Revisiting Bike Fashion Options

I recently realized that I haven’t done much with women’s bike fashion outside of my own sewing projects (and admittedly I’ve gotten a bit away from making *everything* reflective and/or bike friendly). I haven’t done much non-commute biking a far too long, either, so it’s been a bit off my radar. I thought that maybe I’d be inspired to both bike and refocus my sewing if I found some great resources out there, so naturally I poked around on the Internet a bit. However, I found what I sort of suspected – there isn’t much going on.

Well that’s disappointing.

It’s not like there isn’t anything going on, of course. Here is my round up of options for the stylist city cyclist.

Resolute Bay

Resolute Bay recently released their women’s cycling jeans. Naturally I love the reflective details! (Resolute Bay is working on a really cool reflective jacket too – for men.) But man, these jeans look tight on the model – how are normal sized women supposed to feel about that? Maybe I’m feeling overly sensitive after realizing how much weight I gained this summer (oops, not biking enough) but I can’t get excited about tight jeans.

Ligne 8

Ligne 8 is still around and has added more pieces since I looked last time, including “cycling gear,” which seem to be geared towards the road bike crowd – jerseys, padded shorts, bibs. I love the “urban” collection of A-line skirts, basic shirts, and several non-jeans pants.   I wish I could afford to order some of these pieces to see what they feel and wear like, but alas, they are out of my price range. That is – I’d rather spend the money on fabric! Still, it’s a nice collection of wardrobe basics for the woman (or man) who likes to look classic and classy on the bike and at the destination.

Reid Miller Apparel

I met Reid Miller in DC a few years ago and backed her cycling jeans on Kickstarter, which are my favorite cycling jeans. Reid has been busy with her company and blogging about the the sustainable manufacturing journey she has been on over the last two years.  I’ve read her updates with interest as she examines fast fashion and it’s negative impact on the garment industry in the United States. You can still order her Riding Jeans, and she is relaunching the Riding Jacket this fall, but if nothing else, I recommend reading some of her blog posts.

Here I am in August 2015, trying on the Reid Miller jacket and jeans

The Willary

The Willary is a new company that has gained many fans among the women I follow on social media. The company’s tagline is “A wardrobe that works” and each piece of the Core Wardrobe is made of stain resistant, stretch fabrics in classic shapes. I love the dress, the Core Dress, which to me is one of those perfect travel pieces (I live in this fantasy that I travel alot and need things that work for every destination, haha!). It’s short and doesn’t seem quite bike-friendly enough, but that’s no reason to not like it! I do like the way they have approached different body shapes, as explained in their video. I hope they have the opportunity to expand their collection; I’ll be keeping an eye on it.

The Willary Core Dress (Image from The Willary website)



REI seems to have redone their Novara brand because the cycling clothing has moved away from the casual, everyday clothing I used to like and now only seems to have “biking” clothing. That’s disappointing, and makes me like the pieces I still have, like my Whittier Dress from 2014 (!!!).

When this dress was new – THREE years ago!

Anything Else?

There must be more out there for the everyday person who happens to ride a bike and not want to wear spandex. I do like T Athleta and Title Nine , but most of their things are still pretty sporty for my tastes. Terry Bicycles often has some non-spandex options. And since I don’t wear jeans often, cycling jeans aren’t what I’m looking for. So help me out and introduce me to collections I have missed!

Bike Clothes Shopping with REI Dividends

This past weekend, The Mechanic and I found ourselves (along with everyone else in Arlington and Fairfax) at REI, 2014 member dividends in hand. Neither of us had earned much, but combined with the members-only coupon, I was definitely ready to spend! You will not be surprised when I say that I headed straight to the women’s bike clothing section and swooped up several things I’ve been studying on the website to try on.

I would like to apologize for the lousy pictures I took in the dressing room! I didn’t really think about it – the staging is sloppy, the lighting was atrocious, and could I have at least smiled?! Oh, and trying on stuff all day made me feel bad about my shape – I hated the way I looked in just about everything. I almost don’t want to share the photos but think it’s good to show what stuff looks like on a real person. Perhaps you are super athletic and never worry about your fat arms or your thunder thighs (which I had long before I started biking, btw) – but some of us do. So for the rest of us, these photos are for you!

