Cycling to work need not require a quick costume change at the end of the ride. Urban cycle clothing has become big business, and looks so good that it will leave your standard threads collecting cobwebs in the closet.
Gone are the days when the most suitable clothing to cycle to work in was your favourite gym t-shirt and a hi-vis workman’s jacket. These days cycle brands cater towards all types of pedal-powered commuter, from the committed roadie chasing down Strava segments on his way in, to the entrepreneur who uses his vintage single-speed to hop between meetings.
City riding has become a key factor among cyclewear brands, with most offering at least a few pieces which address the need for functional gear which looks as good off the bike as on it. Some brands have actually been established with the sole purpose of meeting this need.
These brands, the best of which we have listed below, have taken their cues from the requirement for on-the-bike comfort and safety and incorporated this into perfectly wearable and highly durable clothing which is so slick that it will soon become an integral part of your daily wardrobe.
While each brand has developed its own identity, certain properties have become the standard across the board, through necessity as much as anything else. High visibility is a must, but it can rub against the whole ethos of stylish urban riding gear. That’s when removable patches or flouro gilets (Rapha) that can be tucked in a pocket later on come into their own. Otherwise the hi-vis element can be effective when employed sparingly, such as on hem lines and pocket-tops (Velobici), or as part of the design of the garment – a thick reflective stripe running down your back (Chapeau!) can be extremely noticeable.
When none of these proves a suitable option or if you prefer the ‘brighter the better’ option, turn your lights on. Many light systems, such as Lezyne’s new Zecto LED lights (www.bicyclelightshop.com)have a super-bright daylight setting and the Gemini Xera LED (www.i-ride.co.uk) pumps out 850 lumens to ensure you are noticed even on the brightest of days as well as providing flood-lighting for negotiating dark side streets.
Cycle clothing brands tend to go for fabrics and techniques developed for extreme sports such as mountaineering and skiing. These are designed to maximise comfort through breathability, wicking and ease of movement while ensuring total waterproofing. For next-to skin comfort, merino wool (Road Rags) still provides unparalleled wicking properties and is exceptionally resistant to odour.
Crossover clothing for urban cycling has not escaped the attention of high street brands, either. Levi’s, one of the first to apply its expertise to the sector, is now on its fifth commuter range and has perfected the balance between brand identity and practicality required for cycling, with elastane-rich fabrics and waterproof treatments to its denim, as well as the de-rigeur reflective elements. Only last year cyclewear hit the high street when H&M released a collection in collaboration with Brick Lane Bikes. Other brands are sure to follow suit.
It all makes for a healthy choice when deciding what to wear for the commute. Just don’t forget your bike.
Brands to look out for
Velobici’s attention to detail would rival that of a Saville Row tailor. Garments are finished to perfection and include neat innovations such as waterproof pockets that finish at the side of the body for easy access and reflective flouro piping around hems and pocket edges. Fit is spot-on and fabrics space age. But perhaps the most remarkable aspect of the brand is that everything is made in England, around garment manufacturing strongholds of Nottingham and Leicester. This includes the fabrics, which include one which is windproof, water resistant, high stretch and as soft as a jersey, and another cotton alternative called Supplex which wicks moisture and is employed by Velobici in t-shirts, notably its über-cool road riding classic tee in a grey marl featuring embroidered lettering.
Perfect for: Riders who demand the very best
Clockwise from top left:
Guilder jersey: £150
Rarely does any item of clothing feel instantly perfect before it is even put on. The Guilder is one such garment. This is the ideal top for autumn riding and looks smart enough to be employed for the commute. However it really comes into its own on training rides, with its water repellent, highly breathable fabric and super-stretch snug fit. While the large lettering on the chest won’t be for everyone, this is truly a remarkable piece of clothing and one which will stand up to anything the English weather can throw at it while at the same time ensuring your body temperature remains at its most comfortable, regardless of exertion. An absolute gem and made in England to boot.
With its relaxed supersoft cotton jerseys and extensive skincare range, Chapeau extols the virtues of the cafe cyclist, less worried about pace than style and a nice Americano at the end of the ride. Scratch beneath the surface, however, and you discover a brand with a well thought-out collection covering all bases, from the cotton-rich jerseys which evoke thoughts of cycling along tree-lined boulevards in France, to weather-resistant gilets and jackets which offer a sturdy level of protection and incorporate reflective details. Each garment features individual touches, from a headphone hole in the shoulder of the cafe jersey (for riding with very low background music only) to waterproof zipped pockets for valuables. Sizing is not as figure-hugging as with other brands which will be a relief to some but for others could mean downsizing for the required look.
