Read This Now

I hypothesize that Cycle Chic’s true message and appeal is at its base, at least in North America, is that it seeks to normalize a gendered code of conduct that, sadly, still holds considerable appeal among both sexes. Its message is that bicycling can be a means of, rather than a barrier to, conforming to a certain set of standards of gender and class stereotypes. Access to these standards is far from universal.

In order to truly break down barriers to bicycling, it’s necessary to understand what those barriers are…Great things can certainly be achieved while wearing high heels, but never solely by doing so.

Elly Blue of Taking the Lane offers an incisive critique of the Cycle Chic ™ movement. While the site was an inspiration for me when I first started bicycling, I have come to feel similarly to Elly on the issue.  Our goal with LGRAB is to present the message of everyday, sometimes stylish, bicycling within an atmosphere of inclusiveness and feminism – but sometimes I worry this does not always come through.  I will try to keep Elly’s points in mind.

What do you think about the issue?

[Update 5:00 pm - Just to clarify, my thoughts on this apply very specifically to the site that Elly discusses in her article.  My concern is not with photos of stylish cyclists - which were inspiring to me as a beginner - but with a mindset that holds up one narrow and exclusionary type of cycling as the only right way.  I fully support the general movement of lifestyle cycling - obviously!]

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33 thoughts on “Read This Now

  1. Dave says:

    This discussion coming up in a number of places over the last year or so has also made me seriously stop and ponder if there isn’t a larger cultural misunderstanding going on as well – I don’t mean to defend or defeat anyone by saying that, I also largely agree with Elly in an American context, and I think it’s good to be careful about how we frame these issues. However, I can’t help wondering if our view of the issue through our own cultural perceptions doesn’t give us a considerably different view of the matter. If so, that’s not necessarily a bad thing, as we live in this culture – however, I think it may still be useful to consider whether that doesn’t play a part in our perceptions of the issues surrounding this.

    It could be one of those things similar to the word “cyclist.” Whereas in our culture, most people see a lycra-kitted, helmeted man on a racing bike (a la Tour de France) when they hear the word, in Dutch, fietser (cyclist) evokes the image of any person you might see on an average day, who just happens to be sitting on a bicycle. Many people who ride for transportation in America react strongly to that word “cyclist” because of the cultural connotations it has, which they don’t want to be associated with, and end up falling to the other extreme, thinking of the lycra-kitted racer as the bad guy, and trying to distance themselves from that. This doesn’t really happen in the Netherlands, because there isn’t that social construct/categorization to begin with.

    I don’t know, I haven’t really put all my thoughts together in a cohesive way and come up with a thesis, just some things I’ve thought of in relation to this.

  2. Fiedlering says:

    I read the original cycle chic once… it was an article about riding in skirts. The author was really condescending to people who used the comments to point out things (s)he had ignored, like the danger of the skirt slipping over the back of the saddle and you getting stuck when you try to get off. So I thought: I want to have fun riding, not reading stuff from people who look down on anybody who isn’t like them. No thanks. Never read it again.

  3. dawnT says:

    There is a lot more to ponder about this, but my immediate reaction to your post is to encourage you *not* to change anything — or over-think anything. I personally think Let’s Go Ride a Bike has a very authentic voice that is very much appreciated. Bike as pure pleasure and fun, that also takes you to work. There is a need for the full bike topic continuum — from serious transportation issues and professional sport all the way to pure bicycle bliss. It is all good and has its place. You cover many aspects, but I read your blog for the pure bike fun.

    I really enjoy your blog, heels and all! :)

  4. Keltoi says:

    It’s so American in many ways to over-analyze, criticize, and polarize a fairly simple idea, namely that one doesn’t need to look like a bike geek to ride for transportation. Admittedly, the creator of CBC doesn’t help his cause on occasion, but it seems that advocating for bicycle facilities, laws, and parity with other transportation modes is hard enough without dragging arcane and prickly feminist/gender theory and/or critique into the picture. Mikael doesn’t say one has to have high heels to be chic, but that you don’t need Lycra or helmets. Ah, ce la vie…

    • Beth says:

       Well, but you do have to admit the word “chic” has a very specific meaning, in every culture. Maybe the message is supposed to be that you can wear whatever you like, damn the cannons and full speed ahead – but there’s a reason the movement isn’t called Cycle Normal. Or hey, how about Cycle Schlub.

      I say this as a schlub who reminds herself every day that it’s okay to be a fat, middle-aged, decidedly un-cute, boringly dressed woman on a bike. Since I never had to remind myself that it’s okay not to be cute when I took the train to work, it’s fair to say that the term “cycle chic” has an effect quite distinct from “wear whatever, just bike”.

