Have cycling designers glommed on to the retro ’70s pattern?
The polka dots certainly seemed to stand out in the exhibit hall at the Seattle Bicycle Expo, the Cascade Bicycle Club’s big event held recently on Seattle’s waterfront.
As I walked the show, I pondered why I was seeing dots. Well, they are round, like wheels. They can be very eye-catching, and even reflective. And they can be multicolored, so they can match anything. Those are my guesses.
“Well, they’re timeless,” says Juliette Delfs, owner of Hub and Bespoke in Fremont, Seattle’s first fashion-forward bike clothing store. She organized the “Traffic Stoppers” fashion show at this year’s Expo. The show didn’t exactly have a lot of polka dots in it (there goes my premise) and timeless is a lot different than trendy.
Perhaps my insight as a fashion reporter leaves something to be desired. I must confess that I’m not the ideal candidate for the job. I shop for function, and choose my wardrobe by what is clean versus what matches.
But I’ll doff my helmet to the fashion show, which was a crowd-pleaser. The audience clearly found the show fun and interesting. And maybe it brought in a different type of attendee.
“I met a father with a child in tow, a young girl maybe in her early teens, and he said this is how he convinced her to go to the show,” says Delfs. The girl is considering a career in fashion. “Another fellow said this was the only way to get his wife to come again to the show this year.”
The models showed off jackets, neckwear and skirts, which are a female cyclist’s safety tool — hence the Traffic Stopper — as well as fashion statement. “There’s nothing like a skirt to keep you safe,” says Delfs with a laugh. “You get a lot more looks from cars.”
Although she produced the runway-style show, with Willie Weir announcing descriptions of the outfits while music pumped through the air, Delfs says her goals go beyond either fashion or safety to the idea of just using your bike to get around. To her, fashionable bike clothing is not for the long recreational rides out to the farmland, but rather for the five- to seven-mile rides in the city.
“I want to show how the appropriate clothing for the destination makes riding your bike for transportation even more suitable,” she says.
That has stymied me. The idea of showing up for a business meeting in a pair of padded bike shorts just makes me hop in the car when I’d rather use my bike.
The solution is bike wear that looks like street clothes, she says. For men, “trousers with sport fabric and cut for a longer rise, because they get a lot of wear and tear on the inseam.” For women, “we can wear tights with a skirt and still look totally presentable.”
Safety features can be subtle, too. One pair of pants has back pockets that can be pulled inside out to reveal a reflective lining. On another pair, roll up the cuffs to reveal reflective strips.
Some of the cyclewear struck me as echoing way back in time, to the bicycling heyday of the 1890s, when tweed vests and handlebar mustaches ruled the lanes.
Delfs agrees. “A lot of the plaids point to wool, and we’ve finally learned — again — how great wool is for performance.” She sees a parallel with equestrian wear, too, which has a lot of movement needs in common with biking.
And in this era of gaudy, skin-tight racing outfits, I think cyclists can look more like insects than commuters, which I worry makes drivers less considerate of their fellow travelers.
“Put on something different,” advises Delfs. “You’ll get different looks from the cars, you won’t look so alien, and it won’t be so polarizing.”
I still think you could get a second look by adding a few polka dots to your outfit, and so do the folks at Nutcase Helmets, which makes shell-style helmets with brightly colored designs, one of which is all dots.
And the folks at Bike Wrapper, which designed stretchy, reflective fabric to slip onto the bike frame for night visibility. They come in polka dots and plaids, so you can choose your retro era.
Travel Notes from the Expo
There were more fashion statements in the colors of the classic Italian bikes on display at the show: the array of pastels was reminiscent of a gelato display.
Frank G. Lenz could’ve used one of those bikes. The adventurous pioneer tried to go around the world on his bike in 1892, carrying a ton of camera gear (well, it probably felt like a ton) and riding a 57-pound bike. Author David V. Herlihy profiled Lenz in “The Lost Cyclist” and gave a fascinating Expo talk, even showing some of Lenz’s pictures.
Vuoi pedelare in Europa o Sud America? Then you’d be interested in Bike Rentals Plus, an Italian company that will rent you a bike, or organize a full cycling tour, for your European or South American adventure. Ciao, Tuscany!
If you can’t travel, maybe just send your bike!
The folks at Bicycles for Humanity could make that happen. Donate your extra bike and it could have an adventure while providing South African women with a crucial means of transportation. Hotels around the region are serving as drop points for your unneeded bike.
Bill Thorness is the author of Biking Puget Sound: 50 Rides from Olympia to the San Juans. Contact him at email@example.com.