Lycra, cyclists and cafes: acceptable or controversial?

So, wearing cycling kit while sitting down to eat in a public venue – acceptable or controversial?

This perennial question has been raised again after the proprietor of a hotel in New Zealand put up a sign outside his premises saying: "No Lycra shorts allowed please."

Mike Saunders told Fairfax NZ: "It's just a little unsuitable, we don't always want to see any unsightly bumps and bulges." (And he expounds on his views in the attached video).

The report thrust the town of Rangiora, some 20 kilometres north of Christchurch, into the global spotlight. Last time I looked, some 50 news organisations around the world had run a version of the story, from the Daily Mail to the venerable BBC. 

Any establishment has the right to set its own dress code, but the reassuring thing is that a bike shorts ban is so rare as to be considered newsworthy.

Liking Lycra

In fact, many venues actively welcome and even form business arrangements with sports cyclists. Cafe locations often serve as marshalling points for bunch rides, and are well patronised by hungry riders on their return.

Of course, any large group of people can change the dynamic of a venue. The sudden ordering of a dozen coffees and breakfasts can have a significant impact on a small kitchen, while big tables can be noisy, even as they boost the bottom line. 

I'm mostly a solo rider – or perhaps with a friend – and there are many weekend mornings when the promised reward of a well-earned breakfast and two cups of coffee is about the only thing that gets me out the door and onto the bike.

Like many of the cyclists I see, I favour cafes with outdoor seating areas (for keeping an eye on the bike) and a relaxed feel – entering an upmarket premises in cycle clothing and cleated shoes would just feel weird.


But fancy venues aside, is form-fitting garb really such an outrage in modern society?

Battle of the bulges

While there has been recent commentary about the rise of "active wear" as all-purpose clothing for women, when it comes to cycling kit, the vast majority of the ire is aimed at men – especially those much-maligned Mamils.

(And let's not forget - for some people, "Lycra" is just another label used to spur their loathing of everything to do with bicycles.)

The simple truth is that riders wear activity-specific clothing because it works. It keeps you comfortable, it doesn't flap or chafe, it has pockets where you want them, and the padding proves invaluable as the kilometres grind by.

And the rise of recreational cycling has brought tremendous benefits to so many people who are looking for a low-impact way to stay fit and healthy, both physically and mentally.

Look the other way

Part of this process is the social aspect. I've heard countless tales of lives improved by the camaraderie of cycling, and if the most significant downside of this phenomenon is occasional instances of averted eyes in a cafe, so be it. 

Societal mores are changeable. What's outrageous one decade becomes de rigueur the next – and I think Lycra is gaining ground, especially in Australia, which is a world leader in recreational spending

Meanwhile, if by chance you find yourself in Spandex and starving in Rangiora, New Zealand, fear not – reports say there are at least two rival establishments ready to welcome you and your bulging wallet.

Do you go to cafes in cycling gear? Is there any etiquette involved? Tell us why in the comments section. This will be tightly moderated so please stay on-topic.

Fairfax journalist Michael O'Reilly has written the On Your Bike blog since 2011. He has won a Cycling Promotion Fund media award and is a regular voice for cycling on radio and television.

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