How Not to Wear Spandex

My tri-modal commute to Charlotte has partially changed my perspective of commuting concerns. One of these concerns is clothing which I’ll be deep diving in the next few articles.

Photo Credit : Outlier
Photo Credit : Outlier

Business Attire and Dress Codes

Since I now work back in the marketing and advertising industry, there is more of a dress code than what you find in the bike industry. There are days that one is able to wear khakis or even jeans, but on the days when there is a slight chance of a meeting, or of a client call, those clothes won’t cut it.Dress clothes, especially nice ones, don’t wear well for riding a bike and sweating. They also don’t do well with being shoved into a messenger bag. While I’m looking into a better solution of carrying the business attire, laptop and paperwork I still haven’t found it.

Shopping for Bike Friendly Dress Codes

While my better half cringes when we go shopping, I’ve been shopping for styling clothes that are “bikeable.” If I was a guy, this would be easy but it seems like the idea of technical fabrics and women’s dress codes are very rare.Thankfully the mornings have been cooler so I can pull off the 2.5-mile bike ride from the bus to work by simply rolling up my pants legs and pedaling slowly not to sweat. This won’t always be the answer, especially when it’s raining! (Currently those days I walk.)

Bikeable Work Clothes

What do you use? What brands or fabrics wear well and still can allow you to walk into a board meeting?

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29 thoughts on “How Not to Wear Spandex”

  1. I keep a set of fancy clothes at work so that if something comes up that I hadn’t planned on, I’m always prepared. My company also has a dry-cleaning program (only about 2 people use it) but it keeps my office clothes freshly laundered without me ever having to take them home.

  2. Rebecca says:

    The gabardine (wool) knickers made by Bicycle Fixation ( ) pass well as “formal work attire”. Civia once made similar knickers; not sure if they’re still making them, but it’s worth checking in to. And B. Spoke Tailor will make custom knickers for you if you’re patient ( ).

    For your top half, the way to go is merino wool. Lightweight for summer, heavy for winter.

  3. Joel says:

    I have to do the shirt and tie thing most days, suit on some, and when I ride (not as often as I want to) I use the suit pannier that two wheel gear makes. It’s basically a normal garment bag that folds over a rear rack and straps down like panniers. May be overkill for some people, but it works great for my ~12 mile ride.

  4. Reba says:

    Good question! In the summer, skirts are the easy answer for me. My workplace is business casual, so I can get away with a slightly wrinkled look with flat shoes.

    For fall, I’m thinking tights will help round out the equation, but I’m also in search of other good ideas that look “polished”…

  5. BluesCat says:

    In Phoenix, it is simply not possible to bike to work in clothes you will wear for the rest of the work day. It is too hot, you ALWAYS sweat.

    Luckily, my office is “business casual” and my job as the IT Systems Engineer means my particular “business casual” dress includes chinos and polo shirts or even — on some days — jeans and t-shirts.

    I roll up the shirt and pants in a thin bath towel and stuff it into my panniers (keeps them from wrinkling TOO much) along with a fresh pair of socks and underwear and my toiletries. In the other side of my panniers I put my laptop, network backup tapes and a small camera bag which holds my organizer, spare glasses, etc. In the rack bag on top of the rear rack goes my work shoes and any other last minute items. A handlebar bag holds my wallet, keys and cell phone.

    I ride wearing cheap cargo shorts and a t-shirt, augmented with tights, sweatshirt, windbreaker and gloves for those REALLY cold days.

  6. Matt says:

    I don’t know why you say it would be easy if you were a guy – I haven’t found work clothes that fit my conservative work environment and are also bikeable. Maybe a guy in a more casual work environment would be OK though.

    That said, I use a Topeak MTX trunk bag (on the seatpost-mount rack) most of the time. Folded clothes (and sometimes a pair of shoes) fit pretty nicely in the side panniers and my lunch, keys, etc fit in the trunk part of the bag. As long as I stick to the no-iron type stuff for clothing it makes it through just fine.

    I’ve never had luck with the “go slowly and don’t sweat” approach.

  7. Adrian says:

    I work in a place where slacks are considered formal wear, so take this with a grain of salt. 🙂

    I think your best bet is to go with wool, the old-school technical fabric. I really like wool’s thermal properties in the hot and it does a good job repelling/wicking water in the rain. Wool clothes from semi-athletic makers like Ibex and Icebreaker might be acceptable. If not, you can pack your suit along in a bag and use it as an underlayer when not on the bike.

    I’m a dedicated no-changing-at-work kind of cyclist, but when its raining, even I get on my rain gear. I use a Showers Pass Portland jacket and Marmot Precip rain pants. The jacket is definitely nice enough to wear as a regular jacket around the (my) office.

