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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?


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.)

More Japanese Cycle Culture

More Japanese Cycle Culture

Although all my coolest cycle-chic photos from Japan have already been posted, I have a few more photos to share with you – I’m especially excited about the ones of an old Bridgestone Cycle rod-brake bike that I’d forgotten all about seeing.
This sign above the sidewalk in Tokyo explains that it’s a multiuse path.
Tokyo, May 21st.
A delivery trailer outside a courier company – the same one that delivered our rented cell phone to our hotel.
You can rent bicycles for use on the grounds of the Imperial Palace in Tokyo,
so chances are pretty good that this white guy rented his sweet ride.
Rain during the last part of our trip dissuaded us from returning to try this out.
At the Asakusa Kannon Temple in Tokyo.
Notice all the bicycles parked to one side of the intersection!
A lot of the famous neon signs in Shinjuku were still turned off to save electricity at this point.
Parked inside a shop in Hida-Takayama (Gifu prefecture) in the early morning after a rainy day.
The narrow streets of the Edo-period Kami-Sannomachi district before opening time.
Once the shops open, these streets are crowded with pedestrians and bicyclists,
but at this early hour (about 8am) the delivery trucks can have access. May 24th.
By the time we returned, the pretty loop-frame had been moved outside the shop doors.
A narrow alley between houses in a residential district of Hida-Takayama.
I was taking a photo of the shrine, I swear.
This lovely old-timey rod-brake bike was squirrelled away in a storage area in one of the old houses at Hida No Sato, an outdoor architectural museum of mostly Edo-period farmhouses
on the edge of Hida-Takayama.
Bridgestone-stamped plastic (celluloid?) handles with brass caps. As you can see the bars themselves are pretty rusty.
I had to reach over the bike to get this shot of the chainguard. It was definitely not set up as a display.
Even the leather saddle is Bridgestone (Tokyo) branded. I wonder what the top tube is wrapped with?
Headbadge shot. The poor thing could use a good cleaning but I bet it’s still in working condition.
Bridgestone Cycle Co Ltd was started in 1949, so it’s no older than that.
This headbadge is one of the ones in this photo.
Given the crazy humidity and the fires kept inside each building,
it could be that rusty and dusty without being particularly old.
Cars, electric trolleys, pedestrians, and bicycles share a busy intersection on a rainy day in Hiroshima.
Notice the two ladies riding while holding umbrellas. May 27th.
Tokyo Cycle Chic: May 29-31

Tokyo Cycle Chic: May 29-31

By way of comparison with the photos from Kyoto, here are some taken in Tokyo.

You see an incredible number of bicycles on the sidewalks of Tokyo, especially mamachari, but mostly I saw them parked – I suspect because the many overlapping train and subway lines make getting around without a bicycle on public transit a snap. Certainly I didn’t feel as a pedestrian like I was sharing the sidewalk with as many bikes as in Kyoto. (Mind you, I was staying blocks from Shinjuku Station, which about 4 million people a day use, so what I saw in the area surrounding it might not be true in parts without a huge transit hub.)

In Akihabara on the day of a typhoon (May 29th). (Yes, she’s advertising a maid cafe.)
You can’t see any in this shot, but many people have umbrella holders attached to their handlebars here.

All these photos were snapped around the Shinjuku and Yoyogi districts of Tokyo on the mornings of May 30th and 31st:

electric assist and a delivery trailer

scooters and motorcycles are often parked with bicycles – but are strictly for road use

Her chain was yellow too.

markings on the sidewalk bicycle lane, which is used at street crossings and ignored between street crossings
Notice that even salarymen mostly ride on step-through frames.



