.. They never asked again .
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Old 04-13-10, 11:43 AM   #4
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Great start. I expect the finished paper on my desk, tomorrow at noon. Be sure to include IEEE citations.
In my experience, we engineers (especially E.E.s) are the most likely to put function before form when selecting clothing (witness our suspicion of people who wear ties) and many of us are avid utility cyclists because years of geek life has reduced our level of concern about what superficial people think.
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Old 04-13-10, 11:58 AM   #5
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In all seriousness, I think you may be right.

I've noticed within Denver city limits, you see a lot more casual cyclists wearing what I would consider street clothes. The further out into the burbs you get, the more lycra you start seeing.

Its about land use. Denver is a lot more dense than many of the surrounding burbs. Bicycle trips would be shorter. Makes it easier to cycle in street clothes.

I know on my short 1.5 mile trip from the Park n' Ride to the office (which is out in the boonies), I'm the only one I ever see cycling in street clothes. The two or three cyclists I see every day are usually wearing cycling specific clothing. On my 3.5 mile trip from home to the bus station, I see a ton more casual cyclists in street clothes.

My commute is also strange though as I commute from downtown to the burbs... Denver is set up that way though. During rush hour, doesn't matter if you're headed into or out of downtown. You're stuck in traffic.
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Old 04-13-10, 12:05 PM   #6
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For me it is certainly about function first which of course relates to what I am doing and where I end up.

For example for going to work I am fortunate to have showers and a locker. I also live where it can be near 100F at 7am in mid summer. So it makes sense to wear my non work clothing when traveling to work and shower and change there. Since I am then going to wear something different to wear to work it might as well be ideal for cycling in warm (or cold in winter) weather and also dry out before I ride home in the evening. This means cycling shorts and a wicking t-shirt.

If I am going somewhere to spend some time at the destination I prefer to wear shorts over my cycling shorts and a regular t-shirt, even for a few mile ride. I still usually wear something a bit different than my everyday clothing, something that will be a bit cooler when cycling, not a loose button down shirt, but a tshirt that is not too big for me. I probably could also instead wear briefs instead of cycling shorts, but I don't own briefs and already own non padded cycling shorts. (tri-shorts)

The only time I wear a jersey is for rides that are just for cycling - longer recreational rides. Mainly as they have pockets to keep a few essentials in, but they are also cooler.
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Old 04-13-10, 12:09 PM   #7
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These are the factors that determine what I wear for a ride:

1. Destination -- commuting gets works clothes, utility/fun rides, I dress for the weather
2. Distance -- more than 25 miles, I'll put the lycra on under a pair of baggies (or, if weather demands, tights)
3. Temperature -- lower temps, naturally, require more layers

Some of my wardrobe could be called cycling-specific (1 pr lycra shorts, 1 bib, 2 jerseys, 4 pr socks); other parts are simply moisture-wicking T's or shorts. Then, there are street clothes, which serve the purpose for a ride under the right conditions (see above).

I'm not sure what social message that sends... other than "I don't give a sh** about social factors." (Not angry, not hatin', just sayin')

Not trying to crap in your cornflakes, either, Steve, just my 2c.
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Old 04-13-10, 12:17 PM   #8
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I went to the denstist on the way to work Monday. I slipped on my work shorts over my bike shorts when I got to the dentist and took them back off to continue the ride to work. I don't wear them on the bike so they don't get as sweaty, used, creased, worn, etc. Plus, they flap about when riding and while not uncomfortable over the bike shorts are noticeable. (for example I need to stand up a bit higher when starting from a stop to ensure the shorts clear the saddle nose when re-seating)
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Old 04-13-10, 12:18 PM   #9
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I wear a merino base layer when I ride. Normal pants over it, and a jacket, if need be. In the summer, I'll skip the bottom half of the base layer and wear light pants or shorts, with a wool shirt.

Wool might be the best wicking material on the planet, helps regulate body temperature - never too hot, never too cold - and it doesn't smell. Washing wool clothing more than once a month is excessive, unless you spill things on it. It's just a wonder fabric. I'd say function over form, but the stuff can be dyed nice colors and look more or less like other shirts. Oh, and merino is soft!

