Updated: Nov 10, 2020
As a cyclist who wears full Islamic dress I am often asked about how exactly it is possible to ride a bike with the clothing I wear. Every day for me is proof that it really can be done- you just need to make some sensible choices and manage your clothing appropriately, which is actually something all cyclists need to do!
Whatever your style of dress (whether you wear specifically Islamic dress or not!), you need to make sure your clothing is comfortable and not too thick or you will get hot quickly. I have some hijabs that I won’t wear cycling as they are too slippery and would move around too much. I make sure my clothing under my jilbab consists of thin layers so I don’t overheat, and a cardigan over my jilbab is better than an extra layer under it, so it can be removed if needed.
The hijab is really easy to manage. You need to find a way to keep the hijab itself down as it can flap around in the wind. I find a rucksack/gym bag, or a jacket, depending on the weather, does this really effectively. If you wear a helmet, you just need to tie your hair to ensure it doesn’t get in the way of a helmet. This may mean tying your hair higher or lower than normal depending on your helmet design.
Jilbabs (the full length dress) need a tiny bit more consideration. You should choose one that is not too loose and not too tight. This may take a little experimentation, but basically you need to be able to avoid lots of extra fabric that could get caught, but you also want it to be loose enough that you can get your foot over the cross bar and be able to pedal.
It’s a good idea to adjust your jilbab before getting on the bike. Some people tuck their jilbab in a few inches at the waist, into their trousers underneath; others wear a belt on top of their jilbab and tuck it into this. Or you can just lift the jilbab slightly just before you mount the bike. If you are looking to buy a bike, you might want to look at ones with a chain guard as these can help avoid fabric getting stuck, but while useful it is not essential if you follow these tips I have outlined.
Whilst riding the jilbab can fly up a bit. If you’re riding at a leisurely pace and are competent with lifting one hand off the handlebar you can just shift it back into place with your hand. In windy conditions or cycling at faster paces though, cycling clips (the horseshoe shaped kind) over your jilbab can help to keep it in place. Also think about what you’re wearing underneath your jilbab because if the jilbab flies up your trousers underneath will obviously be visible (avoid your comfy leopard print trousers unless you don’t mind sporting these in public!). I prefer to wear loose trousers underneath with which I also use cycling clips at the ankles to avoid them getting in the way of the chain.
If the jilbab does get stuck you should slow down or stop to limit the damage. A quick pedal backwards can sometimes release the fabric or you may need to stop and dismount and sort it out-and it may get torn. It’s a good idea not to wear your favourite jilbab for cycling for this reason, not to mention the possibility of chain grease getting on it.
I now do actually reserve a handful of jilbabs for cycling and I have some very nice ones that I just won’t cycle in. I used to say that my jilbab never got stuck in my chain. Well, two years into cycling almost every day, and I can’t really say that anymore….but this does not mean cycling is not safe with a jilbab! It hardly happens, and this is just a natural consequence of cycling so much more now. And it’s a small price to pay for the physical health benefits, improved mental wellbeing, access to the outdoors and better air quality…So I just keep a handful that I will wear if I’m cycling that day, and they might have a couple of small tears right at the bottom, but they are not really noticeable and it’s still safe to cycle following the steps I have outlined.
It is also possible to cycle with a niqab (full face covering), and we have several riders in niqab in our rides with Cycle Sisters. Mostly riders say the wind when cycling helps to keep the niqab in place and not fly around. If you are concerned though, you can tuck it into your hijab underneath or wear a shorter one to avoid excess fabric flying around. You can also pin it into place- in which case it’s a good idea to pin it into your jilbab or top underneath as that will hold it more securely than just pinning it into your hijab.
I hope this shows people that cycling in Islamic dress is most definitely possible, as more and more Muslim women are demonstrating while out on their bikes everyday!
This is an abridged version of a two part post written by Khadijah Zaidi on her blog www.cycleandjam.com, and has been updated for Cycle Sisters. Please visit her blog for the full articles and other interesting cycling posts. She currently blogs on Instagram @cycleandjam