These were taken from the airport ‘limosine’ bus – finally some shots of the elusive young guys who mix it up with traffic on their sport bikes:

Kyoto Cycle Chic: May 25th

Kyoto Cycle Chic: May 25th

All these photos were taken through a tour bus window in various parts of Kyoto on May 25th.
Unlike Tokyo, Kyoto has only a couple of subway lines and mostly relies upon buses for public transit.
As a result you see bicycles everywhere.
Kyoto Cycle Chic: May 26th

Kyoto Cycle Chic: May 26th

Abici for a designer accessory brand called Felix

All these photos were taken while walking around the area near Karasuma-Dori in central Kyoto on the morning of May 26th. Unless you are in an area where bikes are prohibited, the sidewalks and side streets are chock full of bicycles – moving fairly slowly since they need to wind their way past the pedestrians. People (mostly helmetless young men on sport bikes – the only guys with helmets wear spandex too) do ride on the road as well, but they zip by too quickly to photograph.

Winter Wear

Winter Wear

We’re already having damp, blustery winter weather here, though the snow hasn’t stuck yet, so we’ve been thinking about what is needed for comfortable early-to-mid-winter riding (besides, you know, lights and awesome studded tires) (Yes, I am speaking collectively here – it’s been a frequent topic of conversation between Angel and me in the past month.).

As total newbs to winter riding, we’re hardly in a position to offer advice, so instead, here’s where we turned:

Of course a big part of fall and winter riding is wearing tights with great boots. Ever noticed how hard it is to find a comfortable, well-fitting pair of opaque winter tights – especially if you have womanly curves and muscular legs? Well, so had our friend Fiona, from the Girl Can Bike Retro Rides & Prairie Skies blog. With the help of some friends (including us), she is doing an ongoing series of posts reviewing hosiery at her other blog, A New Me. So far we have reviewed tights from Maggie’s Organics and Sock Dreams – complete with embarrassing-to-us photos and the real skinny on where the crotch seams actually fall. Reviews of tights from Chinese Laundry, Addition-Elle, and We Love Colors are coming soon.

Now if only I could find a great pair of stylish, waterproof, warm winter boots…

Antique Cycle Chic: part 2

Antique Cycle Chic: part 2

After months of watch-listing, I have finally added to my collection of antique real photo postcards (or RPPCs) showing stylish women on their bicycles, which I wrote about previously.

I love RPPCs because they weren’t mass produced (Our site stats show the last Antique Cycle Chic post has had hundreds of pageviews, so I guess I’m not alone!). RPPCs are actual photos of real people (that is, usually not models), printed onto postcard backing papers or stamped after printing with postcard markings, and the cameras that were used to take them very quickly became standard studio equipment and soon after were sold to the general public. This means they’re unique historical documents, with only a handful of copies in existence, and they often show objects or events that were of interest to the subject, photographer, and recipient of the postcard – but not necessarily to anyone else. They’re also relatively inexpensive to collect.

{By the way, I’m no expert. I haven’t taken photography classes or learnt about the history of photography myself, so if anyone wants to add some information in the comments about to help contextualize RPPCs or describe the type of prints they were for people with those interests I’d really appreciate it!}

I already have great black-and-white or sepia portraits that show off womens’ outfits and bicycles with skirtguards to best advantage, so I’ve concentrated on rounding out my collection with group shots, which are somewhat harder to find, and hand-tinted RPPCs, which were mostly studio portraits – not always true-to-life, with their painted backdrops and weird props, but great for showing the fine details of clothing.

(Temporary note: These images were screen-captured and cropped from the auction images on eBay after I purchased the items, so I could share them with you right away. As my items arrive in the mail, I’ll edit this post to replace the images with higher-resolution scans, and add close-ups and more information gleaned from the backs of the cards.)

Detail of RPPC addressed to Miss E. Roberts of St. Clements, and postmarked Oxford (England) August 8th, 1905. The ladies are seen at a distance, but you can pick out straw boaters, puffed sleeves, ankle-length skirts, and bicycles with front rod brakes. This must have been a beautiful ride, as the photograph shows the most idyllic setting imaginable; that house behind them is the only one visible on the whole treed lane, which takes up most of the photo’s foreground.

