Posts tagged ‘skirts’

May 8, 2012

Fat Girl on a Bike

First post by new occasional guest blogger and generally awesome woman Andrea Parrish–Spokane-based co-owner of Savor Sweets and Hydra Creations, photographer, and all-around netgeek.


What I generally think when I hear the phrase “bike commuter.” Photo taken in Portland by me.

The image of a bike commuter, especially one with true bike style, is often one of a lithe woman wearing incredibly cute clothes, pedaling easily with cute Po Campo panniers. When I say I am a bike commuter, this is the image I like to think people have. The reality for me, however, is very different, but it is one that I do my best to accept with open arms. I am a fat girl on a bike.

Let me be clear. I don’t consider the term “fat” to be a derogatory term in this context; it is descriptive. I am 6’4″ tall, wear a dress size 28, and at last weigh-in I was at 375 pounds (down 25 pounds from the heaviest I’ve ever been). And I commute by bike.

Biking at this size comes with a variety of interesting challenges, admittedly. I had to send my bike in to the company to be repaired because the metal that holds the seat post ripped in half a few years ago. I’ve had to get my back tire rim replaced, because I kept popping spokes on the pothole-filled streets of Spokane. The internal hub that holds my breaks needs to be re-packed at least once a season. Clothes that easily go pedal-to-office are, at best, difficult to find.

Even with all of that, though, I absolutely adore biking. The feeling of freedom, the sense of accomplishment, and even the stares I get as I pedal by. I am a fat girl on a bike, and I love it. Biking allows me the chance to get in a workout in the time I would normally spend driving. Biking gives me the impetus to pay closer attention to my health. Biking is the one thing that is easy to fit into my (sometimes far too busy) schedule.

Biking Shadows

What I see when I am bike commuting. A bit of a difference.

There are a few things I have learned that make biking easier, no matter how large or small you may be. First of all, leggings, tights and a cotton camisole will become your best friends. Skirts are amazing to bike in, but only with leggings to provide some coverage and comfort. A good camisole can also serve as your base layer. If you are like me and have to switch shirts when you get to work, because biking more than a mile or two means you will sweat, no matter how hard you try not to. A good cotton camisole means you can change shirts easily, no cramped bathroom or private office required.

Second, a good local bike shop is absolutely invaluable. I ride a Kona AfricaBike, which is a three-speed cruiser bike with a basket, a step-through frame, and a covered chain. Over the years, I have ended up replacing the rim, adding a back rack, adding panniers, and switching out the bike seat. Two local bike shops have helped me get the bike adjusted, sized, and repaired time and time again. They never flinch when I bring in my bike with the latest weird problem, they just do their best to fix it. I’ve never once had a local bike shop make me feel “fat.”

Bike Style has no size. Being a fat girl and a bike commuter at the same time means that I face some interesting challenges, but those challenges are worth solving.

March 24, 2012

The Skirt Scoot: A Key Maneuver

Skirts can be easier to ride in than pants, but they have their dark side. Read on for a little Twitter discussion I was reminded of the other day. (Note for those who aren’t on Twitter: When someone replies to a tweet the original appears above with the reply below in this format, so you’ll see some tweets duplicated.)

Just the other day I experienced “some alarm” and was reminded yet again of the importance of the skirt scoot maneuver.

What’s that, you ask? My nickname for a little move I’ve adopted, born of a combination of the occasional disastrous skirt fabric/length combo and my fondness/weakness for alliteration.

Cream-colored vintage knit dress from Carousel Vintage, Spokane, WA

Love-love-love this stretchy little number from Carousel Vintage. It’s a soft, nubbly knit and even if I forget my skirt scoot I can easily pull the skirt up and off the saddle just by standing on the pedals. Woven fabrics? Not so forgiving in your nanosecond of need.

This is the maneuver I now try to remember to execute any time I get on the bike, whether it’s as I leave the house in the morning or when the light turns green: Lift up and slide back, making sure the fabric of the skirt is trapped between the saddle and your butt.