      • Stephen Hodges says:

        I’m a middle-aged schlub who works in a government office. Chicness is a firing offense here.

        But I think it’s important to remember that Colville-Anderson is a middle-aged, heterosexual male who enjoys attractive, fashionably dressed women who ride bicycles (as indicated by many, but far from all of his photos). Fire away at that, but it’s his website, not mine or anyone else’s. I don’t think he objectifies women, but perhaps more importantly, he is a marketer and designer, and he uses the image of an attractive woman on a bicycle to sell a meme, a powerful idea that many find attractive (no pun intended), namely, that everyday bicycling can be stylish and fun, instead of a slog that requires a $2,500 bicycle and $1K of specialized clothing, helmets, shoes, and other paraphernalia. Sure, chic is a loaded word, but what’s wrong with making urban bicycling fashionable, desirable, and fun?

        I was until a few years ago one of those bicyclists. I have plenty of Lycra and Gore-tex, four bicycles, several pairs of shoes, waterproof bags, bicycle computers, etc. Nowadays, thanks in no small way to the ideas and images in CBC, my favorite ride is a simple, black 3-speed, and regular street clothing and shoes. I ride to work like that, and what I’m saying by my appearance–and every mode of dress sends a message–is that I’m just a normal everyday person going to work, and I choose to ride a bicycle instead of drive my car.

        It’s simply using fashion, images, and street photography to sell a revolutionary idea. Subjecting it to academic gender criticism (which in other realms is actually useful) is not going to get anyone on a bicycle, in my humble opinion.

        • Beth says:

           Right, but I think my point is basically that Cycle Chic has replaced the notion of “you must be sporty to ride a bicycle” with “you can be sporty OR you can be chic on a bicycle”. And there are a whole lot of people who are neither sporty nor chic. False dichotomies are also not going to get anyone on a bicycle, in my equally humble opinion.

      • Archergal says:

         Sister! :) 

        I’m not fashionable at all, though I do normally cycle in regular clothes.  My regular clothes are nylon cargo shorts and t-shirts, mostly.

        It’s interesting to see the women who can manage to look chic and fashionable on bikes, but I’m not the target audience for those blogs.  I’m not bothered by this, btw.  I just look on with wonder and bemusement.

  5. Max_Paq says:

    I have some problems
    with that critique (and with Cycle Chic too, nothing is perfect). First mixing
    bicycle advocacy stuff and Cycle Chic stuff. Colville Andersen is definitively
    aggressive when he defend is point of view about bicycle advocacy but he does
    so with strong argument in hand (I am thinking about helmet laws here) and
    attack lobbying groups or politicians who promote laws that are not based on
    any scientific evidence. Using his angry reactions about bike helmet laws to criticizes
    his reaction to Cycle Chic critics. They are two different things.

     

    Also, the author
    admits she does not know how it is in Denmark but she is critiquing a “fashion”
    website in Denmark. I would not have any problem with her critique of  a U.S. based Cycle Chic website but she
    critiques the one based in Denmark while admitting she does not know  much about Denmark.

     

    If you look at other Cycle
    Chic website, for example Cycle Chic Montreal. They seem gender equal and propose
    a wide variety of nice pictures (and I wish they would post more often). So it
    seems unfair to judge the entire Cycle Chic website out there because of the
    founder of the movement.

     

     

    My posts are just too
    long…

    • Trisha says:

      Yes, I agree that other cycle chic sites promote a more inclusive atmosphere. And Elly does point that out in her piece as well.

    • Trisha says:

      Yes, I agree that other cycle chic sites promote a more inclusive atmosphere. And Elly does point that out in her piece as well.

  6. Dagmaral says:

    Seeing “fashionable” ladies on bikes is what persuaded me to give cycling to work a try. Is that bad? I had to laugh because today I look just like the last girl in Bikeyface’s illustration. I’m wearing a long dress I bought in part because I pictured myself wearing it while riding my Pashley to work during the summer. I buy a lot of my clothes now with my commute in mind, but my idea of cycling clothes is going to differ from someone else’s and that is perfectly fine. Sometimes I change when I get to work, sometimes I don’t. 

    • Dottie says:

      I’m with you on those points.  I love riding my Dutch bike in dresses, too.  That’s certainly not bad!  My discomfort comes more specifically from the tone the Cycle Chic site-runner takes regarding the one proper way to ride and his way of attacking anyone who openly disagrees.

