What makes the bicycles in Amsterdam suitable for riding with jeans on?

The Dutch are known to wear regular clothes while cycling rather than cycling specific clothing.

Some of the cyclists were wearing jeans in the picture.

In cycling forums, people often say that jeans are uncomfortable for cycling especially in the rain. When jeans are wet, friction increases which can cause chafing and increase the wear and tear on the jeans and the saddle. The Dutch must have a way of wearing jeans comfortably since regular clothes include jeans. Cycling friendly pants tend to be silkier and thinner so that friction decreases, and more flexible so that there's less pressure on our perineum. Even with a saddle cutout, the seams on jeans can put too much pressure there.

I'm thinking that these are the possible factors:

  • Saddle height
  • Saddle setback
  • Upright posture
  • Cadence
  • Power
  • Coasting percentage
  • Saddle shape
  • Pants sold in the Netherlands tend to be more cycling friendly such as jeans with softer seams
  • The commuting times are too short for the discomfort to develop

Also, can you have a fast or powerful human powered bike that's jeans friendly? Like hybrid, cyclocross, MTB, and road bikes.

Someone who's into fitness and speed, bikes to work, and wouldn't want to carry an extra pair of pants would be interested in getting that answer.

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    Can you estimate the speed they are riding in your picture from Holland? That is the key, and it is not compatible with your requirements: "Someone who's into fitness and speed, bikes to work, and wouldn't want to carry an extra pair of pants[.]" – gschenk Nov 17 at 8:52
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    Keep in mind that your question seems to cross the biking-for-useful-transportation vs. biking-as-a-sport line, which will get answers targeting either one instead of why you see something that might look unfamiliar. – John Keates Nov 17 at 22:01
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    same answer as to why do people walk around in a city in jeans rather than hiking pants, and don't carry poles and a camelbak everywhere. – njzk2 Nov 19 at 4:59
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    Have you ever seen a bike unsuitable to ride with jeans on? Because I've never seen one... – 9ilsdx 9rvj 0lo Nov 19 at 7:54
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    This is one of those nice culture-clash questions. I had no idea anyone could find that picture strange. Maybe I need to find a stack exchange to ask the corresponding question: "Why would someone think this is odd?" – pipe Nov 19 at 9:25

12 Answers 12

In places where there are lots of bikes, most people who are riding them are making short journeys purely for transport. For a short ride of a few kilometers, it really doesn't matter what you're wearing. Any clothes that are comfortable to wear in general will be comfortable to wear on a bike for fifteen minutes.

People who are riding longer distances, pushing harder and aiming for fitness rather than just getting from A to B will start to consider clothing that's more oriented towards exercising and people who are going even farther and pushing even harder will start to wear cycling-specific clothing.

I see this exact thing when I cycle at home in Oxford. If I cycle directly into town, most of the people I see on bikes are just wearing whatever clothes will be appropriate at their destination. If I take a more circuitous route around the outskirts of town before heading into the centre through an area where not many people live, I see a lot of people wearing "general exercise" clothing. If I head away from town, out into the countryside, most of the cyclists I see are wearing clothing designed specifically for cycling.

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    The same is the case in Cambridge - most people on bikes in the city centre are students going to university or sixth form, so they wear normal clothing. Occasionally you see someone in their gown, billowing out behind! – Tim Nov 17 at 21:43
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    @LamarLatrell Read the second sentence of my answer. They're no more or less suitable for riding with jeans than any other bike. – David Richerby Nov 17 at 22:54
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    I think the question would have to be reversed. What makes some bikes uncomfortable to ride with jeans in short calm rides. Since bikes that are uncomfortable, like fast road bikes, are exceptional. – gschenk Nov 18 at 2:04
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    For those outside the UK: David (and @Tim) are probably the two most bike-friendly cities in England. They're also quite flat. The city I live in (Bristol, about 100km from David) is OK for cyclists but less so than Oxford or Cambridge, and much hillier. We get plenty of casually dressed bike commuters here too, in fact I'm in the minority getting changed. – Chris H Nov 18 at 8:22
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    @DavidRicherby I beg to differ. Either I'm staring at the tarmac, which is unsafe and uninteresting, or I get a soar neck from having my head turned unnaturally. – gerrit Nov 19 at 10:39

Local here, have lived in Amsterdam for just over a year and a half, through the cold wet winter. I'm not a Dutchie, but have embraced the fiets lifestyle here.

