A critique of Cycle Chic

I agree in many respects with the tenets of Copenhagen Cycle Chic, brainchild of marketing professional Mikael Colville-Andersen, which he promotes on his blog of the same name as well as in speaking tours around the world. A post from 2009 sums up his mission well: You don’t need special clothes to bicycle in, you just need to look in your own closet. It’s a much-needed message and one I admire; in fact, demonstrating that bicycling can suit your existing lifestyle and that there is no need to spend a lot of money or force yourself into some kind of athletic or rugged mold is one of the goals of my forthcoming book, Everyday Bicycling.

Unfortunately, instead of sticking to this inclusive and welcoming message, Colville-Andersen takes every opportunity to police what people choose to wear, and in an alarmingly gendered manner. Dare to take issue, and he’ll draw the line even more starkly, dismissively accusing you of factionalism, in prose peppered with ad hominem attacks (try it, you’ll see). It’s a tone reminiscent of that of the hardcore proponents of vehicular cycling: Good, common sense ideas presented in an extreme and exclusionary manner.

Helmets and technical cycling clothes are his particular targets. In the annals of Cycle Chic, to wear these things is more than a fashion faux pas, it’s socially irresponsible; a tacit endorsement of “profiteering” and a “Culture of Fear” — two of the catch phrases of which Colville-Andersen’s writing almost entirely consists.

Much of this fashion policing is directed, explicitly or implicitly, at women. “Bike advocacy in high heels” is another frequently heard catch phrase, a term which can perhaps best be understood by reading the Cycle Chic Manifesto (which comes with the slippery disclaimer that it is only partly serious): “I embrace my responsibility to contribute visually to a more aesthetically pleasing urban landscape” is one pledge, followed by “I am aware that my mere prescence in said urban landscape will inspire others without me being labelled as a ‘bicycle activist’.” Obviously these pledges could be and surely are taken to heart by both men and women, but I will submit that according to the blog’s FAQ, females apparently make up the majority of its audience, and second, that there is not exactly a rich cultural tradition of men admonishing other men to shut up and look pretty, or be seen rather than heard, or to arrange their public lives so as to be aesthetically pleasing.

Historically, in fact, Cycle Chic was all about men leering at women. It’s described by its founder in an early interview as being literally about women as aesthetic objects:

“Danish and European women just happen to be stylish. It’s elegant, it’s classy. It’s Europe. And, I’m a man. I enjoy looking at aesthetically pleasing women. If I lived in a forest, I’d probably take pictures of the nicest trees.”

The inimitable Bikeyface has drawn the best response (used here with permission):

Colville-Andersen’s reply to this cartoon sadly illustrates some of the problems that arise in defining and critiquing his movement.

I think in part the divide between Cycle Chic’s purported message and its actual one is in the idea of what is, or should be “normal.” After all, it was perfectly normal for decades for women to value themselves and be valued for their appearance and to achieve social acceptance by catering to the aesthetic demands of male onlookers.

The world is a little more complicated now — at least it is in the United States. I recognize that gender politics in Denmark might vary, but here it is beyond tone deaf to assume that realizing you can bike without wearing Lycra is the only barrier to women embracing bicycling. In my observation, people do a pretty good job figuring that out on their own. We do, however, suffer some major economic and social barriers, from unequal division of paid and unpaid labor, to the consequences of antiquated maternity and paternity leave laws, to outright discrimination and double standards both socially and in the workplace. Barriers to bicycling are far more complicated than knowing you can bike in high heels; if that were all there was to it, we wouldn’t need a guy in Europe to come point out the solution.

Among the many who have embraced the idea (and name) of Cycle Chic for its basic tenets, not all have also taken on the tone and prejudices of its founder. It’s been a pleasure in the last few years to meet several devotees of the philosophy who have crafted it into something empowering, playful, and fun, rejecting some of the more extreme stances of the original. These folks hardly invented the practice of everyday bicycling, but they have injected a certain costumey flair into U.S. bike culture that strikes a chord with a range of people who might not otherwise get excited about cycling. This appeal is culturally specific, however, and that culture is difficult, in the U.S., to separate from the bummer stereotype of elitism. I don’t think that’s a reason not to dress chic on a bike; I do think it’s foolish to claim that it’s the highest form of advocacy in a cultural and economic situation where bicycling is falsely viewed, and subsequently de-funded, as an upper class leisure activity.

I hypothesize that Cycle Chic’s true message and appeal is at its base, at least in North America, 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 — and 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 — which requires listening to people, rather than mocking them. It will also require, perhaps to the chagrin of Cycle Chic purists, a whole hell of a lot of activism. I don’t know about Denmark, but here in the US there’s a lot of work to be done on multiple fronts of gender parity and cycling policy, from the floors of community bike shops to the halls of Congress. Great things can certainly be achieved while wearing high heels, but never solely by doing so.

