What Kind of Man Rides Divvy in a Suit?

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Dapper Divvy rider Chris Neidhart. Photo: John Greenfield

Before Divvy bike-share launched, Tribune transportation reporter Jon Hilkevitch was skeptical Loop professionals would use the systems for short trips and errands. “Will businessmen put their briefcases in the basket on a Divvy bike and ride to meetings, risking sweat stains on expensive suits just to save a couple of dollars on a taxicab and possibly save a tree from pollution?” he wrote.

Last week Steven Vance posted a slideshow that proves that salarymen are, in fact, pedaling the bikes in professional attire, with several shots of guys in suits riding Divvy, taken from afar. Yesterday I buttonholed real, live businessman Chris Neidhart, wearing a nice suit on one of the blue cruisers at Congress and Wabash, and asked him for a little info.

John Greenfield: What do you do for a living?

Chris Neidhart: Banking

JG: What kind of trip are you doing?

CN: I was dropping my kids off at the Shedd Aquarium with my wife and I needed to get to work quickly, so I hooked up with a Divvy bike.

JG: What part of the Loop do you work in?

CN: In the central Loop, LaSalle and Madison.

JG: Cool, thanks a lot.

  • Jesus

    did you tell him to get off the sidewalk?

  • Ezra Horne

    The Divvy bike stations are ON the sidewalks in the loop. He’s probably posing for a shot in the act of removing or placing his bike on the rack. Or he may be riding on the sidewalk–but glad you got only the negative out the article.

  • He had ridden north up Wabash to Congress (granted, the last block was wrong-way) and then got up on the sidewalk at the northeast corner of Wabash/Congress before heading west. I don’t recall whether he continued on the sidewalk, but that would be understandable, since Congress is pretty nightmarish on a bike.

  • BlueFairlane

    Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.

    Oh. Right.

  • Evan Jenkins

    As much fun as it is to bash Jon Hilkevitch, you should probably not ride a bike in a suit, not because of the risk of sweat stains but because you will quickly wear out the crotch of your trousers. People have been trotting out the argument that people used to ride bicycles in tailcoats and top hats and waxed mustaches and all that, but let me give a few (somewhat speculative) reasons why that argument doesn’t hold water.

    • People probably didn’t ride bikes in suits as much as you might think. Old photographs are often staged, and if you’re going to stage somebody on a bike, it’s more fun to dress them to the nines than to have them wear ordinary cycling clothes. The development of specialized cycling clothing dates back to the early days of cycling, and I imagine they were used, at least to some extent, by utilitarian cyclists. I would love to learn more about the history of cycling clothes, if anybody knows of a good reference; I’ve been unable to find one.

    • The trend in recent decades has been towards using finer and finer yarns. The cloth used to make suits in the early 20th century was much coarser, and much hardier, than what is typically used today. Arguably, the “wool” that we have today is not even the same fiber that was used in garments a century ago. With the rise of the automobile and a large sedentary class, sheep have been bred to produce “luxurious” wool, rather than durable wool. It’s a bit sad, but we may never again be able to produce garments of the same quality as the old stuff. The fabric might literally be extinct.

    • There’s also been a trend towards tighter trousers. In addition to looking terrible, having tight trousers leads to more stress on the fabric, which leads to them wearing out faster, particularly when you’re rubbing your fat thighs against a saddle.

    • In the olden days, getting a hole in your trousers rewoven probably wasn’t a big deal. Today, reweaving is a niche specialty in the tailoring world. Getting it done (well) can be pricey.

  • Chris

    Jesus I was on the sidewalk for a light change and to have a conversation with John. I finally made my way to a bike lane where You will be happy to know I followed all traffic signals and rules of road… Nice to meet you yesterday John! Nice job!

  • Interesting perspective Evan, but have you been to Amsterdam? Riding bikes in nice clothes is almost more the rule than the exception there. Also, the Divvy saddles are soft and smooth, much less likely to wear out your pants than say, a Brooks saddle with rivets.

  • Thanks Chris! You did do a bit of “bike salmoning,” but so did I when I was trying to catch up with you.

  • Scott Sanderson

    Evan, I have noticed your point about modern wool yarns. In a word, they do not mass produce suits like they used to. I also think the sedentary nature of modern life is the reason. Weights of 18oz were not uncommon in the past, but today almost all suits are 9-10oz with a synthetic fiber lining. In my opinion, the synthetic fiber lining makes the clothes really uncomfortable because it does not breathe, and it has kind of a wet t-shirt feel to it if it ever gets wet. Have you ever seen a photo of the crowd at a Cubs game 100 years ago? Every man is wearing a suit. Was everyone an uncomfortable sweaty mess? No, but you would be if you tried that today in a typical modern suit. The clothes have changed.