I like REI’s Novara bike clothing for women. It’s fairly cute, has enough reflective details to make me happy, it’s usually made out of some stretchy, moisture-wicking material and it is fairly reasonably priced. Let me show you what I tried (again, remember, bad photos!):

Novara Glencliff Bike Top and Novara Brightwood Bike Skirt

Novara Glencliff Bike Top and Novara Brightwood Bike Skirt

First up – the Novara Brightwood Bike Skirt and Glencliff Bike Top. I really liked the skirt; it fit well, the fabric was nice and the pockets were deep enough. It felt short, but it’s no shorter than bike shorts. I didn’t like it enough to buy it and probably won’t, unless it goes on super-sale. The Glencliff top is cute but the sleeves are really narrow and made my arms look like overstuffed sausages. That will never happen.

The Novara Ardenwald Bike Top was really cute, even though I have an aversion to things with bikes printed on them. I like the way this fit, and honestly, the penny farthing print won me over. I tried it in a size Small because they didn’t have a Medium in stock, and it fit well enough that I’d probably buy it in that size. The fabric is pretty lightweight, but in the summer, that might be just perfect. I like the reflective shoulder tabs, too.  Novara Pants BlueThe Novara Tuxedo Park Bike Pants were not to be – I wanted to like them, since I always have a hard time finding pants I love, but it didn’t happen. I tried on sizes 8 and 10, and the 10 fit better over my curves, but the stretch fabric was comfortable and forgiving in either size. You can’t tell but I was trying to show the reflective belt loop on the waist. The inside cuff has reflective trim too, so you can roll them up for some added flash. I wasn’t excited. I want summer pants that are not super tight fitted. Guess I’ll have to make lots of drawstring pants!

I actually really loved the Novara Wicker Park Bike Top and bought it. On the website, the cut looked weird to me, slightly boxy, maybe too short, I don’t know, it just seemed off. But once I put it on, I was hooked. Okay, part of it is that it’s striped, and next to floral prints, stripes are my favorite pattern. The cut is indeed a bit boxy; I almost bought the Small instead of the Medium, but it was over an inch shorter and I prefer the longer length. The moisture-wicking fabric feels nice as well.  The reflective piping down the back seam and in the cap sleeves only made me want it more. I wish the neck was a bit lower, but the pink edging and buttons are a fun touch. I can see myself getting a ton of wear out of this.

Terry Transit Bike Top

Terry Transit Bike Top (geez, just smile, will you?!)

The last thing I tried on was the Terry Transit Bike Top. I wasn’t in love with the color, but liked the fabric and cut. Alas, the fact that the placket pulled and wouldn’t lay flat annoyed me, but the neckline is sophisticated, and I can see this being a really great business top in the summer.

I also almost bought the CycleAware Tour de Joy handlebar bag in silver – it is intended for kids, but it’s the perfect date night purse! Metallic purses are always fun in the summer.

CycleAware Tour de Joy Handlebar Purse (for girls)

CycleAware Tour de Joy Handlebar Purse (for girls)

Waiting in the mail for me was my lovely red striped Ligne 8 top, ordered last week from Bike Pretty. I’ve wanted this for a long time, and now that Bike Pretty is offering it with free shipping, I couldn’t resist! Although she has styled hers with a French beret, mine will go perfectly with my vintage J. Crew linen sailor middy jacket!

Striped shirts on our striped duvet cover - yes, I like stripes!

Striped shirts on our striped duvet cover – yes, I like stripes!

Talking with a Bike Clothing Designer – Part 2

Last week, I introduced Lauren Steinhardt, and shared her background and thoughts about designing bike clothing for women. Catch up on Talking with a Bike Clothing Designer – Part 1, if you haven’t read it yet.

This week, Lauren shares some trade secrets about the sports clothing industry, her research into what women like to wear while biking, and how the fashion industry predicts trends.

How did you end up designing bike clothing? What was your Master’s thesis research like? What prompted it?

I’m big into utilitarian design, reuse and recycling, and living lightly upon the earth. But I’m also a Libra, and I like things to look pretty (seriously, it’s bizarre how many clothing designers are Libras). I had a huge collection of pretty vintage skirts and dresses, and I started making these little bloomer/pantaloon things to wear under them for biking, that I made out of vintage or thrifted fabric. Then I started selling them at craft fairs, but I quickly found that it’s hard to grow from that size because the options for small-scale manufacturing are nonexistent in this country. (Though that’s slowly changing, and I’m very excited about that). I decided to go back to school for clothing design, and realized that instead of going to a debt-factory private college for a grossly overpriced associate’s degree, I could actually get a Master’s degree and do my own research, all without going into crazy amounts of debt.

I hear you - massive amounts of research at the end of writing my MA thesis!

I hear you – massive amounts of research at the end of writing my MA thesis, but such an amazing experience!

My Master’s thesis research was one of the most amazing experiences of my life! I did qualitative research, which means I actually sat down and interviewed people and then reviewed what they told me. I interviewed about a dozen women, who were so kind and supportive of my project. They invited me into their homes, made me tea, spent a long time discussing what they wore to bike to work and how they felt about it. In the end I felt like I really touched upon a need and a subject that doesn’t get enough attention. I also did a lot of research into the historical connection between bikes, the dress reform movement, and first-wave feminism, which is absolutely fascinating.

Amelia Bloomer, in her "Bloomer suit," one of the most well-known images of the "rational dress" movement in the mid-1850s. (Image from Wikimedia Commons)

Amelia Bloomer, in her “Bloomer suit,” one of the most well-known images of the “rational dress” movement in the mid-1850s. (Image from Wikimedia Commons)

How many designs to fashion designers for a company like REI do per season that don’t get used? How far in advance do they design?

This can vary depending on circumstance and the way a particular company operates. Usually, we have what’s called a line plan that is created with the merchandising team, which gives the basic outline of what new styles we will be doing that season (example, three men’s tees, men’s MB shorts and jersey, etc). Sometimes with something like tees, we’ll design more than we need and sort through them to choose the best ones. Sometimes we’ll do a totally new style or range of styles, but then the budget will change and the styles will be dropped before production, or pushed back to another season. In a bigger company and especially with technical performance pieces, the development cycle can be at least a year out and sometimes as long as 18 months.

Do designers look to current shapes and colors; New York Fashion Week; etc? Check out the Pantone Color of the Year? Are they influenced by professional athletes, and what they wear?

First I’d like to say that these are great questions! I’m glad to share a little peek into how the clothing “sausage” gets made, and maybe get people thinking a little bit about the consumer decisions they make.

I mentioned earlier that many companies have a long development cycle. Because of this, most companies use style forecasting services like WGSN to predict trends in color, silhouette, and consumer interests. Really there are only a handful of these forecasting companies, so most clothing companies are relying on the same trend forecasting data, which is why there are consistent themes across various brands in a given season. In the active/outdoor/bike market we also pay attention to tech and performance trends. Trade shows like Outdoor Retailer and Interbike are a good place to get the scoop on that.

Interbike - this looks like so much fun! (Image from Interbike website)

Interbike – this looks like so much fun! (Image from Interbike website)

Another aspect that goes into design choices for performance/active/outdoor clothing is that it can be fairly expensive, and most people purchase it as a well-researched investment piece. If it’s too overtly trendy it can be a turn-off for the consumer because they want to wear it for a long time without looking dated. Thus, trends move slowly in the outdoor industry.

Most professional athletes are sponsored by major activewear brands, which can be great brand publicity. For instance, Nike outfits everyone from Tiger Woods to Serena Williams, and Burton does the US Olympic snowboarding team. These partnerships can definitely drive innovation that filters down to the consumer level.

Women’s urban bike clothing is still a fairly niche market. How have you seen it grow in the years you’ve been designing?

I thought Novara’s urban line was just delightful, and I am so happy that I got to be a part of it. I hope they keep doing it! Right now it seems that women’s urban cycling is still too small of a market for the big guys to pay attention. But in a way I think this is a blessing, because it’s keeping the door open for smaller, women-owned companies to get a toehold and become industry leaders.

Thank you again, Lauren, for your insights into the world of women’s bike clothing! This has really helped me see lines including the Novara line differently. Maybe I’ll complain less about what is being offered, knowing a bit about what goes into making each garment. And I will definitely do what I can to support smaller, women-owned companies become industry leaders!

Product Review: Novara Whittier Bike Dress

Despite my attempts to be on an “anything but wedding-related” shopping freeze, I used the excuse of my birthday, and a cash gift, to buy myself the REI Novara Whittier Bike Dress, in the bright blue option.

Novara Whittier Bike Dress

Novara Whittier Bike Dress

I’ve written before about the REI Novara line, and how the garments I saw were close but not quite, and I have to say, I think this dress is pretty spot on. Unlike the reflective fabric mountain biking shorts (again, who is going to see that?!), this dress is designed to be a cute comfy dress, with some bike-friendly detailing. I wore it yesterday to run some errands, and then last night to a DC party The Mechanic and I went to, and was very pleased with it.

Picking out chalkboard paint at Home Depot for a little wedding DIY, and looking quite normal.

Picking out chalkboard paint at Home Depot for a little wedding DIY, and looking quite normal.

The dress has a comfy elastic waist that was surprisingly flattering (my stomach looked so flat in this!), and the skin-cancer-phobic part of me really appreciated having my shoulders covered. One less body part to worry about reapplying sunscreen onto! You can’t see it unless you are up close, but there are some also flattering vertical tucks in the front bodice, which I like. There are two side seam pockets, which zip shut, and hide a drawstring that allows you to pull up the sides of the skirt, to make it shorter for biking.

Pulling up the dress from the pocket drawstring.

Pulling up the dress from the pocket drawstring.

I ultimately decided to bike un-ruched.

I ultimately decided to bike un-ruched.

I thought the dress was extremely comfy to bike in, even without the sides pulled up. Maybe on my bike I would gather it up, since I have a top tube that tends to interfere with skirts more than the CaBi step-thru frame. Or maybe not.

In action!

In action!

My favorite part of the dress, of course, is the reflective detailing. Reflective piping is stitched into the back yoke seam, exactly where it should be! I guess someone has been reading my blog and taking tips! ; )

Docking the bike at home, with the reflective trim on the back of the dress doing its job.

Docking the bike at home, with the reflective trim on the back of the dress doing its job.

I am quite pleased with this dress, and plan on taking it on the honeymoon to bike in. I do wish the color options had been a bit better – I sort of get making a solid black version, to have a bikey LBD (Little Black Dress, for those of you who don’t know, considered a sartorial staple by many women), but I disagree with anything all black for biking. Even with reflective trim, biking (or walking) in the dark in solid dark clothing is not the best idea. On the other hand, although I love the blue version, the print is not my first or second or even third go-to. A classic stripe with a solid yoke would be so perfectly nautical and summery, and be even more “normal.” But that’s really just being super picky about a dress I really love! Way to go REI!


Planning for Our Bike Tour Honeymoon

In two months, The Mechanic and I will be in Zurich, about to start the bike tour part of our honeymoon. <Squee> I’m so excited!

But I’m also an obsessive compulsive list maker, so yes, I have my travel packing list already started. I’m trying to make sure that I take the fewest things possible while still having the basics covered. How can I live out of a small-ish bag for three weeks?! I think I have everything mostly figured out, but I still need to decide a few things – what bike accessories will I/we really need?

I decided that I want a large travel backpack, instead of my suitcase, for this trip, but not one of those “I’m going to be out on the Appalachian Trail for a month” type packs. I found one on the REI website, and Sunday The Mechanic and I went to check it out in person. The REI Grand Tour 80 Travel Pack was practically designed with me in mind! Initially attracted to it because of the color, capacity, and detachable smaller bag, seeing it in person confirmed my preference for it. It unzips on the top, on three sides, so it opens like a suitcase, rather than the drawstring on the top that you have to shove everything into. There are stability straps to hold things down, plus mesh zip side pockets on the inside. I love pockets. It also comes with a cover that doubles as a duffel, so I can complete enclose it when I check it on the airplane. Although I tried a few other packs on, this is the one I’ll end up getting. I’m pretty sure I can fit everything in this…REI Grand Tour 80 Travel Pack REI Grand Tour 80 with small bagSo now the trickier part – what bike accessories do I take? Do I take a bike helmet? Will I need or want gloves? Will I need padded bike shorts?! Although the bike tour provides bicycles and panniers, helmets are not provided; unsurprisingly, they are recommended. I can’t decide if I want to look “European,” ie, no helmet, or be “safe” and wear a helmet. Obviously, I’ll have to pack it, which brings me to the next dilemma – the vented “roadie” bike helmet, or my cute silver glitter Nutcase helmet? The vented one is possibly flatter, so it might be easier to pack, but I only wear it on my road bike. I certainly don’t want to wear it in Germany, Switzerland or Austria. Or Belgium or the Netherlands, for that matter, if we rent bikes there.

Nutcase vs. Giro - which to take? (Guess I could have dried the rain off my Nutcase helmet first...)

Nutcase vs. Giro – which to take? (Guess I could have dried the rain off my Nutcase helmet first…)

The gloves question is probably not a big deal – they are small enough to pack and never use. But the padded bike shorts, well, that’s another story. Our tour is only five actual days of long distance biking, but the mileage is not that great – 20 miles max per day. That’s really not that far, and I don’t anticipate that we’ll bike the full distance in one fell swoop, but rather, stopping along the way. On the other hand, it’s five days in a row – will we get sore butts?! And if I decide to wear them, well, I only have one pair, and I’m not honestly keen on the idea of wearing the same pair five days in a row…  Again, I guess I can take them, but if I don’t end up wearing them, they are somewhat bulky to drag around for another two weeks afterwards. (And there is no question about the fact that I will be wearing skirts and dresses over said padded bike shorts. And normal shoes.)

I don't really want to look like this for a week in Europe.

I do not want to look like this for a week in Europe.

