Enough with the Lycra vilification

Enough with the Lycra vilification


Lycra Louts. MAMILS. Lycra-clad cyclists.

I’ll get to the point straight off the bat: advocates who think they are furthering the cause of cycling by vilifying a group of people who ride bikes in particular articles of clothing (Lycra) are not, in fact, helping to make cycling better.

Yes, advocate for cycling to be considered a normal activity. Advocate for people to incorporate cycling into their daily lives. Advocate for bike-share systems. Advocate for better laws, and for better infrastructure. Advocate for cyclists to band together and make the places we live a better place. You can even advocate for cyclists to behave better on the roads. That’s your job.

Your job is not to specifically deny the preference of some to cycle in the attire that they feel the most comfortable in, regardless of how you think they look (or indeed, how they think they look…).

I can totally get on board with that argument. This “The Ascent” campaign is aimed, whether they like it or not, at getting more women into recreational cycling rather than everyday cycling. The lack of an urban setting, and, yes, the Lycra, tell me so.

This, I cannot get on board with. Apparently a man riding a bike in Lycra is in and of itself a bad thing. A sure sign of failure. It shows that cycling is only for the brave, requiring special equipment and is at odds with doing everyday types of things.

Let me just remind everyone before we get any further that on my daily commute to and from work, into town to meet friends, to the grocery store, and anywhere else that I need to go, I wear normal clothes because it’s the most convenient thing for me to do given the situation. On recreational rides, however, I don the Lycra.

I remind everyone of this not because I think negatively about Lycra (though I do have opinions about specific items of Lycra related cycling kit), but to try to show that I don’t have some sort of weird pro-Lycra agenda. I am not being paid by BigLycraCorpᵀᴹ.

Now then, have a look at this:

Again with the Lycra vilification

Hang on – he’s doing what? But… Lycra! Source


This guy appears to be traveling from A to B on a bicycle. Just like people in Copenhagen do, in fact. He’s got his lunch in his bag, and maybe some work or a change of clothes. The weird thing however, and I don’t know how to explain this, other than that he appears to have been abducted somewhere along his commute and forced to wear Lycra by his captors before being released. He’s even got gloves and a helmet on! What on earth is this world coming to!

In fact, in Australia, and especially here in Adelaide, this is quite a common sighting. I’d say that the majority of people using a bike for practical transportation are wearing the same clothes that they will remain in for the entire day, but there is quite a significant percentage of commuters who choose to wear the Lycra on the way to their destination.

And that’s ok. When the temperature heads into the high 30C’s and well into the 40C’s, I will probably opt for a bit of the old Lycra myself for the odd ride to and from work. Because it makes sense. You may not need to wear Lycra, but many people do so because they are more comfortable in it for a variety of reasons. That makes it easier for them to ride a bike. That makes it more enjoyable. And that must be stopped, apparently.

Ah yes. The underlying message. I fully understand the line of thought that suggests that it’s the image that Lycra-clad cyclists on non-uprights bikes suggests to the general public. That they are different. Not-normal. In need of special equipment. That it somehow sends the message that cycling is difficult.

I would understand that this message might be the case if it was in the absence of any other message about cycling whatsoever. If the entire social conversation about cycling in any context was that cycling=Lycra. But it’s not.

And if it is, that’s your fault.

Yes, Lycra gives those who are already predisposed to disliking cyclists a handy stereotype with which to beat us with. It sets us apart from “normal”. People love an easy way to degrade others.

Sadly, those who choose to wear Lycra while they get from A to B (and who choose to ride a bike for the sheer pleasure of it) have to get it in the neck from both ends of the spectrum, as cycling advocates are too often guilty of doing the same, as we can see from the example above.

Perhaps groups (like cycling advocates) that struggle for social and political legitimacy shy away from anything that makes them an easy target (like Lycra). Where “normal” is valued for its inconspicuousness. This is, I think, the only area where the anti-Lycra sentiments have a point, even though it’s still not Lycra’s fault, but the bahaviour of cyclists no matter their fashion choices.