France, 1910s RPPC, postally unused. Long scarf on hat, long striped skirt, puffy sleeves, very Edwardian – this is pretty similar to a lot of the images in my previous antique cycle chic post. I wonder how many of the women in studio shots from this period are actually just using the bike as a prop? I can’t imagine she really would have ridden a bicycle with a double top bar, no matter how covetable we now think it is.

1900-1920 RPPC, postally unused, in the French Fantasy style, with printed labels in French and German on the back. The red tint is gorgeous, isn’t it? This sailor-suit type cycling costume seems to have been fairly popular, and her hairdo and lace-up boots suggest this was taken before 1920. Does anyone know if that’s a culotte-style split skirt that would have been worn with this? Also notice the front rod brake, pale tires, and the placement of the bell on the head tube instead of atop the handlebars.
(Update: the vendor who sold me this RPPC is now selling reprints of it if anyone else wants a copy! Mine is the original though. =P)

This RPPC is from a Parisian studio and stamped in Dutch, “Happy Birthday”. The vendor says it was postally used in 1926 (so stay tuned for more details from the message on the back). She has a sailor-suit too, and it does look like a split skirt here, but she’s wearing it with a cloche, bobbed marcel-waved hair, and covetable t-strap heels. I do wish we could see more of her netted skirtguard. His outfit has the high-waisted dress slacks that you see all the actors wearing in pre-1950s movies, a shirt with cufflinks, a medium-width tie, and a newsboy cap that would do Yehuda Moon proud.

French Fantasy RPPC postally used in 1909 and stamped in French. Love the drop-bar bike with the huge chainwheel, and isn’t he dashing in his newsboy cap, a tweed jacket, and cycling knickers? Maybe his moustache can inspire some of our friends who are fundraising for prostate cancer for the Movember campaign.

Circa 1910-20 RPPC, postally unused. The writing translates literally from Dutch as, “my kindnesses” (yes, I know, Google Translate has its limits). This stylish outfit would be so easy to replicate today: oxford shoes, accordion-pleated skirt, white button-up shirt, narrow tie, and a beret or tam with a pompom on top. The hat’s the only part that looks dated, really – isn’t that amazing? Her step-through frame with front rod brake, lamp bracket, and netted skirtguard are swoonworthy, too. Maybe someone can identify it based on the unique chainwheel and headbadge shape.

Update: that last one is actually part of a set of four found with another eBay vendor! So maybe she is a model, and these ones were printed as larger editions:

Printed in France, mailed from Bilbao to Lisbon, Portugal at the end of December 1927. He has quite a fine tweed suit, and her oxfords and teal dress are really divine! Why weren’t any of the dropped bars wrapped back then? Google Translate confirms the note is written in Portuguese; on the front it introduces Yoana (Joanne would be the English version of the name) and her travelling companion, and on the back:

…that is a rather torrid love letter to the girl in the teal dress! “Good (priminsa) eve, a happy new year darling, prosperity and fortunes and the burning desire to press you see desired (untranslatable) and give you lots of kisses – Maria my queen” …Wow. {Update: apparently Google Translate really sucks. See the translation below provided by Zizzo B by email. Thank you Zizzo!}

The seller didn’t provide any information to date this RPPC, but the back is stamped “Fotografija K Audze, Viesite”, which Google Translate says is Latvian for Photo Stand K – and Wikipedia has an entry for the town of Viesite. So these gorgeous girls and their beautiful bicycles with knitted skirtguards are probably from Latvia. I think their dresses and frame purses date them to the late thirties or early forties, don’t you?

RPPCs seem to have fallen from favour around the time of the Second World War, so any later images I have are just regular photographs…

1940s snapshot, somewhere in the United States. They’re riding rented tandem bicycles! The sign on the balloon-tire tandem with the springer fork reads, “…KE Attic / … & BICYCLE STORE / 9702 – 51 AVE”.  Their outfits look perfect for the cool weather we’re having now: boiled-wool jackets, leather gloves, berets, and skirts with opaque tights – and a cosy knit cardigan and dress slacks with a lovely drape to them on the lady in the rear with her feet in the air. If those are cross-shaped brooches, perhaps they’re from a church group, about to embark on a delightful outing.