Let me just say that the jeans you get in Amsterdam are the same as what you would buy anywhere else. I ride in Levis 511 jeans every day and have no problems. People here more or less ride in all sorts of clothing (that includes suits, dresses and high heels). You never really go that fast here in the city and you're always kind of stopping and starting, so regular clothes are fine.

When it rains (which happens a lot) most people either catch public transport or wear rainproof gear over their regular clothes. Some even use storm umbrellas. The philosophy here amongst the Dutchies is that there's no bad weather only bad clothing.

The bikes themselves are set up a bit differently here too: - Every bike, almost without exception has mud guards or "fenders" - The chain is almost always sealed inside a chainguard to avoid it getting too dirty, as well as the rider - The vast majority of bikes are upright riding position, as you don't really tend to go that fast in Amsterdam with the cobblestones and narrow streets

In terms of type of bike, lightweight performance bikes don't last very long here and are not practical. What you mostly see are Omafiets, Papafiets, Mamafiets, Bakfiets and various heavy duty city commuter bikes. Powered bikes are also very popular here and often used to cut down travel times for longer distances.

Bikes here tend to be heavy duty so they don't get smashed up at the bike racks, low maintenance as they usually sit outside all the time and focused on comfort as it's not really an "activity" you plan for with specialised clothing but a primary way to get around, with most journeys not being longer than 20 minutes or so.

Outside of the cities you'll see plenty of lycra clad cyclists on their lightweight performance bikes cycling more for recreation on weekends etc.

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    Yep, this is pretty much what we do in The Netherlands. As a Dutch citizen myself in generally smaller cities we do the same thing. Biking isn't a special occasion, and together with walking just a highly efficient way to get around. For certain destinations or activities you'd still use a car (say, weekly household groceries, moving furniture or most distances above 15Km, or destinations without good public transportation). But most of the time you'll see people using a bike wearing whatever they happen to be wearing. – John Keates Nov 17 at 22:00
  • Are you saying that to cycle fast, we should do vehicular cycling? This writer didn't seem to think that Dutch cycle paths are holding us up. aseasyasridingabike.wordpress.com/2013/02/26/… – Han-Lin Nov 18 at 1:36
  • Apart from mud guards / fenders, don't forget the skirt guards! For a time, I thought that those were the same, until I realised not all bicycles have mud guards / fenders. – gerrit Nov 19 at 10:23
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    To me, the chainguard seems like the answer. Bike commuting in Vancouver, i have always worn normal street clothing, and I agree that it is (mostly) not a problem, even for a half-hour ride. The one caveat is that I do tend to get oil stains on the inside bottom of all my pairs of pants (from rubbing up against the chain). I would be curious if the Dutch have this problem, but I imagine that stylish Europeans are less willing to accept having stains on all of their favourite pants, and therefore chain guards come standard. – uglycoyote Nov 20 at 23:50
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    @uglycoyote You can get Velcro straps to tie around your pant legs to avoid this problem. Or you can tuck your pant lets into your socks (but I think that looks kind of stupid). – Kyralessa Nov 23 at 15:50

You are surely aware that there is an industry out there that tries to sell you things you only marginally 'need' - special clothing for any sport is not unaffected by that.

There is certainly a gain by wearing special cloth (and shoes) while biking, but unless you are seriously exercising or training for a competition, the difference is marginal.
Of course, in the respective forums you will find lots of people that are convinced otherwise, and will tell you (and themselves) it makes a world of difference.
Just try yourself with an open mind.

