Is riding your bike in an outfit from Tangerine Boutique, Carousel Vintage, or Nordstrom’s some kind of sellout?
Some women bike advocates seem to think so.
I feel the need to rant a bit after following links I found in a post by Cap’n Transit. He pointed to a series of tweets by bike advocate Elly Blue about what she sees as the divisive and elitist aspects of the Cycle Chic movement. He also linked to a 2009 blog post on Biker Chicks of West Chester (PA) that sees skirts and heels as symbols of male oppression.
First, why this blog isn’t “Cycle Chic Spokane”: For me, “chic” can carry a connotation of being expensive, luxurious, and mostly unavailable to regular everyday people–like looking at an issue of Vogue on Bikes. (I also think the term “cycling” connotes a workout; I “ride my bike” and don’t break a sweat most days.)
Style, on the other hand, can come from the way you tie your Goodwill or Value Village scarf with particular flair. It doesn’t necessarily carry a steep price tag. But is it somehow “wrong” to ride in a skirt even if it came from a thrift shop?
The Biker Chicks blogger, Libby Maxim, wrote,
“If you want to bike to work, fine, but put on appropriate clothes, pants, sneakers and a sweater for example. You only let men control your clothing choices when you bike in short skirts and tight tops. I see no choice in your biking clothing selection, only a lady trying hard to wear what men want us to wear.”
So now instead of a man telling me what to wear, it’s a woman. How is this an improvement?
Maxim takes aim specifically at Cycle Chic and appears to think that everyone who rides in real clothes is dressed provocatively, describing low-cut tops and short skirts.
That’s not what I ride in (well, some of the skirts…). I want to wear regular clothes and ride comfortably. As I’ve ranted before, I want clothes for biking that don’t look like clothes for biking.
Forcing me into bike-specific clothing is just as confining as forcing me into a tight skirt that makes it hard to get on and off the bike. I find wearing a loose skirt much cooler and more convenient in the summer than pants that cook my legs and pick up chain grease, and far more convenient than dressing down (remember how much you hated that in PE?) and changing in the bathroom at work.
In taking aim at the clothing choices pictured in the Cycle Chic movement it seems to me Maxim misses the point. My takeaway, when you peel away the layers of Vogue: People wearing clothing they want to wear—whether someone approves of their choices or not—should feel free to use a bike to get around for everyday transportation.
“If you want to bike to work, fine” also sounds to me as if biking to work is somehow not “real” riding. Maybe I’m reading too much into that “fine”—it sounds dismissive. One of the commenters on the blog who mocks the idea of a skirt guard for her Cannondale falls into that tone, as if a skirt guard would violate the purity of her road bike. I guess the commuter gear loaded onto my Specialized Dolce is a violation too–hadn’t realized I wasn’t allowed to just use it as a bike. I’ll add that skirt guard ASAP.
There’s another level at which I think it’s genuinely important to ride in skirts and high heels. The type of infrastructure suitable for Mr. High-Speed Spandex is not that inviting to Ms. Step-Through Skirt.
To make riding a bike genuinely appealing and accessible to a wide range of riders we need people who don’t currently ride to see role models that help them envision themselves on a bike. When I’m kitted out and clipped in I don’t send the message that riding a bike is for everyone. I send the message that it’s for people who are already fit and confident, just as Cycle Chic pictures send the message that biking is for the fit and fashionable.
How about more real people, wearing real clothes, riding bikes? It’s not a plot, honest.
- Do you look at Cycle Chic blogs at all? Are they inspiring or just eye candy?
- Do you judge other riders as being “real” or not based on their clothing?
A couple of years ago Spokane Transit asked me to be one of the people featured in their ad campaigns. Specifically, they wanted to show someone dressed in business attire who rides the bus so other business people who don’t think of transit as being for them recognize it’s for everyone.
This is social marketing at work. Why not for bikes, which are such a great tool to make you feel better about your self-image regardless of whether you fit someone’s abstract “ideal”?
- Feeling Good: Biking and Self-Image
- Independence and Freedom, Courtesy of the Bicycle
- Women’s Clothing for Biking that Doesn’t Look Like It’s for Biking: What to Wear, What to Wear
- A Typical Week, in Outfits and Mileage
- Sure Footing: The Blogspedition Goes Shoe Shopping
- Riding in Skirts: Today’s Reactions