Pre-1950 8.5″ x 11″ ACME wire photo (ie, it was part of a newspaper archive’s collection) taken in Palm Beach, Florida. Halter tops, t-shirts, and short shorts: classic fifties cheesecake.

15 Nov 2010 Update: the typewritten caption glued to the back of the photo reads:

Four young misses discuss “shoes and ships and ceiling wax” — and cocoanuts and bicycles under a cocoanut tree in Palm Beach, Fla. 


I think the writer meant coconuts and sealing wax, yes? The headbadge of the cruiser with the handlebar toolbag identifies it as an American Flyer; I can’t read the other headbadge even using a magnifying glass.

Late 1940s or early 1950s, somewhere in the United States. The flip side of the snapshot reads, “Eeeegads it’s Gracie”. Check out Gracie’s sweet balloon-tire cruiser! I think it might be a Rollfast. Penny loafers, bobby socks, rolled-up pedal pushers or jeans, thin belt, and a crew-neck t-shirt… she’s wearing an early variant of every teenager’s uniform for the next half-century.

I’m totally going to let these photos inform my everyday personal style. Clearly I need to go out and get myself a pair of t-strap dancers’ heels, black-and-white oxfords, a beret, and an accordion-pleated skirt – and I’m still dying for a set of skirt guards. What about you? Do you see ideas here that you’ll use for your everyday wardrobe or your next tweed ride?

Everything Looks Better With Bicycles

Everything Looks Better With Bicycles

It seems like I have been seeing bicycles in every second magazine I open.
Okay, I get that bikes are being treated as this year’s must-have accessory, 
but I think it’s more than that: tastemakers have discovered that 
everything looks cooler when it’s photographed with a bicycle.
Ironic dust-collecting sculptures of wild animals.
{The otherwise covetable apartment of editor Kevin Sharkey 
in the September 2010 issue of Martha Stewart Living.}
Ridiculously unwearable floor-length skirts.
(Love the cloche though!)
{Promotional email sent 13 Oct 2010 by Anthropologie.}
Huge padded eighties-style shoulders.
{Jean-Paul Gaultier via Fashionising, from July 2010}
{Saks Fifth Avenue print ad campaign from Sept 2010 via Benepe’s Bike Blog}
Shorts as office wear.
{Anna Kendrick in ELLE’s October 2010 issue.}
Beauty is a state of mind, but please buy our skin cream.
{Marcelle cosmetics print advertisement in ELLE Canada, March 2009}
Seventies-style chunky-heeled boots and a Relic toque on a hyper-skinny model.
Of course, this bike is a vintage Raleigh-built Robin Hood,
so it naturally has the power to make things alluring enough to make out with.
{Print advertisement is from the October 2010 issue of In Style.}
Wait, the guy you were just snogging with has a bike with rod brakes and a double top bar?
Is that a Brooks B-33 saddle?
…Carry on, then.
{Print advertisement from ELLE Canada, September 2010}
…Powerless to resist …the allure of ….vintage rod brakes
…combined with mothering instincts
…must …buy …cashmere …scarves
They Missed The Point Of Bicycle Chic

They Missed The Point Of Bicycle Chic

This evening I read a story entitled “Bicycle Chic Gains Speed” on the New York Times website.

Then I got very, very angry.

Here is what I tweeted:
Gee, NYT, sexist much? Trivializing rise in female ridership, bicycles as fad fashion accessory, ‘dangerous woman driver’ stereotypes? WTF.

I suppose I should be grateful that the fashion pages of the vaunted New York Times are taking note of, and I quote one of their interviewees, “that whole sort of blog style.” I should be delighted that they are bringing mainstream attention to practical urban bicyclists who are choosing to ride in the fashionable clothes they already own, at a pace of their choosing, and that they are celebrating that there are more women using bicycles in Manhattan. This should be wonderful news, especially since I am that whole sort of blogger they theoretically were talking about.

