Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Time To Flip The Script

The internet is an amazing place. It is not on a map, but it is most assuredly a place, and that is the strength of it. All people, from all places on geographical maps can gather in this electronic land and discuss what is important to them as a group. My firm belief is that these conversations are what will ultimately change our world for the better, not legislation or politicians or bailouts or any "ism" we can come up with.

That being said, I reposted a piece from last year over the weekend. I highly suggest you visit the comments section and then come back to this post. The conversation there is, currently, between Mexico City and Australia (Canberra and Brisbane) and Arizona and is about whether or not the current trend toward "cycle chic" is one that adds to or takes away from the total conversation of "bicycle culture".

photo by Richard Masoner of Cyclelicious

Looking at the picture above, I can see it from a few different perspectives, not all of them my own. There are those who feel that so many pictures of young, beautiful women on bicycles isn't much different than endless pictures of young men in spandex pounding the hills of France. In both instances, there is the perception of exclusivity and judgment of those who do not fit these molds. It is felt that because the woman in these pictures don't look like the "average" person that they no longer "represent" the "average cyclist". To make that claim though, there has to be consensus of just what the "average cyclist" is and if that is even relevant. Do we need more of what is currently the "average" in most parts of the Western world? Isn't that what has brought us, in part, to where we are today- that "average cyclist" has become something other than the cute girl next door out for a little fun on a Friday night.

Some would say that in those places where helmets are mandatory, that the idea of a "chic" cyclist is not possible. The helmets make cycling seem too dangerous, and thus, not attractive to people not already on bicycles. While I make no secret of my personal dislike of helmets, I do not believe that they have all that much power to deter and that the problem, instead, is the rhetoric around them that makes cycling less attractive to some. There is no doubt that in places where helmets are mandatory that cycling numbers have dropped tremendously, it has been shown repeatedly (go Google it). However, how often are people shown in helmets actually portrayed attractively?


If more people saw images of what wearing a helmet could look like, in situations that do not involve speed, steroids or jerseys, I suspect that helmets would become less of a deterrent (and yes, infrastructure is what really counts, but we are not talking about that here). If we stop focusing on the fact that the woman in the picture (our own Meligrosa) is young and on a road bike and fashionable and oh-my-god-I-could-never-look-like-that what we could see is a person who has chosen to embrace her surroundings and ride her bicycle her way and not the way we see people in bicycle catalogues. I know I will never look like this on my bicycle, but it shows me that I can look my way, even with a helmet.

High heels.
photo by Iam Sterdam

The chances of the woman in the picture above being out and about in Denver, Colorado are pretty slim. People who ride bicycles for transportation in the vast majority of the US just do not look like this (people who ride bicycles for transportation in the vast majority of the world don't look like this). It is easy to dismiss this as "cycle chic" and leave it at that. More is required to see it for what it could be- not a judgment about what we each wear but a reminder that we can ride our bicycles with authority and confidence even in heels. There is nothing here that says you have to look like this to ride, only that looking like this doesn't mean that you can not ride.

Me & my columbian friend, Wilson
photo by bitchcakesnyc of Bitch Cakes blog

When looking through photographs, I picked this one out specifically because it is a bit over the top. We have both ends of the spectrum here- chic/lycra, cruiser/road bike, heels/clipless... each rider completed the Tour de Queens (40ish miles). If they can ride together, then all those that fall in the spectrum between them can do the same. Each can just be who they are and ride.

The rest of us just need to start seeing in a broader perspective. When we worry about "chic", who has the best "infrastructure", hipsters, bicycles without brakes, high heels, vintage, carbon....we forget that the common denominator are the people who ride all those carbon, mixte, speed machines from 70's era Amsterdam. We can continue to worry about what the people look like, or we can celebrate all of the wonderful new people on bicycles, no matter how they got there. At least, it seems to me.

Addendum: I was just about to re-write this post because it wasn't coming across the way I wanted it to. But then I saw The-Most-Stupid-Bicycle-Article-Ever (two words- titanium chainguard) and some of the silly comments that accompany it and decided to keep it as is. 1 Girl, 2 Wheels probably puts it all together better than I do.


  1. An average cyclist in my mind looks like an average pedestrian; except on wheels: people of all colours, ages, sizes wearing the clothes that they will wear for the entire day.

