Not a thread of lycra in sight. Photograph by The Sartorialist
If you’re reading this blog then the likelihood is that for you cycling is a year-round activity. However, to much of the London population, cycling is something that only happens during the summer (and tube strikes). In the same way that tennis hibernates year round and only emerges during the brief weeks of Wimbledon with every public court booked out morning ’til night, London’s roads become clogged with cyclists the moment it’s warm enough to leave the cardigan at home.
As an aloof, elitist and snooty racing cyclist, I of course endeavour to look down on these fair weather cyclists with disdain, overtaking them with my nose held high in the air. It is important for the world to see the distinction; they are merely people riding bikes, whereas I am a cyclist. Through thick and thin, through bad weather and good, I am dedicated, committed and devoted to the bicycle. And if my assured riding style, and nonchalant regard for complex road traffic systems isn’t proof enough of my cyclist status, then my lycra shorts should be.
But then something started to change, and over the past few months I’ve been getting increasingly self-conscious in my serious cyclist’s kit; I tug down slightly at my jersey when stopped at traffic lights, feel a little foolish when clomping about in my figure-hugging shorts and ungainly cycling shoes upon arrival at the office. All of this stuff, all this cycling-specific lycra, started to feel slightly unbecoming.
I started to envy the fair weather cyclists in their jeans and T-shirts. The insouciant way in which they hopped on and off their bikes, without a care for cycling specific apparel. That uncomplicated relationship with cycling started to appeal to me; they illustrated the idea that cycling to work needn’t be an ordeal of kit changing, and lugging around clothes and shoes. The bike wasn’t any different to jumping into a car, or travelling by tube or train – it doesn’t require any special kit, only it’s just far more enjoyable. My stop-start commute of seven miles didn’t require the aerodynamic advantages of lycra, nor the sweat wicking properties of some technical fabric. I realised I could be more than just a cyclist – I could be a person who just happened to be riding a bike.
I’ve always viewed blogs such as Copenhagen Cycle Chic – and it’s local younger brother London Cycle Chic – with a level of suspicion. The embracing of the bicycle by fashionable stylish people was disconcerting. Cycling should be geeky, it’s a sensible mode of transport that demands to be matched by sartorial conservatism – anything more is just faddism. But slowly I was being seduced by the beautiful godzillas and well-heeled west Londoners breezing by on elegant town bikes. After having to beat them day after day, overtaking their lumbering smugness in a swish of gear changes and out of-the-saddle bum wiggling, I decided to just give up and join them.
My first lycra-free ride to work felt peculiar; it was like that feeling you get when you step out of your front door with a vague sense you’ve forgotten something – only to discover later in the day that you’ve left your wallet at home. My favourite worst nightmare is arriving at work in my lycra shorts only to realise I’d forgotten to pack any trousers to change into. The horror!
But no such worries now. It’s like a load off my shoulders – and, in the case of not having to lug around a rucksack packed with my change of clothes, in a literal sense too. Of course I’ve needed to invest in a new bike appropriate to this new mode of cycling – upright, mud guards, chain guard… But that’s a whole other story.
So after my initial suspicions I’m beginning to embrace this new approach to lycra-free cycling – it’s a slippery slope, but I can see myself adopting more tropes of the fair weather cyclist. Skipping red lights, riding on the pavement, and swapping dreams of podium places for fantasies of being snapped by The Sartorialist.