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New fashion cycle: Ditch the spandex for stylish commuter clothes

  • Star Tribune (Minneapolis)
  • Published Monday, May 20, 2013, at 12 a.m.

Quick tips for biking in style

•  Wear a skirt: You can do it without flashing people. A-line or wider styles work best. Equip your bike with a skirt guard or fashion a garter out of a headband and safety pin. Skirt weights keep hems in check.

•  Wear heels: Pedaling in heels is easier than walking in them. Just make sure they fit properly.

•  Suit up: Invest in a pannier bag made to carry a suit without wrinkling it.

•  Stay dry: Invest in fenders if you commute year-round.

•  Safety first: Always wear a helmet (hopefully a stylish one), plus reflective tape and lights.

•  Don’t sweat: Racing around like you’re in the Tour de France will only make you perspire. Slow down and savor the views.

— Johnny Woodside’s cycling clothes are almost as cool as his name. The 30-year-old Minneapolis hydrogeologist dons flannel shirts, Red Wing boots and has a tapered mustache. Forget the blinding neon spandex get-up.

“The last thing I want to do is walk into the bar and hear, ‘Lance Armstrong’s here?’ ” said Woodside, who bikes to work, to happy hour and everywhere in between.

As more people trade four wheels for two, retailers are courting bike lovers by tapping into the cycling lifestyle.

“It’s not a bunch of bike geeks anymore,” said Luke Breen, owner of Calhoun Cycle in Uptown Minneapolis.

“The bike has become a part of my identity,” said Katrina Wollet, a 24-year-old marketing specialist who gave up her car last month but not her style. “Just like clothing, it’s an extension of my taste, personality and lifestyle.”

Over at the new Handsome Cycles shop in Minneapolis’ North Loop, smart wool is the new Lycra. Custom bike frames line the back of the store. In front, tables display neutral-colored streetwear designed for cycling: from jeans with reflective lining and hidden pockets to polo shirts that will take you from the bike to the golf course. One wall features an impressive collection of shoes – even waterproof leather options for a business suit.

Looking for jerseys plastered with sponsorships or loud prints?

“Not here. So much of that stuff is just so ugly,” said Handsome co-owner Ben Morrison. “A full Lycra kit looks great on you if you’re 6 foot 1 and 150 pounds. But for most people, it’s not comfortable and it’s just not them.”

Suit and tie (and cycle)

Until recently, commuting to work often meant packing an extra set of clothes and announcing your arrival at the office in an outfit of unflattering spandex and clickety-clack cycling shoes.

“There hasn’t been a lot of gear out there that you can wear comfortably in the office,” said Greg Kurowski, who commutes 25 miles from Victoria, Minn., to downtown Minneapolis several days a week. The president and CEO of Periscope advertising agency said he’s had to wear his racing gear on hot days.

“Now there are cycling-specific technical clothes that breathe better, wick moisture – they don’t look like normal cycling clothes,” Morrison said. “You can wear this stuff to the office, and it’s making commuting by bike a lot more feasible.”

But commuter-friendly clothing isn’t cheap. The pants in Levi’s commuter line ($78) are water- and odor-resistant, feature reflective tape on the cuffs and a loop for a bike lock at the waist band. A Lands’ End bike blazer ($250) also has reflective tape, hidden pockets and a spot for earbuds. Mostly, it just looks like a stylish sport coat.

Are you cycle chic?

When Lisa Austin started biking frequently in the early ’90s, she recalls having zero options for women’s bike clothes. Not even a Lycra jersey. Now the options are wide open.

“It’s refreshing to see people biking and wearing anything they want,” she said.

For her, that means skirts – and even heels.

“They’re totally easy to ride in,” Austin said.

Cyclists are hitting the local runways, too. “All of this is helping to redefine our bike culture,” said Patty Soldner, events manager for the Bicycle Alliance of Minnesota, which plans to hold its second bicycle fashion show next year.

Then there are the blogs, such as San Francisco-based Bike Pretty, which inspires people to, well, ride a bike and look pretty. Blog entries include: “How to ride in a maxi skirt” and “How to dominate hills in a dress.”

Zachariah Schaap ascribes to a larger movement called “cycle chic,” which refers to cycling in everyday fashionable clothes. The 27-year-old graphic designer and co-founder of “30 Days of Biking” shows up to meetings on his bike wearing button-up custom-made shirts and ties and leather-soled dress shoes.

“Being stuck in a car during rush hour is the bane of my existence,” he said. “I’d much rather look fancy on my bike.”

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