Three (Not So) Baffling Things About Women's Cycling Clothing

While Im not quite sure why Ted, my fearless editor, is researching the 7Most Baffling Things About Womens Clothes, his suggested reading did inspire me to consider the benefits and shortcomings of womens cycling clothing. Fortunately, I dont have quite as much to gripe about as the author of the piece that sparked this reflection (although I do agree with much of what she says with regards to everyday clothing for women), but here are my thoughts, for better or worse.

Bontrager Commuting WSD Stormshell
Bontrager Commuting WSD Stormshell | Image: Griffin Cycle

1. Fit: Its a crapshoot. Pardon my French (or Dutch or wherever that lovely term came from). I am always a medium, top and bottom, except for when Im not. I apologize if that doesnt make much sense, but neither does some of the European or faux-European sizing schemes that some cycling manufacturers implement.

I realize that part of the beauty of consumerism is the vast variety of choices that we have as consumers, but I dont think that brands are doing themselves any favors by forcing women to size up to find an article of clothing that fits properly. After years of riding (and working in buying for a bicycle retailer), I have found a few manufacturers that I can rely on for consistent, non-self-esteem-destroying sizing (Gore Bike Wear, Pearl Izumi and Bontrager). If a piece catches my eye from another brand, I know that I better try it on (and probably not after eating a burrito for lunch).

2. Style: As David Hume said, Beauty in things exists merely in the mind which contemplates them. Im pretty sure that he was referring to commuting attire when he wrote this insightful line. Ive yet to meet a woman (or man) who picks up a cycling jacket in screaming yellow or safety orange because it matches her complexion or brings out the color in her eyes. These brightly colored jackets are attractive to commuters because they help us avoid being run over.

Traffic ConeThere are other options as well if you dont want to fully commit to being a moving pylon. Most cycling-specific jackets and many commuting-specific pants have reflective piping on the backs, sleeves or legs. So, if youre an autumn and you must have that deep lavender cycling jacket, you can be both safe and fashionable (just dont forget your blinky lights).

3. Functionality: Believe it or not, ladies and gentlemen who like to read about ladies clothing, functionality should be high on the list when selecting your commuting attire. As the author of the 7 Most Baffling Things post points out, the lack of appropriately sized and placed pockets on womens clothing is stuff that falls out of a bulls rear end (she uses a different phrase but Im trying to keep this family friendly). Cut, wind and waterproofing, and reflectivity are all important features to consider when selecting commuter apparel, and there are plenty of women-specific pieces that offer these features and more. For example, the Gore Bike Wear Ladies Fusion SO jacket includes all of these points as well as elastic sleeve cuffs with thumb holes (so that you can tuck into your gloves without any wrist exposure) and a foldaway shirttail that you can drop down on rainy or muddy rides for extra protection.

Woman on Road BikeThere is, unfortunately, a lot of junk on the market. There are a few brands that produce jackets or shorts in cuts that are very similar to their mens offerings, throw in a few pink stitches, and call it a womens garment. However, there is a rapidly expanding acknowledgment of the female cycling population from the top down in the bicycle industry (driven from the bottom up), and there are numerous reputable cycling brands that are making fantastic womens apparel for commuting, recreational and competitive riding.

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15 thoughts on “Three (Not So) Baffling Things About Women's Cycling Clothing”

  1. BluesCat says:

    Well. Ahem. I know that — being male — I shouldn’t even be posting my 2-cents here. And most folks here know how adverse to controversy I am.

    Yet, I feel compelled to direct attention to a picture in a post by a real, female bicycle commuter. Here’s a picture that Mir.I.Am of Honolulu posted, which I think shows Perfect Female Bicycling Attire.


    1. Ted Johnson says:

      BluesCat, BluesCat, BluesCat…

      There are so many ways to respond to this. First, as a silly and good natured comment from man who’s heart we know is really in the right place. Second, as an unwanted, sexist distraction from the points raised in Stacey’s article.

      But ultimately, I think there is a valid point hidden in your silliness. The photo you found is exactly how many in the cycling industry have tended to approach women — which is very relevant to the point of Stacey’s article.

      I’ve not been working in the cycling industry for many years, by my observation has been that when women are marketed to by the industry, the emphasis is on whimsy and/or trivial ornamentation. And it’s not just male marketers who take this approach — which I imagine I would find insulting if I were a woman. Take those two tendencies to their extremes — and you get the woman as eye candy in an impossible cycling situation (cycling barefoot, in a bikini, in the sand, while carrying a surfboard).

  2. bergerandfries says:

    Being an outsider to this POV, isn’t the same true for these 3 points for all of women’s clothing?

