Commuter profile: Suit in the City

One of the more common reasons given why people don’t bike commute is because they can’t wear office wear on their Bianchi Pista track bikes.

This bike commuter is architect Riyad Ghannam in San Francisco. He rode is bike to elementary school, middle school, high school, to his college classes in North Carolina, and now to his office at a South of Market architectural firm in San Francisco.

“Generally I dress casually,” says Riyad, “but I do not hesitate to use my bike to go to job sites or to see consultants and clients when dressing in a suit is required.”

It’s a given that this kind of clothing is probably not appropriate where summer happens (e.g almost the entire United States outside of the west coast), but in milder climes Riyad shows that bike commuting in office wear can be done.

I asked Riyad what the biggest challenges are for him as a professional who meets with clients. “The biggest challenge is dealing with a society that is often status oriented where ones material possessions cast an impression on your professionalism,” he explains. “Although I am a proud and dedicated bike commuter, I tend to not highlight how I arrived at a meeting. If the client asks, I can tell them by bike, and in a way it’s my way of proving to people that biking is a practical alternative to driving. I’m also proud to say that many of my projects are designed to promote good stewardship of the environment, and I think that biking is ‘walking the walk’ [Ha ha] of sustainablity.”

About Riyad’s bike: “I love the Pista!!! It makes biking so fun!”

As an architect, Riyad does bridge design. He designed the bicycle safety railing on the Golden Gate Bridge and the I-80 Bicycle-Pedestrian Overpass at University Avenue in Berkeley. Riyad is also part of the design team responsible for the bicycle/pedestrian way under construction on the new Bay Bridge. He authored the proposal to extend the pathway across the western span of the Bay Bridge all the way to San Francisco. In 2006, Riyad was elected to the Board of Directors of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition. His employer won the San Francisco Bike to Work Challenge in 2006.

Photo courtesy of Adam and used with his kind permission.

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0 thoughts on “Commuter profile: Suit in the City”

  1. AC says:

    Nice! Reading this stuff really makes me realize how lazy and full of excuesses I am…

    .. I am going to change!

  2. Quinn says:

    I am glad there are people out there like this, Personally, I don’t have to and don’t, wear a suit, but I don’t wear spandex either, generally I wear jerseys everywhere 75% are plain, baggy shorts and even my shoes are the lace-up style cleat. So basically if you see me w/o my helmet, I don’t look like a cyclist.

  3. Matt S says:

    I’m in Florida, and always wear my work clothes (although my commute’s only 2.5 miles)

    In the summers, I ditch the tie, and switch to technical fabric shirts and slacks designed for golf.

  4. r. says:

    I wear my clothes b/c they’re going to get dirty anyway, that happens when you work a warehouse job. Besides, if I wore lycra I’d be a tourist and in bad neighborhoods it’s not a positive.

    AC, I really do hope you get into commuting. It’s so much fun and you can meander on the way home. I love meandering because I get to stop by the bike shop, the library, the parks, restaurants, etc. I don’t in my car because I’m stuck in traffic trying to avoid all the other idiots.

    The advantages outweigh all the disadvantages, but just remember to buy some wooly socks and pack newspaper. The newspaper is great for absorbing sweat from your socks in case you get caught in the rain and the wooly socks keep you from getting frostbite in the winter.

    AC, good luck and I hope to see you out there with your own chain tattoo (the oil gets on your right leg sometimes).

  5. Jos says:

    I have to say, one of my favorite parts of living in Europe was seeing guys in suits on bikes. Good to see people do it here in the US, too!

  6. Nicole says:

    I love seeing dressy bike commuters! For the record, it’s also possible to bike commute in skirts and heels. 🙂

  7. Chris says:

    A solution I often suggest is driving twice a week and biking the other days. That gives you a vehicle suitable to transporting office attire, free of wrinkles – provided you have an employer and co-workers who won’t look poorly on you taking more space in the coat room. It’s also a solution that works okay in warmer climates.

  8. Eric says:

    I wear wrinkle free black khakis that won’t show dirt that gets kicked up from the road. I wear running shoes and a t-shirt, and as soon as I get into the office I switch to the dress-shirt and tie, and switch my shoes. The process takes less than 5 minutes and allows me to commute in comfort – I also have a lot more fun getting to work in the morning than most of my coworkers who are packed into cars and stuck in traffic every morning

  9. Anne says:

    I have to dress up a fair amount for work but find that it is usually easier to change when I get to work. You can ride in heels and a skirt, but it’s not the most comfortable or practical attire for a 10 mile ride each way that often includes rain, sweat and mud.

    With puddles as pictured above, though, fenders are a good option. Nothing quite like being formally dressed with a big mud stripe on your rear (trust me).

    I agree with Riyad’s viewpoint, it will often come up that I commute by bike with business associates that I have known for a while. Universally they will look at me (I have a fondness for white suits and heels) and say “But you didn’t ride your bike TODAY, right?” Wrong. I ride my bike to work every day. But I think it shows people that it is a practical mode of transportation that is still compatible with professional dress.

    There are lots of great fabrics that are both dressy and don’t wrinkle in my bike bag, I find that a much better option than driving a day or two a week.

  10. Jessica says:

    alright, Riyad!

