Saturday, November 15, 2008

Bicycling with Style

Portland has the highest percentage of bicycle commuters in the nation! Isn't that terrific?

Maybe you've been thinking about joining them, but you look around at all the bike shorts and spandex branded with Italian brake manufacturers, and you decide to take the bus instead. You see bicyclists with messenger bags slung over their shoulders as they whizz between cars, and you think, I'll get killed out there. Plus, you might think, they must be freezing.

I've had all those thoughts, but I mounted my rusty old Stumpjumper and started biking to work anyway. I arrive at work probably faster than I would had I taken the bus, I feel awake and happy from the tiny dose of endorphins I just pedaled loose, and I've saved almost four bucks. Here's how I make it work:

First, I embrace the fact that I won't be the fastest cyclist on the road. Instead, I take a more European approach and pedal at a leisurely pace. Why cross the river on a gorgeous morning when the sun sparkles over the water if you can't enjoy it? Why kill yourself on your jillion dollar featherweight bicycle to get to the light before anyone else when you'll still be waiting there when I lumber up behind you?

Second, besides wearing a helmet (very important!) I don't wear special clothes. No hideous rain-shedding pants, no Gore Tex jacket, no scary bike shoes with pedal clips. If I plan to wear high heels that day, I put them in a waterproof pouch that attaches to the rack on the back of my bike, and I wear a practical pair of slip-on Cole Haan ankle boots instead that I picked up at Goodwill.

Since I don't generally wear pants, and my bicycle isn't a step-through, I have a few tricks for cycling in skirts. If my skirt is voluminous (picture a 1950s sundress), I gather it up and clip it in a couple of spots with clothes pins so that the fabric doesn't blow into the greasy bicycle machinery. If I'm wearing a pencil skirt (picture 1940s wool gab), I sit on my bike then pull the skirt up until my legs move freely. Occasionally I wear a skirt that is so narrow that if I pulled it up enough so that I could ride I'd be giving a free show. In those cases, I wear leggings under the skirt.

Leggings are also a great way to keep warm while you're cycling. I have a thin, black pair and a purple expedition-weight pair that I wear under my dress if it's a really chilly morning. I also knitted up a few pairs of short leg warmers to keep my knees warm. I'm working on a pair of arm warmers that I can wear to bridge the gap between my gloves and the bracelet-length sleeves on my vintage coats.

As for the rain--well, it rains here in Portland, there's no getting around it. But I'd get wet waiting for the bus, too. I don't wear Gore Tex on the street, so I certainly won't wear it on a bicycle. Sometimes my wool coats get wet, and I hang them up at the office to dry. Even after the drenching rains of a few days ago, I wasn't uncomfortably wet. I got home, changed into warm, dry socks and a dressing gown, towelled out my hair, and patted myself on the back for another good day's ride.