I may decide to wear a miniskirt this riding season. The short skirt is already mandatory apparel for women in some pro-level sports, like badminton, and we’ll very likely be seeing more this Olympic summer. Maybe I’ll find that wearing one is extremely liberating. But first, the most immediate questions are: how functional are they, and will I look cool or silly?

A few weeks ago I decided to test-ride a miniskirt, and I also asked two friends to do the same while riding the legendary North Shore trails. Luckily, they are good friends and agreed to wear the skirt sans chamois. Here’s the consensus:

Thumbs Up

  • Makes using the potty easy
  • Inexpensive to buy
  • Allows amazing air flow when out of the saddle

Thumbs Down

  • Minimal “hooha” protection from cold, poison ivy, or other intrusive objects
  • Your undies get hit with any mud you ride through
  • Fellow trail-users start asking if you’re going to post some pictures on Instagram or Facebook
  • No pockets
  • Fabric doesn’t seem to wash well or dry quickly (and tennis whites just don’t cut it in the mountain bike world)
  • No protection from tire burn on the inside of your leg

Plus, I wasn’t sure if I felt sexy or silly. I have never really been one to “strut my stuff” in the first place, and frankly the added attention from on-lookers made me uncomfortable. I felt naked, and this alone made me hesitant to bust a few moves. Then, one of my friends received a nasty tire burn from a landing after a big rock drop. (Sorry, no pics. I’m not that type of photographer.)

Our experience of wearing miniskirts while trying to ride actually gives a bit of a peek into some of the issues surrounding female pro athletes and apparel – what spurred my interest in the “bike-mini” in the first place. It’s no secret that, in general, women athletes garner less spectator interest and media coverage than their male counterparts. But it’s been interesting to see how some sports organizations have turned to dress codes in attempts to deal with that reality.

For example, around 2011, the International Amateur Boxing Association announced that it was considering having female boxers wear skirts, in an effort to help distinguish the women from the men. Seriously? (Luckily, that idea was dialled back a bit, and female boxers now have the option to wear shorts or skirts.) Then, not long ago, the Badminton World Federation made it mandatory for women players to wear skirts in top-level tournaments, stating that it wanted to enhance the presentation profile of the sport in order to attract more competitors. And let’s not even get started on beach volleyball’s shorty-shorts…

Now, the argument could be made that women wearing skirts in competition will get them noticed more, which could conceivably boost a sport’s profile and, in turn, draw greater numbers of girls and women to participate. That’s a nice theory. On the other hand – call me cynical – I’m thinking that the only result of requiring female athletes to don miniskirts will be to keep them looking “pretty” and maintain the focus on appearance versus performance.

Then there’s the study performed by Mary Jo Kane, a professor at the University of Minnesota, in which male and female subjects were shown various images of women athletes – some of them at moments of great athletic triumph, some of them lounging, and some in supine soft-porn positions. The ones that made the subjects most want to watch sports were the ones highlighting athletic prowess. Kane summed up her findings by stating, “Sex sells sex, not women’s sports.”

With better materials and tailored fits, today’s clothing for women athletes do indeed fit much better than anything created by the old “pink it and shrink it” adage. And certainly lots of “body-conscious” outfits are designed to play a protective or performance role, such as the skin suits in alpine skiing that lessen drag and don’t snag on poles. But if there’s no competitive advantage to tight or revealing clothing, is looking hot on its own a desirable goal?

In the end, I am left with the thought that if I can look good without sacrificing comfort, function, or respect, then why not? Nevertheless, the idea that athletic strength and prowess can be attractive – in all senses of the word – without imposing a sexy, suggestive look is a cool one. Luckily, I am in a sport where I can choose what to wear. For my part, I will be sticking with my trusty baggy shorts, because in them I am free and comfortable, and I ride like the wind.

Author Bio

Cécile is a freelance action and portrait photographer living in North Vancouver, BC. Honing her skills from riding all sorts of bikes, her photographs are a fusion of Fine Art and Action to create vivid, exciting and engaging images. Her work has been featured in exhibitions, and has been published in national magazines. For more of Cécile’s work please visit www.cecilegambin.com