Companies & Industries

The rise of bike couture

H&M embraces urban cycling lifestyle.

You won't see any spandex in Rapha's City Riding Collection (Photo: Rapha)

You won’t see any spandex in Rapha’s City Riding Collection (Photo: Rapha)

Brick Lane Bikes occupies a small niche. The East London shop creates beautiful, custom-made road bicycles for the discerning cyclist who wants a one-of-a-kind ride. But Brick Lane’s new partnership with fast-fashion retail giant H&M hints at the rapidly widening appeal of the urban bike lifestyle. The two brands collaborated on a spring 2013 collection of 11 cycle-friendly garments that look good off the bike and feature details for easier cycling, such as extra-deep pockets with secure fastenings, reflective strips on the inside of jean cuffs and lots of armpit venting on shirts.

The H&M foray into cycle-specific fashion comes after Levi’s launched its made-for-cycling Commuter line in 2011, and as other cycle-specific apparel manufacturers expand beyond Lycra jerseys and padded shorts to create functional clothing that looks chic at the coffee shop, or even in a casual office. “Biking has become more of a trendy topic and a trendy activity for people, and we think it really fits into our business concept,” says H&M Canada spokesperson Emily Scarlett. The Brick Lane collection, which is only for men, also allows the store to reach out to new male customers.

While H&M’s partnership with Brick Lane Bikes lets it cash in on cycling culture’s cool factor, retailers are also responding to a demographic shift. Since peaking in the 1980s, car use has been steadily decreasing among the under-35 demographic in North America. The number of trips made by bike, meanwhile, is on the upswing. Kathleen Banville, co-executive director at Urbane Cycle, a commuter-specific bike co-op in downtown Toronto, says she has seen more fashionable bike apparel on the market in the past five years. Urbane Cycle carries Levi’s, and two cycle-specific U.S. brands that make reinforced jeans: Swrve and Cadence. “Cycling used to be a sport,” Banville says. “You’d put on your Spandex and you’d ride your bike, but now you’re commuting to work.” Commuters taking shorter trips don’t want the hassle of changing clothes, nor do they want their clothing to “get destroyed by cycling, or be uncomfortable,” says Banville. They look at bike-friendly European cities, where people casually pedal around in their street clothes, and like what they see.

High-end cycling apparel brands are also expanding into urban style. Rapha, the U.K.-based company that outfits Sky (Tour de France winner Bradley Wiggins’s team), established itself selling technical apparel in 2004. In 2009, it added a city cycling line, including jeans with reinforcement at key wear-points and longer rises (to avoid a gap while bent over), along with tailored shirts with covered buttons that won’t pop off when they rub on a messenger-bag strap.

As larger retailers enter the bike apparel market, Rapha’s North American spokesperson Chris DiStefano hopes it encourages more people to hop on a bike without feeling intimidated about what to wear. “While we’re all competitors, we’re all moving to recognize a shift in the way people get around,” he says. “I love having so many voices out there saying it’s OK to wear a pair of jeans and a shirt to ride your bike to work.”