Monday, May 7, 2012

Beyond the Spandex?

Last Thursday I went to the MassBike annual fundraising dinner.  I've never been to one, but I think that MassBike is a good organization, worth supporting, so I decided to buy a ticket and check it out.
They sent out an email the day before reminding us that the dress was "semi-formal"  To me that meant  this:

But as I suspected, it was really just a warning to people not to wear their rainpants or bike shorts.

The "Theme" of the night was "Beyond the Spandex"  and the evening's entertainment was to be a "fashion show" supposedly showing off looks other than classic racer kit.  I was skeptical, or as I told Cris during the cocktail hour, if you drew a Venn diagram of what I consider bike fashion and what MassBike considers bike fashion, I suspect the overlap would be very small.

There was a cocktail reception and silent auction first:

 I got a chance to chat with Nick Jackson of Toole design, and Cris introduced me to Pamela Blayley, whose blog I've read, but whom I'd never met before.  She has the most amazing EmmyLou Harris hair- a gorgeous color of white blond.

Then I was seated at a table of random strangers, which turned out to be just fine. Pamela was there, when she wasn't getting ready to be in the fashion show. I met the #2 rider of Hubway last year in terms of miles.  And I got to meet Armando Quiros, a frame builder who specializes in beautifully brazed track frames.

Armando Quiros, on right, and his assistant, Victor.
 He and his assistant, Victor, had brought a van load of bikes to use in the show.  I got some pictures after the show of Armando's personal bike with its liquid looking joints.

We had a nice discussion about tube types, powdercoat vs liquid paint, the collegiality of Boston frame builders, and his adorable 3 month old daughter.

The show was,  as expected, well, not really my thing.
There was Rapha fairly classic kit (not skintight, and probably wool)

 There was hipster cycling clothing- note reinforced shoulders- I guess for a backpack ?!?

And lycra-heavy "athletic dresses"  like something Serena Williams would wear.

These are all fine options for sport cycling, but having them presented as fashionable biking attire would give Mikael Colville-Andersen seizures.
I'm not exactly a fashion plate, but I can do better than that (see top photo above which is what I wore for the six mile ride home at 10PM)
 I think that the emphasis on making special recreational clothing that doesn't look like you just got dropped by the peleton is not really getting "beyond the spandex"   It's just pretty spandex in pastel colors.   If you really are doing a lengthy sport ride, why not just wear bike kit and be done with it?  And if you're riding 5 miles to work, in most cases, you'll look better and it will be easier just to wear what you'd wear to work anyway.  To me riding in your normal clothes is what's truly "beyond the spandex."  I am hopeful that MassBike appreciates that distinction, but I'm not sure that as an organization they're really thinking of cycling as more than something sporty and athletic and sweaty.

I know that the point of a fashion show is to sell stuff, and that it's hard for many people still to use bikes as a way to sell everyday clothes.   It seems like this can be done though, see
this and this example.  I just don't think this was a particularly good example.


  1. With Armando's green t shirt, I guess "informal" would have had the sleeves cut off?

    VERY interesting post and thanks for the perspective.

    1. Actually, that's Victor, Armando is on the right with a collared shirt.

      I figured that "semi-formal" meant not race kit..

  2. "If you really are doing a lengthy sport ride, why not just wear bike kit and be done with it? And if you're riding 5 miles to work, in most cases, you'll look better and it will be easier just to wear what you'd wear to work anyway."

    Pretty much sums up how I feel about it. If I'm cycling for sport, I have no problem dressing like it. If I am cycling for transportation, I want to wear my regular clothes and look presentable. Lycra skorts are not my idea of either everyday attire or athletic gear.

    Oh and that is a beautiful dress you're wearing. Wow!

    1. The best part of that dress is that it has pockets, which is awesome at a formal event if you don't want to carry a bag.

      Mass Bike has, in my mind a real "sport" orientation. I know that they have been involved in a lot of urban transportation infrastructure programs, and all their staff are regular commuter bikers, but I think that they don't understand how to reach out the non-spandexed majority who are turned off by the idea of having special outfits to ride in.

    2. just to be a bit of a Devil's Advocate, C, I wonder how much of Massbike's membership / staff are actually located in Boston Metro vs. the outlying suburbs. I think that a 'civilian aesthetic' around transportation cycling will naturally have more resonance for city residents, but most suburban residents who will be biking to work are usually going to be facing a 10+ mile commute, and it's quite likely that more of them will be looking at cycling as more about 'sport' than 'transport'

  3. Love your dress. I want one in every color. :)

    That's disappointing that the fashion show didn't live up to the event's theme. You know what fashionable (for some value of fashionable) apparel I want? Reinforced jeans for female commuters. My office is super casual and I wear jeans most days. The inner thighs of every pair of jeans I own are nearly worn through due to bike commuting this past winter, and I'm way too curvy for the jeans marketed to guys.

