Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Silly Girl

There is a lot of interesting commenting going on out there in the cyber world of late. The "I Hate Cycle Chic" crowd is starting to stir in places. CYLRAB is not a "chic" blog, but it is not not a "chic" blog, either. Meli, Caryl and I try very hard to find pictures and stories from all over the world about what the people who ride bikes as a means of achieving their personal ends look like and how they live.

So what is it that makes cycle chic so compelling? Aside from the fact that we have not seen any in North America since the late 70's, that is. It isn't the clothing, it isn't the sex appeal (those are a small part to be sure). From my experience, it is because "cycle chic" is about people. For the first time in decades, we are seeing the people who ride bikes before we see a bike that happens to have a person on it.

This woman is lovely, to be sure, but is that what makes the picture? Is this attractive because she is young and thin? For myself, I am drawn to this image because this woman is so obviously comfortable, happy and confident. She is gliding down the street and loving the light and the feeling of movement.

I took this picture a couple of weeks ago. This woman is stunning. She looks like she could be my friend, and if she were, this is how she would dress to meet up for coffee. Her bike could just as easily be her back pack. It is simply part of her day. Instead of it being the center of her public persona, it is just her transportation and who she is shows on her face instead of in her gear.

This is one of my favorite shots of Meli. She has the whole "cycle chic" thing going here. Not because she is rocking those fabulous shoes or flashing those red tights. It is because she is happy to be in that moment. There is no way that looking at this picture could be damaging to cycling culture unless you look at it through the lens of self-loathing. When viewed as it is intended, as a window into a positive person's life, the fashion becomes so very unimportant.

Lastly, this is a picture of myself. It is a bit over the top, and admittedly, a little reminiscent of an old pin-up calender, but there was a point to it. After years of feeling completely out of place in my body and creeping closer and closer to 40, I finally feel like I have reclaimed my physical self. I wore a bathing suit for the first time in 3 years this summer, all because riding my bike around town instead of using my car has made me feel thousands of times better about how I look and how I feel inside my own skin. Despite what others may say out there, I do not feel exploited, I am not objectifying myself and I am fully aware that I am the equal of any person out there.

So if you feel this image damages the cycling world,

photo by bicyclesonly

or this one,

photo by Amsterdamize

or perhaps this one, then maybe it is time to deepen the conversation. If 20+ years of only seeing bicycle racers and urban bike messengers didn't get people out riding for transportation, then how exactly do pictures of people doing just that not count? If people are out on bikes, and their only reason for starting it is because they saw a photo of some beautiful moviestar on a cruiser why does that matter? If the goal is to get butts in saddles, then we need every sales pitch we can find, and for many Lance Armstrong and the X-Games just don't register.

Feel free to discuss. May I suggest putting on some high heels first so that you can get in the mood? : )


  1. I'll bring my french press, then we can get rolling. I'm gonna have to see some IDs...

  2. I don't know, maybe 'chic' isn't the right word then,
    Chic, to me always smacked of throw-away fashion,
    which couldn't be farther from where you and yours
    are coming from. It's more about celebrating our
    individual tastes and who we are. Argyle socks and all.
    Bikes are the thing we all have in common. The bond
    we all have.
    Jon C.

  3. they make high heels in a size 12...mens :-D

    Timely post and I completely agree. We (my bride and I) were out riding around a neighborhood yesterday near the location of our new boutique. When we returned from the ride, one of the girls that works in the store next door commented we weren't properly dressed for a bike ride. Excuse me? I had on slacks, shoes, socks, and a long sleeved button down collar shirt, my bride was wearing jeans, turtle neck and a colorful jacket. The bikes are our "city bikes" upright with fenders, lights, baskets and bags. I tried to get her to elaborate, but couldn't get anything other than we weren't dressed properly for riding a bike.

    Funny thing is we had several people wave to us from porches, tell us we looked like we were having fun (which we were) and generally seem pleased to see someone out and about.

    We will continue to ride in what we wear for everyday use, and enjoy the ride!


