Cycling in Islamic dress: Insider Tricks, part 1

This article has tips for safer comfortable cycling in Islamic dress. However please remember that ultimately you are responsible for ensuring your own clothing choices are safe.

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As a cyclist who wears a hijab (headscarf) and jilbab (full length dress) I am often asked about how exactly it is possible to ride a bike with the clothing I wear. To be fair as a Muslim woman I am quite used to answering questions about my clothing, so it’s no wonder then that as soon as I step onto a bike I would only get more questions…Here are just a few examples of the questions I get:

  • Some people are simply amazed that it is possible to ride a bike in a jilbab!
  • Some are very (very!) concerned about my clothing getting caught (we’ll come onto this in Part 2)
  • Sometimes I hear a ‘mashaAllah!’ or an ‘awesome!’ from people as I’m riding past!
  • Some people want to know how it’s done so that they as women in Islamic dress can give cycling a go themselves

Here I will unveil a few tips that have worked for me and others. I hope to show you that it is possible to combine a jilbab with cycling, as long as you make some sensible clothing choices and adapt how you wear your jilbab. To add to my own experience, I have consulted with the lovely ladies at Cycle Sisters, a mostly Muslim women cycling club in Walthamstow for whom I am also one of the Ride Leaders. This helped me expand my repertoire of ideas, and what follows is a list of the key things you need to think about. I have also listed plenty of ideas to address those issues so that you can pick and choose according to what works for you.

Hopefully then you won’t end up like this guy. He does look like he’s enjoying the ride. But I’m not sure he has any idea what he’s doing.

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Niqab

Whilst researching this article I didn’t get any feedback on how to cycle with a niqab, and I don’t wear niqab myself so I don’t have my own experience to draw upon. I think the basic concept of the hijab section below- to avoid it flying up and in your way- would apply. You could try safety pins or tucking it into your hijab underneath. I have no idea if these suggestions would work though, and I would love to hear from you if you have any tips specifically for cycling safely in niqab that I could share with others.

Fly away hijabs (headscarves)

 

 

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The hijab is fairly simple to manage on a bike if you follow a few simple rules of thumb.

  • If you are wearing a helmet, choose a hijab that is thin enough to wear under a helmet whilst still covering you. Going to a shop to get a helmet properly fitted rather than buying online is the best way to ensure a comfortable and safe fit and can ensure you get a good fit over the kind of hijab you normally wear.
  • Tie up your hair under your hijab low rather than high so that you can put the helmet on (this also applies if you wear your headscarf in a turban style- again ensure you tie it low).
  • You need to make sure that the hijab doesn’t fly up behind you or in front of you. Something to hold it down will help.
  • In the winter this is much easier as most likely you will be wearing a coat, which would go over your hijab.
  • In the summer if you are not wearing a coat or jacket, a rucksack can do the same job.
  • If it is really hot I use a gym bag instead of a rucksack so basically a bag that
    is just small enough to serve its purpose to keep my hijab in place but won’t
    be too hot. You can also get sports rucksacks with a layer of breathable fabric
    on the back which is designed to avoid overheating.
  • If it is boiling, some well placed pins could be used to avoid any additional layers.

Jilbabs

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There are a few factors to consider for wearing a jilbab while cycling. Here I will give tips on choosing the right jilbab (fabric, and shape), and in my next post I will talk about how to adjust the jilbab while wearing.

Choosing the right jilbab

  • You want a jilbab that is lightweight to avoid overheating and you want one that is non stretchy. A stretchy fabric can be very tricky to deal with if it gets stuck in the chain.
  • As you will be well aware as a jilbab wearer, you have an extra layer so you need to adjust your other layers to ensure you’re not too hot/too cold, and this is even more important when cycling. A nice thin cotton or polyester mix fabric should work well to make your jilbab breathable. You can pick up this kind of fabric from any good fabric shop. I did investigate technical sports fabrics from Pennine Outdoor, a UK online fabric store which sells materials for you to make your own technical
    clothing/equipment- but I found all the samples I requested to be similar to
    something I could pick up in the fabric shops and market stalls along Walthamstow High Street! So I would suggest heading to your local good fabric shop but if you don’t have one you could explore online fabric stores (which should all send you samples before you order fabric for free/a small fee).
  • Shape wise you want one that is not too fitted but not too loose. Too fitted and you won’t be able to move your legs and pedal comfortably, too loose or flowy and you run the risk of excess fabric getting stuck in the chain. It’s difficult to explain tbest possible balance between the two, but to give you a rough idea, I’m a size 12 and my jilbab is 34.5 inches wide at the bottom. So long as you ensure the jilbab isn’t at either extreme of the spectrum, with a bit of trial and error you’ll find something you’re comfortable with and that works for you.

This is lovely but too loose for cycling!

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  • If you have a jilbab that has slits or is a jacket style (like some traditional burqas) these can work as long as the slits or the opening are not too big, or again you can end up with too much fabric. I made one cycling jilbab with a slit in the middle both at the front and back. The slit was about a foot long and that worked well- if it was much bigger the jilbab fabric would gather at the sides and drape down and run the risk of getting stuck.
  • Finally, this is not the time to get out your best jilbab reserved for weddings or Eid etc! Depending on the type of cycling you do, it can be a messy business sometimes and you should be prepared for your clothing to possibly get a little muddy, with maybe even a little chain grease to boot.
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