This past summer, I tried an experiment with my daily bicycle commute. Previously, I had always put on full-blown bicycling clothes -- bibs, jersey, yadda-yadda -- making me colorful and comfortable, but obviously a cyclist. For the experiment, I bought a couple of pairs of mountain-biking shorts ... the ones that actually just look like regular walking-around shorts, but have a liner with a chamois. I would wear these on my commute, along with a nice loose lycra technical t-shirt. I even found some lycra shirts that had collars, so I could go to work and walk around being immediately stylish, sweaty, and stinky.
What I wanted to determine was this: Did motorists treat me differently wearing "normal" clothes than they did wearing cyclist garb?
The answer was a resounding "I dunno."
I think most motorists -- at least the ones that really pay attention and look at me -- treat me differently from recreational cyclists anyway. For one thing, I've got this big pannier on the side of the bike, so I'm obviously not Lance Armstrong. Plus, I'm riding in rush hour traffic with them just about every morning, so it's pretty obvious that I'm just on my way to or from work like they are. For this group of my fellow morning travelers, it doesn't much matter what I'm wearing because they see the bike and the pannier and are cool.
The other half don't pay attention to me, anyhow -- nor do they really pay attention to anything else. They (hopefully) see some thing that's kind of in their way, and they move over (again, hopefully) a couple of inches to get around it, since they don't want to get a scratch on their bumper. I could be wearing a purple clown wig, cowboy chaps, and the puffy shirt and they wouldn't know the difference.
The people that did treat me differently depending upon my outfit were the folks off of the road. This was most notable when I stopped at Panera Bread on my way in. Sitting around Panera in cycling clothes drinking coffee and eating a scone, I got a lot of looks. I would like to think that this is because I look dead sexy in cycling clothes; however, I've seen myself in cycling clothes, and know that they make me look fat. Or maybe it's all of the fat under the clothes that makes me look fat.
Anyway, there were fewer stares at Panera when I ate breakfast wearing the mountain-biking shorts and the loose lycra t-shirt. Unless they saw me getting on or off the bike, or noticed the helmet on the table, I was just another guy enjoying a coffee with his magazine.
So, why am I back to wearing cycling clothes on my ride in?
Well, for one thing, it's cold in the morning and I don't have cold-weather mountain-bike shorts. I don't even know if they make such things, though, and don't really care to find out.
I guess it really boils down to two things. One is that, early in September, riding home wearing my "normal" clothing, I got hit by a car. Well, "hit" may be too harsh a word ... it was really a kind of brush-bump with the mirror. It was a big Cadillac, obviously driven by one of those "no-attention-span" idiots who swept by, thumped me, and kept on going. I would have chased the car down, but the driver made the light and turned, and frankly it was easier for me to take the "no blood, no foul" approach.
But this showed me that "normal" clothing was probably not bright enough. Maybe the idiot in the Cadillac would have noticed me in bright red biking kit. Maybe not. But, I'd rather err on the side of caution.
The other thing is that I kind of missed being noticed at Panera. Not that I like getting stares -- I'm actually kind of shy ... really. But I liked being the obvious cyclist in a restaurant full of "normal" people. By playing my role as That Guy Who Bikes Everywhere, I hope that I was making folks realize that they really can bike everywhere. And, since David Byrne doesn't live in Nashville, somebody here has to do it.