Lose the Lycra: Local designers talk fashionable, practical bikewear

courtesy of Zuma Blu

courtesy of Zuma Blu

Why are so many cycling outfits so ugly?

It’s a question as old as the dawn of time, or at least as old as the advent of spandex. No offense to those who wear tight, stretchy, synthetic attire, but if you’re mixing riding with socializing or using your wheels for transportation, there’s a real need for better, more bike-friendly fashion options.

Brian and Lea Leopold, co-founders of Zuma Blu, are trying to address that problem with their line of cycling apparel. The Twin Cities-based husband and wife are both recreational cyclists, and they found that whenever they went to bike shops, the majority of the stuff on the racks was performance-based attire. “Most bike shops are geared toward competitive cyclists,” Brian says.

Zuma Blu aims instead for customers who enjoy riding for fitness, but also plan on stopping at a Caribou, or a brewery. They offer looser tops that look great on any body type, with prints and colors that blend in more than a lot of bike clothes. “It’s not just fitness. It’s a social thing,” Brian says.

Zuma Blu does most of its business online, mainly because bike shops don’t seem to think that there’s an interest in this type of bike attire. That’s part of the reason Ellie Kingsbury of Bikarelly began making her own line of cycling fashion, which she sells at the Midtown Farmers Market.

Kingsbury has been a bike commuter since the late 1980s, and trying to find decent-looking clothes to wear while en route has been a continual problem—especially for women, trans, and femme cyclists, who are lucky if they can find anything that fits at all, let alone looks good.

As a commuter, Kingsbury doesn’t like to lug around a separate wardrobe for after her ride in, so she started making clothes that are comfortable to ride in and that she can wear into a restaurant. Her signature piece is a flowy, stretchy skirt. “The best compliment I got was someone, from 12 feet away, saying, ‘Oh my God, that skirt looks like something you’d bike in.’ I walked over there and hugged her,” Kingsbury says.

And if you do want something stretchy, another local, Nickey Robo of the Fashion Ration, makes custom-fitted booty shorts, crop tops, and leggings. The queer-friendly, body-positive designer also adjusts people’s chamois pads, unwieldy skirts, and shirts that need more room in the arms, and specializes in hemming pants or tapering them down so they don’t get caught in your gears.

We asked Robo, along with a few other local cyclists, their best tips for stylish biking. Here are a few of their recommendations:

Look for durable clothes

Robo wears a lot of skirts, often from vintage stores. “My philosophy is: If your bike is comfortable and your clothes fit well, you can kind of wear anything,” she says. She encourages folks to spend a bit more on quality clothes, because fast-fashion brands don’t tend to hold up to sweat and movement.

Get a kick-ass helmet

“For years I hated the notion of wearing a helmet,” says local interior designer Brooke Voss. “But you can buy a great-looking helmet, and you don’t have to look stupid for doing so.” Voss got hers in Iceland—it’s navy blue and has a rope detail—and she wears her hair in a loose ponytail. “The trick to having your hair not look fussed up is to smooth your hair down in the direction you want it to go when you take your helmet off,” she advises.

Wear only as many layers as you need

Another local biker, Lowell Huesers, tries to keep layers to a minimum. “Being able to peel off is good, but wearing just enough is better,” he says. “When it’s cold, you should feel cold when you get on your bike.” When it’s not horribly hot, Huesers opts for wool, because according to his research, if you hang it up, the stink is gone by the next day.

Embrace the bike-shorts- on-the-bottom look

Christine Taffe, a copywriter at Fallon, says her preferred summer outfit is a dress, but she always wears bike shorts underneath. “I know that’s not the sexiest advice, but it’s very helpful,” she says. She sticks to dresses that aren’t too long and billowy, so the fabric doesn’t get stuck in the gears, but she likes styles that aren’t too short or tight. Basically, think fun, but practical.

Cruise around to rest of our 2018 Bike Issue: