Bella in Sella



I’m not meticulous about what I wear when I’m cycling. I never have been. From the days when I used to get my bell bottom jeans wrapped round the chain rings of my Raleigh Hustler, to the luminous yellow mountain biking shorts I wore in the early 90s, I’ve never aspired to be the model of cycle chic. For decades, cycling was deeply unfashionable, and no one cared how you were attired.

By Rob Penn

Friday 5th January 2018

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It was not always thus. In September 1893, Tessie Reynolds caused a national sensation when she rode from Brighton to London and back on a man’s bicycle, wearing what was called ‘rational dress’ – a long jacket over a pair of baggy pantaloons cropped below the knee. It was a turning point in the acceptance of practical clothes for women, most of whom then still cycled in voluminous skirts, corsets, petticoats, long-sleeved shirts and jackets with restrictive neckbands. Later, when the Suffragettes campaign of civil disobedience reached its height in 1912, the Tessie Reynolds incident was seen as a milestone.

Cycle wear may no longer be a signal for social upheaval, but the style police have definitely crept back into cycling in recent years. The British commuter in day glo green is now quietly frowned upon from afar by his ‘Cycle Chic’ colleague in Copenhagen. The Sunday morning cyclist still turning out in his old Mapei kit – the one with brightly-coloured 3-D boxes that Lady Gaga might have designed on LSD – is viewed with a grimace by the man who swoops past in full Rapha. Even on the quiet lanes of the Brecon Beacons where I live, I now feel the burden to coordinate my outfits with the colour scheme of my bike – not easy when it’s painted blue and orange.

I prefer functional clothing to a sore arse but the plethora of new brands – Velobici, Vulpine, Muxu, Howies, Primal, Chrome, the list goes on – making stylish attire for urban riding means you can now pedal comfortably and look good. You can even break into sweat. The emergence of merino wool as the base layer of choice, replacing the man-made fibres we all wore for years, means you can now ride hard to the pub or a meeting and arrive not smelling like a dead badger in high summer.

An eye-opener for me was riding a road bike in Italy for the first time. Every cyclist I passed in the hills outside Milan on a Sunday morning, was meticulously turned out. Looking good on the bike is such an important part of the culture, the tifosi even have an expression to embody it: ‘bella in sella’ literally means ‘beautiful in the saddle.’ I’m not quite there yet, but at least the bell bottoms have gone.

See how your fashion sense matches up with the Italians with a trip to Italy. 

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