I began cycling over a decade ago wearing regular clothes and as an alternative to the bus; in more recent years, I was overjoyed to discover the wonders of the chamois and the technical cycling rain jacket. To get anthropological for a moment, here in the US, cycling for sport is one of the main avenues of entry into bicycling, and there is a vibrant, though hardly mandatory, cross-over between sports and transportation cycling. People who ride bikes in the US fall along a broad spectrum between the two, exploring and code-switching at will. Dressing up to the nines and riding fast across town on a sporty road bike are two of life’s pleasures that I find are best enjoyed jointly. Your experience may, and probably does, vary. To revert to the merely editorial: Anyone who claims that you have to choose sides, or define your style at all, is wrong, and isn’t having as much fun as you.

In summary, Cycle Chic has great potential as a movement, a potential which has been fully realized by many of its fans. It’s unfortunate, therefore, that its founder chooses instead to promote a vision of “normal, mainstream” bicycle transportation that is sexist, exclusive in many North American contexts, and unrealistic as an advocacy strategy.

I have gone to the trouble of making these points at this time, despite feeling that they are fairly obvious and an easy target, and also despite my dread of the dismissive lecturing that is sure to come my way as result, because Colville-Andersen will be headlining the fashion show component of the second National Women’s Bicycling Summit in Long Beach this September (he is also the lead keynote of Pro Walk / Pro Bike immediately prior, sharing the podium with six other men and one woman). It is an interesting time in the US, with bicycling becoming daily more mainstream, though hardly in a unitary or consistent manner, and these events are an opportunity to coordinate strategies for making the bike’s popularity stick. Fashion will surely play a part, among many other forces, and I’m looking forward to the proceedings as an opportunity for — hopefully — constructive dialogue. There’s no reason the conversation shouldn’t start now.

Note: I didn’t intend for this discussion to turn into a helmet debate, but am fine with the fact that it is beginning to. If you’re keen to discuss helmets, I recommend also heading over to this post here and its interesting comments.

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108 Responses to “A critique of Cycle Chic”

  1. elisa m July 24, 2012 at 3:22 pm #

    I feel like cycle chic has fetishized dressing up on a bike. Here in the South, I honestly do not want to ruin my “fancy” clothes by sweating up a storm in them; which happens no matter what speed I ride, or what kind of bike I ride. I nearly always wear my “normal” clothes to ride in, but often feel like they are lacking in cycling chic, based on the photos I see on cycling chic websites. If people want to dress up on a bike, I applaud them. However, not everyone can or wants to. Sadly, I think that the aesthetic is for wealthy, cool, white folks (mainly women). That is fine and dandy, if it is honestly categorized. Thanks for the post, Elly! Thanks for daring to talk about this, and to do it honestly, and intelligently. Hearts!

    • missbabounette November 14, 2012 at 12:17 am #

      Perhaps there is a large cultural difference that people in the US still do not quite understand. I have studied the Cycle Chic blog and have looked at almost all the pictures, and I have to say that I do not see the people (men and women alike) “dressed up”.
      They have on their work clothes, their leisure clothes etc…
      Furthermore, stating that the aesthetic is for wealthy, cool white folk is absurd! Aesthetic is your style and you can dress in H&M which is quite cheap and many thrift stores have really nice clothes that are inexpensive. You can wear a gorgeous outfit that comes from H&M (or other stores of the sort) and have much more aesthetic than another person who wears all brands.

  2. Caroline July 24, 2012 at 3:32 pm #

    Good for Mikael Colville-Andersen for figuring out what sells, and for (presumably) making a living off it.

    However, when you sell an image to people that in order to be attractive they need to be dressed, and even appear (genetically or even surgically enhanced) a certain hott™ and expen$ive way, that is not fair. It is not fair to anybody. Except maybe Colville-Andersen. The rare person who gets through his filter might actually be having a good time and be fit and intelligent on top of being gorgeous and well-outfitted, but their looks are all that are praised. And the millions of other people who will never look so zesty and mouthwatering on a bike should not be discouraged from getting on a bike anyway. It’s pretty much only Colville-Andersen who really gives a shit, anyway. Pretty much as long as you are on a bike, you’re sexy as fuck in my world.

    PS. So… I look like a moron in my helmet, Mikael?

  3. KJ July 24, 2012 at 3:32 pm #

    Well reasoned and balances article Elly, you sum up much of my discomfort with cycle chic and US culture well. Kudos.

    I always wear my everyday clothes, work or otherwise. It’s only when I wear distinctly feminine attire that I get leered at, catcalled, honked at or otherwise. It influences my fashion choices! When i fit into M C-A’s atheistic, as I do like to get dressed up and I like fashion… I get unwanted and unasked for male attention. It’s uncomfortable and will KEEP women from biking! So long as women are seen as something to be viewed, as an object , as part of the landscape, this is a barrier to cycling. (I mean equating women to trees, really?!)

    And then plus, the class and economics side. Fashion isn’t cheep. Chic is spendy. And…Upper middle class WASPY, frankly, isn’t want everyone strives to be.