It’s just a simple little step, but an easy one to forget. The times I have forgotten it and just plopped onto the saddle led to the “some alarm” tweet above. Those were the times when a skirt with an unforgiving non-stretch fabric happened to be just the right length to get caught over the back of the saddle.

What happens next, as you begin to slow for a stop and plan to step smoothly and gracefully off the saddle, is that you can’t. You are caught on the saddle by the fabric of your skirt and you are starting to tip over.

So far I’ve been lucky. I’ve felt the catch in time to push back on the pedals and unhook the skirt, but not without a nice little adrenalin rush.

I’ve already mostly moved away from straight skirts in my wardrobe as I’ve shifted my shopping toward a bike-friendly mindset. I ride a regular road bike for my commuting as well as for fun and straddling the top bar is just less (ahem) ladylike in a straight skirt that I have to hoist to mid-thigh to get enough leg maneuvering space. (I still have a few I won’t give up, mind you–I’m careful about where I stand when I hoist on so I continue to be the lady my mother raised me to be. Avert your eyes, you creeper.)

The moment of panic when I realize I didn’t skirt-scoot and I am now skirt-stuck is a reinforcement of my fashion move toward skirts with a slightly flippier hemline, and definitely ones with stretchy fabric.

Related Reading

Your Turn

  • What clothing-induced moments of panic have you experienced?
  • Any great tips for avoiding said panic in the future, à la skirt scoot?
September 20, 2011

What to Wear for Your Bike Commute? Clothes.

Barb Chamberlain in a gray skirt, white tank, green jacket, and green sandals. A typical outfit for riding my bike.

A typical outfit for riding my bike--which most people would never realize. That's my point.

I’ve whined a bit about the constraints found in office-appropriate clothing that isn’t designed for biking. Honestly, though, if you have a reasonably short ride many of the things in your closet will work just fine.

Trust me—this is not about Spandex (although it’s pretty slimming, actually). You do not have to rush out and buy special shoes, special shorts that feel like you’re wearing Depends, special anything, to ride your bike.

You do have to think about what you wear for safety and comfort. Over time I’ve shopped in such a way as to create an entire closet full of “bike wear”: regular clothes that work well for riding. Here’s the list I’ve arrived at for my shopping parameters.

Reconsider, or prepare for the issues:

Straight skirts. Too hard to straddle the saddle. Less of an issue if you have a true step-through but still a challenge for freedom of movement. Just the tiniest bit of flare or A-line cut makes for much easier movement.

Secret modification tip: Many seemingly straight skirts have enough width or flare to work–it’s the lining that constricts your movement. Cut a slit at the sides of the lining and you’ll have more freedom for walking as well as for riding.

Really short skirts. Completely apart from the obvious flasher issues, I had a nasty moment with a short summer dress when, unbeknownst to me, the skirt hooked over the back of the seat as I got on. When I went to get off at a light I almost fell over. It was a non-stretch fabric so I was really caught. Luckily I had enough time to stand on the pedals, ease back a bit, and slide the fabric off.

This is not something the saleslady will think of when you’re admiring yourself in the three-way mirror at Nordstrom or Old Navy. This dress wasn’t even that short but the combination of straight cut, non-stretchy fabric, and short length almost created a wreck. You can wear them—just be prepared to negotiate with them.

Really long skirts. They get in the way when you pedal and can succumb to chain grease. If you can hike them up, fine, but how will you secure them?

Flowing skirts. Fabric could get caught in the spokes. Immediate disaster. The invention of the bloomer (thanks, Amelia!) contributed greatly to the emancipation the bicycle offered women.

If it’s a really flowing skirt, though, you may be able to improvise by grabbing a handful of skirt in each hand and tying a blousy bit around each knee. Or grab the back of the skirt, bring it up between your legs, and tuck it into the waistband. If the skirt design (or a strategically placed large safety pin) allows that to stay, voila! Bloomers.

If you have a skirt guard and chain guard on your bike this won’t be a problem for you.

Pants with flared legs. Chain grease and catching on the pedals. If you wear them you need ankle straps.

Fabrics with a coarse weave, especially for fitted pants or capris. Chafe, chafe, chafe.

Low-cut blouses if you ride a road bike. The forward posture may give away a bit more of your treasures than you intended.

