Monday, October 4, 2010

Cycle Chic and Female Chic

The New York Times recently printed an article about "bicycle chic", and I tweeted that articles like that have a tendency to turn me off and probably would have discouraged me from riding if I wasn't already a cyclist. This spurred a few snippy tweets in response. (Sorry, cycle fashionistas!)

I'm not against cycle chic itself. I think people should wear whatever makes them feel happy on a bike. Personally, I find wearing stilettos heals, a short skirt & an expensive blouse to be a bit impractical on a bicycle, but hey--I've done it. I'm certainly not the paragon of practicality! And I love to look at photos of vintage bikes with people wearing pretty clothes riding them. Cycle chic is pretty, its just not practical (and that's ok). When it's pouring rain, or snowing, or 120 degrees out,  or 2 degrees out, or you need to ride more than 25 miles, wearing designer clothes & shoes isn't going to work. However, if you somehow need to grab a bunch of mint (for mojitos?), why not do it in style:
"For the designer Lela Rose, wedge-heeled platforms and a khaki shirtdress of her own design are ideal for racing on her custom tricycle from the Union Square Greenmarket, where she picked up a bundle of mint, to her Seventh Avenue atelier."

I don't even know what an atelier is.

What bothers me is the attitude that there is no middle ground. You are either a maniac spandex-clad Tour de France wanna-be (uncool) or you have to be like Lee Dares, a
"model newly arrived from Toronto, wore a girlishly bibbed sweater, a navy blazer, Ann Demeulemeester roughrider boots and vintage Gucci sunglasses, her look accessorized with a borrowed Schwinn Le Tour."

(cool). What about the rest of us schlubs who don't want to spend a fortune on accessories, but aren't looking to break any time trial records either? What about those of us that just want to be able to get from point A to point B and not have to have an entire separate wardrobe just to do it?

One of the problems I've experienced as a cyclist is that I never really felt that I fitted in the cycling world. A few of my friends are racers. They get up at ridiculous hours of the morning to ride around in circles in an attempt to go faster then they have before. Their world is made up of power meters, cycling "nutrition" and team kits. I just can't relate to that. My other friends are mountain bikers. As much fun as that is, I don't get to do it that often so I don't relate to that either. I'm not hipster and I don't have much of a desire to ride a "fixie". My bike rides are mostly made up of commuting, whether it is to to work or to some other place. My attire is usually jeans and a t-shirt/hoodie, and my "accessories" consist of my phone, wallet and keys. I just like to ride. I'm not looking to break records or PR's, and I'm not looking to break the bank on the latest and greatest in cycling technology either. Betty is probably the most vain, "fashionable" cycling item I own, and she's a bit more on the 'punk' side, rather than 'chic'. Where do I fit in? Where's the group ride for me?

The other thing about these types of articles that irks me is that they "solve" the problem of getting more women on bicycles by boiling it all down to fashion. Apparently, more women don't ride bicycles because they fear not looking "chic" enough to do it.

Although ridership among women is increasing, it's still isn't quite on par with men yet. Why? I don't know. I have yet to read any kind of study/article that actually asks real women why they don't cycle more often. Is it fear of riding in traffic? Riding in inclement weather? Practicality? What do you do when you are a mother of two and have dentist appointments, doctor appointments, soccer games & recitals to get to? Or you work 12 hours a day on your feet and the idea of additional physical activity isn't appealing? Or you work a late shift and the idea of riding alone at 2am doesn't seem safe? None of these questions are answered with gucci sunglasses & a borrowed Schwinn roadster.

"Cycle chic" in of itself is an interesting concept. But I wish it wasn't so automatically tied to female cyclists, or that at least more variety was explored when it comes to female cyclists. And yes, I realize the New York Times is hardly the expert on cycling issues, and this was in the Fashion & Style section (duh). Like I said, I have no problem with cycle chic itself. Ride in style! But there's a huge segment of the cycling population that seems to be consistently overlooked (the everyday rider).

In other news, I'm going to have to drop Betty off at the local bike shop. She's groaning something awful. I guess that the 66 mile ride we did last week, plus this week's commuting miles have put a bit of a strain on her. It might even be time to put her up for the season. This weekend's weather is a  huge difference from last weekend! Whereas last weekend I thought I might die of heat exhaustion, this weekend I've had to break out the hoodie, coat & umbrella. Brrrr! Fall is truly here, and I am definitely unprepared for it. I need to do some clothes shopping, soon!  Fall means that winter is not far away, and Betty doesn't need to deal with the mud & slush that comes with it. Time to get Jamie prepared! 

Also, do any of you have any recommendations for wet weather gear? I got absolutely soaked from head to toe earlier this week during a downpour. What do you use to stay dry?


  1. I read this article, as well, and agree w/ many of your points. I have no bones to pick w/ cycle chic, but I don't tend to fall out there. I'm more of an "I like my cycling clothing, but I also wear pants and a t-shirt on my bike rides" sort of person. I do love my cycling shoes though. I'm hopelessly addicted, ok?!