Perfect for: The gentleman’s ride
Clockwise from top left:
Cafe jersey: £49.99
Echelon gilet: £94.99
City shorts: £69.99
Rain jacket: £149.99
The Chapeau Rain Jacket certainly looks the part. Its cut – described as “performance” by the company – is a slim fit, so there’s no excess fabric flapping about in the wind. An asymmetrical zip is intended to provide “the optimum fit when in the riding position”. High collar, taped seams and cosy cuffs. Oh, and it’s black with a discreet logo. Imagine the kind of jacket Kraftwerk might wear. On a six-hour slogfest in torrential rain, it also kept out the wet and wind. The fabric is stretchy and breathable, lightweight and resilient. It folds up into itself and can be tucked neatly into a jersey pocket. This jacket from Chapeau is stylish cycling clothing with performance to match. (Gary Parkinson)
Just as with the mouth wateringly cool single-speed bikes they restore, Road Rags keep fuss to a minimum with their clothing and focus on simplicity. Mainly merino, pretty much all charcoal grey, any colour in this collection is sparing. This, however, only seems to accentuate the characteristics of each garment, with cycle-specific touches such as thumb-loops, or buttoned pockets, or things you won’t even notice such as a double thickness rear hem for added warmth and perforated under arms to aid cooling.
“Our lead designer had spent years arriving at the office feeling hot and sweaty and really not appreciating yet more unnecessary comments from colleagues,” says co-founder Vaughan Hobbs. “We set out to offer what every rider would enjoy and value.”
This philosophy has translated into garments which have a modern, fitted cut and are made in England from the softest 18.9 micron merino wool (that’s soft), with some Bilarex woven in for stretch.
“The choice of merino was an easy one,” continues Mr Hobbs. “Merino sheep have to deal with very hot and very cold temperatures throughout the year. Their wool enables sweat to be wicked away, temperature to be controlled and natural anti bacterial properties ensure that garments that use merino do not smell after use.”
With a collection named after various districts of East London such as Smithfield, Shoreditch and Clerkenwell, it isn’t difficult to trace Road Rags’ roots, and for simple, wear-anywhere-and-with-anything functionality, either on or off the bike, there really isn’t much out there to beat it.
Perfect for: The modest yet well-heeled city rider
Smithfield sweater: £115
Shoreditch jersey: £130
One item that transcends the role for which it was initially designed, the Smithfield sweater is sharp and easy to wear. Long knitted thumb-hole cuffs provide an added layer of warmth for the hands on those chilly early morning commutes, while the high neck will comfortably cover the face and ears if need be. Alternatively, roll it down for a bit of cafe action. The woven tyre-track and logo running down the right of the body also provide a nice touch.
For extra cold mornings the Smithfield will fit comfortably under the Shoreditch zip-neck short sleeved merino jersey.
The real luxury in this sweater comes with the aforementioned supersoft merino, which will ensure this sweater becomes a trusted companion for all pursuits, whether on two wheels or not.
The brand that now needs no introduction, and more than any other can be identified as lighting the fuse that helped ignite the pedal-powered revolution. It has done this by introducing style and panache to a pursuit which had lost sartorial direction. No one can deny the influence Rapha has had over cycling and the myriad brands which exist in the sector today. It has become the benchmark against which all others are judged. Next year will mark Rapha’s tenth anniversary, and it has reached many milestones over this time, not least running a very successful professional team of its own in Rapha Condor JLT and becoming kit supplier to Team Sky. Rapha’s support of cycling at all levels, from professional racing to one-man framebuilders is proof it is staying true to chief executive Simon Mottram’s founding mantra.
The City riding collection is designed by Graeme Raeburn and features bike-specific details such as wicking fabrics, windproof panels and removable hi-vis badges on garments such as the merino hoody which offer the ideal mid-point between quality, style and practicality. You need this on your commute.
Perfect for: Cycling professionals with an eye on style
Clockwise from top left:
Lapelled jacket: £300
City trousers: £150
V-neck base layer: £55
Merino hoody: £140
Town gloves: £120
City riding socks: £15
It’s one thing to create a piece of cycling kit out of something so formal – it’s another thing entirely to do it so effectively. The lapelled jacket is a two-button blazer manufactured in a stretch cotton with a number of bike-specific details including a waterproof zipped pocket to the rear, vented back and hi-viz tape under the collar.The fabric is water, oil, sweat and basically urban-proof, making it the go-to piece for any cyclist who needs to look the part when they arrive at their destination. Rapha has become known for its reinterpretation of formal clothing. If you want to go a step (pedal stroke?) further, they offer a three-piece suit in collaboration with Timothy Everest.