  4. Kevin July 24, 2012 at 3:35 pm #

    As with most things… I find that viewpoints that only have room for one right way are usually less than appealing. Only helmets; only normal wear… too bad life isn’t just black and white. Wait! Actually… rejoice that it’s not. What is great about cycling is that you can wear a helmet or not wear one (well at least in California if you’re over 18). You can wear lycra or “normal” clothes. We should all embrace individuality; the freedom of the bike. Personally, when I’m riding the traffic-congested city streets of L.A., I choose to wear a helmet, but when I’m at the beach, riding on the bike path, a baseball cap will do. If someone chooses to ride a bike rather than drive a car, I say hurray… and let them wear whatever they choose to wear.

  5. Rick Risemberg July 24, 2012 at 3:39 pm #

    I’m a a straight man who very much enjoys women, but I don’t need them to play baby-doll for me. Mikael is a colleague, but the stalker-like aspects of his site, which Bikeyface pointed out so incisively in her cartoon, have always bothered me. There’s a definite objectification of women going on, to my eye. Everything is miniskirts and heels. And heels particularly are stupid; just a way simultaneously to jut out the butt and hobble the woman herself. Why is it that to Mikael and his followers, a “practical” bike is one that lets [women] wear impractical clothes? I don’t see him advocating that men should ride in thongs, motorcycle boots, and cut-out leather chaps, and that the only “good” bikes are those that allow them to….

    (And to ride a Dutch-style bike on my hilly 40-mile round trip to day, to pick up T-shirts from my printer, would have been torture instead of the pleasure it was on my 20-lb, cargo-carrying fixie. Horses for courses….)

  6. Ben July 24, 2012 at 3:49 pm #

    This Cycle-chic business is something that has totally turned me off to Momentum magazine, which used to be about ordinary cycling (food, maintenance, utility cycling, etc.) and now seems to be mostly about some kind of bike fashion. Yes, wear ordinary clothes, just ride your bike. And BTW, high heels are bad for you.

    • Cecily July 24, 2012 at 4:04 pm #

      Agreed, Ben. I used to be able to get functional information for using a bike in all aspects of my life from Momentum. Not anymore – and that makes me sad.

    • Dean July 25, 2012 at 7:15 am #

      I’ll third that statement. Momentum used to be great, and really useful with I think a broad range of appeal. As someone who was strictly a recreational rider, Momentum was part of what encouraged me to ride as part of my daily life. Now, it mostly just gets tossed in my “to read” stack, and never sees the light of day again.

    • Mike G. July 26, 2012 at 9:34 am #

      It’s interesting how we people who ride bicycles all have such different perspectives. To me “ordinary cycling” IS “utility cycling”; beyond knowing what it is, I have very little interest in reading about it — I just do it. And to me, “ordinary cycling” requires no special knowledge about food – beyond what’s for dinner – or about maintenance – beyond pumping up my tyres, I’m pleased to leave it to my local bike shop. As an aside, I disagree that the Cycle Chic movement was mainly about fashion. As I understand it, MCA set out to illustrate that there was a way to cycle as part of everyday life and not look like a bike jock or a messenger, wearing awful safety or racing gear. Which was a fairly widespread perception prior to his site and probably still is, to some extent. MCA set out to document the opposite – that well-dressed people can and do cycle. I do agree that this has been turned into a fashion thing by some people who either didn’t get that idea or who sought to make money from it. The fact that a higher proportion of continental Europeans (and, in North America, people in Quebec) tend to dress in more fashion-conscious or expressive ways than is common in the US or the UK may have added to the confusion. (This comparison is especially stark, in terms of what I’ve seen, with dress sense in the Pacific Northwest.)

    • simcoe July 26, 2012 at 8:08 pm #

      I fourth the turned off momentum mag. It no longer serves me as a lifelong multi-purpose cyclist. I am happy for the influx of cyclists in my small town as a result of global bicycle hype but never foresaw it to be used as another forum for the objectification of women. Surprise! Another paradox, now I spend most of my time on the trails.

  7. Lizbon July 24, 2012 at 3:50 pm #

    “Cycle Geeks reacting against the mainstreaming of urban cycling. Nothing more.” – This was Colville-Andersen’s comment, made publicly on Twitter, in response to yesterday’s thoughtful and multifaceted discussion of gender issues and in particular the assumption of a male standard in the bicycling industry.

    He followed it up w/this: “My job is to get people to ride bikes, using known techniques. That involves rejecting the flawed ones.”

    And this: “AKA The 1% and the 99%” Tagged with the Twitter handles of several people who’d been participating in the discussion.

    It’s always difficult to discuss a complex issue with people who don’t share your views, but there are constructive ways to do it, and Elly’s put her finger on the key: “listening to people, rather than mocking them.”

    Any discussion of gender inequities, esp when it includes male and female participants, has the potential to include some friction. Any discussion of bicycling and its current and potential place(s) in culture(s) has a similar potential.

    If the goal is truly to encourage everyone, anyone to ride bicycles – for transportation, for fun, for sport, for whatever – putting down how anyone else chooses to ride their bikes is counterproductive and damaging. Telling someone else how to ride, what to wear while riding, that they’re doing XYZ wrong is no better than mocking someone for riding a bike instead of driving.

    When someone asks me why I ride (or more often, why I ride so much), I’ve always answered “for love and transportation.” By which I mean, I ride because I love it, and because it’s how I choose to get around. I wear different things and ride different bikes and go at different speeds, depending on the moment. None of those choices are important, other than as how they relate to my comfort in the weather or on the road surface.

