Dress to impress
Iain Treloar investigates the growing range of casual bike wear for men, and finds that it’s possible to look sharp both on the bike and off.
Cycling and lycra – an inextricably linked pairing in the public consciousness. But riding a bike doesn’t need specific clothing – it’s a
pure, simple and joyful activity that’s possible in any outfit, from suits to jeans, high heels to brogues. Its accessibility is greatly aided by not requiring a change of clothes before getting out and rolling – and, with the relaxation of work dresscodes, you are more likely than ever before to be able to ride to work in the same clothing you’ll spend the rest of the day in.
Some regular clothing transfers easily onto the bike – such as a quality merino base-layer, which is a warm building block to many outfits – but some more rigid fabrics have their drawbacks.
Denim, for instance, despite its durability and popularity, isn’t an ideal riding fabric – a fact that won’t be lost on anyone who’s heard the distressing rip of the crotch of a loved pair of jeans giving way. It’s not a particularly stretchy material either, which can restrict the pedalling motion, and it’s a shocker at retaining moisture, meaning that getting caught in a sudden downpour can leave the rider with
clammy pants for the rest of the day. And no one wants that.
Likewise, a lot of jackets and shirts are uncomfortably tight across the shoulders when reaching for the handlebars, and offer little in the way of breathability.
In recognition of these realities, there are a growing number of both specialist and mainstream companies producing gear that can adapt capably to the demands of life as a practical riding garment, while not raising eyebrows at the office or socially. Ride On has looked at three of the leading casual bike-wear brands, to uncover the sartorial gems that will function well both on and off the bike.
In an unexpected move that brought the previously niche category of bike commuter clothing into the mainstream, American denim giant Levi’s announced this year their ‘Commuter’ range, pairing numerous cycling-specific design features with some serious marketing clobber. It’s a pretty comprehensive selection as well – slim-fit jeans and office-ready chinos ($129.95), a shirt and a couple of jackets. There’s reflective detailing throughout the range, with construction beefed up in areas of key stress. The fabric in the trousers features a water and odour-repellent coating, with extra reinforcement around the crotch to enhance durability, while reflective strips on the cuffs aid visibility. Both the jeans and chinos are 2% elastane, giving extra comfort in the pedal stroke. However, all the pants are a pretty skinny fit, so riders with big thighs may find them a touch restrictive.
The Levi Trucker Jacket, available in both black and dark indigo denim finishes, is a stylish option, although the wisdom of darker fabrics for night riding is questionable. The pricing in comparison to the (outstanding value) trousers is a bit of a shock, at $219.95. I’m also unsure about the decision to use buttons instead of a zip down the front, but the articulated shoulders allow the wearer to reach the handlebars comfortably, and the back pockets are convenient and unobtrusive.
For details and stockists, levis.com.au/au/commuter
Melbourne-based company Creux have taken the challenge of casual bike wear seriously, offering a large range of items including jeans, jackets, t-shirts and shorts. They’re best known for their jeans ($199), which come in two fits – the skinny-legged Grimpeur and the straight-cut Soigneur – and a couple of different washes as well. Unusually, Creux build a chamois into their jeans and incorporate a range of extra features, such as loops to hold a D-lock and a reflective logo on the inside of the right hand leg for added visibility when rolled up. A new range is due to launch shortly which will include a women’s model, a redesigned chamois and an optional water-repellent treatment for an extra $30. The styling isn’t for everyone but they’re highly regarded for comfort.
Elsewhere in the range, we tested the Liberator bomber jacket ($229.95), a black soft-shell which would be an ideal companion for all-weather weekend jaunts. Although quite thin and lightweight, it’s cosy and shower-resistant, looks schmick in a Grease kind of way and has plenty of storage room in the back pockets. It’s also well ventilated, to avoid that stuckin-a-greenhouse feeling of many cycling jackets. Creux also make a wool-blend hoodie ($99.95) with rear utility pockets – a smart marriage of functionality and
comfort. For casual bike-wear, they’re a quality local alternative.
For details and to buy, www.creuxcycling.com
This British brand has only been around since 2004, but they’ve had a huge impact on the separate worlds of cycling and fashion, by introducing one to the other. In a market dominated by lairy, logo dominated designs, Rapha’s clothing constitutes refreshingly restrained styling and a reputation for high quality (and high price tags). Although Rapha do the normal assortment of knicks and jerseys, they venture into the urban lifestyle sphere with their tailored suit jackets, briefcases and even (seriously) a men’s skincare range. They also do a pair of jeans, with cleverly offset inseams to avoid chafing. As with the Creux model, there are reflective details
and a higher cut at the back to save trailing riders from unsightly glimpses of crack. Other smart design features include silicon grippers around the waist (as on the legs of a pair of knicks) to stop the waistband sneaking its way down over the course of a ride, and a generous amount of give in the fabric to accommodate the natural pedalling motion. If the dark-indigo jeans are still a little casual for your workplace there’s two different styles of chino available too. The City Trouser ($200) with fluorescent piping up the inside of the legs is in a fast-drying cotton blend and a stretch fabric. However, a fairly indiscreet panel of thicker fabric on the seat removes some
style points. The cheaper Rapha Trouser ($105) doesn’t have as many bike-specific features but is a more subdued design.
The Gingham Long-Sleeve Shirt ($140) is a lovely garment, with a fitted shape but enough space in the shoulders to stay comfortable in a stretched-out position. Seams are offset on the shoulders to prevent chafing when wearing a messenger bag, and the small back pocket is a nod to traditional cycling apparel. Likewise, the lightweight shower- and wind-resistant City Wind Jacket ($200) is a stand-out, with its strangely transparent fabric forming a comfortable and insulating layer of weather protection. It should also be said that more than any other brand of riding gear, a Rapha product is an experience, from the packaging onwards – it may be pricey, but it’s difficult not to be charmed by the quality finish and elegant design.
For details and to buy, www.rapha.cc
Fashion’s a highly subjective thing, and there are a number of other options out there worth considering. The Barcelonan Muxu jeans are one such option, as is New York’s Osloh (shortly to be distributed in Australia). These both share the slightly more urbanised design of Creux, with the Osloh jeans also sporting a chamois. At the more minimal end of the spectrum designwise, Outlier’s collection of beautifully-crafted (albeit pricey) apparel has won many fans, and Swrve’s range of bike gear – which includes some beautifully understated articulated-knee selvage denim jeans – is also highly-regarded.
We can celebrate the fact that the bicycle is increasingly moving into the mainstream in Australia, with its efficiency, health advantages and affordability making it the preferred mode of transport for an ever-growing number of people. The stylish clothing options available reinforce this shift. So what are you waiting for? The word is out – lycra now optional.
Now that you look the part, get your copy of Ride On‘s August-September issue for great Ride2Work advice! In this issue we also visit a police bike auction to discover what happens when the police find a stolen bike, but not its owner; go bush to find tips for getting the most out of rural riding; investigate the burning tradition of embrocation; and test a range of tag-alongs for when it’s time for your youngster to start pulling their own weight. There’s also rides, reviews, the health report and more.
Ask for Ride On at your local newsagent, get a subscription in the Bicycle Network shop, or become a Bicycle network Victoria, Bicycle Queensland, Bicycling Western Australia or Bicycle Tasmania member and receive a subscription as part of your membership.