Cycle Chicly!

The interplay of cycling, fashion, and gender has been a hot topic in the livable streets blogosphere this month, and in the Livable Streets Community too. We recently saw the launch of a bike culture-themed group blog called Amsterdamize, and on StreetsWiki we have a new article on Cycle Chic.

santa_barbara_cycle_chic.jpgSanta Barbara Cycle Chic. Photo: Christa Clarke-Jones

In the wiki entry, San Diego-based member Christa Clarke-Jones offers this explanation of the Cycle Chic movement:

Cycle chic or bicycle chic is the culture of cycling in fashionable clothes. Cycle Chic is associated with the utility cycling practiced in cities such as Amsterdam, Berne and Copenhagen, among others, where citizens practice a high level of bicycle usage. In many European cities, as well as cities in China and Japan, cycling is an everyday transport choice and many cyclists choose to wear their regular clothes, as opposed to outfits generally associated with cycle sport, such as bicycle shorts, gloves and shoes. Cycle chic is a growing trend in cities that are now investing in bicycle friendly infrastructure and facilities.

So, what would you add to this StreetsWiki installment? Got something to say about staying chic in more inclement conditions? What about the benefits of Dutch-style fully enclosed chain guards? Add your two cents to the Cycle Chic entry.

Rounding out the week: TransAltMiddletown, in Middletown, CT, is looking for people who can bring a green transportation perpective to a new citizen’s commission on downtown parking; Walk Oakland Bike Oakland reports on the Bay Area’s Car-Free Challenge; and Dan Knaus weighs in on crime data credibility at Cream Citizen.

  • For most people, most of the year, cycling from Brooklyn or Queens to Manhattan involves sweating a lot. That’s why we can’t dress like the Dutch when we bike to work.

  • Gwin

    It seems that chic cycling requires not wearing a helmet. I’d rather be un-chic than stupid.

  • If people would just slow down, they wouldn’t sweat so much. I regularly bike to work–across the Manhattan Bridge–in a tie. I take my sweet time, and it’s manageable. When it’s really too hot or muggy, I ride in a tee-shirt and change at work.

  • Leland, I have been riding way more dressed up than you lately. If you want to brag about cycling chicness you’re going to have to step up your game.

  • Lily Bernheimer

    Chic cyclists can correct me if I’m wrong but I think the “chic” idea is really more about getting people to think of cycling as transportation rather than as a sport they need special clothing for–to think as little of hopping on a bike in what you’re wearing as you would of getting in a car. Each city has its own set of obstacles, but there may be small changes we can make to bikes & clothing to open this mode of transport to more people.

  • al oof

    i’m with Lily. i don’t think it’s cycling in fashionable clothes so much as cycling in your own clothes. i don’t dress terribly well, but i’m also not putting on anything special to ride my bike. it is about casual riding, of not having to be ‘into bikes’ to ride a bike, the same way you don’t have to be ‘into cars’ to drive a car.

    the bike helmet thing is something i keep meaning to look into. i mean, no one wears bike helmets in amsterdam. (and while lots of people around here don’t wear bike helmets, it’s really -no one- in amsterdam.) what is it about their biking (and i think probably -driving-) habits that make helmets unnecessary? or rather, what is it about our habits that make them important? i saw a lady in amsterdam with 2 kids in a bucket thing in front and one kid in a rather primitive looking child seat in the back.

    i’d love a sturdy utilitarian amsterdam type bike with a covered chain, but i can’t afford one and i think it would get stolen pretty fast. but i can meander to work (though for me it is not even a little far) on my crappy old road bike too.

  • BTW – It’s a “chain case.” Some even hold a reservoir of old in the bottom to keep the chain continuously oiled.

    And Cycle Chic should not be the sole territory of ladies alone (even though they typically do a much better job of it). Men, its time to step up.

    Also I totally second what Lilly and “al oof” have to say. Cycling in those cities and countries is just something people do for transportation just as here most Americans use a car with out identifying themselves as “driving enthusiast.” Helmets start to become a moot point when speeds are kept low and the motoring public actually respect cyclists and the laws presume guilt on drivers who crash with cyclists.

  • That’s “oil” not old. Woops!

  • We should try not to blur the distinction between cycling in “utility” clothes and “cycle chic.” “Cycle chic” is not the same thing in NYC (> 1% of trips on bikes) as in Copenhagen or Amsterdam (~40% of trips on bikes). US transportational cyclists are a visible traffic minority laboring under stereotypes about how dirty, unsafe, and culturally marginal and un-chic urban transportation cycling is. US cyclists make a statement whether they wish to or not, simply by riding in traffic in their street clothes (whatever those are). The message is some or all of: “Cycling for transportation is a fun, clean, fast, safe, inexpensive, legitimate and all-around better way to get around this city; I’m comfortable with my transportation choice and you should respect it.” Whether you are wearing the most conservative business attire, or some version of <a: href=http://www.flickr.com/photos/bicyclesonly/2158532664/in/set-72157604458078965/"messenger chic", hipster chic, or some some other form of “cycle chic,” or just plain old street clothes, chances are you are sending this message. You have to go out of your way to send a different message–for example, by wearing sporting goods (“I’m just on my way from/to the park to do laps”), or by gratuitously breaking traffic rules (“I’m a delivery guy,” or “Look at me, I’m a kid playing with a toy in the street.”).

    The Copenhagen or Amsterdam “chic cyclists” are operating in a completely different context. They seem to be simply going about their business using the arguably dominant mode of transportation where they live, dressing no more or less “chic” than the pedestrian counterparts where they live. While websites focusing exclusively on high-style, attractive, fit European cyclists are entertaining, we don’t want folks in the US get the impression that transportational cycling is only for the well-dressed, young and fit “cycle chic.” I think the better, and more descriptive phrases to brand the movement toward transportational cycling in the US would be “everyday cycling,” “urban cycling,” or “commuter cycling.”

    This is not to say that US transportational cyclists do not recognize the spotlit cultural space they occupy, and run with it. They often do and should. As Bike Snob so often has observed, there is little that is more satisfying than picking (or powering) one’s way to the front of a line of motor vehicle traffic. Looking good–and pleased–while doing so certainly adds to the experience. The more attractive transportational cycling appears, the greater the number of motorists and pedestrians that will be persuaded to try it. But for cycling advocates, it is important to remember than it is a choice to be urged for everyone, young and old, fit or not, chic or not. It’s hard to do that when your rallying cry is “cycle chic” and you’re identifying with a very carefully selected group of “chic” images from Europe.

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