    Re the wet weather gear, here is what I use. I have one go-to jacket that is Gore Tex. I use a helmet cover in the rain (you can also use a plastic shower cap, too). They are amazingly helpful. I will sometimes use a polyester cycling cap w/ a bill to keep the water out of my eyeballs. Very helpful! I wear REI or some other outdoor pants that are quick-dry for rainy days. AND finally, I love wool on wet days because it doesn't get soaked like cotton or clammy like polyester. Good luck, and let me know if you add any secret wet weather weapons to your arsenal.

  2. I go one of two routes when it comes to riding in heavy rain. My usual is to just accept the fact that I'm going to get completely soaked and bring a change of clothes in a waterproof bag. But if I know I won't have time to change I'll bust out the rain gear. My stuff is all very light shell (practically an expensive version of a plastic trash bag) so I won't overheat if it's hot and can layer up if it's cold.

    Stopping by from DCBlogs :)

  3. I'm not a bicyclist AT ALL. I haven't owned a bike since I was 12 and my pink bike was stolen out of my parent's garage. They somehow blamed me and I never got a new one. However, I love riding bikes and sometimes rent the super oldschool ones at the canal/Fletcher's boathouse and ride along the canal for a few hours on a Saturday or Sunday with a picnic, alone or with a friend/my mom. I DO HAVE ONE ANSWER for why women might not ride bikes...I haven't bought one because I'm worried about maintenance. What if I'm riding and I'm 10 miles from home and my bike chain catches or my tire whatevers. I've never been handy, in any way. I dont understand mechanics or tools or machines or complex toys. I'm sure I COULD LEARN how to do basic bike maintenance and easy-fixes but its a mental block I have that I can't like some people JUST CANT COOK OR JUST CANT...(fill in blank here). And I think Men are much more likely to already know about simple bike maintenance or be willing to take it on. Hate to succumb to sterotypes, hate to spread them too, but some girls are just too, well...girly for bikes. Stupid I know. But I think theres some truth to it. Youd dropped your bike off at the bike shop though huh? Maybe a blog about how easy bike maintenace is, or using local bike shops is in order. Cheers, T.

  4. I've only been riding for the past couple months, but I'm definitely more like you. I'm mostly commuting, maybe a couple longer rides, but not trying to race or PR. As far as what I wear, though, while I'm more comfortable in jeans and a hoodie, I do bike to work in my work clothes. And let's just say that riding in a pencil skirt or a wrap dress has added an extra challenge. I wouldn't do it if I wasn't working.

  5. Here here! Someone finally said it without sounding quite so... resentful. At least once a week in the spring and the fall (when these kinds of articles tend to come out) someone will ask me why I hate fashion so much. Well, I don't hate fashion so much as the implication that as a woman who rides a bike not quickly, I'm expected to be perfectly pretty at all times so as to set the correct example and inspire more women to do the same, because otherwise I'm just scaring everyone away by being too much of a geek or a tomboy or something.

    As for the rain, I finally broke down last year and bought a special bike jacket with armpit zippers and reflective stripes and a buttflap and everything. I get flack about it all the time, but it's mostly in good fun. :-) On the practical side, it dries more quickly, packs smaller, and wrinkles less than the generic Columbia Sportwear jacket that I used to wear until I accidentally washed it with fabric softener and the waterproofing material was stripped right out. On the minus side, it was kind of expensive, but no more than a nice dressy wool coat, I think.

  6. Water proof foot covers are a good idea so that you don't need to carry an extra pair of shoes around. Plus in the winter they will help keep your feet warm.

  7. Thanks for all the comments guys! Especially the weather weather suggestions.

    Another David: yeah, I usually just accept the fact that I'm going to get wet. I change at work anyway, and my commute isn't very long so I don't mind being damp too much. But last week I got absolutely soaked! Especially my poor feet. I was walking around with a lake in my shoe.

    Toddy: That's an excellent suggestion! That reason (mechanical know-how) didn't even cross my mind. I will do a very near future blog on that! (In the meantime, I will suggest Revolution Cycles. They do a monthly ladies night with wine & everything, and they cover maintenance issues like that.)

    Liebchen: Yep, I've had to ride to some work stuff in nice work clothes. It's not big deal, and I think its awesome to see people riding on bikes in office work attire, because it shows people that it can be done! I've also done the dressy skirt & blouse thing, because...well, it was nice out and I felt like dressing up! I just like being able to wear casual though without being labeled a fashion dweeb. :)

    Jennifer: Exactly. I don't hate cycle chic at all. It's just that I think articles like that can be intimidating to many women (hence why I said that if I had read it before I became a cyclist, I might never had ridden at all). But, most fashion concepts are about making women feel inferior anyway, cycle-related or not.

  8. Hi - a biking friend sent me the link for your blog - - so I'm enjoying reading it. As for rain gear - I wear Gortex rain jacket & pants - they do a good job. As far as footwear, I don't have clipless pedals, so I can wear anything. If it's not a cold rain, I wear Keen bike sandals - - the water goes right thru - so you don't have a "lake" in your shoes, and they dry pretty fast. If it's a cold rain, I bought some Wellington boots - they come up past your calf. I wear them under my rain pants. Your feet stay totally dry. I wear wool socks and if real cold, some "Toe Warmer" pads to keep my toes warm. Hope some of these suggestions are helpful. :) Safe biking to you! Charmaine