Also, I honestly don't care very much what somebody I see for a few seconds in passing on the trail thinks of my clothing. They won't remember me five minutes later.
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Old 04-13-10, 12:40 PM   #10
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I don't think it matters what you wear your gonna send a message. You wear a death metal t-shirt people think a certain way about you. Throw a suit on the same guy different thoughts will enter the minds of others viewing him. I realize this stemmed from the great Lycra debate, but other cycle clothing thoughts that came to mind is college kids with messenger bag's being scene-sters or poseurs. or skinny jeaned blah blah blah.
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Old 04-13-10, 12:55 PM   #11
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These are the factors that determine what I wear for a ride:

1. Destination -- commuting gets works clothes, utility/fun rides, I dress for the weather
2. Distance -- more than 25 miles, I'll put the lycra on under a pair of baggies (or, if weather demands, tights)
.
Your first two points are a serious attempt to take on the OP's topic.. / It's rare I go for rides of less than three hours.. . Long distance takes a toll on one's rear.. Pretty much if I leave the town limits , I 'm off for god knows how long.. So if I go more than one mile outside of the city limits, I'm probably gone for at least half the day .
Between the wicking properties of dedicated bike gear and it's anti chaffing properties , I more than likely look like the poseur , so the critics say.. Should I be intending to do any kind of store hopping while on the bike, I often take along some soccer shorts for covering up ; while I am inside a store or doing any kind of business..
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Old 04-13-10, 12:59 PM   #12
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My clothing choice has no social message or context at all, or at least any one that I am conciously stating

It is simply form follows function both clothes and chose bike

If I am working around the house, and need to do an errand...ie hardware store or get wife frozen yogurt, or whatever (mostly less than a 3 mile round trip)....I jump on my utility commuter bike and go. I don't bike with flip flops and do wear a helmet.

If am doing my current short (5 mile each way) commute, I wear my work clothes (khakis and polo shirt) wear bike gloves and shoes for clipless pedals. on my utility commuter. On the way home, especially on hot days I might throw on a pair of shorts (gramicci not bike) and make the return 8 or 9 miles. In the past on longer commutes I use the road bike and wear bikes shorts, jersey etc.

If I am going out for longer ride (over 10 miles) for fun, training, personal time, whatever, I use my road bike, where bike shorts, jersey, bikes shoes with look cleats., bike gloves.

I think there is way to much angst over 'lycra racer poseurs ruining cycling" (especially as we all know it is the bearded belly engineer recumbent that is ruining cycling....... )
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Old 04-13-10, 01:08 PM   #13
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My clothing says "why are you running away" each morning as it walks over to me all by itself.
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Old 04-13-10, 01:10 PM   #14
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My clothing says "why are you running away" each morning as it walks over to me all by itself.
That is the cultural implication of unwashed duds.
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Old 04-13-10, 03:05 PM   #15
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I do not believe that the cyclist can change the culture's view of cycling by changing what he or she wears; rather, the cyclist should wear whatever works best for his or her cycling needs, and it is purely the act of cycling that has the potential to influence the culture.
I don't quite agree. I think it is possible that a cyclists might be able to influence the prevailing cultures view of cycling based on what they wear. I mean what if every cyclist wore full team kit or every cyclist wore full on commuter dork day glo get ups? It would certainly influence what people thought would be required or "normal" to wear when cycling and probably discourage people from taking it up. However, I do not believe that it is any cyclists responsibility-as a cyclist- to care about changing the cultures view of cycling, and therefore I agree that they should wear "whatever works best for his or her cycling needs"

That said, most people who ride bikes allready have made their choices as to what they feel is right for them clothing wise for their riding style and conditions. Cycling advocacy types who feel that it is an activity that can and should be done by anyone wearing regular clothes, need to stop focusing their efforts on and/or scapegoating the small percentage of the population that is allready doing what they are advocating-just doing it in the wrong clothes. The goal of cycling "for the people" will NOT be achieved by marginalizing the cycling communities that allready exist, but by encouraging participation in cycling by those who don't already cycle, and encouraging them to do so on their own terms.
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Old 04-13-10, 08:10 PM   #16
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My clothing says "why are you running away" each morning as it walks over to me all by itself.
Mine says "why do you keep tearing me on sharp things and burning me with hot things?"
Theses are the same clothes I wear to work, to ride to work, to ride in the woods, to do yard work, and pretty much any other life activity.
I guess I sort of wear a uniform of "hostile environment" gear.
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Old 04-13-10, 08:16 PM   #17
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I've never lived in an area where there were enough people that rode bikes because of DUIs for cycling to have that connotation. OTOH, when mopeds first became legal when I was a teenager, the drunks came out of the woodwork to buy them.

In most rural areas, I think people that lose their license due to DUI convictions just keep on driving.
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Old 04-13-10, 08:16 PM   #18
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I've never lived in an area where there were enough people that rode bikes because of DUIs for cycling to have that connotation. OTOH, when mopeds first became legal when I was a teenager, the drunks came out of the woodwork to buy them.

In most rural areas, I think people that lose their license due to DUI convictions just keep on driving.
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Old 04-13-10, 08:35 PM   #19
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In a compact city with scarce parking, where cycling is more convenient than motoring and walking for many trips, and many trips are only about a mile, cycling in casual, non-cycling-specific clothing will be the cultural norm and cycling-specific clothing will stick out as unusual.

