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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.)

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?