Cycle chic, personal style, and feminism

Cycle chic, personal style, and feminism

(Forgive me, folks, I’m a couple of months behind on my blog reading, but I had to share my thoughts on this…)

So. Wanting to wear stylish clothing on my bicycle makes me a tool of the patriarchy?

*Eyeroll*

Heaven knows there are lots of sexualized ‘cycle chic’ photos that have been circulated that have almost nothing to do with bicycles and everything to do with the male gaze – for amazing commentary on that see Sweet Georgia Brown – and lots of other ‘cycle chic’ photos that have everything to do with selling us stuff we don’t need. The criticism that the cycle chic movement is vulnerable to being co-opted by sexism and consumerism is a valid one. However. That doesn’t mean the movement itself is sexist and consumerist.

On a continent where girls stop using their bikes sometime in their teens because they think it makes them look dorky, and where the idea that bicycling is a fringe activity is used to justify rolling back funding of much-needed bike infrastructure, I believe that photos of women and men (of all ages, sizes, and shapes) enjoying bicycle rides to go places and do things help to make cycling more accessible.

As for the perception that cycle chic prescribes a particular, exclusive, commercial version of fashionable: I do not believe that expensive clothes, or expensive bikes, are a prerequisite for cycle chic. That line about your clothes being more valuable than your bike in the Cycle Chic Manifesto? I think its author is talking about using the bike as a tool for living – along the lines of his post about your bike being like a vacuum cleaner. I stand with Velouria on that topic, and think emotional attachment to bikes we’ve customized to our tastes is part of what makes bicycling appealing – but the point is that perhaps he’s using ‘value’ (not expense) as a stand-in for relative importance. He’s saying it’s not about the bike, it’s about your personal style and your needs, and that your bike should suit you, not the other way around.

I don’t believe that youth and a standard definition of beauty are requirements of cycle chic, either.

It doesn’t matter if you wear something you’ve made, something you’ve thrifted, something you found in a big-box bargain bin or something you had to get on a haute couture wait-list to buy. It doesn’t matter if you’re twenty or forty or eighty. What matters – with both personal style, and cycle chic – is that you feel great about yourself, and that you’re having fun. To me, the most attractive thing about any photo of a bicyclist is the sense that they’re having fun on their bike. They look great because they feel great, no matter what they’re wearing.

I’m a 40-year-old plus-size mother of two who lives in the suburbs. I ride relatively inexpensive workhorse 3-speeds, for fun and the occasional grocery run, and I stop riding when the snow flies (icy roads plus drivers not expecting to see cyclists in outer-ring subdivisions is a bad combination). I have a closet full of jeans and t-shirts and thrift-shop finds and handmade jewelry. I rarely wear makeup, and I don’t do designer labels (Well, I have this one scarf, but it’s not an obvious status piece.). I am a chic cyclist, and a feminist, and an advocate for better bicycle infrastructure and more sustainable living.

None of these facts preclude any of the others.

What a shame that some bicycle advocates don’t see it that way. I guess they’re just not listening.

(PS: Yes, I know there’s an issue with the Disqus comments right now – I am waiting on their support people to tell me how to fix it. Apparently they upgraded their back end and broke the CSS somehow. Meanwhile, you can read the white-text-on-white-background if you highlight the comments.)

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