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    I disagree. With a road bike and a hard saddle, I find my ass gets sore if I ride for more than a couple of hours without proper padded shorts. I also ride a lot faster in properly fitted cycling clothes. Obviously, none of this is relevant to commuting in town, but cycling shorts make a significant difference on rides that aren't "seriously exercising or training for a competition." – David Richerby Nov 18 at 11:29
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    I agree. The casual riders in Amsterdam are not driven to go through the extra trouble of buying something specific just to look the part of a cool bike rider, then having to change clothes when they get to their destination. – Dale Nov 18 at 19:32
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    @DavidRicherby: riding "for more than a couple of hours" is seriously exercising. – Jack Aidley Nov 19 at 10:25
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    @DavidRicherby In The Netherlands the bicycle is mainly a means of transport. Changing clothes does not fit that picture, especially where most trips are less than 15 minutes. What makes sense good guards so your clothes don't get dirty (only wet) and the bicycle also stays clean (low maintenance). Most cycling certainly isn't to go fast. – Paul de Vrieze Nov 19 at 18:58
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    If you coast a lot then a few hours at a relaxed pace it makes more sense not to call it serious exercise. Im sure if there's no coasting our small motor units can get tired. – Han-Lin Nov 19 at 20:53

Jeans aren't as bad as you think. I think the biggest factors are short journeys, mild climate, and being used to it. With efficient infrastructure this can account for a lot of commuting. Apart from the efficient infrastructure that covers most bike commuting in the UK as well, and most people here don't get changed.

I sometimes don't get the chance to get changed and have to commute in normal jeans for up to about 30 minutes, even an hour in the past (up to about 15km in traffic). In the UK we have a similar climate to the Netherlands. In the dry, and if its not too hot, it's not uncomfortable, on a hybrid or tourer. On the latter I'm not generally going flat out, or using the drops, because of the traffic.

Riding in wet jeans for more than a few minutes does start to rub, and can get cold when you stop. I get too hot for overtrousers, which is a further reason I prefer to get changed, but I also don't like to hang around. Keeping spare clothes in work deals with getting caught unawares. I don't recommend emulating my colleague who used a heat gun to dry her jeans while wearing them, though the one in my lab goes quite cool.

The main difference in bike design is that Dutch bikes have enough of a chain guard that you're not going to catch your jeans in the chain or get them dirty. Ankle straps/clips or simply tucking your trousers into your socks deals with this.

There's probably a form of selection bias going on - people who think and talk about what to wear on the bike are likely to have specialist clothing and choose to wear it. They're also likely to ride far enough that it's worth doing so.

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    I also note that people dont cycle terribly fast in Amsterdam - as far as I have seen. – vikingsteve Nov 19 at 13:01
  • @vikingsteve I believe that to be true. I'd probably find it quite frustrating – Chris H Nov 19 at 13:34
  • Most of the bikes appear fairly old too. They are not the sort of well maintained road bikes I am used to seeing in other cities where only "enthusiasts" ride bikes daily. – vikingsteve Nov 19 at 14:53
  • @vikingsteve that's also true in parts of the UK. In fact in the city where I work I've seen bikes being ridden without functioning brakes, and with chains so rusty it's a wonder they got round. I keep a heap of junk here but it's a little better than that (much better in the case of the brakes) – Chris H Nov 19 at 15:06
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    I would say even student bikes (cheap, n-th hand, high theft risk) they tend to still work reasonably well. Dutch bicycles are certainly much sturdier that you see in most places. – Paul de Vrieze Nov 19 at 18:55

As someone who biked daily for transportation and recreation for years, I can tell you it doesn't take any miracle to do it in street clothes.

David Richerby already mentioned that most practical bike trips are short. Mine were usually 10-20 minutes. But many times I've gone on recreational rides of 2-4 hours. And I've never owned any special "biking clothes". The most I ever thought about clothing was when my jeans started getting worn out from occasional encounters with the gears!

