Bicycles Are the New NYC “It Girl” Fashion Accessory

Actress Chloe Sevigny and her folding bike.

This week’s New York Observer story on "the beautiful bicycle girls of New York" may very well be the most e-mailed news item ever forwarded to the Streetsblog inbox. Calm down, people! Gillian Reagan observes what appears to be a new trend in New York City: Exceptionally good looking women are riding bikes. "Eco-conscious and ethereal, they wear flowing frocks and gigantic sunglasses but never helmets. Their hair flutters in the breeze as they leave a trail of swooning male pedestrians in their perfumed wake."

Meet the beautiful bicycle girls of New York, a breed that bears little resemblance to the hard-charging, Spandex-short-wearing species of 20 years ago. Those women were athletes, pumping the pedals, fighting to win. Getting somewhere. Today’s girls-and one always thinks of them as girls, even if they’re well into their 40’s-are more meandering, their long legs flashing along the pot-holed alleys of SoHo and the boutique-lined bike lanes of the West Village.

Local celebrities like the actresses Naomi Watts and Chloë Sevigny and the Brazilian supermodel Gisele Bundchen have all championed living the green life in this most public and only incidentally calorie-burning way. "I go every day to work on my bike," Ms. Bundchen told the Daily News a couple of years ago. "It’s faster than a car, and cheaper."

While the Observer is far more interested in the girls’ outfits than anything having to do with transportation policy, Alex Marshall at the Regional Plan Association notes that we could be looking at a positive trend if, in fact, "women are feeling comfortable enough to cycle in nice clothes and without helmets." Marshall says, "It almost compares to the way conduct and attitudes in the subway shifted dramatically a decade or so ago. If we can get more people riding bikes in nice clothes and without helmets, it will really help popularize and increase cycling."

Call it the Copenhagenization of NYC.

Photo: via House and Garden.

  • Spud Spudly

    Cycling with one hand on the handlebars and one hand holding the cell phone up to her head. Great.

  • Smith

    Great, indeed.

    That picture looks to me like the sure sign of a healthy, thriving urban environment.

    It’s the kind of scene you see as a matter of course in all of the great biking and walking cities.

  • Bink

    In Japan the cycling ladies ride with one hand on the handlebars and one holding up an umbrella to shade them from the sun. No helmet. All perfectly safe. Maybe we are heading in that direction finally.

  • Sarah

    I’m a young lady on a bike in the city (though it’s a MTB and I wear a helmet, usually). I think any good press on bicycling is nice, and an increased number of cyclists on the streets of NYC is even nicer. But am I the only one who finds this article vaguely offensive in all sorts of ways?

    One of the things that bugs me more than anything on my daily commute, aside from aggressive motorists and meandering cyclists with iPods in their ears, is the amount of jeering and cat-calling and “ride baby! ride!” i get because — oh my god! — it’s a girl! on a bike!

  • anon

    Sartorialist has a ton of photos of attractive women on bikes. And my favorite blog right now is, which is just hot Copenhagen ladies on bicycles.

    I’ve found that it’s much much easier to ride in heels than flats, particularly when you’re on a cruiser and upright. The spandex people will never get this.

  • orrloff

    “A 2006 city study found that from 1996 to 2005, 225 cyclists died in crashes, 92 percent of them in accidents involving cars.”

    I sound like my grandmother: Wear your helmets!

  • John Hunka

    Every day, the auto industry bombards Americans with thousands of commercials and ads that portray car ownership and driving as something sexy, beautiful and fun. Frankly, I think that this article in the New York Observer that portrays cycling as something healthy, sexy, good for the environment and accessible to everyone is commendable. The article is well-deserved slap in the face to the auto industry and consumerism.

  • mark

    Helmets – no.

    Really – do you think a piece of styrofoam will prevent you from injury in a serious accident? Oh sure – the helmet makers would like you to think so.

    Most of the studies that suggest that are flawed. I myself had a crash where my helmet cracked. No head injury. Does that mean the helmet protected me? Sure, it probably did a little. But if I had been thrown up into the air by a car, slammed against a curb? I seriously doubt it. Correlation does not mean causation.

