Cycling in a suit: how not to damage it!


Commuting is good for the planet and a really enjoyable experience. But you need to be organized: how to carry your stuff but most essentially what to wear on the bike! You might fall into the list of people who require to wear a suit to work, but how is that compatible with cycling to work?

Can you bike in a suit?

You can bike in a suit if you feel comfortable in it when sitting down. It is best to ride short distances with it to avoid sweating in it. It helps to keep your effort level to an easy ride. Use trouser straps to prevent the trousers from getting caught in the derailleur.

Generally, we consider that traditional wool and cotton suits are not best suited for cycling because the fabric can get damaged by the position and the movement of the cyclist. It puts a strain on the material and seams and can in the end tear them.

However, cycling in a suit is possible. Actually, it’s very common to do so in the Netherlands, Denmark, and in Japan. So it depends a bit on where you live: how is the climate? How far do you live from work? How is the route? Flat or hilly? How do you feel in your suit? …

A guy riding a bike in a suit, not unusual in Amsterdam.

First, to make sure you don’t damage your suit, you need to fit well in it and be comfortable in a seated position. This means the fabric is flexible enough not to overstretch the seams when cycling. So it should be fine to ride with it.

The most important point I think is not to feel sweaty when you arrive at work. And that’s easy to deal with. You can cut your speed a little bit to make sure to ride at a low-effort level – nice and easy. Avoid big hills if possible or take it very slowly.

Avoid overdoing it if you don’t want to sweat!

Reducing your speed by 20% leads roughly to a 40% reduction in effort. So in fact avoiding the sweat doesn’t require slowing down that much. In fact, this 40 % reduction will only lead to a 25% increase in your travel time. So for a usual 20 minutes bike ride, it would now take you 25 minutes. But now you don’t need to get changed when you arrive, so you might even be saving time in the end.

If you don’t want to reduce your speed, then feel free to use an e-bike. I will talk more about the choice of bike for riding in a suit later in this article.

Carrying your stuff while wearing a suit

If you bike in a suit, there is a good chance you need to carry a computer, documents, or any other stuff useful for your work. In that case, avoid using a backpack and use a pannier instead. Indeed, wearing a backpack will increase your chance of sweating a lot. It can even deform the shape of your suit shoulders, not great!

How should I cycle to work with a suit?

Two options to cycle to work with a suit:

  1. Ride in a suit
  2. Carry the suit

What are the pros and cons of each option?

Ride in a suit Carry the suit
PROS– No need to get changed– Not damage the suit
– Be sure to look good
CONS– Damage the suit
(tear, wear, dirt…)
– Sweat in the suit
– Not very comfortable
when cycling
– Risk of creasing the suit
– Extra weight to carry
– Need to get changed
or even take a shower
Pros & cons of commuting to work with a suit (carrying it vs wearing it)

When to choose each option?

It is best to ‘ride in a suit’ directly if you have a short distance to ride which can be done at a low effort intensity and if the weather is not too warm (and not rainy!). Else it is best to carry the suit with you and get changed.

You can also consider cycling to work with the suit trousers and the shirt and leave your jacket and tie at work so you don’t have to carry them.

What do I need to ride in a suit?

You don’t need much to ride in a suit:

  • A bike you feel comfortable on (preferably an upright bike)
  • A suit that fits you comfortably (in a seated position)
  • Trouser straps like this one to prevent the chain from greasing your suit
  • Fenders / Mudguards to prevent splashing
  • Optional: Panniers to avoid using a backpack (too sweaty)
  • Optional: an extra shirt to change into (warm weather conditions)

What do I need to carry a suit on the bike?

If you decide to go with the alternative option to carry your suit rather than directly bike with it, you will need to have either a backpack with you or pannier bags. Actually, it’s quite difficult to fit a suit, especially a jacket into a backpack so the pannier bags are probably the best solution.

In fact, there is a pannier especially made to carry a suit without creasing it. It’s really awesome though a bit expensive. It can also carry a laptop and some documents. You can buy it here on Amazon.

Panniers made to carry a suit from Two Wheel Gear.

Not riding with the suit directly means that you must be careful not to crease the outfit or you won’t look nice when you arrive.

Which bike is best to ride in a suit?

To ride in a suit, it is best to use a dutch bike as the frame is designed for commuting: easy to get in and out and the position is unlikely to damage the suit. An alternative also is to use an e-bike to do longer distances or manage hills without breaking a sweat.

Riding a dutch bike

The e-bike solution is very compatible with riding in a suit. It will allow you to better control your effort intensity, and ride longer distances without damaging your suit.

As a general rule, bikes with an upright position are better suited to ride with a suit. They have less tendency to stretch the fabric due to a position more similar to standing.

Recommended equipment

On top of having an appropriate bike, you can also equip your bike with some equipment for increased convenience.

Fenders / Mudguards

Fenders are mandatory if you plan to commute regularly in a suit. Indeed, even if it’s not rainy the day you ride, you may encounter puddles or wet roads (someone who cleans his alley for instance).

Panniers

As said previously, using a backpack will make you sweat. Thus, it is highly recommended to invest in panniers to carry your stuff when riding in a suit. This one for instance, is waterproof, has reflective trims, and 4 different pockets.

Which suit to buy to bike to work?

As mentioned before, you can bike in any suit that you feel comfortable wearing when sitting. But you should know you can find technical suits made of sports fabric that look like normal suits but are more stretchy, water repellent, and perfect for riding a bike.

For instance, ‘Ministry of supply’ is a brand that has created the Kinetic pants, especially for cyclists.

You can find here the previous version (cheaper) to give you an idea. They sell a collection of pants and blazers which can be stretched in many directions. So you are safe, the fabric won’t get damaged while cycling.

Biking in a suit on a rainy day?

On a rainy day biking in a suit is not ideal; the fabric is going to get soaked easily and will take time to dry. Also, this time the dirt from the splashes on the road and the traffic will get your suit dirty. You should wear a rain jacket with rain pants to keep your suit clean. But you are at risk of sweating more.

I am sure you already have a rain jacket you can use but for the trousers, I am referring to waterproof pants that fit above your normal trousers. The Frogg’s Togg’s rain pants are quite good. But the ones I really like are the Proviz trousers: they have been designed for cycling and also make sure you are visible at night with lots of reflective patches.

So maybe riding on a rainy day is not the most ideal for wearing your suit. You could consider wearing something else and getting changed when arriving at work.

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