Things I know to be true: One, that cyclists are, for better and for worse, exposed continuously to the elements. Two, that England’s elements are regularly, reliably on the soggy side. And three, that I am not a quitter. This is something I’m proud of; it takes a lot of tenacity to keep sugar, wine AND gluten in your diet throughout the NY resolution frenzy and Lent’s second chance saloon. However, several years ago, I did quit something: I quit Lycra.
Specifically, I gave up my top-to-toe ‘cycling clothes’, and with them the awkward act of sneaking into public loos to Clark Kent myself in or out of meeting, party or pub appropriate clothes, and lugging outfit changes around. It is hard enough to maintain some semblance of “real adult person” without rushing, late, into boardrooms or restaurants with your now-crumpled skirt inside out, paper stuck to your shoe and an eye-sore of a pannier bag leaking padded leggings.
I set about on a journey to find clever kit that would fit my plans and panniers; things to throw on and off that would protect my laptop/shoes/head without being too cumbersome or sad to look at. Here are the ones that worked.
The sweat-less rain jacket: Otto_london poncho
Dodging the rain is pretty pointless if you’re sweating up a storm under your waterproof, which is why I choose to keep my armpits aerated with my Otto_london Urban Poncho. I love this poncho for several reasons. I love it because, technically speaking, it does the job beautifully; obviously it’s totally waterproof and much less sweaty than many long-sleeved alternatives (helped by lovely lightweight cotton lining) so I pull up dry inside and out, but it’s also armed with genius handlebar straps to keep your legs dry, reflective piping for visibility, smart studs and a waist strap to keep itself in place on and off the bike, a two-way zip and a safe-and-dry inner pocket. These are all things that make it clever, dry and comfy. But I also love my Otto poncho because it’s chic and smart enough for people who work in fashion and/or scare me to say things like, “Ooh, nice cape” at parties, and for my boss to say things like, “Ooh, you dressed as an adult today” at work. In other words, it looks like a cool jacket, which I count as a win. Otto_london Urban Poncho, £88
The ‘it’-worthy bike bag: Hill & Ellis pannier bag
So pretty, so practical, Hill & Ellis’ pannier bag puts the rest of my handbags to shame. From an aesthetic and artisanal point of view, the hugely popular, Hackney-made bags are flawless: gorgeous, hand-crafted leather in a host of cool colours, a sneaky hideaway for clips and an attachable leather shoulder strap means they pop off your rack looking like seriously swish satchels. Technically speaking, they’re strong, water-resistant (mine holds up fine in showers, but comes with an elasticated cover for hardcore rain), have reflective tabs for night riders and feature patented, spring-loaded pannier clips that fit any rack, with an extra security bar and padding to ensure that the bag and bike don’t rub. They fit a 15” inch laptop, a puncture repair kit, a couple of books, a spare top and a load of extra tat with ease (since you ask). They fit in at work events, friend-type events, and any time you might being trying to get free drinks at an east London gallery opening or academic mixer. I think they’re fit. Also Jon Snow has one so using mine makes me 100% smarter by default. Hill & Ellis Leather Satchel, £195
The ‘does my bum look great in these?’ cycling jeans: Levi’s commuter jeans
For most, smart jeans are now a totally acceptable work wardrobe staple. What is not acceptable is a) jeans with a big white saddle-worn bum, or b) cycling in jeans that share that bum with innocent passers-by. Which is why Levi’s commuter jeans may be the most important item of clothing I own. They have all the style of classic Levi’s – they last well and look sharp (and yes they do have a bit of a peachy bum effect) – with carefully conceived of touches that make them perfect for commuting. They’re high-waisted, insanely comfy, keep their shape after hard rides and are made to be especially durable (bye bye saddle bum), plus they boast reflective turn ups, deep pockets to keep your stuff safe and a water-resistant, anti-microbial finish. Levi’s Commuter Skinny Jeans, from £80
The favourite shoes defenders: Gore-Tex overshoes
As unexciting as it might sound, these overshoes were my biggest breakthrough on the road to happy commuting. Having first lost a lot of lovely shoes to puddles (or, rather, the growing stench of mildew), I hunted in vain for a pair of overshoes that found a middle ground between slim-fitting little things that couldn’t cover more than a plimsoll and huge, flapping galosh-style jobbies. Enter the Universal City Gore-Tex Overshoe. Anyone who has spent enough time traipsing around the English countryside will know that Gore-Tex is the waterproof holy grail – all high-tech, sweat-free, dry-footed joy – and their overshoes follow suit. They’re totally waterproof, obviously, windproof, breathable and super strong, and their Velcro/elasticated strap combo means they give enough for to cover chunky, heeled boots but tighten enough to cover pumps or road shoes. So, while £60 felt a lot at first, once I totted up the price of replacing foul-smelling, disintegrating shoes every season, they felt like a steal. Universal City Gore-Tex Overshoe, £59.99
The good hair day helmet combo: Thousand helmet; Rapha cap; Batiste dry shampoo
I’ll let you in on a secret: there is no such thing as a good hair day helmet. Not completely. Load up on breathable holes and you’re bound to get it wet (in nice damp patches) at some point; protect yourself from the rain and that head’s gonna sweat. Judge away, hair-do destruction does put a lot of two-wheeled commuters off helmets, but one thing I like more than my hair is my head, so I make my helmet work – and I think I’ve cracked the combo.
My commuting favourite is the Thousand Helmet. (And I’m not alone, Thousand’s Kickstarter mission to make comfy, attractive helmets that people would want to wear exceeded its $20,000 Kickstarter target by $200,000.) It’s rather gorgeous, in a sleek, simple way; satisfactorily lightweight and well-ventilated (seven vents and three cooling channels); meets US and EU safety standards; and has nice design touches like the magnetic buckle that clips with one hand, environmentally friendly materials such as vegan leather straps, and a removable, washable liner. But the real, stand-out, clever-as-you-like feature is its Secret PopLock, which means you can safely lock it to your bike instead of dragging it around all day – and their Bike Thief Guarantee shows they’re so sure of it, they’ll replace it if it somehow gets nicked. I’m a massive fan of mine, so I like knowing I’m not gonna leave it under a table somewhere. Thousand Helmet, from £85
Under my Thousand helmet I’ve taken to wearing a cycling cap. This is controversial – not everyone’s a fan of caps – but my Rapha Pro Team Cap has totally changed my on-bike barnet. It plugs helmet vent gaps in a downpour, but its high-wicking build, ventilation holes and anti-bacterial-ness means you stay cool under your lid. Plus it has a nice vintage pro-cyclist look about it, like this bloke. Rapha Pro Team Cap, £30
And the final element – essential after a long, hot ride or before a big meeting – is the teeny-tiny, £1 bottle of Batiste dry shampoo I shove in my hand bag. A quick spray into roots and I’m back to sweat-free, Brady Bunch-style swishy hair.
If you’ve found the perfect cycling gear making your commute even more of a joy – share with others by leaving a comment.
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As seen on The Guardian, BBC and The Independent.