  7. steve_a_dfw says:

    I’m sorry, but I am unwilling to take up wearing heels simply to keep cycling. IMO, the value of “chic” is to foster the notion that we need not conform to stereotypes simply to efficiently travel without an engine. I guess I’m simply a “big tent” cyclist at heart.

  8. ladyfleur says:

    I just reread his
    manifesto, and yes, it pokes fun at expensive bikes, riding for sport and cycle
    wear in a disdainful way. And I believe Mikael C-A goes too far in his
    anti-lycra, anti-helmet stance in statements outside the manifesto, which have
    alienated those who don’t agree. 

    But I don’t read gender
    into the manifesto.  Being stylish, “aesthetically pleasing” and
    “ride with grace, elegance and dignity” are just as applicable for
    men and women.  I know quite a few women who would love it if their menfolk
    would put on a nice shirt for a change–on or off the bike.  Mine does
    now, in part to a little prodding from me.

    In the English-speaking world, dressing up on the bike is
    culturally disruptive. It challenges what people think is appropriate so
    there’s criticism as well as wonderment. When I wear skirts and heels on the
    bike I get a wide range of reactions, from surprise to appreciation to
    annoyance.

    I even had a local female bike advocate tell me I was
    “making everyone else look bad” because I wore a suit on Bike to Work
    Day.  She was serious and not happy about what I was wearing. And I’ve had
    men who told me riding in heels was extremely dangerous.  How would they know?

    It reminds me of the reaction men got in 1960s when they
    grew their hair long, or what married woman sometimes get even today for not
    taking their husband’s name. I’ve been scolded for that too.

    I hope the time will come where we will all look back at this and think it’s silly.  Of course some people ride in regular clothes to work.  Of course some people put on lycra when they want to ride hard and sweat. We’re all just riding along, who cares.

    • Dottie says:

      I agree – that’s one reason I enjoy bicycling in my nicer clothes much of the time.  I like confounding expectations.  And I also kept my “maiden” name.  :)  I am not usually a fan of extremes and I would prefer all sides to simmer down a bit.  

      That said, I think what makes the manifesto gendered is the context – the site is filled mostly with images of women.  Not that featuring women is a bad thing at all, but put together with the manifesto, the overall message comes across as gendered to me.  Though I would certainly like to see fewer male cyclists in Chicago showing me their butt cracks!!!

  9. betty scandretti says:

    I’ve definitely had similar thoughts – I hesitate to identify myself as “cycle chic” because it’s not my aim in life to look fabulous at all times, just to be able to get on my bike in whatever I’m wearing, be able to carry my stuff and pick something up if I want to, and to be able to ride at a comfortable pace and feel safe doing so. One blogger in my city has coined the term “cyclopolitan” to describe her similar situation, and I also identify with the “slow bicycle” and “citizen cyclist” terminology, insofar as I feel a need to label myself at all…

    I don’t have a problem with looking cute on a bike (and I know it brings a smile to many faces when I cycle in my cape and ballet flats, coffee in tow), but I reserve the right to cycle in ratty sweats whenever I need to – and I agree with a previous poster that LGRAB shouldn’t change a thing.

  10. Lapeters2007 says:

    In sort of making cycling socialy accepted, cycle chic is a necessity. 
    The institucionalization of the car culture made cycling an activity of the poor people, an abject activity for “good” people. But the leisure class got a way to spend its hunting instinct: the radical sport of cycling.
    Nowadays we need to show that utility cycling is a noble activity and way of going from A to B. If beautiful and well dressed people cycle, why not me? 
    I think Veblen, Thorstein, is an author that can help to explain this.
    Of course, some people can confuse things. Anorexic models to sell bycicling is not cycle chic. Cycle chic is to be a thing of the everyday life, dressing for the destination, a good thing for all, to the leisure class, the middle class, all classes. Making cycling a chic thing doesn’t exclude anybody, why would? On the contrary, cycling being chic turns it in a license to all cycle. No one is to be ashamed of cycling in a social sphere. If people get ashamed of using this or that cloth, it’s about clohting, not about cycling.
    I like the really cycle chic very much.
    I hope I wrote undestandable words and few errors, i’m not good in English.

    • Dottie says:

      I agree with everything you say here (your English is very good!).  I’m all about turning bicycling into a cool activity for all.  But I do not think that inclusive sort of message is sent by the major cycle chic site, unfortunately.

  11. Fjnkindelan says:

    Feminism and femininity are not mutually exclusive. Why shouldn’t women celebrate being women through an expression of beauty by dressing and biking fashionably? I certtainly would hate to see a nineties feminist phenomenon of careless (not to be confused with carefree) style when we’ve come into an age of very cool and affordable styles for women. Add bike culture and we are on a clear path to utopia.