  11. clunkerider says:

    I think we in North America need to get away from the “special riding gear” and just ride in what ever we’re wearing at the time. Other countries just ride and don’t worry about clothing. One of the biggest issues is our bicycle designs…no chain guards and no fenders! Ridiculous! Most people would appreciate both chain guards and fenders for their commute. I put fenders and road tires on my old mountain bike and voila…a commuter, minus the chain-guard which I can’t seem to find for a front-derailleur bike…so I roll me pants up a little, big deal. If we all had commuter style bikes with fenders and chain guards, then more people would ride these practical bicycles.

    Excluded are serious riders who ride bicyles for mountain trail riding or road riding on long training rides…that’s where the special gear definatelly helps.

  12. siouxgeonz says:

    Agree about those chain guards!!!

    I have always groaned when cruising the bike company pages where they plug their “commuting” bikes. Excuse me. If your chain is nekkid, you’re misisng something.

    And turn signals! Give me turn signals! It gets dark at night!

  13. gT2008 says:

    I agree with clunkerider…we need to get away from the special riding gear. the three most important things i did this year that made my work commuting easier are:
    1. wear simpler clothes, shirts, and pack minimally. most of my jobs are casual wear so that makes it easier for me. i’m not wearing cycling gloves or special shorts, i dont pack a water bottle or tools, i try to keep it real simple, and 99.9 percent of the time it works out fine.
    2. i started to ride at a leisure pace. this keeps you from getting hot, and by not thinking of that 3-5 mile ride as a cardio session, you just relax and start riding the way you did when you were young. plus it makes it easier to stop and run errands or talk to people. if i want to have a cardio ride, i’ll do that on the way home and take a longer route.
    3. changed from a backpack to carrying things in a rack mounted pack.

    -i set up a mountain bike with beach cruiser tires so it encourages a slower and comfortable ride. have a simple removable pack over the back wheel that attaches to a rack.

    -i too cannot seem to find a chain guard to fit over a front derailer.

  14. AC says:

    Yay! I did it. I rode to work today for the first time. It was a 12 mile commute with probably 60% bike lanes and not much traffic. But, I guess I shouldn’t see much traffic at 4:30am. 😉

    I have a couple things to iron out, but all in all it was a nice ride.

    For some reason I decided to run platform pedals and that was kind of a bust. I never felt like I had a rhythm when peddling. I use platforms for cruising the neighborhood and running my dog, but for a 12 mile ride I’d prefer to run clipless.

    I also got an ear ache because of the cold air. I should have worn something over my ears to keep wind out.

    Thanks for all the great info.

  15. Siouxgeonz says:

    Arright! You rock! And the more you do it, the better you’ll be feeling…

    Now, don’t let this be like that date where you really were going to call that person back… set your next excursion 🙂 Then get pedal-ing!

  16. rich says:

    Even though it is casual dress where I work, I still had a problem with getting an oil stain on my right leg from the chain… I tried putting the end of the pants into my sock and using a tie to tie the pant leg down…. but to no avail.

    I finally fixed the problem by having an old pair of sweat pants that had lost the string so they became useless… or were they? I basically cut a portion of the leg (it had a gather at the end toward the foot) off of the pants and now I put it on my right leg and use the tie at the top part to hold it on and, voila! no more oil problem…

  17. Matt S. says:

    I just roll up my pant leg. I sometimes still get oil stains when dismounting, but they are on the inside of the pant leg.

  18. tt says:

    That article is asinine, I have known a plethora of such altruistic urban architects, he forgets to mention, that he wears cheap suits and smells bad, that architecture is the only profession where you can look disheveled wearing a suit, and that like 95% of my mediocre professional colleagues, he has no taste in ties(not to mention suits), and thinks it is ok to wear square toed shoes with a suit. Furthermore, a fine suit would be ruined by the movement involved in cycling and carrying a messenger bag, it would simply loose its shape, but then that machine sewn polyester job he is sporting will wear like leathers I am sure. I ride to work, I am an architect, I walk or drive when I have a meeting. My other thought is, why does he not join an athletic club near his office, ride to work in “street clothes”, shower and dress at the club, as any self-respecting individual would do. This is simply idealistic foolishness, riding a pista in a cheap suit, wow! we should all aspire…

  19. rich says:

    Matt S: sorry to hear about you getting oil on your pants but thats exactly the reason I wear my gaiter.

  20. her says:

    I agree with the aggressive guy here-tt. Riding in a nice suit means crumpling and sweating too much. My husband biked everyday to work in Florida on a back road striped to his wife beater and he had a more casual suit. All was fine. Now we are in the East bay and he has to wear a formal suit. It is muggy and damp. In the rain he will always take public transit. But currently we are trying to figure out how to keep biking. There is no shower for him so changing clothing seems like the only option. I am curious what other Things people do and what kind of bike works for a 3 to 5 mile trek in the city.

  21. her says:

    I agree with the aggressive guy here-tt. Riding in a nice suit means crumpling and sweating too much. My husband biked everyday to work in Florida on a back road striped to his wife beater and he had a more casual suit. All was fine. Now we are in the East bay and he has to wear a formal suit. It is muggy and damp. In the rain he will always take public transit. But currently we are trying to figure out how to keep biking. There is no shower for him so changing clothing seems like the only option. I am curious what other things people do and what style of bike works best for a 3 to 5 mile commute in heavy traffic.

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