    Check out:

    What will make bikers more safe is more bikers. To the extent that helmet wearing prevents more people from riding bikes – I say boo. Far better to ride safely. Which you tend to do when you feel less protected.

  • MrManhattan

    I just noticed this trend myself over the last few months.

    Lots of pretty women, riding these retro-bikes like they’re Dorothy going over to see Auntie Em in Gramercy Park.

    Just remember Dot, you’re not in Kansas anymore…

    The Wizard may swerve to miss you because you’re pretty, but you still have to watch out for the Wicked SUV Soccer Mom of the West !!!

  • Had Enough

    Two female putdowns with one post. Is this what spandex does?

  • no more spandex

    The ugly men in spandex do a great more to harm the cause of better bicycling than they realize. And they troll this blog like crazy making comments fit for the last century. No one wants to look like a sloppy fat freak stuffed into shiny sausage casing, peering into his dentist mirror, which reflects the glare of his safety vest and grime of his helmet covered in sweat. That’s why it’s taken a new wave of better dressed, more attractive women and men to start to attract people to bikes in greater numbers. Spandex is for the dinosaurs. Just revel in your freakiness and be grateful that you’re no longer the image of bicyclists in NYC.

  • Ian Turner

    orrloff –

    Although if I were to bicycle in New York City, I’d wear a helmet, it is worth pointing out that bicycling is no more dangerous per hour than walking, and is actually even safer than driving or playing sports. One of the unfortunate side effects of widespread helmet use is that it gives the impression that cycling is more dangerous than it really is.

  • Jen

    Be they beauties or be they athletes, decked out in spandex or flowing skirts, the more commuters we have on bikes in this little ol town, the more pressure there will be for real commuter bike lanes, and hopefully, the safer cycling will be for all of us. Being in vogue is not such a bad thing, even though the photo makes me want to hurl.

    As for cell phone use: Like people using them while operating strollers and cars…PULL THE F OVER!

    Helmets? Hey, ya know, it’s your choice…for now.

  • ddartley

    I’m just glad sblog changed that original headline.

  • steve

    I do find the objectification and the cliched take on sex irritating. But I’m ambivalent b/c one of the drags on expanding bicycling is the view that it is inelegant. This article explodes that myth.

    Another example I like to give is George Plimton. (BTW, thre are plans to erecting a statue of him on the UES, possibly on his bike: As far as I know ti it would be the only cycling- themed “official” statue in the city).

    Yeah, helmetless and one-handed on the cell-phone is unsafe, but I’m pretty sure it is legal, and it looks a lot more appealing than helmeted and two-handed. It’s a bit like bicyclists that safely and respectfully pass through reds when there is no traffic–it’s illegal and risky, but using this method the bike becomes faster than any mode in the city for most trips.

    I want bicyclists to be safe and respected, but more important to the average New Yorker is being chic and to a lesser extent, practical. If, as Giselle explains, bike is the fastest way to get there and it’s chic to boot, that’s a pretty great boost for bicycling in the eyes of the mainstream.

  • rex

    I am only a little offended by the objectification issue. Stylish and attractive men on bicycles are cool too.

    The Copenhagen blog is a little creepy. A shoe fetish does not make a cycle advocate.

    Aside from those minor gripes, it is cool to see the beginning of an image change. I think bicycle advocates spend too many resources whining about infrastructure. Many communities, outside NYC, have completed the low hanging fruit of infrastructure projects. I think more could be gained by focusing resources on changing the image of cycling. Things like lobbying advertisers to show cycling in favorable light to highlight products.

    Of course once you start to approach other bicycle advocates about pursuing something like this, the Cult of the Styrofoam Hat rises up to suck the life out of any project that fails to promote said hat, and it will often raise the ire of the priests of Orange Safety Triangle. There is a schism in bicycle advocacy that has been glossed over for thirty years. Unfortunately, the schism has jumped into the current generation of younger cycle advocates. I was there the first time we were here, I saw it then, and I think it is coming again.

  • Mitch

    Re 8:

    If mark doesn’t want to wear a helmet, that’s fine with me; I wear a helmet, but I don’t support mandatory helmet laws, and in general I don’t like to tell people how to live.