It probably depends on the person, but many feel perfectly fine in street clothes.

Edit: ratchet freak's answer reminded me that my bike at the time did have a big, soft seat. I don't know how much of a factor that was in feeling my clothing, but I'm sure it made those rides a lot comfier than without it.

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    Everyone will draw the line (or rather lines) in a slightly different place. E.g. I only got bike-specific kit when I started riding over 100km (say 5 hours) regularly, but found sports clothing (which I already had) more reliably comfortable for many shorter trips (+1) – Chris H Nov 18 at 8:16

I've never been to Amsterdam, but I do remember reading a comment by someone from there once about what it was like. He said that people there tend to ride at a more leisurely pace, and everyone from all walks of life ride bikes. It's just ordinary people riding around to get to places.

In contrast, in non-cycle-friendly cities, cyclists ride hard to keep up with the traffic, and since there is some danger, it's mostly the more hardcore athletic types who ride.

If you are riding at a moderate pace and the weather is cool enough, then riding in jeans is fine.

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    "everyone from all walks of life ride bikes" is an understatement... Even the Royal Family, the Prime Minister, they all ride bicycles when they want to. The King's daughters ride their bikes to school, just like their class mates. I suppose the Security staff rides behind them. Only in Nederland... :-) – StessenJ Nov 18 at 7:02

I will take the liberty to interpret the question slightly more broadly, on how bicycles are adapted for riding in ordinary clothes. Apart from raingear, I've never changed clothes for cycling in my life (not when I went on a 700 km bike tour either).

Skirt guard / coat guard

You don't really need fenders for cycling with jeans. All fenders do is stop you from getting wet and dirty, so you should want them with any type of clothing. However, people not only ride bicycles with jeans, but also with skirts (starting yearly on rokjesdag). With a skirt, dress, or long (over)coat, a skirt guard/coat guard prevents clothes from ending up in the spokes, which not only damages the clothes but may well lead to accidents.

coat guard
SkirtCoat guard. Source: Wikimedia Commons

If you are commuting by bicycle and commuting in your normal clothes, as you should, and your normal clothes include anything that may get stuck in the spokes, a skirt guard / coat guard is recommended. As pointed out in the comments, the guard on the bicycle in the photo is unlikely to be intended for protection of long dresses, as a traditional "ladies bicycle" would have a lowered top tube to assist with the same.

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    Fun fact: the low top tube on women's bikes was originally to allow riding in skirt. On a bike like this, a skirt would give some unintended views :) – ojs Nov 19 at 12:52
  • @ojs ?!? What other possible reason could there be for compromising the structure of the bike by lowering the top tube? – Martin Bonner Nov 19 at 13:28
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    @MartinBonner When I first learned to ride a bicycle, I found the leg movement needed to place one leg on each side of the bicycle (for riding off) rather difficult, and appreciated a step-through frame. – gerrit Nov 19 at 14:08
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    @gerrit this makes so much sense if you are wearing a long coat while riding – ojs Nov 19 at 14:28
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    @MartinBonner The lowered (ladies) tube also very much helps with elderly people who struggle swinging their legs over the back of the bicycle (possibly because it has a child seat on it, or because they have physical limitations) – Paul de Vrieze Nov 19 at 19:03

One of the more significant differences between a dutch city bike and a performance-focused road bike is the saddle.

Saddles for transport tend to be larger and softer. That way not having padding isn't nearly as bad because the padding is built into the saddle.

The chain is always protected by a guard to avoid loose pants getting caught in it and mangled.

Fenders and mudflaps are also a constant fixture to deal with rain.

On women's bikes there will sometimes be a skirt guard to protect said garment.

The tires are on the chunkier side with lower pressure. This makes for a much more comfortable ride in general.