    But I am also starting to think that for love and transportation is a good description of how I’d like to advocate for bicycling. As in, I love seeing other people ride. That includes racing, commuting, taking kids to school, going to the grocery store, going on dates, traveling, and any other sort of riding you can imagine. I love the fact that bikes are so versatile, and I love the fact that they’ve introduced me to great people.

    I don’t love it when people do as Colville-Andersen has been doing, and using bikes as a focal point for putting other people down.

    We have a long way to go, to make bikes more widely accepted/embraced as a viable means of transportation. We’ll get there a lot faster and more easily if we don’t stoop to that kind of name-calling and judgment of others.

    • KJ July 24, 2012 at 3:59 pm #

      yes! also this!

    • Bad Planner July 24, 2012 at 6:10 pm #

      Wow, so much juvenile name-calling nonsense in response to perfectly reasonable critique. It’s depressing, though not the least bit surprising, to see a fellow sustainable transportation advocate behave that way. I’m glad I was busy at work today when these conversations went on.

      I do kind of wonder though… perhaps Mr. Chic feels threatened by strong, practical woman cyclists being faster and better riders than he is?

  8. Alice Stribling July 24, 2012 at 3:50 pm #

    Thanks for the nice piece of writing. These things are indeed complicated and I want to support what you are doing.

  9. Elly July 24, 2012 at 3:56 pm #

    Thank you for all the thoughtful comments. Y’all are brainy. I need to go for a bike ride instead of replying individually, but wanted to throw in there that disagreement and debate is welcome, so long as it’s civil.

  10. Sam July 24, 2012 at 4:17 pm #

    Thank you for writing this.

    But I will admit utter confusion. I follow Copenhagenize but am perpetually behind on my blog reading and I follow Colville-Andersen’s work to a large degree. But I really would love it if you could define some terms for those of us who didn’t study social movements or gender issues in any formal capacity. So while I kinda see what you’re says, I’m not totally sure I understand what the issue is. Yes, he was a bit of an ass in that response to the bikeyface cartoon. But to be totally honest, if I think you’re saying what you’re saying, then I think you’re being a little unfair about the women’s perspective. So my main question is, would you have the same criticism if MCA was a lesbian? Or a straight woman? And I do know women who objectify other women solely based on their physical attributes which I find more disgusting than when men do it because, well…I expect women to be better.

    About the Cycle Chic manifesto, I agree with parts of it, and dislike parts of it. So I’ve never fully embraced it. But it is a guide and apparently many have embraced it wholeheartedly.

    But with this “After all, it was perfectly normal for decades for women to value themselves and be valued for their appearance and to achieve social acceptance by catering to the aesthetic demands of male onlookers.” – I know I’m stepping onto a minefield here. But why do so many women bloggers post photos of themselves on their blogs? And photos where they look very attractive and often very sexy? I thought Colville-Andersen’s point about looking at women was an honest sentiment. I certainly dislike being leered at, but having some guy express honestly something which pretty much every guy (and girl) on the planet does doesn’t necessarily warrant so much scorn (or whatever the right word is).

    The economic barriers you point out are fair, but I don’t think they’re a tangent issue to cycle chic. If anything, I think widening the conversation to include the differing voices can enhance our movement.

    Mikael’s genius is tapping into that psychological component that successful marketers have done for ages. It is working very effectively (for him as a career, especially) and in enhancing the bicycling movement. The visuals from his blog do serve to inspire. And while we now have a lot of cycle chic in the US, I can’t say I had much inspiration 10 years ago. Both men and women enjoy looking at women (whether women want to admit this is a different issue), and it is probably one of many reasons why his blog is successful.

    If I had a complaint to be gripey about it would be the lack of non-white people represented in his blog, especially from his home city. There are a ton of brown skinned women (with burqas and stilettos no less!) and I don’t recall many images of that type of person. It probably speaks to his views on the Muslim/Danish controversy that is brewing in the countries around the Baltic Sea, but for someone who wishes she could not feel like such a freak for being brown in a bike world – it is a very huge omission.

    • Cecily July 24, 2012 at 4:32 pm #

      This is not meant to be a flip comment at all, but it’s an explanation of the Male gaze as told by dinosaurs. http://www.qwantz.com/index.php?comic=859

      It’s pretty spot on, from my perspective. :)

    • Cecily July 24, 2012 at 4:36 pm #

      Or if you prefer a more serious, dinosaur-free breakdown:

    • Karen July 26, 2012 at 4:10 pm #

      As usual, I have to agree with just about your every word, Sam. I can’t get that upset that men and women look at one another. Attractive people tend to get attention to a larger degree than unattractive ones and I’m afraid that is just the way the human animal is built. MCA’s blog inspired me to get on a bike as transportation because I learned I didn’t have to give up pretty shoes and nice hair. If the only models of female bike commuting I saw were clad only in reflective clothing, sweat shirts and covered in blinky lights I would have passed on the whole idea of bike commuting and stayed in my car.

