Many a female cyclist will have gone into her local bike shop, been blinded by the racks of fluorescent fabrics and wondered if it would ever be possible to buy cycling gear that wouldn’t make her look as if she had been attacked by a highlighter pen. Why, she may have wondered, did it seem beyond the imagination of designers to come up with garments suited to the demands of the cyclist that didn’t risk the wearer being mistaken for a member of the team mending the water mains?
For the past few years, a growing number of designers have quietly been doing just that. And very soon, their work is going mainstream. From Thursday, Topshop, that barometer of the nation’s style, will be stocking cycling accessories in its flagship Oxford Street store. It will be selling panniers, saddlebags, retro cycling caps and much more. All are designed by Cyclodelic (cyclodelic.wordpress.com), an all-female design company based in east London, which “believes that girls who cycle don’t have to forfeit fashion over function”.
The Cyclodelic Topshop concession, which could be rolled out nationally and even internationally if all goes well, is part of a resurgence of women’s cycling. Last summer, Her Gear, which claims to be the UK’s only shop catering exclusively for female cyclists – “an alternative to the greasy fingernailed, Masonic, very macho environment you find in a traditional bike shop,” according to owner Stephen Peters – opened in Kensington, west London.
Recently you had Duffy wobbling around on a bike in the Diet Coke advert, model Agyness Deyn is rarely photographed without her vintage steed, and last year Courteney Cox presented Jennifer Aniston with a Chanel bike for her birthday. The sustainable transport charity Sustrans has recently launched bikebelles.org.uk, a website designed to encourage women to get in the saddle. And last month, the London Cycling Campaign organised Birds on Bikes, a night-time ride taking in locations linked with the achievements of women in the capital. Plus, of course, there was the stunning success of the women from the British Olympic cycling team in Beijing.
But despite all this oestrogen-fuelled activity, only a minority of women cycle. According to new research from Sustrans, 79% of British women do not cycle at all even though 43% have access to a bike. It is a sad state of affairs given that cycling was a key part of the women’s movement.
Taking to two wheels liberated women from their cumbersome corsets and petticoats by allowing them to get from A to B in “rational dress”, without their husbands. And though cycling these days is more about emancipation from the public transport network than the male overlords, the fight to dress well in the saddle goes on.