  4. For every action, there is a reaction, and I'm guessing that's part of what's going on here. To me, reading Copenhagen Cycle Chic and its kind has entirely changed the way I think about bikes - from feeling vaguely ashamed that I was not a 'proper' cyclist to understanding that the real problem was the infrastructure I was trying to ride in. Sure, the cycle chic thing can overshoot a little - am I now not a proper cyclist because I occasionally wear a hi-vis jacket, or am a complete scruff? - but it was a necessary corrective. It's aspirational, so it is a little unattainable for us ordinary mortals, but it's still a far better advertisement for cycling than lycra (or well meaning men in bike shops telling us we're doing it wrong...) But the point, as I see it, is not to say 'you have to dress up to get on a bike' but 'if you feel you can't be dressed up on your bike, then there's a problem - not with you, but with your bike infrastructure.' If the infrastructure were in place to make it easy and comfortable to ride dressed in heels, or whatever then all is good. You can still wear lycra if you choose, but you won't feel you have to. Frankly, I'm in awe of people cycling in America who still manage to look chic on their bikes (actually, I'm in awe of anyone who looks chic at all, but that's just me), well in advance of your roads being copenhagenised. I've only just got comfortable without my yellow jacket since I moved out of London.

    Anyway, sorry for the long comment! It's something I've been thinking my way round for a while

  5. I believe that anyone that says looks don't matter are lying, but looks go deeper than "young and thin" or even confident.

    I don't know too many people that are out-of-shape that are confident enough to be good looking. Weighing a lot is one thing, but weighing a lot, riding a bike, and dressing & carrying yourself with confidence is completely different.

    And hey, if any of you out there can rock "proper" bike wear, then you're better looking than me, because as functional as it is I personally think bike spandex looks stupid.

  6. I hope my suede and faux shearling wedge booties have me in the proper frame of mind to make a pertinent comment. ;)

    After perusing the post you linked to, I can't say that I get the writer's point of view. She seems to be saying that every woman who wears heels and dresses to look pretty/sexy makes such decisions based solely on the perceived desires and potential reaction of men. Is she kidding? I don't think about men when I shoe shop; does any woman? It's the last thing on one's mind at DSW, particularly as the only men you see in a DSW work there.

    Those who commented on her post seemed to hold the familiar concern about the transience of the bicycle-as-fashion-accessory fad. The fashion industry can't take down cycling with expensive bikes and all the magazine editorials, ads, and models cycling to castings can only help. Some people might ride only as long as it's trendy, but others will adopt is a regular mode of transportation because it looks so darn normal to ride in whatever you have on. More seats on more saddles--whether they are devoted cyclists or feckless fashionistas--may also give cyclists in general a little more leverage in trying to get better infrastructure. The media spotlight, even when directed from the fashion world, isn't such a bad thing after all.

  7. hate is NOT a very pretty word.

    also, I give free hugs. :D :D

  8. I have been trying to write a post for my blog on this very same subject after reading that post and comments and I feel that you have said very nicely pretty much the same thing I am thinking. I always think that chic means to be stylish and fashionable which only apply to a certain person at a certain time in a certain place with a certain social group. So fashionable is different for everyone. In design school we had to take a class on sociology and fashion so I undersatand that "fashion" and "chic" and "style" and "elegance" aren't words or concepts that everyone can feel comfortable with.

    As a new cycle chic blogger I think I include just about every type cyclist that puts effort into their look when they leave the house. I don't hire models or anything they are just people I see on the street in the neighbor hoods where I spend time. Being from a fashion background and knowing people who refuse to wear flats and never wear pants or always have lipstick on or intricate retro hairstyles I know people who will never consider doing anything that they think that they have to look sloppy to do. I just want people to see that they have choices in what they wear on a bike. You don't have to change your style to ride a bike.

  9. Agree! Its not about the sex appeal or being "chic". Its about people being able to cycle without having to join some club or "bike culture". There isn't alot of support in the US for people to cycle as they are. I think the "cycle chic" movement addresses that by saying one doesn't have to join an alternative bike culture to cycle and also addresses the issues alot of women (and men) think about in relation to cycling - sweating, looking good, being able to ride in regular clothes. Long before I found out about "cycle chic", I started cycling because I saw other people who biked around wearing their regular clothes and looking nice. That was an issue for me, because I wasn't going to go around changing clothes or carrying extra accessories just so I could bike somewhere.