Let me take my highlighter to a few of the phrases that left me so irked by the end of only the third paragraph:

Ms. Page-Green, who runs a nonprofit group that provides meals to needy children, likes to charge around town on her bike. Sometimes she’s done up in sparkly necklaces and towering heels; other times she coasts to appointments, sans helmet, in a blazer and fresh-pressed jeans. “I get sweaty a little, but it doesn’t bother me,” she said. Her bike, after all, is a stylish appendage, “a kind of rustic enhancement,” she said.

The subtext: reckless woman, charging around town sans helmet. This is an article about  “style-obsessed” “women, mostly young,” “whooshing along the green-painted bike-lanes”. (I’m not cherry-picking to find those snippets to string together.). One interviewee laughs off “speeding around on the sidewalk” while “canes waved at me in the distance,” and a critic admonishes that, “Fixing your makeup or sending a text message could have catastrophic results.”

I object to the emphasis on verbs denoting speed, particularly when talking about vintage (read: heavy steel) bikes with a limited number of gears, and to the stress placed on how many of these riders are not wearing helmets (tsk).

I object to the emphasis on bicycles as no more than a stylish accessory, like this season’s must-have bag or shoe. Is Lela Rose’s custom-built bakfiets-tricycle-hybrid, which she uses for commuting safely around the city with her children and dog and likens to a popular SUV brand, really just an accessory to her? I doubt it. What about the female clients of Hudson Urban Bikes, who the owner says insist on fenders (for staying clean), baskets (for carrying their purses and groceries safely), bells (which should be a standard safety item, along with lights), and things for carrying their children and pets (in a city where otherwise taking your dog to the vet must be a colossal pain for the carless)? Are their bikes just accessories, merely because they wish to ride in their everyday (stylish) clothes? These sound like purely practical considerations to me, not things added just as whims of fashion.

I think the writer missed the point of three-quarters of what was said to her by her interviewees, and emphasized all the wrong things. The story here isn’t really about empty-headed young women who speed recklessly around town on bicycles because they’re this season’s accessory. The story here is the emergence of a new demographic of bicycle riders in North America who are choosing a style of bicycle, and a style of cycling, that is commonplace in other parts of the world – and that allows fashion and function to coexist. 

I think this is an incredibly tone-deaf article. What do you think? Am I overreacting?

Inspiration boards and practical cycle chic

Inspiration boards and practical cycle chic

Today I played with Polyvore, and tried to recover from my cold. (Please don’t ask how my #30daysofbiking is going. It’s not. At all.)

Polyvore is basically a site where teenaged girls can make collages of fashionable outfits using images from shopping websites, then follow links through to shop for the items – or create I LOVE YOU NONTHREATENING HEARTTHOB! posters. I ran across it because it has some interior decor products available that you can collage as well – but not enough for my taste. Luckily, cycle chic is having a moment, so there are lots of photos one can use to create inspiration boards for outfits to ride in, especially if you are willing to dig past all the studded leather jackets and boots also labelled with the search term “bike”.

The outfit above is essentially all from Anthropologie, with a skirt from the Gap and a Bern helmet. The bicycle is the first black loop-frame I found, which just happened to be the Hermes-branded one. The next collage was meant to be more of a vintage-style-girlbike-pron inspiration board, and the images also include some that came from various blogs:

Yes, that is a photo of Audrey Hepburn riding a bike while wearing a very shiny PVC suit – very practical for wet days. Heh. The eagle-eyed among you will notice the Yakkay helmets, Basil basket, Electra bell, and Brooks saddle, as well as cycles from Pashley, Electra, Republic Bike for Urban Outfitters, Gucci (in two colours) and Hermes. Oh, and three different vintage Schwinns.

The last thing I did was create this collection on Polyvore, which is basically meant as a quick visual guide to practical cycle chic to inspire the site’s users to ride. I’d love your feedback on it!

(Also, via a photo of a hot boy on bicycle I found on Polyvore: famous men on bicycles. Mmm, beefcake and bicycles. You’re welcome, ladies.)