Style Cycles

Cycling and fashion until recently were not two words you would expect to find in the same sentence. Both have existed in splendid isolation for many years but have now become inexorably entwined.

Since the turn of the century the racing scene in the UK was focused on time trials. Held on windswept roads it was almost a backstreet sport. Shunned by the masses and seen as a sport for the rather peculiar types who rode bikes. Slowly at first then more recently with indecent haste that has all changed. As cycling has seeped more into the daily culture and routine of our lives, so a new industry has emerged hot on it’s coattails.

The story is perhaps best highlighted by one of the brands that has been at the forefront of the evolution of fashion and cycling – Rapha. Their chief executive Simon Mottram started the company over 10 years ago. Before he succeeded he held over 200 meetings trying to raise enough capital to start the business. A combination of cycling’s lack of profile in the UK and the almost taboo proposition of selling clothes directly to British men meant this process was extremely difficult.

Style Cycles

Fast forward ten years some of those money men must be ruing the decision not to invest. In 2012, Rapha sold £18m worth of clothing, luggage, books and accessories to an affluent and burgeoning clientele of style-conscious cyclists around the world. This is in addition to the creative collaborations with the likes of Paul Smith, a keen cyclist himself and others. By anyone’s standards that is a significant jump. It doesn’t stop there. If you were to ask, most people would associate cyclists with lycra or unflattering clothing. If you’re racing or traveling long distances then lycra is ideal given all the technology and design that has been invested in this line of apparel.

Economic changes, environmental and health concerns have forced people to reassess resulting in more taking up cycling as a means of transport or a combination of this and health benefits. They aren’t looking to race but to travel comfortably, arriving at their destination in a more relaxed manner with clothing that reflects this decision.

In the 1950’s and 60’s when British cyclists started to make a name for themselves at home and abroad the choice of cycling attire was limited. Design was probably best described as bold, bright and possibly a bit lairy. The last factor contributing to the perception that cycling was a little bit left field. In the absence of alternative products, wool was predominately used and although effective to a point, it could absorb the elements, sweat and feel heavy. During the 1960’s Tom Simpson began setting trends on and off the bike. He was the first British rider to wear the yellow jersey at the Tour de France and in 1965 he won the World Championship road race. Off the bike he became known for his eccentric dress style, wearing a jacket, a bowler hat and carrying an umbrella.


Most of the style and panache came from overseas. The big racing scene was inevitably in France, Italy, Spain and the low countries of Europe, Belgium and Holland. With their Grand Tours and one-day classic races there was an industry already established. The marquee brands were mainly Italian covering bikes, clothing and components. From Atala to Zullo the Italians had style and substance.

The other European countries were expanding their range but the scene in the UK was still very limited. As we moved in the 60’s the emergence of some of the UK’s finest early stars such as Brian Robinson, Barry Hoban and our first world champion, Tom Simpson paved the way for the current generation of stars to strut their stuff.

This blooming of cycling talent in the UK ensured there was an emerging industry connected with the sport. With the introduction of lottery funding a more coherent business plan from British Cycling started to reap rewards. This had the knock on effect of encouraging more people to start cycling in the UK. Another effect on the cycling scene was the emergence of online retailers. Bringing the market place closer to customers.

As cycling became a professional sport the sponsorship has increased but the riders requirements for better equipment, clothing and nutrition has fuelled the market. The demand for improvements using the riders to provide the feedback has been instrumental in leading this evolution. The development of new materials has led to a rapid expansion in all aspects of cycling from carbon frames, components and even in clothing to lycra and the ability to keep riders warm and dry in almost any conditions.

Lycra previously known as Spandex was invented in 1958 and then revolutionized the clothing market four years later. Other materials that have had a similar effect on the clothing ranges is merino wool and Goretex. As cyclists got fitter, faster the need for equipment and clothing to match became a demand placed on manufacturers. Knowledge increased and the ability to develop new ranges boomed.

Traditional brands have continued to expand ranges with the improved technology allowing them to offer better-equipped garments and they have been joined by almost a new brand every week. Going back to the Rapha success, this has been based on a desire to provide the best. Some might argue this comes at a price but they would argue quality comes first. For the consumer they might see this differently but having the choice is the main change that customers will benefit from.

This demand for greater performance from your clothing has stemmed from the general improvement in outdoor clothing. As athletes search for the next challenge, this places bigger demands on the athlete but additionally their equipment. Brands have responded and some such as Rapha, Sportful and Castelli have the benefit of rider feedback as they supply professional teams. Quality responses from the pros can only assist the manufacturers to improve their offering.

Style Cycles

So now that the market has been breached, manufacturers supplying clothing to customers in big volumes compared to where Rapha started out 13 years ago, what’s next? For starters the range of clothing for cyclists has significantly grown. From the staple diet of jerseys, shorts, helmets the accessories and jacket ranges have grown. You can have no excuses regardless of the weather as the overshoes, jackets and gloves allow you to ride no matter how low the mercury drops.

From the three ply laminate fabric developed specifically for Rapha’s Race Jacket, the Nanoflex technology used by Castelli or the thermal Roubaix material used in bib tights.

Every brand is searching for that special material that will make their product warmer, drier or more breathable.

This hasn’t been at the expense of style. The older race jerseys were used as advertising boards for the sponsors. That aspect hasn’t changed, sponsors are still crucial to the growth and survival of the sport but the logos are integrated more or less to make the clothing more appealing to the fans. Not that every design or colour has proven to be successful. White or brown occasionally appear in team shorts not great if the conditions are wet. Taste is something that brands are placing more stock in as cyclists become more selective in their preference.

There has always been an accusation that road cycling is more snobby and clique than other cycling disciplines. Riders would place more emphasis on getting their kit to match their bike more than putting in the serious riding. The complete outfit from head to toe and including accessories would match the colour scheme of the bike. With the likes of British based companies, Rapha and Velobici or new overseas brands Panachecyclewear, Jaggad, Q36.5 and many others now providing plenty of substance and style it would be difficult not to find the outfit you desire. The fact that there dedicated online retailers providing socks in just about any flavour you could want.

What has been proven certainly over the last few years is that cycling as a sport, a recreational activity or commuting has crossed the boundary from leisurewear into fashionable clothing that can be worn off the bike. Vulpine, another British brand have produced an urban range. Velocity make urban cyclewear for women. So not only has cycle clothing become popular, it has moved across the line into popular fashion. Where will it eventually end, who knows? For now with the likes of Paul Smith, Ted Baker and other pioneers and leading lights from the fashion world making or collaborating on cycle ranges who knows were this will go. You have no excuse for not matching your outfits or looking good when you make that all important coffee and cake stop.