Fashion on wheels

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Notes from an ‘ambassador of fashionable biking’

As flattering as spandex bodysuits can be on the right curves, I can’t say my closet has anything of the sort.

Besides my messenger bag, I don’t own customized clothing for biking, mostly because I’m only a part-time rider. While pedaling around the lakes or crossing neighborhoods, I’m likely to don whatever it is I’d also wear while walking, skateboarding or driving. Of course, certain parts of my wardrobe just don’t seem to work while I’m on two wheels, more specifically, skirts. A staple in my daily wears, I refuse to sacrifice my love of skirts and fashion for transportation. In the fall, adding tights and leggings to an outfit spare on-lookers from peeking at your intimates, but in the summer it’s just too damn hot not to show off those bare legs. So what’s a girl to do?

The no-skirts-allowed policy just doesn’t work for me, and therefore, when the weather permits, I have no shame in wearing a flashy pair of underwear under my mini of choice. I may feel slightly trashy, but sometimes jeans just don’t achieve the sass I need for a night out.

Mingling with multiple members of the bike community, I know I’m not the only lady who struggles to combine personal style with bike culture. Women of all types hit dead ends when planning their road-ready apparel. From racers to commuters, women have slim pickings when shopping for gear that not only fits and functions, but also pays tribute to fashion. If fingers need to be pointed, the sheer lack of women in the bike industry is at fault. Although the number of female bikers is steadily increasing, men have traditionally dominated the industry. Ladies just haven’t been given the opportunities to create what they want or need for their biking bodies. In all honesty, you can’t send a man to do a women’s job.

A biker herself, local fashion designer Anna Lee recognized the need to create more options for women cyclists and decided to create a clothing line for women on wheels. The collection consists of free moving skirts, breathable shirts and warm layers, all in bright, beautiful colors that not only look cute, but make the rider more visible. In the primal stages of the line, Lee only has the summer look completed, but promises to continue designing for fall and winter.

On Saturday, April 19, Lee organized a “fashion bike ride” in an attempt to get some feedback and network with women interested in her ideas. The group of about 15 bikers rode all afternoon, crossing bridges and cruising the Midtown Greenway, with stops at a couple bars and even a visit to a fashion studio. I rode along, wearing one of Lee’s new skirts and had the opportunity to chat with a vibrant bunch of bicycling women who not only want to feel good on their bike, but look good, too.

Model meeting: Monday, April 14

Lee invited all of us “models” over to talk about the collection and the bike route. After a glass of wine, she showed us the fabric and a Jennifer Davis painting,
“Tiger” that first inspired her designs.

“I wanna be pretty while I’m biking,” she said to sum things up.

She told the eight of us we were going to be “her ambassadors of fashionable biking,” and then she let each of us choose one of her designs to wear for Saturday’s ride. In an array of pink, blue and orange, the options included two skirts, a T-shirt, bloomers and hip pack. Naturally, I went with the orange skirt.

The other models were friends and colleges of Lee, all with unique bike experiences: mountain bike racers, commuters, recreational riders and combinations of all three. The goal for the group was simple: have fun, gain a bit of visibility and test out the clothing while incorporating it with our own style.

Day of the ride

The clouds teased rain and the temperature wasn’t necessarily warm, but I put on a few colorful layers to match my skirt and hopped on my ratty mountain bike. Even though each of the models wore only one of Lee’s pieces, together we still managed to look like a collection. Excited for the adventure, one model, Christine Teel, offered encouragement to Amanda Stolle.

“Wow, look at you hot mama,” Christine Teel teased.

“You mean, cold mama. I’m freezing!” Stolle said while putting on some arm warmers, trying not to hide the shirt by Lee.

Other friends showed up and joined our bike gang as we zipped through Uptown on the Greenway and circled around the West Bank, skirts blowing in the wind. Every now and then my eyes were diverted from the trail to the bright colored bloomers worn by riders ahead of me. My skirt kept bunching up on my thighs while I pedaled, sticking to my leggings. I later learned those who wore a slip were able to avoid that problem.

After the first hour, my bottom was already quite tender due to my not-so-comfy bike seat. The other riders seemed to be faring well. We made our first stop the Nomad World Pub for a bloody Mary and a peek into the upstairs fashion studio.

Back on our route towards Northeast, we all stopped at the Yacht Club, a small bar crowded with an afternoon party. Lee pulled out a couple bananas in case anyone was hungry.

“Oh, man. That was just a total mom move,” she laughed.

“Are you gonna take a bundt cake out of your basket next?” someone teased.

Inside the bar I chatted with Anna Lemke and Richard Berg, a couple who had joined the ride on a whim, just looking for some weekend entertainment. Both full-time commuters, they would love more elements of fashion incorporated into their bike wardrobes.

“I’d love to see some clip-in high heels,” Lemke said. “Then I wouldn’t need to keep five pairs of shoes at work.”

Both Lemke and Berg agreed options are far too specialized; spandex racing clothes aren’t for the average commuter. They suggested more wind-breaker and water proof materials and lots of pockets.

Still full of energy and good spirits, the group cruised to the Red Stag, 509 1st Ave. NE, to finish up our fashion adventure. After a shot of Jagermeister and some cheese curds, models mingled with other Minneapolis fashionistas to admire Lee’s work. Lee kept prompting people to ask for a peek at our bloomers. Only blushing slightly, we lifted our skirts every time clear of hesitation.

“I’ve never flashed so much in my life,” Teel laughed. “And there aren’t even any guys here.”

The event may have kicked off Lee’s new line, but more importantly, it drew some attention to needs that aren’t’ being met for the masses of women transitioning into the commuting lifestyle. Women are asking for more attractive helmets, fun accessories like arm and leg warmers and everything in brighter/happier colors. They want less technical fabrics, definitely less hibiscus and dragonfly patterns.

“We need skulls and crossbones,” said Shelia Bianchi, explaining her frustration with the abundance of bike wear that appeals more towards 12-year-old girls than mature adults.

Teel and Stolle also noted the problems with sizing.

“Female mountain bike racers have bigger thighs than the average woman, and we need clothing that flatters that muscle,” Teel said. “We need more female buyers and designers who understand this. In general, we just need more women in the industry.”