What is commuter cycling?

People in English-speaking countries don’t understand commuter cycling. I went into one of those outdoor sports shops this morning looking for waterproof tights. When I cycle in the rain my raincoat keeps my upper body dry and my boots keep my feet and calves dry. But the bit from my knees to the bottom of my coat – my thighs – gets wet. I had this idea to get waterproof tights since I’m always wearing tights and they’re just my favourite thing to wear. But they don’t sell waterproof tights and the salesperson told me that she likes to cycle up into the hills and get all wet and muddy as part of the experience. That’s fine if you’re cycling for leisure but if you’re cycling as a commuter and going to work/school/shops then it’s not so great.

I went into a different shop and the salesperson there told me that waterproof tights won’t let you breathe and so you’ll get too hot and sweaty. Well that’s fine if you’re in a race but if you’re a commuter cyclist then you don’t get hot and sweaty. It seems like a foreign thing to people that someone might use a bike to go from A to B instead of jumping into a car.

Recently I contacted a local bike shop about getting a new cargo bike through the Cyclescheme. I specifically asked about this bike. Here’s their response:

I would also check with Cyclescheme as to whether you can use the voucher with a kids’ bike, as the scheme is designed to assist people in buying bikes for cycling to work – the website says 50% of the bike’s use should be in commuting …

This is not a kids’ bike at all. And it will be used 100% for commuting since this is my only mode of transport. I found the statement particularly irritating because most of the bikes in their shop do not look like commuter bikes to me. They sell racing bikes – think Cannondale and Trek – that don’t have mudguards or racks or baskets for carrying things and you have to ride them hunched over the handlebars. This is not my idea of a commuter bike. Commuter bikes should let you sit upright, they must have mudguards otherwise your clothes will get dirty, and they need to have somewhere to put stuff like children, bags, and shopping.

I know there are people who load their bikes onto the back of the car once a month, then drive out to the country and start cycling and that’s the only time they’re on a bike but I’m not one of them. Anyway, that’s probably enough of a rant for now 🙂

Here’s quite a fun video of moving shop with cargo bikes and while it’s snowing too!



20 responses to “What is commuter cycling?”

  1. The lack of waterproof tights in this country is sexist: bike brands/manufacturers/designers don’t believe women get out there in all weathers to go about their necessary business. (Like we’re afraid we’ll melt or shrink, or our hair will get mussed up?!)

    However, there is lots of choice of waterproof tights for men — my partner lives in his various Endura ones all winter. But Endura don’t make the equivalent products for women. Every season they bombard me with requests to test and review the latest women’s products to help them “break” into the women’s cycling market. And every season I tell them the same thing: you don’t make what women need and want. Oh and that they just don’t “get” women’s body shapes.

    Sad show all round, really.

  2. Yes, they really have no idea. I was rather horrified that women’s tights in an online cycling clothing store look like this:

    That’s just scary and you couldn’t pay me to wear it.

    I ended up getting a pair of Khombu women’s tights. It says on the pack that they have an “All weather barrier against the elements”. I think these are them but I’m not 100% sure because I got them from TK Maxx:


    I haven’t tried them in the rain yet but the fleece lining is nice and warm.

      • Well, I went into a couple of outdoor shops that sells things for a range of outdoor activities, including walking, and they didn’t have anything. I typically wear skirts and dresses with tights each day and I just want to replace my tights with waterproof ones. My coat is long enough to cover my skirt:

        I don’t wear special sporty clothing when I’m cycling because I’m a commuter cyclist. I just want to wear my regular clothes but with waterproof tights or leggings. My coat protects everything else.

  3. ICYMI.

    Where I am, daytime winter temps rarely get below 7C so snow or ice is never an issue. From what I can see people generally don’t wear tights, but rather something looser (but still waterproof) in order to avoid overheating. Since I’m exceptionally prone to overheating, personally I just deal with getting my jeans wet occasionally and if I can remember will bring a change of socks along. But what with the apparent megadrought it’s an increasingly rare issue.

    You might have a look here to at least see a better range than Vulpine seems to have.

    Say, that’s the North Sea in the background there, right? Don’t turn your back on it.

    • That article about cycling in the arctic is really great. I hadn’t seen it before your comment so thank you! It’s true what they say about cycling keeping you warm. Whenever I rock up to school on Busby I’m always warm and sometimes hot but I notice all the other parents are standing shivering, especially the ones who have driven in cars.

      I knew about the Storegga Slide already. Before I moved to Scotland I googled “Scotland earthquakes tsunami” numerous times to see what the risk was. The Storegga Slide tsunami was a pretty catastrophic event but also a very rare one and so I was happy to move here because I think the risk of another one like that is pretty remote.

  4. I am guy so maybe I cannot completely understand the problem correctly. But why not buy rain overtrousers. I have nice pair of these always in my bike luggage when I cycle commute. They have a breathing membrame, so you won’t get sweaty, they fold up to the size of a tennisball and they have zippers on the side that go up all the way to the thighs, which makes it very easy and quick to put them on without having to get out of my shoes.

  5. Best of luck in the hunt. I’m sure there must be something out there. It’s a bit of an inditement of the cycle clothing industry that things are so hard to find. Would the Dutch not have something suitable. There’s also an Edinburgh commuter who has a blog, but I can’t remember what the website is, sorry.

    • I will post on my blog if I find something good. It’s not really a big issue. When I get really drenched I just put on a different pair of tights and then I’m dry. No big deal.

  6. You belong to “commuter cycling” niche. Belonging to a niche, while cool and fun, also has few downsides 😀

    May be you can add water-proof tights to your wishlist and buy them in a different city when you travel?

  7. Hmm, I have found as a commuter runner that it is much more comfortable (for everyone else as well as me!) to take a complete change of clothes. The downside is having to carry a rucksack everywhere.
    My friend Andy who commuter cycles alongside me (well, the train bit anyway, he leaves me behind at the other end) wears waterproof trousers because of all the spray off the roads. He’s just about to get a mudguard for his bike too – we were discussing the way most bikes don’t come with mudguards these days.

    • Mudguards are an absolute must for commuter cycling. I actually got really cross when I read the email from the bike shop that prompted this post. Not just because they called the bike a kid’s bike and clearly hadn’t even looked at it, but also because they went on to recommend the likes of Cannondale and Trek as a suitable commuter bike. I had a look at the websites for these bikes and they are racing bikes – no mudguards, no-where to put stuff, and you have to ride hunched over the handlebars.

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