    But we should not complain because there are fabrics available today that blow away any of those old-school suits. One can order virtually any weight and weave in wool today, and advances in weaving technology over the past few decades have really changed the game. Holland & Sherry in London is basically the gold standard today for these materials. Every local tailor (at least in my experience) will think you are crazy for requesting a suit with no synthetic fiber lining, but you can easily go without. They will also tell you the weights are too high, and the suit will look wrong somehow. But try it and watch them eat their words. The higher weight wools are very durable, super warm, breathe magnificently, dry quickly, and are perfect for bicycle riding. Combine it with a tweed cap and a cashmere tie in winter, and you are going to feel like a king riding around on your bicycle (assuming you have full fenders, chainguard, etc). You can easily walk into any business meeting or courtroom appearance, and no one will have the slightest clue you came on a bicycle. I have suits that have been in service for years with no signs of bicycle seat wear (I have only used Brooks), even after 1000s of miles.

    And on your point about the luxurious vs coarser wool, have you ever tried the Filson whipcord wool? They have pants that, while not a full suit, can easily go with a jacket and tie. 16oz, no synthetic lining, and “coarse.”

  • Scott Sanderson

    One more thing: it may seem pricey by today’s standards to have your clothes repaired. We live in a disposable world where it is easier to have cheap things and just throw them out and get a new one when there is a problem. But there is something to be said for having quality clothes that you take care of properly. In the long run, it is probably not even more expensive.

  • Anonymous

    Is the reason the men wearing heavier weights didn’t sweat as much because the heavier weights “breathe” better? I would think the heavier material would make you sweat more. (This question arises purely out of my ignorance and curiosity.)

  • Chicagio

    I think amsterdam is a little cooler than chicago. I tried to compare humidity stats with little luck but i’d bet amsterdam is less humid, as well. (Swamp crotch is no fun) Luckily, i work in a casual office so when it’s warm i can wear clothes that breath well. I hate sweating in my work clothes. But when it gets cooler, i’ll bike in my business clothes all the time. This past week or so has been ideal biking to work weather.

    I do have to say, though, that divvy bikes with their step-through are perfect for biking in nicer clothes. It makes me jealous of the people that invested in a commuting bike.

  • Riding on the sidewalk to access a Divvy station, or to get back on the street from one, is explicitly legal in Chicago since an ordinance passed this summer.

  • Scott Sanderson

    I’m not an expert — just going off my own experience, but for me it’s the lack of synthetic lining that helps the material breathe better, not the weight. (My inspiration for getting clothes like this is the wool cycling jersey — if you’ve ever worn one on a cool day you know what I am talking about). I do also have some lightweight suits. Today, for example, I rode to work in 7.5oz suit, which is the lightest I have been able to find. This material is a little delicate, and I am not sure if it would work so well for most cyclists. It seems to work fine on my dutch bike. Even with this light weight, I can’t really ride my full commute (5.5 miles each way) comfortably in weather hotter than about 70 degrees.

    I have been using divvy bikes on hotter days to ride 0.5 and 1 mile on each end of my trip to the El, respectively, and that has been working just fine. Both divvy bike rides are in the shade with trees on one end and tall buildings on the other, which really makes a big difference. I ride at a relaxed pace and stop for all traffic signals, and the rides are so short there really isn’t enough time to start sweating. So, to the point this post is making: no problems riding divvy bikes in a suit.

  • Lisa Curcio

    Any reason no one asked what kind of woman rides a Divvy in a suit? My primary use for Divvy is running errands during the work day or riding to and from work if for some reason I don’t want to or can’t ride my own bike. They are perfect for riding in business attire, and that is what I wear. My pants, dress, or skirt will not get caught in the wheel or the chain. So, gentlemen, please remember the ladies . . .

  • Jin Nam

    My clothes have yet to show evenly spaced rivet induced wear. Hahaha!

  • That’s definitely on my to-do list. Martha Williams has a great bicycle street fashion photography blog, mostly photos of women with short interviews: http://bikefancy.blogspot.com/

    When we were designing the Grid Chicago posters, I tried flagging down a couple of interesting-looking female cyclists to snap their photo for the poster image. Understandably, they weren’t interested in having a male stranger take their picture, but perhaps if it’s Divvy riders and I have my reporting gear with me, I’ll get better result.

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