    An average cyclist where I live looks nothing like this. If the average cyclist were a pedestrian here, they would all look like they're out for a brisk jog, dressed accordingly (probably in the most expensive joggers they could afford).

    Having said that, I can happily report that this is slowly changing - cycling as a serious means of transport is slowly creeping back into the collective psyche... I think.

    Some bike shops are taking note and are stocking the sort of bikes that average folks can ride comfortably, myself included. I'm seeing more of these every day. There is a very good reason that this is the transport bike of choice around the world.

    As more people see these bikes available, more want them; momentum builds. It is not other cyclists we need to convince of our validity; it is the non-cyclist. The one who looks at most cyclists and thinks, "No, I can't do that. I'd look ridiculous. It looks uncomfortable". These are the people who need to look at someone cycling and say, "That person looks like me. I think I could do that. That looks enjoyable!".

    On a side note (shameless cross-promotion):
    This is what we're doing in our neck of the woods, to try and prevent the Melbourne Bike Share from failing... you can't rent helmets and we have mandatory helmet laws (which I disagree with). I'm pro-choice...

    Dr Paul Martin
    Brisbane, Australia

  2. For myself, I value and admire all riders. The price of admission to my exclusive club is that you get on a bike and pedal. Electric assist is OK, but there had better be some human power involved, or I'm not interested. Wear what you want shall be the whole of the dress code. Looking really good is a bonus, just as it is in other aspects of life. Val

  3. Also, if you want helmet chic, how about: http://tinyurl.com/25p97s6 or http://tinyurl.com/2cmaujj Cool kids wear them, too. Val

  4. To each their own. Some days I ride my bike with grocery panniers, some days I ride my mountain bike, and some days I take out my light weight road bike. I dress appropriately for the ride.

    What others do is up to them.

  5. Funny you use Meli as the example of being able to look attractive in a helmet. I agree with your point, but let's face it- there's just nothing you can put on Meli that will make her unattractive!

  6. I know there's been a bit of backlash amongst the cycle-chic bloggers about that WSJ article, but... I kinda liked it!

    Sure, it was somewhat reductionist, but the article was just one non-cyclist's perspective on her first time riding a bike since her teens! To work! in LA! In her work clothes! (in effing Phillip Lim trousers, no less!!) And she liked it!

    I think it's easy to forget that for many people, these "I did it, and you can too!" articles are really appealing. The point of the article was the same one you're making: more people should, can, and are recently giving this whole bicycle thing a go. They're finding out that it's fun and surprisingly easy.

    There are other contenders for the title of "Most-Stupid-Bicycle-Article-Ever", surely?

  7. Hey there again!

    I do agree that is one of the most stupid bike commuting articles ever, that it's just the attitude I have received in this cycle chic mexican idea and I think you pretty much nail it.

    Everyone should be confortable in whatever bike or clothing they want, I found that here in Mexico City this cycle chic and the road clubs it's not bringing commuters to the streets but weekend accesories, cuz just like we say here "predica con el ejemplo" that is if you ride it daily people will follow. So the ones doing the cycle chic are not commited bike conmuters nor the roadrunners, In my personal experiencies I have convinced several people (mostly drivers) that bike it's possible no matter the distance, lack of light or the weather I have convinced even this weekend toy ones! Heck I'm a moving brompton commuting add (by the way the brochure of that bike covers the man in a suit, average joe. bike traveler, girl in a dress, speed demon and everything in between... and didn't even noticed till now but I see why it sell to me)

    Not much to add but confirm I now see it more clearly this to extremes are like the constant "how you have to do it" image that we recieved out on any product some industry it's trying to making us buy. It like when you go to the magazine stand, in one hand you have the cosmo and if you're girl you go with the idea I wanna be skinny, pretty and young. IN the other hand you have a Men's Health and as a man you go with the I want to be ultra big muscle monster with a perfect smile.

    So now I kind a see this now as a progesterone/testosterone perfect human being you have to be, and everyone falling for the marketing that inlcuding a numerous groups of cycle chic bloggers and roadrunners. So then again my point it's in doing things, you cannot judge one thing if you haven't got at least the respect of invastigating (that goes for the unconfortable saddle, putting the foam in the saddle is genius for the other article or the dutch bike it's not a commuting bike) or then trying it, but it's always leading by the example not judging by your ideas.