      I also think it’s a little unfair in 2012 to suggest that Cycle Chic is reinforcing culturally imposed standards of beauty. According to my mom, I came out of the hatch drawn to anything pretty, pink and shiny. Despite my sister’s best efforts to guide her daughter to pursuits other than fashion, her 14-year-old daughter is the same way. Are women biologically predisposed to care more about their appearance (whether as a means of attracting the opposite sex and insure the continuation of the human race or they just like to look nice)? I honestly don’t care either way. I can stand up for myself and demand equal treatment as men as easily in a pencil skirt as I can in faded 501′s. As a woman who celebrates the rapid approach of 50, I think that MCA does a good job in my book of depicting women (and men) of various ages and shapes and sizes on bicycles. Perhaps we don’t see the the morbidly obese on his blog because it is not nearly as prevalent on their shores as it sadly is hear in the States.

  11. Ryan July 24, 2012 at 4:24 pm #

    “Helmets and technical cycling clothes, are particular targets. In the annals of Cycle Chic, to wear these things is more than a fashion faux pas, it’s socially irresponsible;”
    My take isn’t so much with ‘cycle chic’ as much as it’s trying to normalize cycling — similar to how it’s considered “normal” to drive.

    When people in the local media where I live talk about anything related to bicycles, the first things they say are “better get the spandex and helmet out”.
    Despite countless emails to these people to point out that at least 90% of the people riding bicycles in my city don’t wear helmets and dress is regular clothes — the belief is “avid” or “true” cyclists wear cycling gear.

    This is the image far too many people have of cycling in North America.
    So I personally don’t have any issues when helmets and cycle specific (aka spandex) are a target…at least until people realize wearing such items doesn’t make you an “avid/true” cyclist.

  12. andrew July 24, 2012 at 4:44 pm #

    Mikael is a *Personal attack deleted. Civility, please, folks. – EB*.

  13. Archergal July 24, 2012 at 4:52 pm #

    OTOH, all those fashion pictures got me to ride in a skirt for the first time. This is only notable because I don’t WEAR skirts for daily wear. I’m a confirmed shorts/pants wearing woman.

    But I just wanted to see what the fuss was about. :) After the experiment, I went back to my regular nylon-cargo-shorts & t-shirt gear..

    • Bad Planner July 24, 2012 at 5:45 pm #

      Yeah, same here. I’ll occasionally bike the couple miles home from work in sundress when it’s really hot out, but it’s a lot more comfortable and I feel like a much more competent cyclist just wearing business-casual work slacks and not having to worry about them blowing around. If I need to be dressed up at work, I wear workout clothes and change.

      As for high heels, as far as I’m concerned that’s just silly. My commute is on urban streets with lots of traffic. I need my feet in full contact with the pedals and able to make solid contact with the pavement. I’ll wear sandals with a little wedge heel, but as far as I’m concerned “high heels on wheels” put women’s lives unduly at risk unless you’re riding a short distance, very slowly, on a wide path with no cars, light bike traffic, and very few pedestrians. Add to that an image I have burned into my head of a 62-year-old professional woman’s feet after wearing heels to work for 40 years, and real high heels are something I’ll only wear to the occasional club or wedding. Even then the stabbing pains in my feet make me feel like a bad feminist.

      Women are not going to be equal to men in cycling if they insist on selecting their attire and bikes for fashion rather than function. You can’t commute as far or go up as many hills on an upright cruiser as you can on a road bike or a performance hybrid. Of course on the plus side, if you commute on a beach cruiser, you’re not going to live on a cul de sac 20 miles from your job. :)

    • ladyfleur July 24, 2012 at 8:27 pm #

      Archergal, Props to you for trying something new, even if it wasn’t your kind of thing. Trying new things is what keeps us young.

      BadPlanner, Not a good feminist because you don’t like heels? Pshaw! That’s silly. Feminism is all about choosing how you express your womanhood, not letting social conventions constrain you. Good feminists wear flats, wear heels, wear skirts and wear pants. But you knew that already.

      As for choosing bikes for fashion: I choose my bikes like I choose my shoes–based on where I’m going, what I’ll be doing and what pleases me. When I want to go fast, far or on hilly terrain, I grab my carbon road bike. When I’m going 2 miles to the grocery, the road bike is useless. I take my steel Dutch bike, which not only looks fabulous, it can carry 40 lbs of food. I choose the right tool for the job.

      As far as equality with men: I’ve given up trying to keep up with the boys on their terms. Riding faster or going farther should not be a criteria for equality with them or respect from them. Then again, I’ve reached an age where I really don’t care as much about what they think. But I do think it’s funny when people underestimate my bike skills because I’m in a dress and heels on an upright city bike.

    • Elly July 25, 2012 at 8:28 am #

      Love that you tried riding in a skirt. It’s got to mean a lot of different things to different people, but when I ride a bike in a dress or skirt I feel like I’m in costume, in a parade. Which I enjoy, but not every day…

    • Bad Planner July 25, 2012 at 8:46 am #

      Perhaps you misunderstood. I feel like a bad feminist on the rare occasions I wear heels because they hurt my feet and I know that if I were a member of the privileged male class I would not be subjecting myself to that pain and reduction to my mobility.