Fabrics that wrinkle easily. Who likes to iron anyway?

Shoes with really slippery soles. Harder to keep your foot on the pedal.

Flip-flops. Your toes won’t thank you for the friction you create with pedaling and your foot will appreciate a slightly stiffer sole, although I’m not obsessive about that.

No problem despite what you might think:

Skirts/dresses in general. If you can walk comfortably in it you can probably ride in it. If you can’t walk comfortably in it, why did you buy it in the first place?

Burgundy T-strap stiletto heels.

Love these Bandolinos, both because they look great and because they stay on my foot when I ride. The T-strap works better than a simple slip-on pump (although I wear those too).

High heels, open-toed shoes, sandals, or boots. Silly but true: At a stoplight your foot hits the ground faster in a high heel than in a flat cycling shoe.

Dressy clothing. I’ve biked in silk suits and dresses. Why not? As long as I don’t go fast enough to sweat, no problem.

Regular clothes. What did people originally wear to ride bikes? Long before the invention of Lycra, they wore clothes. Just clothes.

Related Reading


Posts in our 30 Days of Biking Blogging Inspiration & How-to Series for Sept. 2011 30 Days of Biking

  1. 30 Days of Bike Commuting: You Can Do It!
  2. Why We Ride/Resolve to Ride–A Blogspedition
  3. Preparing to Commute by Bike: Get the Worry out of the Way
  4. Buying a Bike for Commuting: Some Questions and a Blogspedition
  5. How to Bike Commute: Getting the Gear Together
  6. Bike Commuting 101: Carrying Stuff
  7. On a Roll with Wilma Flanagan
  8. 30 Days of Biking: Week One Report
  9. Ride with your Community: SpokeFest Rocks!
  10. There and Back Again: How to Pick your Bike Commute Route
  11. Intro to Bike Commuting: Route Selection Part 2
  12. More Bike Commuting Route Selection Tips: Part 3
  13. Thinking Like a Driver vs. Thinking Like a Bicyclist
  14. Biking as Downtime and other Musings on Overproductivity
  15. 30 Days of Biking: Week Two Report
  16. On a Roll with Katherine Widing
  17. I Shouldn’t Assume
  18. Falling Down on Your Bike. It Happens. To Grown-Ups.
  19. Pretty Handy, Gloves. The Blogspedition Assumes You’ll Get ‘Em.
  20. What to Wear for Your Bike Commute? Clothes.
  21. How to Get a Dropped Bike Chain Back On, Grease-Free
  22. 30 Days of Biking: Week Three!
  23. It’s All in the Attitude
  24. Things I Now Do on My Bike Without Having to Think About It
  25. Mental Essentials for Bike Commuting: Risk and Trust
  26. More Mental Essentials for Bike Commuting: Friendliness and Openness
  27. Even More Mental Essentials for Bike Commuting: Tolerance, Humor, and Persistence
  28. Bicycling Rites of Passage, Spokane Style
  29. Dear Reader, I Chicked Him
  30. 30 Days of Biking: Final Report!

Your Turn

  • Any other clothing discoveries you’ve made about what works and what doesn’t?
  • What garment or outfit engenders more surprise than any other when people realize you biked “in THAT?!”
June 19, 2011

Women’s Clothing for Biking that Doesn’t Look Like It’s for Biking: What to Wear, What to Wear

The post that started it all…. The weeks and months of accumulated frustration that led to this post (which originally appeared on my personal blog in September 2010) also led, fairly directly, to the launch of this blog and my idea for bike fashion shopping events to bring some products to Spokane that aren’t otherwise available here.

Barb Chamberlain with bicycle at bike rack

You'd never know I'm wearing "bike clothes." That's the idea.

So in a nostalgic flashback with a few updates:

I have nothing to wear.

As in, there are very few choices if you’re a woman looking for professional clothing that’s made for cycling. This has two dimensions:

Comfort: No ill-placed seams in the crotch, no fabric that irritates, no flappy wide-legged trousers or long full skirts that get caught in the chain.

Style: You are appropriately dressed to walk into a meeting in which all the men wear ties and jackets and you’re the only person taking off a helmet and gloves.