  8. missjulied says:

    Maybe the problem is with the “shoving” of the clothes into your bag. 🙂 Seriously though, rolling clothes instead will leave them nearly wrinkle-free. You can also add a layer of tissue paper before rolling to keep them even nicer.

    Another option that I’ve seen the sales and marketing people do at my company is to simply keep your dress clothes at work. Find a dry cleaning service that picks up and delivers and you’ll always have business wear at the ready.

  9. Brian says:

    I personally just leave a few day’s worth of dress clothes hanging by my desk. I bike in a jersey then shower and change when I get into the office. As far as a laptop bag, I use the Topeak MTX Office Bag.

    That said, they do make garment bags specifically for biking, which is a good solution if you can’t leave clothes at the office.

  10. Bryan says:

    I bring my linen pants/dress pants and a dress shirt rolled up and stuffed in my messenger bag. The rolling up instead of foldings keeps the clothes compact and wrinkle free. I use this technique when flying around the world to save space in my suitcase, but I’ve adopted it into my commute quite successfully!

  11. Maastrichtian says:

    I’m a dude, so it’s not the same I guess, but I use a garment bag pannier (like the Transit model) and a large laptop messenger bag over the shoulder. If I could mount a front rack on my bike (which I can’t – yet), I would consider sticking the laptop (and bag) in there. Both bags are waterproof, and I change in a gym near my office.

  12. Great questions and concerns for the professional dress up world. I am not sure what the answer is regarding brands or fabrics but here are my thoughts as an alternative to that:

    I think an electric bike could be great for this because with the right protective gear (fenders, chainguard, etc) you could wear your professional clothes and not get too sweaty.

    If you wanted a workout on the way home (not using electric assist), you could pack a different set of clothes and carry your professional clothes home in something like this:

    If you have a lot of stuff to carry an electric cargo bike might be the answer.

    I think e-bikes are cool because they provide some conveniences that cars do, but they are still a bike 🙂

  13. Kevin Love says:

    I’ve got a closet full of cycling clothes. They are the same as my normal, everyday clothes.

    I am a professional Accountant, and must dress accordingly. I’ve never had any problem in riding to work in jacket and tie on my bicycle. I’ve been part of the “cycle chic” movement for the last 30 years.

    Except we didn’t call it a movement. We just called it “going to work in the morning.”

    See more cycle chic from Toronto at:


  14. Raj says:

    I bike to work and fly a lot, and I’ve discovered that as long as you can roll up clothing (never fold clothing) so that there are no sharp bends, you can unroll it at the end of a ride or flight without any creasing. Simply roll up one piece of clothing inside another. You can do this with cottons and even with a suit. I place my clothing into a nylon bag with a drawstring and presto, it is ready to go. I simply change from street clothes to work clothes and back again at the end of the day. I was taught this trick by a seasoned traveler several years ago and I now use it every day.

  15. Steven Soto says:

    I am a guy and have to dress professionally at work. My commute is about 6 miles and I live in Portland, so wearing a starched shirt and wool slacks on my bike is not an option. I focus my attention not so much on what to wear, but how to carry it.

    I use “bundle wrapping” to get my pressed shirts to work wrinkle free. I am extremely fussy about wearing perfectly ironed shirts, and I am very pleased with how well this method works. It is described here:

    The main disadvantage is that you need a large pannier because the more clothes you carry, the better the result. I generally carry a weeks worth of clothes and hang them in my office to change into throughout the week.

  16. rick says:

    I usually keep a few pairs of dress pants and a few shirts at my office. They only get worn for minimal amounts of time so I don’t necessarily have to wash them that often. This way I’m not cramming clothes into my messenger bag and I can have more room for my lunch and laptop in there.

  17. Leo Horishny says:

    This is one of the reasons I am reading commute blogs, how to get nice clothes to work on a bike. I sure haven’t come across any cycle specific garment bags…why aren’t there links to these devices on a site such as this? Aside from the mention of a few posters….

    B**** over, I am ‘fortunate’ enough to work in a hospital with logo specific polo shirts, so I usually spend a trip on the weekend bringing in washed and pressed lab coats, shirts and slacks I leave at our office and rotate wearing thru the week.

    There have been times I’ve attended functions and worn a sport coat, tie and slacks. So far, I’ve gotten away with folding the jacket and shirt over a brown paper bag, tuck that into another bag for cleanliness and tuck that into a pannier. For > 10 mile trips, I wear my intended shoes and slacks and put myself together at the event. I ride a recumbent, so having space and structure to support a garment bag is not an issue, thankfully. I sure wish they were more promoted, I am REALLY surprised to learn there are such things, and I’ve looked in the past for one.

  18. Jack says:

    The picture of Outlier pants on this made me gag. I don’t have $180 for a pair of pants to cycle in. But I digress……….

