You’ve got to look good on a bike. When I first fell in love with cycling, it was the style and élan of the men and the machines that really appealed.
Coordinating togs with wheels is not easy, though. Suffering from chronic velo-mania, as well as being sartorially obsessed, means I now have a stable of steeds and a variety of wardrobes to match.
The easiest part is when I’m out with my bike buddies pretending to be a boy racer in the peloton. Choosing the gear to match my Tour de France fantasies is now simple. Gone are the days of sticky Lycra and lurid logos. I just click on the website of Rapha, home of super-stylish high-performance racing gear with a hint of retro chic, watch my overdraft grow and hope my waistline shrinks to fit.
It’s everyday city cycling that really throws up a style dilemma. I could opt for a folding bike and a crumpled suit, as so many city types do, but where is the joy in that? Timothy Everest, cycling tailor, makes beautiful contemporary bespoke suits for men who want to look razor-sharp as they walk from bike-park to boardroom. But I personally don’t feel right in my Savile Row finery with a saddle wedged beside my inside leg. If it’s an occasion where only a suit is suitable, then I usually decide to leave the bike at home, though I have tried some more outré alternatives.
I never quite went for the full east London facial hair and Edwardian pedalling garb but I do possess a pair of plus fours and long Argyle socks, which have sat in the drawer ever since the derision of work colleagues got too much to bear. I also once sported a bowler hat on the bike in the knowledge that it was originally designed as a crash helmet for horse riders, but only once. The howls of laughter every time I stopped at traffic lights (yes, I do stop at traffic lights) made me see the error of my ways.
To wear or not to wear a helmet is strictly between you and your neurosurgeon, but no helmet looks anything other than silly when you’re cycling in civvies. For short city rides I tend to opt for the tiny peaked caps so emblematic of classic road-racing chic. When I do sport a helmet, I still carry a cap for relaxing and posing with a flat white after the ride.
Casting cool shadows is definitely part of the appeal and it’s that continental-cyclist-by-a-Gaggia look I mostly go for. That svelte 1960s mod silhouette – narrow trousers worn high above the ankle, short jackets, soft shoulders and pastel colours – always works because it brings to mind the golden age of Eddy Merckx cycle makers et al, on pared-down steel machines looking groovy outside Italian coffee bars.
To avoid getting too sweaty, a wicking base layer beneath everything else is essential. Fabrics that don’t crease are a boon, as trousers will need to be rolled high on the right leg to avoid chain marks. A Sta-Prest style of narrow chinos, topped by a polo shirt and a classic windcheater (or merino sweater, depending on the weather) usually works.
In high summer, long shorts, tailored to just above the knee, are perfect as they show off tanned, shaven legs and (hopefully) honed calves.
The real problem, though, comes when the heavens open. “Drowned rat” is not a good look, so, if it really pours, the way to stay looking sharp is to ditch the bike and hail a cab.
Robert Elms is a London-based writer and broadcaster. The ebook of his memoir ‘The Way We Wore: A Life in Threads’ is available from July 31