Cycling as a woman in Iran can make even the least-fashion conscious person spend hours pondering their wardrobe.
It’s not forbidden for women to ride a bicycle in Iran but the law insists that every woman conform to the Islamic laws of hijab or dressing modestly, which makes planning a cycling outfit slightly tricky and discourages most local women from ever getting on a bicycle.
For you, the tourist, the dress code means your favourite pair of lycra shorts will definitely not be making an appearance! As a foreigner you’ll be cut a bit of slack on how you interpret the dress code but it still requires a significant change for most women from how they normally dress. Here’s how Friedel typically appeared while touring Iranian cities (with some practical modifications for cycling; a different headscarf).
Whether on or off the bike, you will have to:
- Wear a headscarf
- Ensure your arms and legs are fully covered
- Make sure your bottom is covered at least down to mid-thigh with a second garment.
Perhaps surprisingly, the dress code does not extend to your feet. It’s perfectly fine to wear a pair of sandals and many Iranian women do just that!
The only time you can relax and fling off your layers of clothing is in the privacy of your tent or hotel room. When you are invited to someone’s home, they will often invite you to take off your headscarf to make you feel more comfortable but continue to refrain from rolling up your shirt sleeves or revealing even a small part of your legs.
Forget bringing an ankle-length skirt for off-bike days. Only nomadic women wear these and their skirts are far more colourful and eye-catching than anything you will bring from home. Many women wear the chador, but of course this is not so practical for cycling and not necessary.
Get a manteau
Another popular choice is a coat known as a “manteau” which usually comes down to about knee-level. You can buy these coats everywhere in Iran, starting from about 150,000 Rials (approximately $15).
The manteau is wonderful for walking around town and will certainly help you fit-in with the trendy Iranian women who place a high emphasis on looking good. Beneath their manteaus and headscarves are the latest fashions; often skin-tight jeans, high-heeled boots and always lots of make-up.
On the bike, the manteau may be too restrictive. You’ll have to try it and see if it works for you. The safer but less stylish option is an extra long shirt. You can either make this a t-shirt and wear it over a second shirt with longer sleeves or get one loose-fitting shirt that will cover both arms and bottom. For your lower half, cycling with lycra leggings is a good choice, or just get a long pair of trousers and don’t forget trouser clips to prevent fabric getting stuck in your gears.
Lighter is better
When buying all of these things, think about the weight of the fabric and what the temperatures will be like when you are in Iran. You won’t be able to shed layers or roll up your sleeves easily so you’ll sweat more than normal. You want something that is going to breathe well and wash easily at the end of the day.
Any square scarf will do the job as long as you can tie it under your neck and manage to cover most of your hair, making you look like you’ve stepped straight out of the 1950s. Make sure it is securely tied. The movements of the bike and the wind from passing traffic can easily jiggle the knot loose. Safety pins can help keep things in place.
Longer rectangular scarves are another option but they’re harder to tie nicely for the uninitiated.
The easiest choice is a one-piece hijab that fits over your head snuggly and requires no tying. They’re not as colourful or fashionable but they stay in place and are less hassle if you haven’t had years of practice learning how to tie a headscarf like most Iranian women. You don’t see many of these in Iran but they are very popular and cheap in Syria if you’re going there first. An interesting UK company selling one-piece hijabs designed for sport is The Hijab Shop, and you may also find them in markets across Europe, in cities with a large Islamic population. For example, we see hijabs at our local market in The Hague, the Netherlands.
Other than the dresscode, there’s not a lot to worry about as a woman in Iran. Unwanted hassle and flirting from men is much less than in other parts of the Middle East (almost non-existent). If travelling with a man, Iranian men may only talk to your male companion and direct all questions about you through him. It will be assumed that men you are cycling with are in your immediate family (husband, brother, uncle). If this is not the case, it may be best to just make up a story to that effect.
- Clothing Advice For Women Travelling In Iran (written by cyclists)
26th September 2010 at 10:13 am #
Thanks for the ideas, I need to go shopping today for my Iran outfit! We’re about to enter Iran and I’m planning to wear a buff, balaklava style, under my cycling helmet. It doesn’t look very stylish but doesn’t seem to slip, so it should be quite practical for cycling, and easily washable. I will also use a slightly more stylish scarf for when we are in towns etc.
27th October 2011 at 3:10 pm #
Thanks a million!!! I was worried about wearing Lycra leggings, as I wasn’t sure about having tight clothing but you have cleared that up for me! In Erzincan so getting my outfit ready to cross the border in a few days.
By the way you site is absolutely amazing, super helpful!!!
Love love love
29th March 2013 at 2:01 am #
Thanks heaps for you website! It’s a goldmine of good advice!
I was wondering if you think a head scarf about 75cm x75cm (30 inch) square is big enough. That is a standard scarf size here, but I noticed a lot of the traditional hijabs are 1×1.5m or so.