    Most folk here have the routine down. My issue is dryness.

    I live in Seattle where I sweat in the summer and get rained on in the winter. So my clothes have to dry while I’m at work. That is the advantage of wearing “cycling gear”.

    Cycling shorts may turn some folk off but they dry quickly as do the jerseys I wear.

    I keep one pair of shoes at work (I’m a guy, I don’t care) and just carry what I need for that day (nothing fancy).

    No facilities to shower, only hangars to dry my stuff (i installed).

    But I get in 300 miles a month, been doing that for 6 years now, so I don’t even have to think about it.

    Have fun!

  19. Mike says:

    I picked up this guy a few years ago:

    I’m not a big fan of PB, but I was able to get this on sale for about 50-60% less (I think other companies may make something like this too). I stopped using it after awhile as i could get by rolling my clothes, but it kept clothes essentially wrinkle free and is pretty water resistant. It does add some weight though, but the hook system for it is very handy.

  20. Neil says:

    At work I have a choice between casual or formal wear. I find formal wear is easier to manage. I have a very long commute on bike so I need minimise weight and need to change at work. I leave a pair of trousers, tie, shoes, towel, etc. at work and bring a clean shirt, socks and underwear with me every day.

    The best and cheapest solution I have found to avoid creasing my shirts is to fold them and put them into a 1 inch thick cardboard document holder. The document holder is rigid enough to stop the shirts from being squashed and if folded carefully there is enough space to add the socks and underwear.

    I get enough bad weather days to justify going by car once a week or so and I use this for changing the towel, trousers, etc.

  21. Ken says:

    I use the Topeak MTX DXP trunk bag to take my stuff to work. Laptop goes on one side and clothes go in the other. My office is business casual and jeans are ok as well.

    We have an old locker room with a shower here and I leave a pair of jeans and a pair of cargo pants along with a reversible belt and shoes. Also have a small towel and shower stuff, but I really haven’t used them in over a year.

    In the summer I wear zippered swim trunks from Bean’s and a technical wicking shirt. I use Keen Commuter sandals as well and I don’t worry about the rain a whole lot. (Most of the time, especially in mid-summer, the rain feels great!) I really only need to pack under clothes and a shirt each day on the bike.

    In cooler weather, I switch to wearing my work shirts on the ride and add a rain jacket and pants and waterproof hikers. When it’s really cold, I add a layer or two.

  22. Sirinya says:

    I was just thinking the other day about how I need to invest in a pannier that will keep my clothes wrinkle free (as I am in a work environment that will permit me to change.) I’m so glad I landed upon this story.

  23. James says:

    I have had good luck with creative folding. I try to work with pleats and seams that exist on my pants, then I fold the shirts like you see in the department stores shelves. Lay them flat together, add socks & underwear then slide into a large zipperlock bag and press flat into my messenger bag or pannier. I keep a pair of brown and black shoes in my office year round. [I have the luxury to not worry about sweating, my company has a gym with showers.] I have packed my clothes this way for over fifteen years of bike commuting with minimal problems.

  24. I started to write a really long comment, then decided to move most of my ranting about the missing clothing options over to a blog post ( and link back to this one.

    I work in communications in higher ed and do a lot of external/community relations work that requires meetings in business settings. Honestly, I bike in just about anything including high heels and straight (stretchy) skirts. The most common questions I get are, “You didn’t bike in THAT, did you?” and “You didn’t really ride a bike in those shoes, did you?”. (Kind of funny since I’m almost always taking off a helmet and gloves while they ask me….)

    In deep winter I switch to transit, but up until it’s too slippery to trust drivers to stop on our hills I’m on my bike. I generally wear a base layer, dress pants, and a pair of water/wind-resistant pants by North Face over those; they have Velcro tabs at the ankle so they pull in the pants enough to avoid chain entanglements. I peel off the outer layer when I get to work (I like to stay warm so I don’t ditch the base layer).

    In summer I ride in skirts; I can also get away with capris and a jacket.

    I look forward to seeing what you find in your hunt for good choices that look cute!


  25. Patrice says:

    These “Fold it’s” are great for keeping shirts and pants neatly folded, even in the depths of my clutter-full messenger bag.

    1. Thanks for the link! I’ll add that info to coming articles.

      ps. I love your jewelry on your blog!

  26. Labann says:

    Wrote a massive book on bicycling culture, free on-line at link above.

    Here’s a chapter on commuting for newbies…

    Commuted 250 miles/week for a decade before opening my own business. Lost 1/3 of body mass. Hey, mild exercise works! But there are downsides to cycling. What to wear at work is the least of them, compared to what you learn about your community you’ve missed by driving and who you enrage by “acting alternatively”.

    And that big garbage bag of dirty laundry at the end of the week.

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