    Also, for those who want non-cyclists to join the bicycling movement so there can be more people for social change - environmental, anti-capitalism, urban infrastructure, etc. - you have to get them first before they will start thinking about participating in change. And you can't get them if you start out by telling them how stupid and lazy they are. The majority of People join social movements because those movements accept them for who they are and they are somehow connected to the issues or benefit from participating. After they participate, then there is the potential for them to really be changed and revolutionized.

  10. You are the best!

    You have nailed the idea perfectly, as usual. I read the I Hate Cycle Chic post when Streetsblog linked it, but moved on without commenting. Its lack of depth spoke for itself. Here you presented perfectly the kinds of thoughts that passed through my mind. Your boundless energy in eloquently calling out bs when you see it continues to amaze.

  11. Thanks for the comments everyone! Reading them I have some thoughts-

    One of the things that has been prevalent since the early 80's is the "faceless" cyclist. We are shown endless pictures of the kitted out bike team member in wrap around sunglasses, bursting from the pack. I do not think this is the fault of those who prefer competitive cycling to utility riding. I think it is the same kind of very targeted marketing that we have seen in many other industries. The marketing has been put out there, and has been successful in its task, of convincing the public that they can not possibly measure up to the task of riding without a whole lot of help. The marketing shows us to be a marginalized group of "others" and, as a larger society, we have bought into it.

    So now comes the difficult task of change. Most people think they have to get others to change, when really, we have the task of changing ourselves. We have to stop saying things like "I can't because there is no infrastructure", and instead expand our ideas of what we need and how to get it. We have to stop providing ourselves, and others, with reasons to stop trying.

    Mostly we have to face our own fear of failure, or looking silly, or being different. We need to shine our shoes and take out our company manners and fake it 'till we make it. We all have what it takes to make a "bicycle culture" worth having out there for anyone to join any time they want.

    Done for tonight! See y'all later!

  12. Adrienne et al,

    You are, as always, right on point and delivered an intelligent and thoughtful response to the 'I hate cycle chic' posting which, I feel, wasn't so well thought out in the first place.

    I can't confess to being a cycle chicista - I'm a scruff bag at the best of times, my bike is a piece of crap and I wear a helmet 'cos I promised by sister-in-law I would and hey, a promise is a promise. However, I do consider myself to be everyday and ordinary - a phrase I use over and over and over again on my own blog - because this is how I think cycling should be considered.

    The notion that you have to wear special clothes, or buy special equipment (often costing $$$s) is a failing self-fulfilling prophecy in my books that can only deter more people from cycling. Unfortunately, this "faceless" cyclist, as you so eloquently put it, has become so prevalent as the publicly recognised archetype of cyclists that it is now rare (away from countries like the Netherlands & Denmark) to see people just out there cycling & doing their thing - you know, being everyday, and ordinary. I wrote about this at some length here:
    That's why the cycle chic 'movement' is so important - for all those people turned off by the idea of getting dressed up in spandex gimp suits (which is fine for climbing mountains, but a bit off for a trip by bike to the dentists down the road), the cycle chic photos are helping to show that anyone can ride a bike in whatever they choose to wear any time, any place - which is how cycling should be. Cycling should be like driving - as prevalent and as acceptable and possible whatever you are wearing. You don't get dressed up in spandex to drive to work and neither do you have to wear special shoes just to walk down the road - cycling should be the same.

    So ride on ladies, and do it with good hair days, bad hair days, as high or low heels as you like - just do it.

  13. @Adrienne,
    Your last comment about the targeted group just clicked on a memory. In the US if you don't own a home you are some times considered a failure or at least a pariah. This is another prime example of something being targeted as "the only way to do it" I rented for years because it made more sense. When the time came to buy...I did.

    Infrastructure would be nice, but in the meantime I intend to ride my comfortable bike in my comfortable clothes, if I am fashionable, so be it. If people ask me about it I tell them I do it for fun and speed. A bike is always faster through traffic.


  14. A great post. You, Dottie and LovelyBicycle have been on-target, wise and restrained in responding to the ugly "i hate" post.