15th April 2013 at 3:21 pm #
Hello I’m an Iranian guy and I just randomly hit your your website. I welcome those who want to visit Iran. But the main point which is usually not mentioned in most sites is the place you want to go in Iran. Some parts of Iran show a higher crime rate, which I suggest you to be carefull about it. There are lots of civilized and good people in Iran but there also some punks which even make trouble for us sometimes. Avoid secluded areas, and the best caution is to have an Iranian tour guy from a registered agency to accompany you. In that case you will be absoloutely fine and you are going to have a good time.
21st July 2013 at 8:19 am #
You do not need a tour guy/guide from any sort of agency – it’s far better if you don’t. What I do recommend though, is signing up to CouchSurfing.org and getting in touch with people in the areas you want to visit – many of them will host you, tell you about their lives and you can do the same in return. Iranians are world-renowned for their hospitality, you shan’t be disappointed!
22nd December 2013 at 10:25 pm #
I am an iranian girl
I do not think iran is a safe place for women
In iran unfortunately men even in street or other public areas do not respect your privacy
They look you in a way that suffer you
And they tell you the words that has a dismal bottom line for your soul
I should own up to the fact that there is a park which is provided with cycling path but it has written on the board in middle of park.
and also rental bycicles
“Women’s cycling is forbidden”(family park in karaj)
what a shame!!!!!
My dream is one day I can be able to go my work by bycicle let a lone biking as a tourist
To the best of my recollections, I could cycle in part of kish around sea for two days that it is fresh in my mind.
5th February 2014 at 3:16 pm #
I’m an Iranian girl, too
Im cycling wherever and whenever i want
Ofcourse there is bad talking, whistling and interrupting gestures. But that’s it. As a tourist government will treat more gentle with your hijab than ours.
25th February 2014 at 5:29 am #
Great advice thanks. We are going to Iran soon, not cycling unfortunately but we are taking our kids who are 7 (boy) and 10 (girl). Our daughter will presumably have to following the dress restrictions especially as she is tall with blond hair and blue eyes and looks older than 10. Your advice here is very helpful for both of us. Sedighe – good for you, keep riding and enjoying it!
25th February 2014 at 8:31 pm #
I am glad that U have the ability for cycling whenever and wherever U want.
Please give me a piece of advice due to I will be able ,too.
And I have some question too
Did you ever want to cycle
as a turist
I mea on the roads between cities
And if yes,did U Have any accompany or partner?
As U Know alone girls have too many challenges to
25th February 2014 at 10:23 pm #
I don’t have enough money for buying a good bicycle and other equipments for travelling on the roads. But there are a lot of agencies for this kind of trips.
I have some friends in shahrood and mashhad who do cycling both in city and roads, in group of coarse. I mean for cycling in city you just need your spirit but for cycling on the roads you unfortunately need to be in group and of course have some money.
زوج میانسالی در شاهرود میشناسم که احتمالا پایه ایرانگردی با دوچرخه باشن
25th February 2014 at 10:27 pm #
دنبال این بودن که اینکارو بکنن، اگر تمایل و البته آمادگی جسمیشو داری میتونم برنامشونو برات بپرسم
21st March 2014 at 2:08 pm #
Hey azadeh, if you are still in tehran, it is very good time for cycling. City is empty
18th April 2015 at 7:48 am #
I would love to talk to you more about cycling as a woman in Iran. I am planning a cycling trip to Iran and would love to meet and/or talk with Iranian women who cycle.
17th March 2014 at 12:03 am #
Exactly what I, as a Canadian Muslim, try to dress like on and off my bike. 🙂 Good Advice!
18th March 2014 at 2:11 pm #
Please explain more
5th February 2022 at 9:06 am #
I must convey my respect for your kind-heartedness giving support to those individuals that should have guidance on your topic. Your real commitment to getting the solution all-around had become definitely good and has always encouraged ladies just like me to get to their dreams. Your amazing interesting facts denotes a whole lot to me and further more to my fellow workers. Many thanks; from everyone of us.
5th February 2022 at 9:08 am #
I precisely wished to thank you very much all over again. I do not know what I could possibly have achieved without the actual opinions shown by you directly on such a subject. It seemed to be a very frustrating setting in my circumstances, but observing this well-written technique you managed the issue made me to cry for fulfillment. Extremely thankful for this support and as well , wish you comprehend what a great job you were providing teaching many people thru your websites. More than likely you’ve never got to know any of us.
5th February 2022 at 9:08 am #
I simply desired to thank you very much yet again. I am not sure the things that I would have tried in the absence of the entire hints contributed by you regarding this question. It was before the horrifying issue in my view, nevertheless spending time with a specialised strategy you processed it forced me to leap over delight. I am happier for this advice and in addition have high hopes you comprehend what an amazing job your are putting in teaching people today through the use of your webpage. I am sure you’ve never met any of us.