    To prove a point there I didn't consider a road bike (as i have been married with the outstanding performance of the small wheels) until I see this cylrab photos of real commuters traveling in a road bike, and now I'm saving for a chromoly road frame and build up my own very personal road bike to join some of this road clubs in my city.

    So then again cycle chic it's not bringin commuters to the streets in my city just cute weekend accesories and predujices that a "sports or race bikes" (whatever that means to this guy) it's not something you should use in the city so better sell it or even better throw it away making feel people intimidated as I've talk to a very numerous people that are more apleaing to bike commuting in a road or hard tail moutain bike, and turning the other way around for the average mexican that are the real commuters and the inmediate and possible bringing a large number of people on bikes but again as I been telling it's not attractive to the cosmo/men's health prototype some people have to accomplish.

  8. here here! the point of cycling is not the clothes, the lycra, titanium, etc. hence the common denominator of the bike. changing the world for the better and ourselves is the point, whatever it takes, at least people are pedaling with their own power and not relying on the politicians to make things happen.

    i have to agree with eva on the point of the article too, like the point of this blog... change your life ride a bike.

  9. Anonymous said...
    "An average cyclist in my mind looks like an average pedestrian; except on wheels"

    Yes. That basically sums up my point of view as well.

    The cycle chic/ biker chic/ what have you... I feel that MC-A was doing a good thing, but undermined himself by taking the movement over the top, using too many catch phrases, and rubbing some people the wrong way who were otherwise on his side ideologically.

    As for the WSJ article.. for goodness sake, it's a stupid article that was not deserving of so much attention. I feel no need to get involved in the discussion and help them generate publicity for their newspaper.

  10. Dr Paul- Your links don't work! Try again : ) I am with you, that ideally, people who ride for transportation look no different than pedestrians.

    Val- everything is easier with a cowboy hat! Your link didn't work either : (

    Andy- i had to laugh when I read your comment- my "light road bike" weighs about 2x's as much as most people's and the pannier I used for a brevet over the weekend is the same one I took to the Farmer's Market : ) In all circumstances, tutu's are great for riding in : )

    Cpt'- I was not about to use a picture of me in a helmet. That is just not a pretty picture.

    Eva- I like the can do stories, as well. I expect more from the Wall Street Journal. The article started out with some good info but then degenerated into bicycle shops as fashion centers (which is why they gave her an Electra Amsterdam to ride instead of a bicycle that can actually handle her ride)and "athletic" husbands coming to the rescue because the writer wasn't athletic enough to finish (never mind that she had the wrong bicycle for the wrong first ride in the wrong shoes). I am tired of people assuming that riding "fashionably" means riding with wrong equipment just because it is cute.

    Alex- Holy cow! You can type!! : ) The people you talk about, the unseen riders that have been out there forever, seldom get the recognition they deserve. However, I am not sure that they are looking for it, either. They are the ones who just go and ride without talking about it or even thinking it is anything worthy of conversation. They deserve our respect. They are not the ones who will change things, though. It will be the people who are new to the game, who have the energy and the drive that comes with discovering a new passion that will get things moving. Some of those people will come to it through the "cycle chic" movement- that is part of what brought me here, and many others, too (even if they won't admit it now).

    LB- As I said, I expect more from reputable news outlets, but that was only the impetus to publish the post. I wrote it before reading the WSJ article and its comments. There is a great deal of value in the basis of "cycle chic" even if the recent message has been lost a bit (we are in agreement there). Those who come to the bicycle through places like CCC eventually start to look around and find other avenues to explore on their bicycles and that is where the growth comes from. I know that I would not have explored brevets had I not started out where I did.

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  12. Does this help? tinyurl.com/2cmaujj and maybe tinyurl.com/25p97s6 Worth a try. Val

  13. Thank you for including me! :) I like to be stylish on my bike and off. I do it because it's who I am, not for any other reason. And I have to say - my life really has changed dramatically since riding my bike. I love her so much!!!

  14. This is great advice. I taught a niece to ride this way, but we practiced on a slight decline so that it was easier for her to glide along and practice balance.