    But helmets do save lives, and brain function; that “piece of strofoam” can make the difference between a mild concussion and a crippling or fatal brain injury. There was a fairly spectacular example of that in Madison last May, when a biker fell under the wheels of a delivery truck. The truck’s wheel rolled over his head and crushed his helmet, but he was basically OK, and took his med school exams two days later.

    Of course the truck driver (who has still not been found) is at fault for this incident, and it’s a shame innocent riders have to wear helmets to protect themselves against these idiots. But if this rider hadn’t been wearing his helmet, he might well be dead now.

  • steve

    An image makeover would be welcome, and it is brought to us not only by hipsters but also commuters. I and others on this site helmet use, I don’t think anyone is arguing they should be made mandatory for adults.

    And speaking of image change, here’s a link to Plimpton statute I mentioned:

    Just load the site, click on “statue,” and then “view designs”. I encourage folks to write in to the project planners and urge that they select the bicycle-themed design over the competing equestrian and pugilist versions!

  • I’ve been begging TA for years to use the glossy back inside cover of its magazine for unabashed Us Magazine-style trashiness. I’d like nothing more than to see a full page photo of helmetless supermodel Giselle Bundchen and quarterback hunk Tom Brady riding bikes on the Hudson River Greenway while holding hands and pissing off spandex-clad guys trying to pass them.

  • anonymous

    May I please have a definition of “hipster”?

  • ruby

    brakeless, tight pants, excited about irony, indifferent to all else, coke habit.

  • steve

    I’m sure the meaning varies depending upon user and context. To me, it’s a term of mixed admiration and derision (about 2/3 and 1/3, respectively) for people under 30 who are (1) relatively under-funded; (2) put a lot more effort into cultivating a “hip” image and lifestyle than I ever did, even when I was that age; and (3) are effective in doing so, and therefore have cultural power.

  • Sproule Love

    Great link, Mitch (#17). After having the truck’s wheels roll over his head, his helmet was “flattened and mangled and broken, unlike his head.” Gotta appreciate the dry Midwestern humor. Why are we still debating the effectiveness of bike helmets?

    As for these women not wearing helmets, that’s their choice. Glam on.

  • Mitch

    Actually, I think Gisele Bundchen is pretty safe, wearing nice clothes and riding without a helmet. Certainly, no motorist is going to run into her because he “didn’t see her.”

    The bikers I worry about are the ones riding ahead of her and behind her. They’d better be wearing helmets.

  • Jim

    Good to see people in normal clothes on bikes. That said, I don’t think “hipsters” and people in spandex are the problem with bicycling in this city. It’s good to see anyone on a bike.

  • Eric

    The Observer most definitely has its finger on the pulse.

    Today I was crossing Bleecker Street at Broadway, and who should roll up to the red light but a willowy brunette, flowing locks unfettered by a helmet, sporting short-shorts and over-sized sunglasses, her long, long legs astride a vintage cruiser with a beaten-up basket attached to the handle bars. I think I actually looked around to see if I might be on Candid Camera.

    As for the definition of “hipster,” if you have nine minutes, here, in the spirit of StreetFilms, are the “Hipster Olympics.”

  • Fendergal

    Why is it I see only male celebrities on bikes: David Byrne, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Al Franken?

    Though if I did catch a glimpse of some SYT (sweet young thing) on a cruiser, talking on her Crackberry, I’d have to yell, “Get off the phone!”

  • charles vail

    Kind of odd how some modern day cyclists are the new snobs……for nearly 100 years millions of cyclists rode in normal clothing and without those goofy looking and statistically ineffective helmets. I did the same until about 1980 when helmets became available and I broke down and swallowed all the propaganda. Sure you can find anecdotal examples of a helmeted cyclist surviving an accident just as you can a helmet less one surviving. Its an interesting fact that even today, millions of people around the world bicycle without incident and no stinking helmet……imagine that!

  • flp

    24 – but that motorist might run into someone else…. like tom brady or the guy with your dinner.

  • Reg

    Yes, that’s what we all need – a bunch of flakes riding bikes in a heavily congested urban environment while talking on cell phones and not wearing any head protection.