Once upon a time I used to drive to work and hang clothes there. I now bike almost year-round so I really don’t want to drive (and was never very happy with having to decide a day or two in advance what I’d feel like wearing on a given day–what woman is?).

In my next phase I tried riding in bike clothes, rolling everything and packing it into panniers, changing when I arrived, and changing again to ride home.

But that’s a bit of a hassle and one of the major things I like about riding my bike is the hassle-free nature: no paying for gas, no looking for a parking place, and the feeling of freedom I get with every ride.

Mostly, I’ve changed my shopping habits to get to where I am now: If I can’t bike in it, I don’t buy it. Which, coincidentally, both saves me money and prevents a lot of buyer’s remorse over the guilt I feel when I look at an article of clothing I almost never wear.

I do a lot more moving and contorting in dressing rooms than I used to so I’m sure I can throw a leg over my bike and take off. I use a road bike as my commuter so there’s the potential for some serious flashing of random passers-by if I don’t remember my mother’s efforts to raise me to be ladylike.

What I really want—what I’ve started dreaming about—is good-looking clothing that no one will guess is made specifically for cycling.

Only I will know about the extra comfort elements and careful tailoring, the fabrics chosen not only for their non-chafe chamois-like interior finish but also for their water-resistant and dirt-repelling exterior qualities (with no swishing when I walk! That means most technical fabrics are off the list).

Fashion-forward options with secret gussets will get us beyond the Spandex Dork image from which cycling suffers and will help encourage more women to bike, I’m just sure of it.

Bike Shop Girl blogged about this same dilemma. I found out because I asked her via Twitter, after a semi-fruitless Google search, if she knew of anyplace to get good-looking pants. (My search, in case you’re curious: women’s tailored clothing urban biking—terms I arrived at after realizing that “professional” and “cycling” in the same search would yield nothing but Spandex and race results).

For now I’m making do with regular clothes. You’ll see posts here about how I manage some of the clothing issues and I have a whole series on pants shopping to come. Skirts and dresses are relatively easy, as you’ll be able to see from the pictures in my post on a week’s worth of clothing choices. I’ve learned quite a bit about the best shoe choices for biking in style, too.

The real answer, though, is for clothing manufacturers from the fashion and cycling industries to recognize they’re missing the opportunity that lies at their intersection. Thus my quest continues.

Your Turn

  • What are your clever accommodations if you’re a bike rider who needs to look polished at work?
  • What’s your biggest frustration with “regular” clothing?
  • What’s your biggest frustration with “cyclist” clothing?
  • And have you found the perfect pants?
May 5, 2011

Riding in Skirts: Today’s Reactions

Any of you who ride in “girl clothes” have heard this: “You ride in that?!”

Today’s outfit—flowered skirt, little white sleeveless tank because the sun finally came out and we hit around Can you bike in a skirt and heels? Why, of course you can!64 degrees, black blazer because I knew it would take a while to get to 64 degrees—elicited a variety of reactions that I just have to share.

#1: Guy on the sidewalk as I biked west on Sprague—Classic wolf whistle after I’d gone by.  I’m old enough to have relaxed as a feminist and figure he means well, although the only male opinion that matters to me is that of Husband Dearest.

#2: Leaving the Taaj Restaurant after lunch (if you live in Spokane, check this out for a great lunchtime Indian buffet for only $10). A woman riding her bike on the sidewalk, helmet-free, with a face that suggested she has faced more challenges (or possibly just more weather) than I have grinned at me, gave a thumbs-up, and said, “Awesome!”

#3: Got into the elevator (yes, I suppose I could take the stairs but hey, I ride my bike!) with a man who took in my top half—high-vis jacket, helmet—and said, “Great day for a bike ride!”

I agreed enthusiastically. He then caught on to what I wore on the bottom half and said, “You ride in a skirt?”

I said, “Yep.”

He nodded and said, “That’s cool.”

Yes, yes it is. (Sometimes really, really cool, since the morning temps start out around 35 right now.)

Your Turn

If you ride in girl clothes, what kinds of reactions do you get?

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