    To answer your question about "why not just wear bike kit": I love the sport dresses and skorts for my exercise/lengthy rides because full-on "normal" cycling kit is not at all kind to a plus size cyclist. As they say, lycra is a privilege, not a right.

    1. I've heard a theory that thigh wear in jeans might be excacerbated by certain types of saddles, and that smooth leather saddles like Brooks might be kinder than textured plastic saddles. All anecdotal, of course.

      For me, while I do tend to dress normally for most of my regular riding, I do appreciate subtle features that make life on a bicycle a little more comfortable: jackets with a slightly more generous back shoulder and longer sleeves. Pants with tighter cuffs and sturdy seat and crotch fabrics. And, as someone who very occasionally wears a messenger bag or backpack, and has worn out jackets at the shoulder seams, reinforced shoulders on tops aren't a bad idea either.

      I agree that "bike fashion" != "sporty" even if it has been a very popular conflation, but such a thing as "bike fashion" exists insofar as there are clothes that are both more and less suited to life on a bike.

    2. Personally, I find denim one of the least comfortable materials to ride in. I wear my work clothes to work when I am commuting and doing other normal errands on the bike, but I am somewhat fortunate in working in a fairly casual office where I have a certain amount of leeway to choose clothing based on how comfortable they are on the bike. So far the best I've found for commuting is this:

  4. A couple things: a lot of the fashion show items were donated for the silent auction -- which was decidedly bike themed... so that just means someone needs to volunteer to reach out to more organizations that have clothes to donate/lend.

    Ibex had a skirt in the show (thanks). I do believe I saw some Bespoke knickers, and hopefully we can bring back some Revolutionary fashion, both on and off the bike.

    Also, I saw that the models were asked to bring sneakers, which makes me sad, because the only time I have ever worn athletic shoes on a bicycle is when biking to/from an non-bike athletic event).

  5. At Anon 3:39. I'm not going to post your comment, because I don't find it good form to publish personal attacks on people, especially anonymously. If you have a specific story that you'd like to share about having a frame built by Armando, and want to re-comment with an identity, I'll consider publishing it.

    1. apologies. you are correct, it is bad form. thank you for having more appropriate restraint than me.

  6. I agree with you about biking clothing. I have spandex, which I wear when I'm on my road bike on the weekends. When I bike to work, which is almost every day, I wear as much of my work clothing as possible (the exception being in the summer when I wear moisture-wicking tops).To get people to bike as transportation, rather than recreation or sport, they have to see how it can be done in business casual.I just started making a skirt that will also work on a bike (ie, not a pencil skirt), and will have reflective trim, but will also look like a cute skirt. Imagine! : )

  7. I bike mostly for transportation and wear clothes which are just as comfortable and/or appropriate off the bike as on it. I have found that it helps to dress a bit lighter than I think for my 9-10-mile commute, so I tend to wear a skirt and top and switch tops at work. I always try to look nice in not *too* bicycly a way. I hate when I'm riding with more spandexy friends who can't get off their bike and walk around without changing.

  8. I’m with you on this. When I organize media events for the city’s bike program, I try to insist on a “no-spandex” policy for attendees (I tell everyone to wear their work clothes). We’re trying to promote bicycling as a transportation option for all Cincinnatians – young or old, thick or thin, athletic or not, and in my mind lycra and spandex do not make bicycling look accessible (or attractive) to the average Cincinnatian. I’m not opposed to tech gear in the right situations, but I do think it can come across as intimidating when you’re dealing with potential cyclists and the general public, and in tv stories I always think it comes across as elitist.

  9. Yesterday I participated in Chicago's Bike the Drive. Lake Shore Drive (our highway along Lake Michigan) is shut down to cars from 5am to 10am and open only to bikes. It is a huge fundraiser for Active Trans - our version of MassBike.

    Nearly 25K riders come out from the city and suburbs to ride 30 miles of open road. Racers, kids with training wheels, monster bikes, fixies, recumbant bikes, tandem (triple tandem), BMX. Ever type of bike and rider imaginable is on the road.

    But everyone wears athletic clothes, so I do it in a dress. Granted I wear lycra shorts under the dress, but I like to show that you can ride in anything and still participate. So, yes, I think a Beyond Spandex fashion show could just have regular clothes.