Thursday, September 23, 2010

City, zen, cycling

'Cycle chic' - of the great and well-known Copenhagen bike and street fashion blog - has the luxury of being a descriptive term, celebrating what already exists in spades there. Here it would function more as a directive, or a desperate plea, and I wouldn't presume to ask Washingtonians to cycle chic(-ly). People here often dress well, but fashion is not really a DC strength. I do think we're capable of a kind of cosmopolitan civility. I don't think our hardworking and sometimes wonkish masses would rally around 'chic'.

Electra Amsterdam
In DC it sometimes seems that the pool of people who have already self-selected as 'bike people' has nearly topped out, and riders tend to fall into certain categories. Rogue bike couriers. Distance/speed bikers hunched over in spandex. Mountain bikers. Weekend leisure cyclists. Serious and/or 'earthy' commuters with pant legs strapped, an excess of reflectors, orange flags, and granola in their fanny pack. Nothing wrong with any of that. Just listing some of the stereotypes.

So, how to vastly increase the number of people on bikes on a daily basis, as part of the city fabric? It has to appeal to the masses, as basic urban transport.

The city is trying to do its part, with more and better bike lanes and infrastructure. But in many ways it starts with a certain riding mentality and the bicycles themselves - slower, with a more upright sitting position; chainguard, fenders, rear skirt all mean you show up unsplattered on rainy days; staying out of the thick of traffic means a helmet is not as necessary (more on that to be sure).

So you can hop on and go, without special clothes or an alternative lifestyle. Ride as you are. Ride in heels or a suit. Ride chic(ly) if that's you. Don't wear a helmet, or do. Take your time. Try to generally follow traffic laws, and be civil as a way to defuse the anti-bikers. Think of yourself as part of a graceful, heightened, aesthetic (yes!) urban experience. Turning the North American negative connotations of 'urban' upside down, reclaiming the beauty of civilized city life.

Citizen Cycling. Better biking, better cities.


  1. Hi Bill,

    I ride chic, everyday on my orange trek. There's a couple of us, and wish there were more.


  2. Riders fall into certain categories, yes, if you insist on putting people into categories. Differences in clothing might mark tribal allegiances, but those boundaries are a lot more fluid if you look beyond the superficial. (I say this as someone who’s out riding in everything from a corduroy jacket, to a suit, to tri shorts - all depending on what I’m up to.) Cyclists tend to be a remarkably tolerant lot. I don’t think you need to wall off your own territory here.

  3. Anonymous, wish there were more too. Hope to see you out there.

    Dave R., points taken, but I tried to make clear those are the stereotypes. Not trying to offend, some of my best friends wear spandex. Whatever gets someone on a bike is cool. I was simply trying to describe an existing bike culture landscape and its character(s), and hopefully help make room for a new, inclusive, holistically different kind of experience and outlook on biking.

  4. Sorry, meant Dan, not anonymous. Rusty at this...

  5. "Think of yourself as part of a graceful, heightened, aesthetic (yes!) urban experience."

    preach, brother, preach.

  6. I stand proudly by the statement :). I'm assuming you're zinging me.

  7. Bill,

    Absolutely not!! I mean that wholeheartedly.