Friday Group Ride #457

Friday Group Ride #457

An increasing number of people are coming to me to ask why cyclists look so stupid. The first few I answered with a nod and a chuckle. The next few I took more seriously (and mostly agreed with, but caveated that most specialty sport ensembles look silly to normal people). Then finally, I changed the way I dress on the bike.

To be clear, I don’t much mind looking silly to other people. I’m sorta used to it. But I’m also willing to consider the ways I do things and change them for the better (or more reasonable) when it makes sense.

For example, I wonder how often I really need to wear a cycling jersey. My overarching experience of wearing cycling jerseys is that they’re sweaty. I’m a sweaty guy, and tight clothing exacerbates my perspiration challenges. On long rides, a jersey can make sense for pocket configuration, but on short rides, a gauzy shirt (maybe a pirate shirt) makes more sense. My commutes all happen in standard athletic type shirts now.

The good news is that the predicating factor for the conversations I’ve been having is a proliferation of cyclists at all the traffic lights in town. Some infrastructure changes have improved the town’s through put, and now Saturday mornings on Main Street look like the Etape du Burbs.

Since people have been approaching me about how my people look, I’ve paid extra attention. Roadies, we should admit, really do adhere to pretty strict costume guidelines that produce a sort of terrestrial astronaut look. Is the uniform functional or is it mainly a signifier to other in-group members that we’re ok, wink, wink, unsmiling nod.

I kid, because I love.

This week’s Group Ride asks, is the American conception of cycling too rigid? Is our American cycling “uniform” alienating possible cyclists by making it seem too weird or too involved to ride a bike? Has how you dress on the bike changed at all over the years? Do people ever ask you these insulting questions?


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  1. Jeff vdD

    I bike commute in Cambridge. There is not remotely a single “look.” Road, gravel, and MTB, they have their looks, but even then, they span a range.

    That’s said, I never get asked.

  2. Michael

    Hmm, never been asked. Maybe everyone around here is used to the look. I commute in street clothes and shoes, but with a helmet (and lights at night). When my commute was 10 miles each way, I wore cycling shorts and shoes, but now it is only a couple of miles, and there is a coffee shop along the way. I ride road with some sort of bright jersey because I need the pockets to carry extra tubes, tools, and food and such, with black shorts and a helmet and gloves and cycling shoes. All function over fashion – I probably occasionally match, but don’t pay attention. Mountain biking or cross – I wear a less bright jersey except in the fall when I wear a hunter-orange vest to save my life (I hope). Regular cycling shorts rather than the baggies because I have enough that I don’t care if I ruin them, and I am going home to shower and change before I would walk to a bar to see friends. But still, people seem to recognize that the clothes work for the activity. More questions come on why cyclists might be riding two abreast, and why they take up so much space and slow EVERYONE down, and why do ALL cyclists break ALL traffic regulations. Answering/refuting those takes a longer conversation….

  3. tominalbany

    Never been asked.

    I wear what I want. If there’s any mileage involved, it’s a jersey so I can carry a pump. When I ride wqith my kids in the neighborhood, I just wear what I have on and tuck the right leg as needed.

    When people ask my why I dress stupid I usually say something like ‘It seems stupid to those that don’t know. So, let’s go for a ride and then you’ll want to do it too!

  4. Jorgensen

    I was of the time when there was scarce team kit, we did not even use that term.
    It was plain jerseys. All black wool shorts, (acrylic was for Kurcharik brand wear) white socks, as that is what you had to race in. If the ride is over 30 minutes, chamois lined shorts, jersey. One wore their team jersey at a race or club ride. Once a motorist called out to a club mate one Sunday, what is that L, A, Grange?
    Only time I get a comment now is “where’s your helmet?” Always on when on a few block long coffee run.
    Way back, was “do you shave your legs?!?” Just smile and wave to that.
    That was exceptionally concerning to the girls in my junior high school classes.
    So it goes.

  5. Tom Milani

    Never been asked. I do favor jerseys from breweries (Boulevard, Old Ox) because I like how they look. At least in the DC area, I think bike share is putting more riders on the road and lowering the barrier to entry. Parts of Metro are closed for three months for platform repairs, and I’m hoping that puts more people on bikes as well.

  6. Ted Jones

    First thought after the first sentence was what would it look like for a football player to be jogging down a path in a full uniform and helmet? Don’t make it an NFL team, make some custom team name. Bright colors. I think that it would get similar reactions. There was a commercial a couple years ago (was it for insurance?) where a teenager was somewhat ashamed of dad because he “looked like an alien”. Dad was walking through the house in his cycling kit, helmet, sunglasses and road shoes with all that awkwardness… So I think the answer is that maybe the US public sees us as weird, which when you’re a new cyclist, you are part of that public.

    This goes along with that recent study that determined how drivers view cyclists as sub-human; I was thinking about jersey designs as a result, getting some made with huge block lettering that would say “father”, “Mother”, “son” etc to try and humanize us.

  7. Scott M.

    The young child of a co-worker, when seeing me leave the office to start my commute home, commented to his dad that I looked like Super Man (with my spandex super suit). I’m sticking with that.

  8. Byron

    Back in the early 70s, my “10-speed” cycling uniform consisted of cut-offs, t-shirt, and running shoes. These days, I’ve added chamois-lined shorts and cycling shoes. I invariably add a pair of soccer shorts over the spandex and avoid cycling jerseys, preferring t-shirts of the athletic/wicking variety. Trust me, I look better with the form-fitting stuff either hidden or eliminated!

  9. Steve Courtright

    There certainly is a lot of “signaling” going on when we decide how to dress for what we do. I am reminded of the time Boy George was asked during a TV interview, “Why do you dress that way?” His response, “Why do YOU dress THAT way?”

    Because many of us in the States select our kit like a uniform, signaling that this is for fun (serious fun), we can miss the simple joy of throwing a leg over and going to the store, or to work, or to a meeting, without overthinking the whole process. If it were less of a pure hobby and more an integrated part of my life, having to match my socks to the color of my bar tape won’t take up part of my day. And I have lots of t-shirts…

  10. Fausto

    The old Parisian rule for women was that if you worked out, you did it in private. No one wanted to see you walking around the city streets in work out clothes. They would wear a Chanel dress to and from the gym and never be caught dead in a sweat look. The exception was only for ballet dancers. Not sure about Paris anymore but every woman in the US is in Yoga pants and a sports bra because it is comfortable. Yankee jerseys, LeBron jerseys, Man United jerseys on every street corner. But we wear the tightest, thinist uniform there is other than a Speedo. But it is practical and works on the bike. Yesterday I rode behind a guy on a $8000 aero bike with a $40 cycling jersey that Shaq could fit in. Arm sleeves, neck, and back flapping all over negating the one piece aero bar and stem, the lack of cables and the deep dish wheels. Me; I change into my kit when I am ready to ride and take it off when I am done. Others drive to the ride in full kit and in their cycling shoes. No hanging out in a cafe or bar in a bunch of smelly lycra for me, but others do.

  11. SBarner

    My reply would be “First, you should define ‘stupid’, if you can.” I’m done with making excuses or asking permission.

    What I really miss is my first jersey, which was so long ago the pockets were in front, on the chest, and had buttons to keep them from becoming giant air scoops. At the time, I thought the pockets were dorky, but now every time I reach way back to my center, back pocket to get a bar while I’m riding, I miss that jersey.

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