See, when cyclists are seen to be behaving in an unacceptable manner by the general public, like bursting through a crowd of people crossing the street, or choosing to go through a red light even when traffic has cleared, or rolling through stop signs, or riding too slow, or too fast, or riding two abreast, or road-raging on someones door mirror – when they are in full Lycra kit, they are easily identifiable as a group that is different from everyone else. A uniform allows people to attach negative stereotypes to a group that much more easily, and Lycra, when combined with actions that displease people, is perfect for that, not least because it is kind of the opposite of modest. Maybe that’s part of the problem – it says, “I’m behaving in a way that you don’t like, and I’m doing it with no humility whatsoever!”

Of course, there are more cyclists who wear regular clothing that do things that people don’t like than there are wearing Lycra, but they don’t provide the offended party with quite the same sweet satisfaction of a cheap insult relating on one’s appearance. Sure, there’s always, “you cyclists…”, but when you can identify a group by using derisive descriptions, that’s a win in any prejudiced persons tiny mind.

But maybe there’s at least something about those who behave badly in Lycra that does deserve some criticism, and that’s usually when they travel in packs. A lone Lycra-lout can be tolerated by nearly anyone. They may cause an involuntary scowl or a timely reminder of just how gay they are from a passing car, but really, even the most petulant of cyclist-haters can go on with their day. When they move in packs, however, Lycra-lummoxes can cause even the most ardent of cyclists to disassociate themselves with the activity.

Without getting into specific acts, it may be the general feeling that the Lycra brigade are regarded in the same way as packs of roving bandits, proudly displaying their colours as they lay waste to the villages and communities they travel through while expecting all and sundry to accommodate them.

Maybe? That might be what those who dislike cyclists think, but as far as the anti-Lycra cycling advocates go, it seems to be so much more basic than that. Rather than pointing out the poor behaviour that happens to be made more conspicuous by large groups of swiftly moving men in brightly coloured cycling kit, it often comes down to a far more superficial line of thought. One that paints cycling as a normal activity not so much by way of good and amenable behaviour while delivering yourself around by means of a clean and sustainable mode of transportation that allows for friendlier, healthier, and more vibrant communities, but through a particular focus on style.

“”I’m sorry, I’m not buying it. I will never ride in Lycra. This is not the way to go if you want to have women cycling… These are my cycling clothes,” Weinreich says, showing off her business skirt, stockings and heels. She says cycling in heels is much easier than walking in heels.”

Can’t argue with that. As far as a campaign goes, I’m all for normal clothing, but encouraging normal clothing is not the same as prejudicing against cycle-specific clothing. You may have adapted to being able to ride in stilettos and feel comfortable in short dresses – and I am totally ok with someone looking smoking-hot while cycling – but that’s nowhere near as easy as cycling in flat shoes, and far less “everyday” for most people. Cycling is easy when you can just wear what you want to wear and ride… unless what you want to wear is cycling specific. Some people who spend time on the bike feel that they’d rather have an easier time riding in clothing that is made for cycling, but apparently what they’re really doing is turning people off of the activity. I wonder if they know that?

I’m clearly not taking issue with the part of the argument that says that we need to promote cycling as an everyday activity so that more people leave their cars at home (or don’t buy one at all). What better way to do that than to make it look like an everyday activity? I’m arguing with the aggressive hate-on for Lycra, the calling-out of cyclists for wearing it, and even the entirely counter-productive act of being prejudiced against cyclists that don’t fit your concept of what cyclists should look like and what bikes they should be riding.

Promote cycling, and promote doing it every day for everyday activities, but I don’t want to hear anymore harping on from people who talk about inclusivity and want to get more people cycling about discouraging certain people from doing it.

Just leave the Lycra alone. You’re not helping your credibility. Stick to doing what you are doing (or trying to do), which is advocating for and encouraging more people to give practical cycling a go. Most people will choose to wear whatever their normal clothing is on the bike as is the case now, and some will choose clothing that fits closely and allows freedom of movement, breathes, wicks moisture, and increases comfort on the bike. “Oh, look at all these Lycra-clad cyclists on the roads” should simply be, “Oh, look at all these cyclists on the roads!” even if they don’t meet your particular style criteria.

We need more people cycling, so let’s stop picking on what people are wearing, and be more concerned about the real reasons why people are reluctant to ditch the car and hop on a bike.


Header image: source