    • Dottie says:

      I agree that feminism and femininity are not mutually exclusive – obviously, given my personal style.  That is not the issue Elly takes up in her article, though.  Rather, her problem seems to be with a prescriptive sort of bike style that makes no room for individual preference.  

  12. Philippe says:

    Ely Blue critique is mostly very well grounded : MCA sounds like a sanctimonious douche on many occasions, and his use, ad nauseam, of simple catch phrases is bothersome (though one can argue that, as a marketing guy, he simply stays on the message).
    But, what’s undisputable is it’s success, from a professional point of view : He transformed a creepy photo blog (women’s derriere, seen from a bike…) in a profitable consulting business. And it took more than luck  : The guy had a vison and the talent and hard work to pull it off. Copenhagenize has been fort years and still is, a huge source of datas and thought provoking essays.
    He also has been very influential in inspiring dozen of female bloggers (and, of course countless anonymous cyclists) to get on their bikes again, for the first time since childhood. I imagine you’re one of them. 
    And for all that, he deserves a lot of credit.
    Many of those born again cyclists, like Ely Blue (if I understand correctly), will eventualy move forward and develop a taste for other, sportier,  forms of cyclism too. Velouria of Lovely Bicycle is typical : She transitioned from a tentative urban cyclist on a very chic and accessorized Pashley to a hard core century riding randonneuse. 
    Obviously MCA finds somewhat difficult to accept that. Maybe because he’s afraid of being a fad, like the fixed bike ?

    • LGRAB says:

      Those are all good points, but for the record, his site did not inspire me to start biking again. I was already biking before I found it. :)

    • ladyfleur says:

      As someone who went the opposite direction from sport to chic, I take exception to sportier bicycling being “moving forward” and riding in stylish clothes being a “fad”.

      I am a confirmed long-distance roadie and former mtn bike and cyclocross racer. I’ve ridden countless centuries, raced 24 hour MTB relays, and even did a cyclocross race on a tandem (after we figured out the dismount and remount it wasn’t so hard). http://youtu.be/1OXzKgBwS14

      I now also commute to work in professional clothing and ride around town in whatever outfit I need for the destination, including skirts and heels for bike dates with my husband and nights out with the girls. I love both “sport” and “chic” cycling and don’t see any issue between them.

      That’s why the “geek vs chic” battle particularly annoys me. They’re not mutually exclusive, and I worry that it takes our attention from more serious issues like making bicycling more accessible for everyone.

      • Philippe says:

        English is not my first language, bear with me…
        To clarify, by “move forward” I meant “to add another form of cyclism”. ie, a sportier approach for the Cycle Chic cyclists, or a more utilitarian, casual approach for the athletes. In the context of Dottie’s post, that was the transition from chic to sport. But it can works both ways and we don’t disagree, actualy.By fad, I was referring to the whole tweed ride, über chic movement of those last few years. See Bikey face cartoon. Casual riding in casual clothes is not a fad. The idea that you dress for the destination, not for the journey is a given for countless cyclists, especially in Europe. But over dressed cyclism as a statement is getting old, IMO.

        • ladyfleur says:

           Oh, I understand you better now.  I guess I’ve heard a lot of prejudice from sport cyclists toward more utilitarian cyclists not being “real” cyclists, so I’m sensitive. As for the photos of overdressed cyclists, I suspect that the whole cycle chic would die out if everyone starting riding in non-sport clothes.

  13. LeslieC says:

    An interesting comparison to CCC is the New York fashion photographer Bill Cunningham (via the documentary on him 
    http://www.zeitgeistfilms.com/billcunninghamnewyork/). Bill Cunningham is the MOST democratic, inclusive, non-snarkey fashion critic there is, whose mission is to celebrate fashion creativity and to never ever be negative about it. He does love certain sensibilities, but he does not care of you are a student or (literally) princess. AND HE RIDES A BIKE!

  14. elisa m says:

    I started out loving Cycling Chic, but grew to feel really icky about it, as well as excluded from it, based on fashion tastes and income. I love looking stylish on my bike, but not feeling pressure to do so, which was starting to creep in when I looked at that particular site everyday. 
    Plus, it is too damn hot to look that cute everyday here! I loved Elly’s willingness to tell it like it is; I was surprised by how many people felt the same way that I do. I also loved the intelligent, thoughtful conversation that arose in the comments section. Refreshing. 

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