With his matinée looks, you might think 1950s movie star Kenneth More an unlikely modern-day cyclist’s style icon. But fashion often sources inspiration from unexpected places.
So when London tailor Timothy Everest references More, as seen in the 1959 version of the film The 39 Steps, I listen up. “In that scene when he steals the bicycle from the touring club, he looks really cool,” says Everest. “He’s wearing these little pleated shorts and a shirt with rolled-up sleeves. And he’s on a single-speed bike.” Which, as any urban cyclist knows, are rapidly becoming just about the dandiest thing a man can throw a leg over.
But it isn’t pure nostalgia that has Everest reminiscing. The tailor, a passionate cyclist himself who commutes daily between Kingston-upon-Thames and his studio in Shoreditch, is one of a growing number of designers producing high-performance cycle clothing that looks good throughout the day, on or off the bike. Even London mayor Boris Johnson is in on the act. Another enthusiastic cyclist, he is on record as wanting to “de-Lycrafy cycling” as part of his campaign to make the capital as fit for bikes as its rival, Amsterdam.
But is there perhaps a subtext? A reaction against that modern phenomenon of “mamils” (middle-aged men in Lycra), with their hairy legs and stretchy cycle kit. Johnson wouldn’t be alone, as a new breed of pedal-pushers is after normal-looking cycling clothes. They want tailored jackets with flexible shoulders, storm collars and reflective cuffs, as well as flexible jeans and trousers and anoraks with secure pockets, all in wearable-to-the-office greys, blacks, browns and greens.
In fact, Everest has been making bespoke cycling suits for some time. His signature is a relaxed-fit two-piece in Prince of Wales check (from £3,250), infused with nanotechnology to repel water, and with minimal canvas lining and high-vis stripes inside the trouser legs, which are designed to be rolled up.
“The great thing about bespoke is that we can work out all the different pockets,” says Everest. “If someone is left-handed, we can arrange it so that they can get access to their phone or keys more easily.”
Those are just some of the elements found in the handsome Elder cycling blazer (£600) – described by the tailor as a “cardigan that looks like a jacket” – in a showerproof Fox Brothers tweed. It is the most tailored item in Everest’s covetable collection for John Boultbee, at traditional leather-saddle-maker Brooks.
Other designs include the Blackwell (£470), based on the classic Harrington jacket (although longer at the back) in water-repellent Ventile, with a round storm neck and a two-way copper zip. Also in Ventile, with sumptuous Savile Row-striped-satin sleeve linings, is the Criterion (£850) – if Indiana Jones wore a cycling jacket, this would be it.
When Antonia Maybury set up Water off a Duck’s Back, she too was driven by a personal desire. She wanted something more elegant than a “grotty” Gore-Tex anorak to wear over her business suits. Determined “not to be one of those women in a rocking chair who says, ‘I had a brilliant idea and now that company is doing it’”, she designed and launched her first waterproof range for women cyclists in 2010. Then, having monitored users of the ubiquitous Boris Bikes outside Waterloo station as part of her market research, a men’s line soon followed.
What is remarkable about Maybury’s cycle wear is how “uncycling” it looks. Her best-selling single-breasted cycle coat (£150) looks like a covert coat, except that it’s made from a PU-coated microfibre. It has four buttons, a high-breaking notched collar with a fifth button, and a slim profile. There is a double-breasted men’s cycle coat (£140), and even a cape (£69) with reflective piping and a detachable hood.
Pride of the WOADB’s cycle pack is the blazer (£179). It’s cut to look like any normal jacket, but closer inspection reveals black-fabric cuff buttons that are reflective in lights, and elasticated vents in the shoulders to allow movement when cycling.
Swrve is also keeping things subtle with cycling clothes in sombre shades, and design input from both Los Angeles and London. Solidly built, smart and functional items – such as the winter Softshell trousers (£110), with their low-front waist, seamless crotch and articulated knees, and the Wax jacket (£250), a biking interpretation of a Barbour, with a long back, two-way zip, extra-long arms with stash pockets, and hand-warmer pockets – are so minimal that they even eschew the customary high-vis elements. “We have a few high-vis bits on jeans that are seen when you roll them up,” says the brand’s European distributor, Chris Morris. “But high vis is not a substitute for lights. At the end of the day, lights are what will keep you safe.”