    Is it sexist to say, "nice gams, sister?" I hope not.

    I'm with you 100 percent on bicycling leading to a better self-image. Today, I put on a favorite jacket that hadn't fit me for years!

    Keep up the great work.

  15. I ride my bike in whatever clothes I find myself in at the moment of time - and I don't 'specially' make-up my face /groom myself etc.. ect. etc for my bike-ride. For every hour I use my car I spend about 6 hours on a bike .... So though I'm not a cycle'chic', I certainly belong to the 'cycling clique'... don't I?;)

  16. Btw. I forget to say I enjoy reading your posts. Thanks ;)

    Lemony - the above 'Anonymous'

  17. I appreciate what contributes to bike culture. As far as pictures of good looking people on their bikes, who can argue with that? They probably inspire some people to take up biking. They say 'yes, biking is cool'. And that is a good thing. But lets not pretend its not about the attractiveness of the young people on the bikes, and about 'confidence' or some other catchphrase. Not when not a single picture shows someone who is NOT young, attractive, and hip looking. I ride my bike quite a bit, and I see quite of bit of very ordinary looking people wearing very ordinary clothes. Sometimes I even see men and women in their 50's and 60's, working class people,poor people on ugly bikes,ugly people on nice bikes, young dark minority kids riding tattered bikes - but somehow none of them wind up making the pages of any biking blogs, which mostly seem to emulate glossy magazines in style. Oh, I know, they just dont have that 'confident look'. Or that 'windblown, casualness, that implies a LIFE,'look. Or whatever. Maybe in truth they just arent pretty enough.
    I want ordinary people to hop on their bike, be it for excercise, or better yet, for transportation.Bike culture will never be taken seriously until it moves beyond a silly hipster vs sportster debate and starts putting unchic, unathletic ordinary people, often wearing helmets and riding on department store bikes- onto the streets. Ordinary people- there are millions of em.

  18. I'm going to have to both agree AND disagree with Thomas! :)

    A blog like Velo Vogue (where I disagree w/ Thomas... check it out when you can!) really stands out in a discussion like this b/c of all the shots of different kinds of people: kids on scrapies, bmx riders, tweed rides, etc. A lot of the cycle chic I've seen pushed in the last year or so--particularly the mainstream media stuff that becomes part of the larger "acceptance" discussion--seems really specific, and limited to pushing able-bodied attractive people on clique specific bikes. Which is funny, b/c the "authentic bike culture" depends on people of all kinds riding whatever, as seems to be the thing in places with higher concentrations of bike riders.

    When people wearing work uniforms riding crappy mountain bikes are not shown on blogs that purport to be about aesthetics or personal experiences, it's annoying (more so in the former case) but understandable. When the blog's mandate is supposed to be about widening and democratising bike culture, then it's frustrating. As much as I enjoy cycle chic, the last thing people need is more cliques and rules if they are going to think of riding a bike the same way they think of other kinds of transit.

    Some of the backlash is definitely the prescriptive tone of some blogs. It's not just that you can bust out a Sartorialist-worthy look for riding a bike (and that certain bikes will aid and abet this), but that it's some personal failing if you haven't. Your capitulation to spandex and safety gear is both imminent and lamentable. But outdoorsy clothes/PJs all day/safety nut/no-look IS some people's look. Judged for not having a pricey road bike that would one would neva deign to use for anything as base as getting groceries, or judged for not having the interest or inclination to dress up for a snack run on a beautiful old-school bike? In a place with lots of bike riders, both are beneath notice, I would think, much less be controversial. Cute outfits and cute bikes should be both a source of enjoyment and optional. YMMV.


  19. Take the bikes out of the pictures. These are people walking down the street or getting out of cars. Do they look different to you? What is it that makes these pictures difficult to accept (in some circles), the people or the bikes? I contend it is the bikes that make the people in these pictures seen exotic and that without the bikes, no one would give most of these people a second thought as none of them is wearing anything that special or are groomed to the nth degree.

    What do you think?

  20. more biking is good for everyone, no matter what we choose to wear.

    (not to be snark-tastic, but what of our lesbian sisters - are they dressing to appeal to men, too?)

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