On advice on cycling for women

A couple of links from this week’s Cycling Embassy of Great Britain blog round-up got me thinking. The original article that got people talking was taken down, but katsdekker has it here. My initial reaction was to agree with Helen Blackman that is was pretty patronising. However I then read this response from The Girl’s Guide to Life on Two Wheels and began to wonder. Yes, all my long rides are done on a road bike, in whatever kit was cheap or on special offer at the time I got it; but on the other hand I do go around on my Brompton in whatever clothes are suitable at the time – and as I commute on the Brompton, a lot of the time “suitable clothes” really is a suit. So yes, for some of my cycling, appearance has some importance – not really while I’m on the bike, but when I get to the office.

I almost feel I’m contradicting myself here, because if you asked me, I would say that appearance is not important to me as a woman. And yet – I very, very rarely wear make-up, but earrings…. I like earrings. I have lots of earrings. Lots. Mostly the dangley kind. When I cycle to the office on my road bike, with my office clothes in a rucksack, I’ll bring jewellery in. A friend once said that she thinks of me as quite feminine because I wear skirts. So maybe my perception of myself as not very feminine, and not particularly bothered about appearance, isn’t quite accurate, at least for certain parts of my life. I’m certainly not someone who is going to do sport or climb hills wearing make-up or jewellery (I will usually have a little pair of keeper earrings in, but that’s just to keep the holes in my ears open – they’re my “I’m not wearing earrings” earrings).

So first of all, here are wisob’s top tips for cycling in a suit…

  1. Skirts are great for cycling in – so long as it is the right kind of skirt. Too long is a problem, as is too tight. But a nice loose knee-length one is perfect. You don’t have to clip it out of the way, unlike trousers, just hop on and off the bike. It really isn’t any colder to wear a skirt than trousers, particularly a heavier skirt. (I’ve had female friends describe me as mad for cycling in a skirt in winter – as if there’s huge amount of heat loss from my calves. I’ll wear socks over my tights if it is really cold, which does look a bit odd, but I just take them off when I get to the office.) And if it rains a bit, my coat will keep most of me dry, and tights dry pretty much instantly – unlike 5 cm of wet trouser leg.
  2. Waterproof trousers are comfortable enough over tights for short distances. So if it is really raining hard, I’ll wear waterproofs, shove my skirt in my bag and nip in to the ladies for a quick change when I get to the office.
  3. Earrings do get caught on scarves, coat collars, hats/helmets. I’ve lost a few, especially the kind that hook into your ears – and then I found that places like Claire’s Accessories sell little plastic things that slide onto the back and keep the earring from coming out, so that’s really useful.

Helen Blackman made a second, more measured response to the initial article here – I hope my tips pass her test (would your advice sound appropriate if given to a child (in which case it is likely to be patronising if given to an adult woman), would it sound odd if said to a man – well most of the above applies to things that are not culturally normal for men to wear, but I might still fell the need to explain to a men that cycling in a skirt is not the problem he thinks it is….) I do wonder if people like Sustrans feel that they can’t win – write about cycling without mentioning women and we’ll complain that we’re not mentioned; try and do something that acknowledges that women have different concerns to men and you get told you’re being patronising. (I guess it would be better to say that some women have different concerns – that being one of the problems, of course, we are not clones, we all have different opinions and different things that are important to us). One of the very good points that I think Helen Blackman is making is that it isn’t just what you say but the way you say it.

The other thing is that what you wear depends also on the journey you are making. If I wanted to go to the shops, I’d go in whatever I was wearing at the time – I could go in my pyjamas if I wanted to (I mean, I personally wouldn’t go to the shops in my pyjamas, but I understand that people do…) If I wanted to go and climb Ben Nevis in winter, I would wear several hundred pounds worth of winter hillwalking gear. So with cycling. To get to the pub, or the office, you can wear what you like. If I want to cycle 300km in a day, I will want cycling-specific gear, because it is much more comfortable and appropriate for what I’m doing.

I should say some more things about Pedal on Parliament, but that will have to wait for another time.

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