  3. BluesCat says:

    Ted –


    THAT’S what I love about this site: the level of intelligence of the people who post articles, post comments AND edit it. (Hey, I may not AGREE with everything some folks say around here, but I firmly believe they are speaking WITH me, not AT me!)

    I’ve watched Karen, over at She Rides a Bike put up great information about dressing for riding for a woman commuter … and then I go into my local bike shop, look at a pair of cycling tights and ask “Er, are these Men’s or Women’s?”

    They exclaim “Unisex!” and I carefully put them back on the rack and move along.

  4. Patrice says:

    I’ve found that it’s either race-cut or soccer-mom cut. I mainly commute, so prefer to have (relatively) stylish, or just not skin tight, garments. But when you get into the relm of skirts & capris the chamois is giant. I’m pretty sure there’s no reason to have padding on my lower back….

  5. Tom Bowden says:

    BluesCat – I’m afraid I can’t take your post very seriously. If Mir.I.Am were a real bike commuter lady, she would most certainly have a rack for that board and appropriate cycling-specific rainbow flipflops. You are well and truly busted. Stacey – quote Hume and you gain instant credibility with yours truly. Quote Hume in a bike commuting article and I am in awe. I need to find a better site for my source of quotes for future articles – or actually read something. One more point – I think many of your observations go for men’s cycling wear too – I don’t go quite as far as Mikael Colville-Anderson, because I don’t think there is anything wrong with building in some cycling specific features in otherwise “normal” clothing, but there is plenty of silliness in the men’s aisle too.

  6. Kevin Love says:

    Cycling clothing? All my clothing is cycling clothing. I’ve got a whole closet full of cycling clothing.

    Just look at all the cyclists wearing their cycling clothing in this video:

    And here’s another video of all the cyclists wearing their winter cycling clothing as they cycle in the snow:–

  7. BluesCat says:

    Tom – HA! GOTCHA! The Ol’ Cat is Dancing Around the Room! Mir.I.Am is a true bike commuting lady, and a contributor to!

  8. Tom Bowden says:

    I surrender, graciously, to your superior knowledge and sagacity, O Recumbent One.

  9. BluesCat says:

    Tom – Nuts! NOW everybody’s got a picture of me as the Gloating CurmudgeonCat!

  10. Bikini cycling attire is probably only appropriate at the beach. It simply doesn’t work at the office.

    For me appropriate cycling attire is closely tied to my purpose and destination. Mostly, I’m going to work or out to dinner so nearly anything in my closet is appropriate for my bike. I really don’t expect to find those items in a bike shop, although it would be great if they wanted to start carrying a classic cut trench coat in neon pink in a water resistent fabric. If I ever take up triathlons I’m sure that I’ll look for Gore Bike Wear or Pearl Izumi in safety yellow or bright orange for visibility; I’ll also look for tights or capris that don’t make me look like a stuffed sausage. I’ll want jacket and shirts with zipped, easy to access pockets for life basic necessities, like Clif Bars.

  11. Stacey Moses says:

    Thanks, Tom, for your appreciation of the Hume quote. In the future, I will do my best to crowbar somewhat relevant and pretentious quotes into my cycling posts!

    And yes, for commuting purposes or everyday riding, these points may not be relevant if you choose to ride in your work or dining clothing. However, high-reflectivity pieces and jackets with water and windproof material are not just for triathletes or competitive road riders. You may not want to pull on the spandex for your ride to the office, but reflectivity keeps me safe in the city and Gore Bike Wear jackets keep me from being miserable and hypothermic when I arrive at my destination. To each her own- I’d never suggest that what someone chooses to ride in is inappropriate if you’re comfortable. However, there are functional pieces that make commuting safer and more comfortable for me.

  12. Addy says:

    My pet peeve with women’s cycling clothes is that they very rarely come in plus sizes. I’ve gone from 266 lbs to 190 lbs by cycling, and I have been stuck either mailordering expensive rainproof clothes or buying men’s cycling clothing. I understand that companies don’t want to spend a lot of money if there isn’t a market, but it would be great if they made even 1 plus-sized option in all categories; e.g. shorts, tights, jerseys, jackets, etc.

    Everyone wants the population to get fit, but no one wants to clothe them 🙂

  13. Monica says:

    Did you see that Lululemon came out with a women’s commuter line? It was just uploaded to their website today. Some of it looks awesome, and some of it is kinda just overpriced and ugly.;fp1;cta2;wk05;02282012

  14. dygituljunky says:

    I run in to the same problem of not being able to easily find bicycle clothes for a Buddha physique. I have to hunt or order online. And when I do find clothes for Clydesdales, the selection is far smaller (no pun intended).

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