Let me just cut to the chase; I dont normally wear clothes made for bike riding. However, Vespertines reflective Vespert vest intrigued me as a fashionable solution to my recent concerns about being visible on Phoenixs often inhospitable streets.
When I started blogging about my experiences commuting by bike, one of the points that I wanted to stress was how easy it actually was. No special gear or clothes, just a bicycle in good working order with a few accessories such as lighting and some reliable bike bags for carrying work necessities or transporting groceries.
Mikael Colville Andersons Copenhagen Cycle Chic blog was a huge influence on my willingness to give transport cycling a try because he presented an image of bike commuting that didnt involve Lycra, a fabric that often causes me to resemble a brightly colored sausage. I didnt want to be that woman who arrived at work dressed for sports and not for getting down to business. I took pride myself as an urban cyclist who wore regular clothes when I set on my journey each day. As someone who wanted to do my part in promoting an alternative form of getting around, I wanted to make it look easy to those who insisted that it was impossible.
Pedaling around in my normal clothes wasnt too much of an issue in bike friendly Flagstaff, Arizona, which enjoys an abundance of bike lanes and multiuse paths. Its a community where almost everyone is at least a recreational cyclist. As a Dark Skies community, street lights take a back seat to starry, starry nights in Flag so I purchased a couple of fashionable bright yellow coats for the sake of visibility. It wasnt uncommon for a complete stranger to tell me they noticed me on my bike earlier because of my bright yellow coat and what a smart idea it was to choose that color.
Nonetheless, when we relocated down to car-centric Phoenix, I was not immune to the fact that my biking conditions would change drastically. And they did. Not so many bike lanes and even fewer multiuse paths. A lot of my bike commuting is on regular city streets with car drivers who dont think I should be there and arent looking for bicyclists. Additionally, Phoenix is darn hot a good portion of the year and having the extra layer of a yellow coat or jacket is often not very comfortable. I needed something lightweight for trips in 80 116 degree heat that would make in visible when biking. I also wanted something that would easily fit over a bulky sweater or coat for cooler weather. My husband and I have some sleeveless reflective vests we wore for night running but, I admit, they are just so ugly I just couldnt bear showing up to work in them. Yes, Commute by Bike readers, these are the shallow worries of some riders out there. We are peacocks and nothing will change us in that respect.
The Vespert is a super-duper lightweight sleeveless vest that comes in four colors (flame, cotton candy, lime and citron) and provides 360 degrees of reflective Scotchlite material on the crossing straps at the should, around the V-neck, along the bottom edge and with the tie closure. The look is minimalist and modern, slightly shaped in cut but roomy.
It doesnt look like the typical reflective vest in safety green or neon pink, and theres no Velcro to get stuck together or on to sweaters or gloves. I requested the Eco Citron (yellow) color in a medium. In the month Ive had it, Ive worn in running and on my bike, both during the day and after dark. Ive worn it over thin running shirts and my bulky grey peacoat and usually forget I have it on, it is so weightless and nonrestricting.
Among the other features that I like about the Vespert are two pockets sewn into the inside. One located on the left interior of the vest is perfect for small items like lip balm, ID, or emergency cash. I usually use this pocket when I wear it running for those little incidentals.
The other pocket is sewn into the inside of the neck and is used to fold the entire vest into for easy storage in ones purse or pannier upon removal. I really like it because I just immediately tuck it into my bike bag once I get to work and I dont have to worry about it getting damage as I pull other things out of my bag the rest of the day and its there where I need it at the end of the day when Im ready to ride home.
Usually, when I review products I comment on what Id change. There really isnt much to say there. No complaints, although a third pocket on the right interior side wouldnt hurt as sometimes when I have items in the left interior pocket I feel a bit weighed down on that side and find myself adjusting the vest.
As with every review, I like to spend some time on the companys website to review their history and other products. According to the companys vision statement, designer Sarah Canner founded the collection to inspire, empower, and protect bikers on their daily journeys creating clothes youd like to wear. The reflective materials used in her work provide great visibility in car headlights from 2,000 feet or .38 miles away. Products are made in New York City using 100 percent sustainable fabric polyester, as well as luxury fabrics sourced from artisanal European mills and beyond. Looking at other product offerings, Vespertine carries a long-sleeved riding dress and a sleeveless shift dress, both with reflective Scotchlite material woven into the fabric. Neither scream bike-wear, but are instead are simple, elegant, and timeless in design. Ill be honest, though I had sworn off bike specific clothes, the Dash Dress looks pretty awesome, and Im wondering how well it would do with a white turtle neck underneath for the month or so of cold weather we have in Phoenix. The company also sells a compactly cut womens blazer and a smart looking mens long sleeve, hip-length riding jacket, both of which I wouldnt mind seeing in Eco Citron as well.
Vespertine products are not cheap, with the most expensive product being over $500. The Vespert is listed for $68, which though pricy, is probably worth the price when I consider how often I have been wearing it. Since its attractive I dont talk myself out of wearing it, and I really do feel more visible, especially on a particular section of my commute where I mix with busier rush hour traffic.
Karen Voyer-Caravona is a some-time city cyclist living in Phoenix, Arizona. She is a founding member of Phoenix Spokes People, which is dedicated to promoting bicycling as a viable transportation option in the city of Phoenix. When she is not conspiring socialist plots against her city’s infamous car-centric culture, she is studying for her masters degree in social work at Arizona State University.