      While some women are more adjusted to walking and doing other activities in them than others, high heels are not natural and research has demonstrated that long-term use of them contributes to orthopedic problems in a significant portion of wearers. I have yet to see a study on whether those women who feel very comfortable in heels at 25 have fewer problems at 65 than those for whom they were always painful, but even if wearing them didn’t cause me short-term discomfort and frustration, I would be very cautious about wearing them on a frequent basis. To me, they are something that was invented by a man to keep women vulnerable and weak and they’re pretty darn good at it judging by my friends who struggle to even walk on uneven sidewalks in the shoes they wear to work every day. Therefore, I very rarely use them and on the occasions I do I feel like a sellout as well as a person with sore feet and reduced mobility.

      As for “competing with the boys on their terms,” those are my terms too. I value being fast and efficient (not that I am super fast, but I see no reason to prioritize fashion over being as fast and agile on my bike as reasonably possible). I want to look halfway decent most of the time, but substance is much more important to me. I fully understand the practical compromise of wearing something that’s not the most comfortable cycling attire to avoid the time and hassle of changing at your destination (and as a resident of a neighborhood with a lot of bars, I greatly appreciate those who cycle to them rather than drive drunk), but I think there’s a line of practicality to be drawn somewhere, particularly in the US where most utlitarian bicycle trips involve at least some time on roads shared with sometimes hostile cars.

    • Bad Planner July 25, 2012 at 8:55 am #

      Sorry, last post was supposed to be directed @ladyfleur.

      By the way, I biked to work in a dress today, possibly in response to all this cycle chic discussion. I still don’t like it, but there are times when the weather is hot enough that the worry about it blowing around and getting caught and riding slower to avoid it blowing up around my waist is outweighed by the discomfort of wearing long pants. That’s one area where I definitely feel sympathy for men: there is no socially acceptable way for them to get out of wearing long pants to work (in an office) or other formal locations in the summer, regardless of how they get there.

    • ladyfleur July 25, 2012 at 12:44 pm #

      @BadPlanner How funny that you wore a dress today–I wore flats! I thought the flats looked better with my skirt. Didn’t make the ride to work any faster though.

  14. merlin July 24, 2012 at 5:13 pm #

    My impression: there are 2 main components to Copenhagenize.com. The one that’s discussed here is the marketing aspect – you don’t sell anything by telling people it’s dangerous and ugly but it’s good for you – you show happy, attractive people to imply that Product A will make YOU the customer happy and attractive as well. This tactic often involves gross objectification of women.
    The more important component to my mind is that you don’t create safety for bicycle riders by getting people to wear helmets and reflective clothing: you have to focus on “the bull” – which is the car, and tame the car. And, as numerous posts on Copenhagenize have documented, taming the car requires citizen activism.
    Vehicular cyclists have taken the opposite tack, insisting that “real” cyclists should act like cars, ride on the road with cars, and NOT create special infrastructure for bikes.
    By creating an international gallery showing ordinary people going about their business in ordinary clothes, the cycle chic movement has (I believe) helped focus the efforts of bicycle advocates on creating bike facilities for the “willing but wary” who would consider using bikes for transportation if they didn’t have to contend with cars.
    It’s too bad Mikael Colville-Anderson hasn’t grown up along with the phenomenon he started.

  15. Tim July 24, 2012 at 5:22 pm #

    I am so off the charts tired of getting lectured at by Mikael and his euro-finger waving tsk tsk. About as much as I tire of hearing John Forester berate me for advocating for bikeways.

    Great article…thank you.

  16. Amy July 24, 2012 at 5:52 pm #

    I pop in and check out his blog about once a week and have found his photography to be inspiring. Between his blog and about 2-3 others that I found several years ago, I might not have ever thought that it was possible to ride my bike in my everyday cloths, or in business cloths, or whatever. Short skirts and heels too. The only sort of cyclists I see around here are lycra clad and riding to train. So I found and continue to find his blog inspiring. And hell, I’ve even picked up a few style ideas there as well. But let’s be honest. MOST of the photos on his blog are not of scantly clad women on bikes like some other commenters would like to suggest. Most are of women, but quite a lot is of men, elderly, large groups in traffic, children being carted about, people carrying things, etc. And he’s a decent photographer, so that lends to the aesthetics.

    KJ said ” It’s only when I wear distinctly feminine attire that I get leered at, catcalled, honked at or otherwise. It influences my fashion choices! When i fit into M C-A’s atheistic, as I do like to get dressed up and I like fashion… I get unwanted and unasked for male attention. It’s uncomfortable and will KEEP women from biking! ”
    And I know women who feel the same way. Honestly I’m not one of them. When men do that to me, I take it as positive feed back. Hey I got noticed by the driver! They didn’t yell at me to get off the road! They passed with plenty of room! And WOOT! I must not look a wreck yet!