The commuter collection is now in its fifth season and has become a staple part of Levi’s output. The brand synonymous with cowboys and rugged denim has taken a few key styles and given them a cycling reboot, incorporating such essentials as hoods in collars, reinforced stress points and a degree of stretch to fabrics. This is one of the most successful examples of a brand tapping into the cycling zeitgeist and Levi’s thoughtful reinterpretation of its core pieces has ensured that every garment is relevant to the cycling commuter. That and the relatively limited availability through only select cycling retailers has ensured this collection is as hip as the fixie riders it is aimed at. In reality this will suit anyone who rides, hip or not.
Perfect for: Single-speed hipsters about town
Hooded Trucker (Above, £160)
Based on the timeless trucker jacket but incorporating a hidden roll-out hood in the collar, a dropped tail and a couple of large back pockets. Levi’s have added a bit of elastane to the cotton canvas fabric for ease of movement and incorporated reflective shoulder flashes for safety. Perhaps the most remarkable element of the jacket is the water repellency, achieved thanks to a Nanosphere coating and capable of keeping out the heaviest of downpours as well as oil, grease, even ketchup. A commuter must-have.
Shutt Velo Rapide
Shutt has gained a firm foothold on the cycling scene since it was established in 2009, offering a solid collection catering for the weekend road rider and the training commuter. Great stuff if you want to go sprinting for road signs on the way in to work, but subtle enough to make it acceptable off the bike. The company prides itself on its commitment to UK manufacturers – the long sleeved sportive jersey and the racing cap are both produced in Leicester. “The combined experience of the girls at our factory totals 175 years,” explains Lauren Peppiatt of Shutt. The company also goes to great lengths to source the components for its products, such as wicking Merino Perform wool and premium zips. “We could do it for a lot less but it would not be the same quality.” That should have you sitting comfortably.
Perfect for: The no nonsense training commuter
Clockwise from top left:
Roubaix ¾ knicks £99
Sportive jersey £99
Shutt’s take on the traditional cycling cap has become a tradition in itself. “It started a few years ago when we bought a roll-end of Vivienne Westwood tweed and ever since then we’ve been searching out other tweeds for our caps,” says Lauren Pepiatt. The caps are produced in extremely limited runs (the Manx tweed cap is an edition of 28) in the same Leicester factory where Shutt’s jerseys are produced. “I have return customers on their third or fourth caps so I can only think they are collecting them.” For those who like to ride in their tweed, the cap is lined in satin and features a soft elasticated band to secure it lightly but securely to most heads.
Case study #1
Kati Jagger, 27
PR officer, Rapha Racing
“The clothing I wear needs to be breathable and wicking – nothing that’s going to feel like a plastic bag,” says Kati, who takes in a 14-mile round trip to and from the company’s Imperial Works headquarters in North London. “And high-visibility is essential. I actually had a lorry driver pull up when I was cycling without any hi-vis and he said, ‘I can’t see you at all,’ and you think, ‘how many times have I come close to being run over because no one can see me?’”
“Our hi-vis elements are done really well and you kind of don’t feel weird walking around in it. Our bags come with rain covers and I put it on even when it isn’t raining because it is bright pink.”
Kati also uses her kit when not on the bike, in the true spirit of city riding clothing: “It is meant to be worn normally. Even if I’m not riding my bike to work I still wear it. I have a merino base layer roll neck that I wear all the time. You can go to dinner in the stuff we make.”
Case study #2
Ben Hobson, 31
Web Editor, Runner’s World
Every commute is another opportunity to train for Ben. He tackles the five miles miles from his Stoke Newington home to his office in Soho by either cycling or running, whatever the weather. Sometimes he will take a “picturesque” ten-mile route.
For this reason Ben opts for standard road-riding attire of bib shorts or jersey when he is riding to work, followed by the quick change at his destination.
“I don’t want to be that guy who sits in bib shorts in the office all day, and also, when you sit around in damp stuff, that’s how you get saddle sores.”
But the training ride in can occasionally present obstacles: “I had a meeting I thought I would cycle to and I didn’t want to turn up in lycra. Because I didn’t have anything decent I could ride to work and go to the meeting in it completely changed my approach and I took the tube.”
“The thing is, you have to be careful with what you choose when wearing cycle clothing normally – it would 100 per cent be on how it is designed. I have got a merino top that works really well but it can look a bit silly when someone is walking around in a bike jersey when they don’t actually have a bike.”