Why do we need a uniform?

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The other day I retweeted a message and it sparked a conversation with @bicicleto_ZGZ of Zaragova – a place where cycling infrastructure is as mature as a Reserva Rioja and cycle culture embedded deep. The exchange sparked some thoughts (hidden away in the dark recesses of my mind) which have now been tempered, turned into – almost – coherent statements and offered up here for comment (even further below).

 

So…..uniforms.

Back in the 90s, I used to commute on my mountain bike. I wore the uniform of the x-country racer (and occasional triathlete); lycra jersey, lycra shorts, diddy little socks with some form of muddy emblem on them, Sidi Dominator race shoes, a Giro helmet and a tiny weatherproof top. If it was cold, the bib leggings came out. And maybe the overshoes. But never the car.

At this time, far fewer people cycle commuted than they do today. It was amongst the normal cycling garb; in other words, the clothes worn by those wierdos who can’t afford/drive. Of course, I could both afford a car and drive one (it was happily parked outside the house offering cats a nice dry spot to nap). But those were the assumptions.

Wind the clock forward 20 years <shudder…..where does time go?> and my uniform is quite different. I wear any old t-shirt and jeans (today’s choice at top). If it’s warm, I wear ‘normal’ (or as normal as I can get) shorts. So why the change?

In short, I want riding a bike to be as normal an activity as possible. I don’t want to drop my daughter off at her school and for non-cycling parents to think ‘Get HIM’ (especially when I’m promoting cycling at the school as both a sport and a day to day means of transport). I want to wander around the local shops and blend in, not stand out. I want my cycling kit to be available when I plan to go cycling proper – in other words, as a lengthy, probably sweaty, but most certainly occasionally uncomfortable experience (try mountain biking for 4 hours in jeans. You’ll get the picture AND the chaffing).

I feel most optimistic about the future of city cycling when I see ladies on city bikes just flowing along. I feel assured of its future when I see briefcases lashed to pannier racks and ties billowing in the breeze. I feel certain of its future when I see long lines of school kids cycling in the one uniform that is appropriate; that of the school (and incidentally there is a long line of youngsters on the trail every morning heading as a pack to Ysgol Glantaf. Well done kids and parents).

For me, the cycling uniform just ain’t needed unless your ride is of such distance or magnitude that the benefits of lycra, chamois inners and wicking fabrics comes into play. The normalisation of cycling lies in convincing the unconvinced that you can cycle without having a contract with a pro-team. You’ll have your own views of course and I suggest you express them. But if you’re put off by the uniform of cycling, don’t be; the only uniform you need is the one you’re wearing right now.

To clarify; I commute, coach, train and race cyclo-cross. I only wear cycling duds for the latter two. 

7 replies »

  1. Great stuff Simon, you may have to post it on Facebook to reach a wider audience, cos it’s probably only reaching the already converted. Have to agree, it’s
    not all about lycra.

    • An interesting thought, though this would mean that potential commuters who dislike Dutch bikes would be put off (I’d have one mind you. My mate’s ancient Raleigh provides a brilliant riding position). For the inclined/tempted, it would also preclude the wider use of mountain or road bikes purchased on the cycle to work scheme from being used at weekends for longer sojourns and missing out on a wider health benefit (unless the rider was very keen to do distance on a dutch bike).

  2. Good point. I’ve had to forgo my commute in today as have a meeting elsewhere. But I have put the bike in the back of the car, drive the 30miles up to a park and ride and cycle the rest of the way to avoid the extortionate cost and hassle of hospital parking. AND I’m gonna ride in my work clothes so it may be a bit of a sweaty one at lunch time. We’ll see how it goes…

  3. Reblogged this on Biking to work and commented:
    This inspired me to be a bit different yesterday. I couldn’t commute to work as had a lunchtime meeting in Cambridge. The bike went in the car and I drive the 35 miles from Harlow to the Park and Ride and cycle the 2 miles along traffic free cycle ways to Addenbrookes hospital. In my work clothes…. I was a little sweaty but travelling at 11mph this was kept to a minimum.

    I thought that I would avoid the hassle & cost of parking but being Cambridge, there was a fantastic array of bikes parked and little space to lock up mine. It was worth the effort as, unlike trying to find space to park the car, one can be creative with the bike and I found a secure spot easily.

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