Fashion giant Paul Smith rides the cyclewear boom

For decades, cyclewear was simple: other than close-fitting shorts and shirts, made largely from wool and dyed garish hues, there wasn't much on offer.

Commuting cyclists and weekend warriors alike made do with outer wear and accessories designed for general outdoor use, mixing and matching water- and wind-proof garments as best they could. Style-conscious riders carried other, more fashionable clothes with them and ditched their kit at the earliest opportunity.

Slowly, things began to change. First came advances in materials: during the 1990s, clothiers began to develop new synthetic blends, taking particular advantage of spandex (or Lycra). Fit and durability increased markedly.

"Cyclewear is almost exclusively synthetic now," says Mike Blewitt, group editor of Bike Australia and Australian Mountain Bike magazines.

"There are still wool blends, because wool is very comfortable next to the skin and doesn't smell as much [as synthetics] after exercise. But in general, the industry has moved on."

As the new millennium dawned, cyclewear aesthetics began to develop, too, thanks in part to the rise of cycle-commuting culture and the introduction of bike-share schemes in major cities around the world. For the first time, looking good while riding became a priority.

More style choices

"That's when we began to see the number of style choices increase dramatically," says Blewitt.

"Ten years ago, if you went to your local cycle shop or sports store your only option might have been a replica of a big European pro team's kit. These days, that's a really odd thing to buy."

Today, cyclewear brands employ teams of skilled and inventive designers to create kit that reflects trends in the broader world of fashion. These garments are often produced in small quantities, creating a sense of exclusivity among consumers and encouraging riders of all abilities to craft a distinctive on-bike look by mixing and matching limited-edition pieces.


Australian cyclewear brand Attaquer has ridden this fashion wave and garnered an international reputation in the process. Founded in 2012, it uses designs by Australian street and fashion artists and manufactures its garments in Italy. Limited-edition collaborations, such as its current mini collection with the estate of New York street-art icon Keith Haring, have seen Attaquer develop considerable cachet.

The rise in fashion-forward cyclewear is encouraging mainstream fashion brands to dip their toes in, too. While sportswear behemoths such as Nike and Adidas have dabbled in cyclewear and cycling-inspired apparel before, top-shelf clothing companies have, until now, seen little reason to follow suit.

But the remarkable success of fashion icon Sir Paul Smith's cyclewear inspired line, PS by Paul Smith, is causing considerable chatter in fashion circles.

"I've always tried to design clothes that can be worn and not just clothes that look nice on a mannequin, and this is particularly true for my PS by Paul Smith collection. 

"The autumn-winter 2017 collection is focused around six key pieces, each of which has a key function: the two-in-one jacket is reversible, the Be-Seen Jacket has reflective panels and the City Cycling Suit is made from very durable Cordura fabric.

"It combines my love of cycling with an understanding of how the modern market demands clothes that you can really live your life in."

Since launching in 2016, 11 PS by Paul Smith shops have opened around the world, including in London, Paris, Hong Kong, Osaka and Seoul, with further openings planned. The brand is available in Australia at selected David Jones stores, at Paul Smith's Melbourne store and online.

Sir Paul says he grew up hoping to be a professional cyclist, a dream that was dashed after a serious accident as a teenager. As a child, he says, "I'd ride for miles and miles in just ordinary shoes, woollen socks, corduroy shorts and an ordinary sweater, not any Lycra to be seen! How things have changed."

Labour of love

Today, crafting clothes for cyclists is both a labour of love and an intellectual challenge for the designer.

"I recently designed the race leader's pink jersey for the Giro d'Italia, which was an absolute privilege, albeit a tricky job," Sir Paul says.

"It was very well-received but made me realise how different it is designing for sports. Cyclists are so specifics about the length of the zips, the breathability of the fabric and so on. It fascinates me."

Now more than ever, designers and manufacturers – from titans such as Paul Smith to boutique companies in Australia – are listening to what cyclists want from their kit and reacting accordingly.

Blewitt says a key frontier in 2017 is the development of better crash-resistant fabrics that use a greater concentration of Kevlar for protection.

"The other big thing is custom-wear," he adds. "If you're a group of weekend riders or weekday commuters, you can now approach companies with your logos and other design specs and they'll create something unique for you. Some companies will even do one-offs."

One such company, Spin Cycle Clothing in Adelaide, is developing a laser-scanning process that will allow it to manufacture custom-fitted cyclewear – so it will soon be possible to dictate every aspect of your kit, from fit to material to colour. The future beckons.

This story first appeared in the AFR's Life & Leisure magazine.