    Are you REALLY that much more pretty with your head without a helmet, if that same head lands on the pavement and starts bleeding profusely? I think not.

    A helmet could mean the difference between a simple fall and a serious head injury.

    Someone earlier mentioned that the helmets can’t protect you against a full-on impact crash. NEWS FLASH: *nothing* but the Will of God can help you against a huge impact. But the helmets will protect you for those simple falls and mild crashes (like a car door opening in front of you suddenly), and save you from a trip to the emergency ward.

    Keep in mind people fall head first, because the head is the heaviest part of the body. (Although looking at some of these logs, I wonder if this is universally true…)

    Why not make bicycle helmets part of the fashion accessory, or is coming home in one piece not sexy enough for you?

    This kind of blatant disregard for safety is common in the motorcycle community – hence the EMT’s synonym for a motorcyclist: “organ donor”. Let’s hope bicyclists don’t end up on the same pavement.

  • Thanks for the good word about our Copenhagen Cycle Chic blog. It’s about as anti-spandex as you can get.

    It is a tongue-in-cheek way to highlight what a real bicycle culture looks like.

    For more sober and interesting posts about our bicycle culture, feel free to visit our sister blog at – Copenhagen Bike Culture blog.

    Here you’ll find a wealth of info, inspiration and stats about the world’s best cycling city.

  • Andy B from Jersey

    You all must have missed the study that came out just recently where a researcher in England, using ultrasonic equipment mounted to the back of his bike, showed that car drivers pass helmeted cyclists with much less clearance than those without helmets. To make things even more interesting he then put on a long blond wig, to look like an attractive female and found that drivers then gave even him an even wider berth. So complain all you want about these fashionable ladies not wearing helmets but I think they are onto something. Here’s the complete story from ABC I do wish however that they’d follow the basic rules of the road while riding their bikes.

    BTW. It’s about time that Americans finally figured out that the only thing better than a beautiful woman, is a beautiful woman on a beautiful practical bicycle, wearing practical but stylish cloths. Every time I’m over in Europe visiting family I always seem to falling in love with the beautiful ladies riding their bike to get around town. Back home, American women barely grab my attention. And to reciprocate, I try to dress with style as I ride my old 3-Speed Ross complete with grocery baskets, on my way to work, the store or out on the town.

    It’s just nice to look nice, particularly when riding around the town on the most elegant form of transport ever devised. How could anyone argue with that or am I just a overly sentimental, hopeless romantic?

  • Angus Grieve-Smith
  • Stephen Kling

    Hello? Bike helmets work by cracking and distributing the force of impact over a wide area. That’s why they’re covered by a thin plastic shell. (People with old helmets who mistakenly remove the thin plastic shell are defeating the mechanism that makes them work.)

    One can certainly opt to ride without one, but speaking as a onetime victim of a brainless motorist, landing on my head, I suggest they’re a very good idea. Most recent fatalities in Manhattan were of people riding without helmets, no? Every time a see a “ghost bicycle” memorial, I think I should hang a note pointing this out.

  • Stephen (post #34) – How many of the “recent fatalities in Manhattan” were due to blunt force head trauma? If a significant number were, then your claim is bolstered, but if not, then wearing a helmet had no effect on their survivability (and debatably, they may have been safer without one – re: the aforementioned study).

    For the record, I ride with a helmet – though I’m not convinced it provides any benefit. I never wore a helmet when I was growing up in the 1970s and 1980s, and despite being a true klutz I can’t remember ever suffering head trauma – pretty much every other part of my body, but not the head.

    From an injury standpoint, you’re better off wearing durable gloves and long pants for the minor stuff.

    As for someone’s earlier comment about motorcycles and no helmets being referred to as “organ donors” – motorcyclists have accidents typically at about 40-60mph. Cyclists have accidents typically at about 1/4 that speed – much more survivable and much less damaging.


  • The elephant in the room is that we lack dedicated, safe, cycle tracks like the countries with high levels of cycling. If 92 percent of deaths are due to cars… shouldn’t we be seeking a way to create a safer system for cycling? We do not have a dignified means of cycling in the USA. Period. 

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