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The Style, The Substance: It’s All Important for Cycling
Image from the Copenhagen-based blog, Cycle Chic.

Image from the Copenhagen-based blog, Cycle Chic.

Bike style, bike culture, bike imagery — they’re important for many cyclists. The people who ride, the communities that form around this alternative mode of transportation, and events like critical mass have been important for the increased popularity of urban biking, but the elevation of style over utility in some biking communities has received its share of backlash, as well. There are some biking companies that have adopted techniques that car advertisers use, such as removing the reality from the actual experience of biking.

And there’s an exclusivity to this type of stylized culture for some.  Bowery Lane Bicycles in New York City is one such example. Its ads include images of models with bikes. Still, others might say that the point of the bike is that it’s cheap and inclusive, not a status symbol. It’s an easy, free way to get around.

Others might settle on the notion that the commercialization of biking is just a part of the twentieth century condition. Plus, the beauty of biking is that it’s public: it makes sense in cities, where people are seen. And thus its evolution into a form of cultural expression is inevitable and, in many ways, follows European cycling culture.

The New York Times writes about the trend of fashionable women cycling in a city where the number of bikers increased by 26 percent in 2009:

“She is one in an increasingly visible band of chic New Yorkers whooshing along the green-painted bike lanes that have proliferated in Manhattan, from the Brooklyn Bridge to the Hudson and from TriBeCa to Harlem, clutching BlackBerrys and clad not in spandex but in fluttery skirts, capes and kitten heels.”

The role of women in cycling is not only an indicator that biking culture is on the rise more than ever, but it also shows that women feel safe on the streets, weaving between cars and riding downtown at night. One blog, called Candy Cranks, is a collective blog of female riders from around the world who provide “insight [in]to bike culture in their home cities.” The blog includes writers from cities like Jakarta, Tokyo, Shanghai, Glasgow and Chicago. Their purpose:

A lot of women find the prospect of cycling on busy roads daunting. By showing how other females around the globe cycle for all different reasons whether it be to commute, for fun, fitness, sport, socializing or just cruising to the local cafe, we hope to encourage other girls to get out there and start spinning!

An image from the blog, Candy Cranks. This author is based in Jakarta.

An image from Jakarta in the blog, Candy Cranks.

It’s happening in other places, too. In Curitiba, Brazil, there’s a Cycle Chic Blog (part of a series of blogs showcasing bicyclists and their style around the globe).  As we highlighted a few weeks ago, Curitiba also hosted a Tweed Ride for World Carfree Day. But with the focus on style, gear (i.e. bags and lights) and image, we can’t help but wonder about everyone else.

What about the people who ride solely for its cheapness or because they have no other options?  With the preponderance of a certain type of flashy biker, will policies, safety measures and drivers ignore cyclists in low-income and immigrant-dense communities? Or are the media and hype that surround biking simply good for bikers everywhere? American biking culture, for instance, is becoming more expansive, including not only bike racers and bike messengers but also commuters and youth.

Another question: Do these fashionable people ever wear helmets?

Two cyclists in an image from the Brazilian cycle culture blog. Note the use of cell phones while riding and the lack of brakes.

Two cyclists in an image from the Brazilian cycle culture blog, Curitiba Cycle Chic. Note the use of cell phones while riding and the lack of brakes.

Nonetheless, the increase in women cyclists, in particular, further promotes access for all. And clearly the trend is catching on in other parts of the world. Biking is about merging aesthetics and function and by its very nature, it’s inclusive, from groups of kids barreling through the streets to throngs of city dwellers commuting to work in the morning.

Photo from the Washington, DC tweed ride. Photo by Rhys Thom.

Photo from the Washington, D.C. Tweed Ride. Photo by Rhys Thom.

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  • I like an article that stops short of pitting cycling subcultures against one another. Thank you. Companies like Bowery Lane Bicycles, make cycling look sexy and cool. It’s great that it can be free for those with no money. However, the boutique end of the market (with bikes far more pricy than those from BLB) lends much needed prestige to the bike, in a way that benefits everyone. Prestige cycling is as surely a fact as prestige motoring. It only raises eyebrows among those who are not cyclists themselves. For a more thoughtful discussion, I recommend these Behooving Moving essays to you, the later published in refereed conference proceedings.

  • joejeronimo

    I love how the bike culture is not evolving. I have my cruiser from and I love going to an art gallery opening or dinner on my bike. It is chic to love your bike and your environment 🙂

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  • John Riley

    Bicycling has _always_ had a fads and fashions component. I think what is new here, thanks to all the blogs perhaps, is that we are seeing that the bicycle can be incorporated into whatever style you use to express yourself when you are NOT on the bike.

    In a sense, the bike becomes like a purse or a pair of shoes. Instead of the bike dictating the style (spandex Lance wannabe is an example) the style dictates the bike. Because of this, we are seeing way more diversity in bike design. We are seeing more diversity in the type of bike _used_ too, including the rusty roadster and ancient ten-speed.

    IMO the net is that bike usage will increase, and that is a good thing.

  • Well done, great synopsis!

    With bicycles being the most convenient and economical transportation choice in urban areas, we are finding that people like to look just like they ordinarily would on their bikes, not like some kind of spandex-clad artifice. Gone are the days of the ‘in your face’ graphics on bikes and road-warrier clothing. People these days would rather zip about town on a smart-looking bike that goes with their casual wear. And anything that encourages more women to use bicycles is good on so many levels, with helmets or not.

  • Nice Article.

    We are indeed taking a more “fashion” approach to our bicycles but only because we love the way a bike makes us feel and we dont think the “bike shop” expresses it as romantically as we view it. Our bikes are just that, bikes. We aren’t breaking any speeding records, or reinventing the wheel (literally), we are just making bikes that anyone can use. If our portrayal of bicycles makes people want to ride a bike then our job is done!