Umbra on biking in a skirt
I was really energized by your column on cargo bicycles. I still own a car, but I drive it less and less, mostly to haul stuff and to travel when I want to wear a nice dress. So, a cargo bike solves the hauling problem. The other problem is that my skirt gets caught in the bicycle chain. Many decades ago, bicycles came with chain guards and even skirt guards to keep the flapping hem out of the machinery. I have seen pictures of European bicycles with such shields, but I can’t find one here in my hilly city. I need lots of gears because of the hills, so I can’t just import an Amsterdam model. Do you know any wonderful manufacturers out there who can solve my problem?
In Europe, where things are flatter and cycling for transport has a longer history, there is also a tradition of cycling in a stately manner with your Victorian dress or tailcoat — Arthur Conan Doyle wrote an entire Sherlock Holmes story around a lady cyclist. He did not mention the skirt guard, which is a metal or plastic shield attached to the rear bike fender, covering the spokes and keeping skirts/tails/capes from entanglement. A chain guard — a sort of curvy box around the bracket and chain — often complements the skirt guard.
It’s true that these objects do not seem to be available in the United States, and are available only as part of the whole-bike package on European commuter bikes. I couldn’t find them for individual sale either, so I’m afraid I don’t have an easy shopping solution for you. I hope a Gristhead will write in with a little-known source. In the meantime, all I can offer are two manufacturing solutions and a few riding tips.
In Berkeley and other bike-mad cities and towns, you should be able to hunt down a small-scale bike fabricator who could build custom skirt and chain guards. I would start by looking for a few small bike shops with that punkish, bike messengerish attitude and asking them what the options are around town. It might be that these stores actually know where to buy pre-made guards; hopefully one of them will know a person who can build you one. You may already have come across my second manufacturing-related suggestion, which seems to be all over the web: make your own skirt guard out of fabric, cable ties or wire, and a pair of scissors.
Until you solve the skirt/chain guard issue, we need to keep the skirt out of the spokes by hitching it up. You likely already have thought about wearing shorts under the dress and vanquishing the skirt entirely during the ride by tucking it into a waistband or bunching it with a rubber band. I also came across the genius and ladylike idea of shortening a long skirt for riding by safety-pinning it to a thigh garter — this would reduce an A-line or longer to a thigh-high, and add to the glamour factor. We don’t wish to arrive wrinkled. Perhaps instead of bunching the skirt to reduce its volume we should fold it, accordion style, before pinning or tucking it. Or it just may be that we can’t wear longer, fuller skirts on the bicycle until we make our own chain guard.