    Sam said “But why do so many women bloggers post photos of themselves on their blogs? And photos where they look very attractive and often very sexy? I thought Colville-Andersen’s point about looking at women was an honest sentiment.” (MCA: “Danish and European women just happen to be stylish. It’s elegant, it’s classy. It’s Europe. And, I’m a man. I enjoy looking at aesthetically pleasing women. If I lived in a forest, I’d probably take pictures of the nicest trees.”) And I TOTALLY agree and think that more men and women as well need to start being more honest with themselves in regards to this aspect of human nature. How did it become an offense to share what one finds attractive? Like he said, if it he were surrounded by trees, then it would be photos of the nicest trees.

    • Elly July 24, 2012 at 6:18 pm #

      Hey, thanks for the friendly dissent. I’m glad to hear you don’t feel objectified and that you find it all personally rather empowering. One clarification, though — Can’t speak for others here, but I’m in no way trying to say that talking about sexuality and attraction openly is wrong in itself. Hope that didn’t come through!

    • Amy July 24, 2012 at 7:53 pm #

      Elly – It seemed to me that there was a good bit of it in the comments. I guess I was more commenting on the comments than on your post! However, your statement “that there is not exactly a rich cultural tradition of men admonishing other men to shut up and look pretty, or be seen rather than heard, or to arrange their public lives so as to be aesthetically pleasing.” got my attention. Phrased that narrowly, your statement is true. But there IS still strong pressure from men onto other men to not show show weakness or vulnerability, you still hear “real men don’t cry” and “suck it up and be a man” all to fit into a male gender stereotype. Also, women objectify men just as much, and when we do it seems to be socially OK.

    • Elly July 25, 2012 at 8:39 am #

      I’m starting to lose track of the comments, but wanted to follow up with this. You make a super vital point about the problems with, for lack of a better term, mainstream representations of masculinity. Those pressures exist and in my mind a vital part of feminism is pointing that out and providing alternatives. That said, it remains that a critical analysis of the cycle chic manifesto yields a ton of feminine stereotypes, presented as mandates, that have traditionally been a part of a culture that doesn’t serve most people of either gender well. Finally, the issue with “objectifying” is not that people express attraction to each others’ bodies, but that this happens along lines of unequal power and tends to thus have a “policing” effect in many real world ways. Hope that helps wade through all the terminology rather than piling more on.

    • Bad Planner July 25, 2012 at 10:52 am #

      @Amy “Also, women objectify men just as much, and when we do it seems to be socially OK.”

      First of all, where are all the “cycle hunk” blogs, because I could use some eye candy? Where’s the market for straight woman-oriented porn that shows men complying with women’s every carnal desire or at least going to great pains to look attractive to us? Where’s the male make-up aisle in the grocery store?

      Secondly, when we ogle men (I don’t know that’s exactly the right word, but I wouldn’t call it objectify), there’s usually a different tone to it. It’s more respectful. We’ll drool over an athlete’s body, but still talk about him like a human being, appreciate his athletic prowess, maybe even be interested in what he has to say. The definition (as presented in the mass media) of what’s sexy in a man is much broader too. Men of diverse races, body types, and even ages are presented as objects of sexual desire because of their appearance in combination with intelligence, creativity, career success, etc. Women, both in cycle chic blogs and the broader media, are only presented in a positive light if they’re young, thin, and fair-skinned. Most men I know also have a diverse and nuanced view of female attractiveness, but that’s not usually how marketers (including Mikael) present it.

    • Amy July 25, 2012 at 3:09 pm #

      Elly – Maybe I missed something? I read the manifesto, and it all seems rather silly and tongue in cheek, but I don’t see where it is specific to women? I mean, I think that a guy could apply those “rules” to himself (and I do know plenty of guys who do a lot of those things, minus the bicycle part). To me, it’s right up there with “The Rules” of the Velominati (http://www.velominati.com/the-rules/) And really, who takes that seriously?

      Bad Planer said: ” when we ogle men (I don’t know that’s exactly the right word, but I wouldn’t call it objectify), there’s usually a different tone to it. It’s more respectful. ” Thanks for backing me up with that? I don’t think that’s what you were trying to do, but as a response to “@Amy “Also, women objectify men just as much, and when we do it seems to be socially OK.”” it seemed like it. Most straight women I know who see a shirtless muscle bound “hunk” don’t look at him and say ” Oh girl, would you look at him! Mmmm Hmmm… I’d like to find out his thoughts on Eastern Philosophy! (or something of the like). I don’t think it’s fair to suggest that ALL men drool over attractive women and don’t think of them as human beings. Likewise not all women drool over men with similar lack of thought.

      Also, why not start a “cycle hunk” blog? You would be the first! I mean, if you live somewhere with attractive cycling dudes, then go for it!

      Personally, I don’t label myself as a Feminist. I’m merely a human that happens to be female. I want for all humans to be treated equally. I do realize that there is still a lot of issues that keep women from being treated equally to men, but also that there are many issues that men face that keep them from being treated equal to women. For example, young men are still legally required to register for the draft and women aren’t. Funding and research for prostate cancer is WAY lower that that of breast cancer research, male rape victims? Ever hear of them? They are out there, same with male victims of spousal abuse, but no body wants to hear about it. Back to the “suck it up and be a man” attitude. It just seems to me that the inequality goes both ways, but the female side of the discussion gets much more recognition and I honestly find that in itself sexist.