In a spread out suburban area where cycling is inconvenient compared to motoring, and most people of means operate automobiles, cycling in casual, non-cycling-specific clothing will invite assumptions of lack of economic or legal ability to drive a car, or conspicuous aversion to motoring. Cycling in cycling-specific clothing will invite assumptions of participation in cycling for the purpose of exercise or enjoyment rather than compulsion.

I think you left out rural areas in your description of "extremes".

So, I must be the stigma buster:

- I commute 25 miles/day on 65mph state and US highways with little to no population in between my house and the workplace.
- I wear blue jeans and steel toe hiking boots (my work attire)
- I have never cared about assumptions of what I wear when I ride

I think I also debunk the exercise/enjoyment context you assert. I do ride to save money on gas, be as green as possible, etc. But, none of those things would be sufficient motivation to ride that far if I didn't enjoy it. I also do it to maintain my fitness, as getting to a job is a great motivator. But I don't wear cycling specific clothing in the process, I have sufficient funding to commute by car every day, nor do I have an aversion toward driving (love to drive as a matter of fact).

Finally, I could care less about convenience.....I love the challenge and the feeling of satisfaction from riding.

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Old 04-13-10, 08:40 PM   #20
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So here is a thesis for you all to knock down: The social message made by the clothing worn by a bicycle operator is defined by the prevailing local circumstances under which people cycle.
While I would agree that the distribution of clothing worn is defined by prevailing local circumstances. I don't think that I can agree that the social message follows.

It is my opinion that there is far more tribalism among cyclists then among the general public. I doubt that the average man in the street is making the distinctions that we make in Bike Forums.

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In my experience, we engineers (especially E.E.s) are the most likely to put function before form when selecting clothing (witness our suspicion of people who wear ties) and many of us are avid utility cyclists because years of geek life has reduced our level of concern about what superficial people think.
Does the clothes prejudice never end??? I'm an E.E. and I like to wear ties. Part of my morning ritual is selecting which of my very nice silk ties that I will wear that day. For cryin' out loud Dilbert wears a tie! You can't get any more E.E. than that.

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Old 04-13-10, 08:42 PM   #21
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I think those kinds of assumptions are made by those that understand cycling the least. Case in point- in that certain other thread, the one person making the biggest fuss about a certain type of clothing is an absolute newbie to cycling. I appreciate his enthusiasm, but I hope his point of view changes.

On the other hand, those of us that have ridden at one time or another in a poncho, or in street clothes, or in lycra, or in clipless shoes, or carrying a backpack, or have ridden very nice nice bikes, or have ridden junk bikes, etc., understand the time and place for any given combination of bike, clothes, and gear. When I'm judging another cyclist, Its more about his action rather than what bike he's sitting on.
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Old 04-13-10, 08:58 PM   #22
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make the environment more culturally conducive to 80 year olds bicycling, and you will see a lot less lycra no matter what other variables shift.

american road and traffic conditions often dictate a certain 'serious' mindset and attitude that is frequently reflected in that cyclists' choice of attire. Streetscape conditions can de facto preclude the more casual cyclist who would usually be cycling in more casual attire.

Cycling culture is affected by the local roadscape. the clothing is a reflection of the roadscape and conditions for the cyclist.

too many american communities have raised significant barriers to populist cycling by distinctly unfriendly roadscape and riding conditions that nearly predicate serious cyclists in serious attire.

Less lycra, more Grandma.

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Old 04-13-10, 09:01 PM   #23
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My clothing says "why are you running away" each morning as it walks over to me all by itself.
Snorting@chipcom.
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Old 04-13-10, 09:10 PM   #24
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america needs to build communities with transportation infrastructure and land use that facilitates greater ridership than the paltry averages from Cleveland or Fort Walton Beach.

America towns and cities could do so much more to develop more amenable transportation infrastructure to encourage more casual ridership.

every large american city has some blend of 'town core' and suburb' -distinctions of types of rider dependent on land use is a bit disingenuous - and all could serve the more casual cyclist much better.

From New York City, Boston, Chicago, San Francisco, LA, to second tier cities like Santa Fe, Milwaukee, and Baton Rouge, all their suburbs and the rest of the cities and towns of america, one thing is clear -

better roads and highways for bicyclists. a surfeit of infrastructure and social inducements to encourage cycling. less lycra, more grandma.

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Old 04-13-10, 09:15 PM   #25
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That said, most people who ride bikes allready have made their choices as to what they feel is right for them clothing wise for their riding style and conditions. Cycling advocacy types who feel that it is an activity that can and should be done by anyone wearing regular clothes, need to stop focusing their efforts on and/or scapegoating the small percentage of the population that is allready doing what they are advocating-just doing it in the wrong clothes. The goal of cycling "for the people" will NOT be achieved by marginalizing the cycling communities that allready exist, but by encouraging participation in cycling by those who don't already cycle, and encouraging them to do so on their own terms.
AAA-Men!! The anti-helmet people are a close second in putting people off under the guise of trying NOT to 'scare people' away from cycling on a regular basis.

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