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    I've got a runabout with a big soft saddle. More than about 20 minutes on that in jeans and I can feel them rubbing, unlike a smaller saddle. But in gym shorts or bike tights the fat saddle is OK for considerably longer (if a little incongruous). – Chris H Nov 19 at 11:57

As a Dutchman, there are some things I'd like to add to the previous (valid) answers.

First, while it is true that our bikes are relatively comfortable and reduce wear and tear on clothes, this does not mean that uncomfort and/or wear are prevented completely. When I was a student in high school and university (ages 11 to 23) I used to cycle 120 kilometers a week for my 'commutes' to school and sports. I did this on a bike similar to the one at the front in the OP's picture. During these years, I have lost at least three pairs of jeans as a consequence; the portion at the back side of the inner portion of the leg wears the quickest. Given enough time, this will become thin enough to tear.

Second, I think the quality of our pavement (in combination with the previously mentioned lower tire pressure, comfortable saddles and so forth) plays a major role. It is hard to find a bicycle lane in the Netherlands that is not paved; particularly in the urban 'Randstad' region, which includes Amsterdam. I have lived in other countries in Northwestern Europe, there is still a difference in pavement quality (particularly as it comes to dedicated bicycle lanes).

Third, though less important, I think the stiffness of the bicycle frame deserves a mention. The classic Dutch bike that you think of is not made of carbon or aluminium, like most sports bikes are, which means they soak up a lot of energy that would otherwise be delivered to your rear end.

Finally, as Tiger commented, it is fairly common to take a pair of waterproof trousers (called 'regenbroek', literally 'rain trousers') and wear this over whatever you're wearing for the day. These are taken off upon arrival and hung out to dry somewhere. You wouldn't wish a day in wet jeans on your worst enemy.

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    Welcome to the site! – David Richerby Nov 21 at 17:00
  • One small thing about your excellent answer confused me. To me, a bike lane is, by definition a marked-off area of a paved road, so I don't see how a bike lane could not be paved. Some bike tracks aren't paved but, to me, those aren't bike lanes. – David Richerby Nov 21 at 17:01
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    @David; Thanks very much! You are probably right, maybe I should have phrased differently (English can be difficult sometimes..). What I meant to say is that the portions of the road meant for cyclists - which can either be separated from car lanes by just paint markings, or by an actual physical barrier - are more often than not paved. My experience in other countries has been that even though the car lanes can be of the same pavement quality, cyclists are often condemned to the sidewalk, which is usually much more uneven. – Floris SA Nov 22 at 15:02

There are sometimes heavy rains but most often it is only drizzling. Furthermore, there is no such thing as a whole day rain. It can rain several times half an hour per day and in between your cloth can dry out. Last but not least you can sit high (your foot is almost straight when pedalling) and you hold the handle by leaning forward (cover).

If it is heavy rain then even the Dutch bike in additional raincoats and trousers or with umbrellas or they do not bike.

The other answers already cover everything very well - fenders, chain guards, low speed, weather, habits... and marketing.

I cycle to work and back (16km) wearing everyday clothes (often jeans), and can offer the following advice from personal experience (mind, I'm not Dutch):

This is a BAD bike for cycling in Jeans (I use it anyway): enter image description here No fenders, but that's not jeans-specific...
No chain guard means that your pants leg will get greasy dirt from the chain, and will frequently get caught on the sprocket, leading to tears.
The elastic wrap (a wrist brace, I think), takes care of that well enough. I recommend it even with a chain guard present. Tucking the pants leg into high socks will also do.

It's important that your jeans aren't too tight, but as far as crotch chafing is concerned, undergarments matter more than pants.
Have a change of clothes at your destination, in case it rains, plus maybe some allantoin powder, or talcum, etc, for the skin.

Most importantly, don't let it bother you. You're cycling in rain, you're a tough cookie.

It's just working. I do have proper biking pants, but I found that especially on more rough terrain (MTB, Enduro, Trail...) I often simply wear my Levis 501, both uphill and downhill, to avoid problems with twigs slashing either the trousers or my skin. No problems, so far, it feels perfectly fine.

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