    • Elly July 25, 2012 at 3:36 pm #

      Amy, all those topics are beyond the scope of this post, but I do agree that they’re well worth writing about, though it’s debatable whether or not it’s sexist to fail to mention them in any critical context that includes gender. Sounds like you have a number of strong points to make and I’d like to read what you come up with.

    • Bad Planner July 25, 2012 at 4:51 pm #

      Ok…my last response to any of the myriad of sidebars that have sprung out of this discussion.

      Amy – I would never say or imply that “all women” or “all men” do anything. Among other reasons, my own thoughts and actions are often more in line with overly simplistic notions of men’s behavior than women’s. I don’t see an individual eyeing up another individual privately or even sharing the thought with their friends as objectifying. I was talking about media images which are public and have the potential to impact the self-image of the target or a group that person belongs to, or the way another group views the subject group. I even stated that most men I know don’t picture women in the same degrading way mass culture portrays them for the supposed benefit of men.

    • Amy July 26, 2012 at 12:46 pm #

      Elly – Fair enough. Perhaps someday. :)

  17. Sam July 24, 2012 at 6:14 pm #

    Thanks Cecily for the links.

    I thought the narrative was mostly opinion (which I respect), but I’m not sure I understand the issue except for the insinuation that men are driving the force in dictating the narrative in film(?) which seemed overly moralistic and a bit insulting given that women do a majority of the purchasing decisions in this country. One of the arguments was based on a batman cartoon which is not a real argument. A more nuanced stance would be this video which I recently watched.

    Since I haven’t followed the crux of this argument, I really would appreciate links to the following statements (bolded) because I feel it would bolster your argument more and help me understand the issue, because I don’t really get it.

    Unfortunately, instead of sticking to this inclusive and welcoming message, Colville-Andersen takes every opportunity to instead police what people choose to wear, and in an alarmingly gendered manner. Dare to take issue, and he’ll draw the line even more starkly, dismissively accusing you of factionalism, in prose peppered with ad hominem attacks (try it, you’ll see).

    I’m familiar with his distaste for helmets, but haven’t noticed now it is “gendered”. I also dont’ know what “gendered” means (not being a troll, I really don’t understand what you mean when you use the term)

    • Elly July 24, 2012 at 6:26 pm #

      Sam, thanks for asking the tough questions (as always!). I’ll refer you to the comment from Lizbon for some of the examples you’re looking for, and to a browse through some of the posts in the Cycle Chic blog sidebar for more vitriol.

      Sorry about the obtuse terminology. Gender as a verb means … a concise definition is defying me right now … but basically, it means to imbue whatever you’re talking about with gender-associations that aren’t inherent in that thing.

  18. ladyfleur July 24, 2012 at 6:53 pm #

    I often wear skirts and heels when I ride to work because that’s what I wear for work and my commute is short. It get a wide range of reactions, from surprise to appreciation to annoyance. I’ve had people tell me that riding in heels is VERY DANGEROUS. Makes me chuckle because I know I do far more dangerous things on the bike, like carving down twisty mountain roads or rolling through rocky sections on the trail. Riding in heels is honestly much easier than walking in them and I’ve yet to be scolded for walking down the sidewalk in heels.

    My takeaway on “cycle chic” is that it’s culturally disruptive. It challenges what people think is appropriate so there’s criticism as well as wonderment. Like burning bras in the late 1960s or a married woman not taking her husband’s name even today. (Yes, I’ve been scolded for that too)

    It’s unfortunate that MCA takes a good thing—encouraging people to dress for the destination—and alienates anyone wearing helmets or sports apparel. It’s just as elitist as road racers’ disdain for hipsters or commuter Freds.

  19. April July 24, 2012 at 7:18 pm #

    As is often the case, Elly, you said a lot of what I’m thinking, but much more clearly.

  20. Syzlak July 24, 2012 at 8:42 pm #

    You make a lot of good points in this article. When I, a male, take pictures of “everyday bicycling”, I honestly take pictures of everyday bicycling. This is in part because so few people cycle in LA so I don’t have the privilege of only shooting non-helmeted riders, or people cycling in fancy clothes.

    Anyway, It’s my opinion that Mikael does go overboard at times and he does get rather defensive about his views, I mean he couldn’t even laugh at that cartoon (but I guess, as the founder of Cycle Chic he may hold the idea near and dear to his heart and understandably so).

    I haven’t followed the twitter debate you’ve been having in all that much detail, though I have actually met one of the people you’ve been arguing with (he himself was a pleasant person when I met him). However overall you seem to be the most calm and reasonable in the tweets I’ve read so I hope the cycle chic debate hasn’t drained you too much.

    Thanks for the post.

  21. Isobel July 24, 2012 at 9:13 pm #

    Hi! Thanks for this post! You seem to have really put your finger on something that has always bothered me about some elements of cycle chic. Although, I believe that the movement has some very positive elements. It’s a call for cycling advocates to think about how they can appeal to a ