Bells of the ball
Kirstin Innes catches up with the designers who are helping cycling cast off its geeky image with a fresh touch of style
Speaking plainly here: cycling is really not very cool at all in this country. It usually seems to involve strapping a multitide of bulky Velcro accessories to yourself and donning unflattering skin-tight Lycra costumes, and not even in the privacy of your own bedroom. All pieces of clothing associated with it seem to have been designed to be as ugly and unflattering as possible.
Over in mainland Europe, they think very differently. In cities such as Copenhagen, Amsterdam and Madrid, cycling comes almost as naturally to the inhabitants as walking. Perhaps bike culture in the UK just needs a different model: perhaps we just need to go back a few decades. Look at girls in French movies from the 1960s, stripy T-shirts and eyeliner, pedal-pusher trousers cropped at the ankle, feet working the pedals. Maggie Smith’s Miss Jean Brodie riding her bike over the Edinburgh cobbles, headscarf keeping her hair just so, tweed cape floating behind her. Not a shred of Lycra to be seen.
‘Cycling has always seemed like a practical, ladylike way to get around to me,’ says Caz Nicklin, who runs the online store www.cyclechic.co.uk, ‘but I knew many people think of it as a geeky pursuit that required a heavy layer of Lycra and hi-vis polyester. I had cycled in London for a year and while I loved the elegance of breezing though the streets on two wheels, I was constantly frustrated by cycling’s overridingly geeky image. So I set out to find products that would fit in with the modern woman’s wardrobe and that would promote cycling as stylish lifestyle choice rather than a high-risk sport.’
One of the biggest sellers at Cyclechic is the 1950s-look girls’ cycle cape, which, as its website explains, is a perfect shape for cycling – the loose shape leaves your arms free for steering and won’t get caught under the saddle like a jacket might.
Nicklin is just one of a new wave of fashion-forward cyclists looking to the past to reinvent the wheel(s). And although there’s a definite move away from the neon-Lycra horrors the sport is associated with, none of these designers is compromising safety. At www.ridingpretty.com, Californian designer Shelly Schroeder takes inspiration from Jackie O and, er, Sherlock Holmes to create gorgeous, bonnet-shaped hard hats with attached, Brodie-esque, trains. London-based company Bobbin Bicycles (www.bobbinbicycles.co.uk) offers smaller, retro-look men’s helmets, and also does a pretty ‘Miss Bobbin’ reflective sash for night time travel, and it’s not neon yellow. The current top selling item at designer men’s cyclewear label Rapha (www.rapha.cc) is the 1950s-inspired Campionssino Jersey, which wouldn’t look out of place on Jude Law’s chest in The Talented Mr Ripley, while Dashing Tweeds (www.dashingtweeds.co.uk) has taken things further, weaving girl’s cycle capes and men’s scooter jackets out of light-reflective tweed, which will look functional during the day then glow-in-the-dark by night.
Sustrans recently organised a women’s cycle-fashion ride through the streets of Edinburgh, proving it’s possible to ride even in a skirt and high heels for short distances). Not even the most hardened fashionista has an excuse for not getting on their bike and, after seeing some of the thoroughly lovely clothes and accessories over the next few pages, nor will they want to.