Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Weighing in on Critique and Cycle Chic

Recently, Elly of Taking the Lane has posted a critique regarding the evolution of the Cycle Chic movement, intertwining thoughts on the objectification of women and how the very nature of "Chic" can be exclusive to those who are not-so-cycle-chic. Being a bike blogging nerd, I thought to weigh in on the argument raging on Twitter (as much as anything of significance rages on Twitter).

I personally have followed Mikael Colville-Andersen's Cycle Chic movement for some time, and it's certainly one of the blogs that inspired me to try dresses, as it showed them as compatible with my fairly active lifestyle.  There, I had proof!  I could be myself and dress like a girl at the same time, an image not previously available to me as a woman on a bike.  It was freeing, and inspiring.  The first time I rode without a helmet and felt the breeze in my hair I almost wept with joy (not solely because a helmet in 105 F weather is total misery).  But as I read the critique, there certainly are things that ring true.

I am not a Chic person by nature.  My favorite clothes are all made of technical fabric, and yes, I wear them to work.  Most of the time, I look like this:

For clarification, those are technical fabric shorts, a technical fabric hiking shirt, hiking sandals, a Dallas Cowboys hat, combined with a waterproof messenger bag.  I ride a diamond-frame touring bike made by a company that has told me has no plans for a Mixte, and I freaking LOVE that bike.  I have tan lines.  By any measure, I fall well short of cycling Chic-ly, and I don't mind that one bit - it's just me being myself.  

I came to cycling as a sport, rather than a form of transportation - that evolved naturally for me.  Wherever I went, I wanted to ride bikes there, so I did.  

But it's dismissive of some very valid points on the part of Taking the Lane to say that it's a bunch of bike geeks protecting their turf.  Rather, it's to accept that for one thing, cultural differences are often to be embraced - I own a helmet and like roadcycling for sport while wearing spandex.  The cross pollination between sport cycling and transportation cycling in the USA is huge, and in a country with an obesity epidemic, a wonderful way to introduce people to the notion of alternative transportation is to introduce them in other, less intimidating ways.  And let's face it - the idea of cycling to work is intimidating to many people.  How will I carry my stuff, what will I wear, will I be all sweat, cars are scary - barriers are there beyond whether or not you choose to wear a helmet.  Yes, infrastructure would solve a lot of problems.  But that doesn't make cycling in sporty clothing an invalid choice when it's literally over 100 degrees.  

So it seems like we have a lot of people, all trying to get across the same message, but getting caught on their own hangups.  On the part of Taking the Lane, that is the notion that style is a very exclusive idea, and that it's a potential block to those who may come to cycling in other ways.  On the part of Colville-Andersen, it's the notion that the "Bike Geeks" are "ignoring the Bull in the China Shop" when they suggest that maybe helmets work for some people.  But the common thread here is this - we want more people to ride.  It's currently not possible in the minds of the many (here in North America), and how to break down that barrier is a subject of great debate.

All I'm saying is this - don't get so caught up bitching at each other about gender roles, helmets, bike geeks, and so on that we forget what the original idea was.  Make cycling accessible and break down barriers.  That's it.

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