There is even a dash of Kenneth More about Japanese brand Pedaled’s range of tweedy cycling vests, checked shirts and parkas. More for weekend than work, they are showerproof, and have reinforced shoulders for rucksack straps. The Urban jacket (€600), with its ergonomic sleeves and quick-release hood, is the cosiest design. For classic looks, however, the Trench coat (€455), with gusseted shoulders, and the tweed Hacking jacket (€350), with a storm collar and patch pockets, could have been lifted straight from The 39 Steps.
One unified expression of the anti-Lycra brigade is the Tweed Run, now in its fifth year, which is a thoroughly spiffing biking event filled with deerstalkers, plus-fours, waistcoats and irrepressible English charm in the centre of London. It’s a day of gracious cycling in clothes normally associated with yet another kind of “More” – the grouse moor. “We wanted to show people that you don’t need skintight superhero outfits to ride a bicycle,” says Tweed Run co-founder Ted Young-Ing.
Many participants, sitting astride their bikes as upright as a county magistrate, wear garments cut from a revolutionary new fabric called Lumatwill, supplied by Dashing Tweeds. Lumatwill looks, to all intents and purposes, like any other tweed during the day, but at night, in the grip of car headlights, it turns reflective.
The firm is owned and operated by engaging tweed fundamentalist Guy Hills, who can regularly be seen taking his three young children to school in north London on a four-seater, custom-built bicycle dubbed the “quadruplet”. Inspired by his father’s hand-me-downs that he wore at university, Hills Jr has partnered with weaver Kirsty McDougall to design and produce urban tweeds that capture the tones and shades of city life. Instead of mimicking the moorlands (that word again), “we looked at double-yellow lines, red telephone boxes, and the colours of the pavements”, says Hills, who, armed with a hammer and a chisel, presented his yarn dyers with fragments of street masonry to aid with colour matching. “Our Urban Tweed has achieved that purply colour that’s a bit like sunset on wet streets in Piccadilly,” he says with pride.
Dashing Tweeds’ fabrics are sold by the metre (from £80), with Hills offering advice to customers on which tailors would best be able to match a suit to their riding character. There is also an innovative ready-to-wear range, which includes reflective tank tops (£165), Lumatwill tweed caps (£70), breeches (from £200), slim-cut Twisted trousers (£250), snug Lumatwill jackets (£450) and a rather dapper quilted-tweed gilet (£785).
“We are the opposite of a brand such as Rapha,” says Hills, tossing me tweed vests, sweaters, capes and jackets, a bit like Jay Gatsby showing off his wardrobe to Daisy Buchanan. “We are about being off the bike, but being able to jump on it when we need to.”
So where does this leave Team Sky Pro Cycling partner and holy grail of all mamils, Rapha, as the nights draw in?
Actually, in rude sartorial health, because while continuing to define sleek, functional, high-performance cycle wear, it too has tapped into the desire for non-Lycra-based clothing that looks hot in the saddle but cool in the coffee bar. Its merino base layers, hooded tops (from £140), high-necked sweaters (from £95) and roll-necks (from £80) exude the degree of sporting refinement you’d expect from a label named after the St-Raphaël cycling team, whose legendary racer, Jacques Anquetil, the first five-times winner of the Tour de France, was renowned for combining speed with enviable style. “We suspect that our customers go a little quicker than most around town and need merino to absorb the moisture,” says founder and CEO Simon Mottram. “I wear it every day.”
Rapha jeans, meanwhile (£150), in a cotton/nylon blend, rewrite the denim rule book with their straight, slimline cut and soft gripper inside the waistband for added support when riding.
And the Lycra look? “I was talking to my wife about this,” says Mottram. “And we agreed – nobody with hairy legs looks good in Lycra shorts.”