My new cycling dress: Complicated thoughts on feminity and athletic pursuits

As you know, I have mixed feelings about dresses for sports. But last week I did the TD 5 Boro Bike Tour and they had a bike expo before the ride where they were selling all the things.

All the things was an incredibly diverse collection of bike clothing, including plus sized stuff and lots of clothes by and for women.

There was this dress. I loved the colour and the cut. So I bought it.


I also liked this one, from a Canadian company, KSL.

But they didn’t have my size at the Bike Expo.

What makes them bike dresses? Athletic fabric, rear zip pockets, and they’re the right length. The pink one I bought has an adjustable length. You still need bike shorts. You just wear them underneath.

I like mine. I do. But I still have some reservations about riding in dresses. They’re some of the worries I had about running skirts. I own one of those too now but I just use it for running errands, not actual running. See Running skirts and sexism.

I started riding in dresses a couple of years ago, when commuting to work. See Riding bikes in skirts and dresses. And I’m not judging anyone else’s clothing choices. This is all about me. I’m almost, in all things, a fan of  you do you.

Here’s me at the Tweed Ride in 2015, riding pretty comfortably in a dress, bike shorts, and my SPD sandals:

Okay so what’s my worry? I wore my new cycling dress one day last week and the next I just put on regular cycling shorts–you know the figure hugging, black, sports fabric kind I wear all the time–and a t-shirt. I looked at myself in the mirror and for a few brief seconds the thought flashed in front of my mind, should I be going looking like this? I didn’t feel fat. It’s not that. It wasn’t a body image thing. It was more that the bike shorts showed too much, were too tight, that they weren’t okay for a ride in public.

(But where else do we ever ride but in public?)

Maybe I need another cycling dress! But no..

It was fast and then it passed. But for a moment I got a taste of what lots of women think and feel about wearing sports specific fitted clothing. We’ve written here about athletic clothing as a barrier to women’s participation in sports. See No way am I wearing that! Whether it’s bike shorts, or the uni-suit required in rowing or tight race swimsuits there are issues for women athletes about clothing. There’s a tension between what we think we are supposed to wear and how we are supposed to look and what sports require us to wear.

I could see how if I started wearing cycling dresses all the time, that would become the new normal and the bike shorts would start to feel too skimpy, too tight, too much. And that’s not what I want.  See Fit and Feminist’s defense of skimpy running clothing,

So I love my new cycling dress and when I’m commuting I’ll sometimes ride in dresses but I want to leave lots of room for riding in fitted performance oriented cycling clothes too.

Here’s me in my new cycling kit from Sweet Ride Cycles in Mahone Bay, Nova Scotia. (Thanks Sarah!)

More in the series of Sam frowning at signs on the bike path. This time for inappropriate use of quotation marks.

And here’s the the rear view of me on the 5 boro ride:

Sam from behind on the Queensboro Bridge, NYC

And here’s me on the Leslie Street Spit:

Always frowning at signs, this one for the bike speed limit
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