The question of how to stylishly cycle is no modern phenomenumANTONIO MARANO

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a woman in a pair of culottes has no greater enemy than her bicycle chain. Culottes are an intrinsically floaty thing to wear, and this diaphanousness is somewhat at odds with the nature of what constitutes a good thing to cycle in.

The culotte is a wardrobe staple for me, being of diminutive stature and thus unable to wear a standard wide-leg trouser. However, cycling is a travel staple for me, and the twain make for uneasy bedfellows. The safety pins on my keyring at times seem more important than the bicycle keys also found there, as I try to restrain the material my leg is festooned with, for fear of a repeat of what happened the time I did not take such precautionary measures. I have yet to master cycling side-saddle, which can seem the only other option.

It would be somewhat extra, I feel, to take a pair of leggings or shorts to change into when cycling, but The Incident of the Bicycle Chain and the Culotte may well have changed my mind about that. There have actually been three such incidents, all of which would have been avoided had I been wearing something more aerodynamic than culottes. However, the temptation to wear a jeans and jumper combo every day is something that if given into would prove too insidious to shake, and therefore culottes must prevail, even in the face of peril, risk and bicycle grease.

Cycling can be the scourge of fashion. How, then, can you cycle while dressing well?

The first incident occurred to my beloved rust coloured culottes, which I had paired with a cafe-au-lait round neck jumper and my black leather Oxfords. And a massive down jacket, natch, because Cambridge is utterly freezing in Lent Term, Michaelmas Term, and select moments of Easter Term. I pedalled off to a supervision, enjoying my culottes very much. It was about 10.50am.

Cycling is something I very much enjoy too, and therefore doing that while culotte-clad was quite a gift. Until there was a tell-tale tug, a very ominous tug indeed. Gingerly, I stopped my bike.

Culottes, the solution?FLICKR: JENS ROST

I had to be very careful when using the brakes, however, because to brake too hard may have posed a death sentence to my beloved culottes. I carefully untangled them from the chain. Thankfully, they were not ripped. They were, nevertheless, coated in an unctuous black substance that did not look as though it would ‘go quietly’ in the wash. I was correct in this assessment. Throughout my supervision, I fretted relentlessly. Upon returning home I immediately tried to clean my culottes, but nothing seemed to work. I texted my mother. I googled dry cleaners in Cambridge. I rang for the vicar to do the last rites. In a stroke of excellent fortune, my mother was able to save them, however it was very nearly Goodnight Vienna.

The other two occasions were only slightly less traumatic. On one, my black knitted culottes catching in the then-broken chain guard caused me to misjudge a tight turning and fall off my bike, into some thorns, in front of some very kindly tourists. The second concerned a white polka dot hanky-hem maxi skirt which succumbed to the chain at the foot of Orgasm Bridge. It has never quite recovered from the grease or the severe rumpling it received. “Sorry I’m late, my skirt got caught in my bicycle chain”, I said, hopefully breezily, as I exploded into my DoS meeting, covered in black oil and scratches. My DoS looked concerned.


Mountain View

Exam Term fashion essentials

Cycling can be the scourge of fashion when there are so many potential hazards to consider. How, then, can you cycle while dressing well? I still advocate the use of safety pins, but perhaps err on the side of caution and use more than you think you will need, especially if it is a particularly voluminous garment. Secondly, ensure that your bicycle chain guard is fully functioning, as mine has not been for some time, and I attribute some of the responsibility to this. Thirdly, take all reasonable preventative measures. If necessary, have a change of trousers or skirt to hand for cycling in, or wear something like boots that will naturally restrain your clothing or protect it against wayward bicycle grease.

But frankly, if your outfit is too excellent to be subjected to the above measures, you could always just walk. That way, you’ll get longer to enjoy wearing it, and you may even inspire the people you see on your journey, too.