The city of Oxford is often summed up by alumni, poets and visitors with a few images and memories. The dreaming spires, gowns and dusty libraries, the icy November mornings when you’re SO glad you didn’t take up rowing, Pimms on the college lawn in Trinity term and of course, the bicycle.
The bicycle is the go to method of transport in Oxford. It’s the cheapest way of travelling, bar walking, and gives you a feeling of smug glee when you whizz past the morning commuters stuck in traffic on Woodstock Road. Your bicycle can also be part of your fashion statement. You’re an old-school vintage wearer? Then of course you don’t have a new bike with the legally required lights on. No, you’ll have a matte coloured, low seated bicycle with a large wicker basket. When you use your bike as much as your laptop (and when it probably cost as much as your current phone contract), it becomes a part of your daily attire.
Bicycles and fashion, or to be more specific your daily wardrobe, is a tricky negotiation between practicality, comfort and style. Yes, there’s the obvious fear of being splashed by passing cars, or if you’re a bicycle virgin, not wanting to wreck your jeans falling off multiple times on your first few ventures out. But, one of the collective annoyances of cyclists in Oxford is that moment of horror when you realise that the extra jacket you wore this morning to protect you from the cold, is now doing it’s job far too well, and as you pedal along High Street you feel the sweat gathering. By the time you arrive at college/the library/lectures, you want to rip all your layers off and throw your bicycle to the floor in anger at how you are now sweatier than the last time played rugby/netball/ran for the bus. However, within ten minutes you are piling the layers back on again, and you are now so grateful to yourself for bringing that extra jacket, that you’ll treat yourself to a cheeky latte on the way home. What to do, oh what to do.
This said, these (sweaty) fears are nothing, compared to the management we ladies have to execute each morning before cycling off, to avoid showing the world our knickers. Jeans are the obvious option to avoid the pantie-flash, but who has a pair of jeans that doesn’t ride down a bit when we sit, or cycle? Unless you want some pervy old lecturer or builder honking at you as you showcase your latest underwear purchase to the traffic following you at a glacial pace begging you to turn down a side street, then make sure your jeans are secured before pedalling off.
Skirts, are a whole different ball game in themselves. Too long, and they WILL get caught in your gear change and rip (RIP my favourite maxi-dress), and too short? You’re an Oxford student, you don’t need me to explain why we’ve all (unfortunately) seen may girls give Britney Spears a run for her money in the over-exposed department. The answer? Leggings, or a long coat. Both will save you at some point or another from revealing a little too much to the unsuspecting public.
So, my bicycle-fashion advice? Wear a belt – guys, this goes for you too. We do NOT want to see your pants, especially not if you were in such a hangover rush this morning you’ve not changed them since last night’s foam party (I speak from experience. I was so grossed out, yet strangely confused as to why there were bubbles floating behind this skanky student, that I nearly cycled into a Tesco delivery guy). Ladies, leggings for the short skirts, long cardigan/coat for the jeans that you love but don’t stay up, and think knee length for ‘long’ skirts on a bicycle day. Unless you want a ripped skirt, or to have to resort to those sexy reflective leg clasp things that keen cyclists wear after dark, avoid the maxi.
Those iconic memories and images we began with, the dreaming spires and all, may not be your idea of Oxford today. But let’s not ruin it for those who relish the tradition and beauty Oxford has, by showing off your underwear (or lack of) whilst gliding through town on the most functional, and iconic of the city’s symbols ; the bicycle.