I also found a dress at REI that I have decided needs to go on the trip with me. The Novara Whittier Bike Dress is made for biking! Actually, I think they copied me, since it has reflective piping in the back yoke seam! Haha! But it’s really cute, and looks great on, and will no doubt be easy to pack. I plan on needing some slightly dressier options, so this could do nicely. (Until I visit one of my favorite German department stores, C&A, and buy some fun stuff there!)

Novara Whittier Bike Dress

Novara Whittier Bike Dress – so cute to bike in! (image taken from REI website)

Novara Whittier Bike Dress - with reflective piping in the seam under the blue yoke. Love it!

Novara Whittier Bike Dress – with reflective piping in the seam under the blue yoke. Love it! (image taken from REI website)


So I’m asking you – what experiences have you had biking in Europe, and what would you recommend regarding taking or not taking a helmet?

Reflecting on Reflectivity

I started making my own bicycle-friendly clothes with reflective trim last year because I was looking for options that didn’t scream “I bike!” Everything I found was too niche, too sporty, too expensive, too Tweed Ride, and often, only in dark colors. I wanted to be able to look stylish as I biked to work, when The Mechanic and I are out on a bike date (or running errands, less romantic but more common), met friends for coffee, and so on. Nothing fit my admittedly high standards of reflective cycle chic.

Latest sewing project

Latest sewing project

Even though I enjoy making my own clothing, I haven’t stopped looking to see what else is out there. And recently I found some things at REI that I got a bit excited about initially, but didn’t end up buying.

I really liked the look of this Novara shirt. I think it’s this Ruston Plaid Bike Shirt .The colors on the website are a bit too “I’m a lumberjack” for my taste, and sadly, this color in the store wasn’t available in my size.

Reflective shirt at REI

Reflective shirt at REI

I also love that the tabs are totally reflective – what a great idea. But it does mean that you pretty much have to roll up your sleeves for them to show. I’m not in love with the mesh sides, but don’t disagree with the need for some ventilation. Just not work appropriate. Alas, I didn’t take a picture of it with the flash.

Then I found these Novara Pilsen Cycling Shorts, which I was also pretty tempted to buy. The back of the waistband is higher than normal, which is nice, and there is a loop to tuck  your U-lock into, it’s got those reflective tabs, and a padded seat.

I love the reflective tabs, but I don’t like my shorts to be too short, plus, every pair of shorts I’ve ever owned that rolled up ended up being too tight for my large thigh, so then I couldn’t wear them rolled up. I didn’t try these on, maybe it wouldn’t have been an issue.

The biggest problem with these pieces is that it’s as if the designers threw every “bike” feature at them without thinking about it. The shirt will clearly work for cruising around town as well as for mountain biking, but with that reflective fabric, it seems to be to be more practical for running errands on a late summer or fall evening, when you want drivers to see you better. What’s going to reflect on a mountain bike path? Do you often mountain bike in the wee hours? Or even dusk? Unless you are an extreme athlete , that doesn’t seem very safe.  And do mountain bikers carry their U-locks with them? The padded seat – if you are just biking around town, do you need the padding? So are they mountain bike shorts or casual “townie” shorts? These pieces are bit too much of everything to make them really great. Okay, I haven’t yet been mountain biking, so many I would want to carry my U-lock, reflect so the bears can see me, and flash my thighs at the deer.

I don't think he's carrying a U-lock. Or worrying about being reflective.

I don’t think he’s carrying a U-lock. Or worrying about being reflective.

One of the things that BikeArlington and goDCgo like to emphasize in their bicycling outreach is that one does not need special clothing to ride a bike. It can be done in yoga clothes, jeans, business suits, whatever you feel like wearing that day. I like anything that reflects on the back, arms, and legs, and bigger than a wee logo on a hem (Lululemon, I’m looking at you) or a tiny square on the back of a shoe (Merrell, now I’m looking at you). And a reflective patch on the underside of the collar is a good start, but seriously, I’m not going to channel my 1980s high school classmates and go all preppy with a turned up collar. It’s nice that those designers consider those details, but they haven’t thought through, apparently, how useless those little bits are if they are your only reflective touches. That’s why I love the reflective plaid fabric – it makes you much more visible in the dark, even as a pedestrian. I would love to see more reasonably-priced fashions designed with better visibility in mind, as well as some truly practical bike features.

Maybe the reflective mountain bike shorts would be useful on my next bike camping trip?

Maybe the reflective mountain bike shorts would be useful on my next bike camping trip?

If you were to design your ideal bike fashion outfit, would it include anything reflective? Does visibility make any difference to you? Do you wear anything to make you more visible to cars? Or am I the only one so obsessed?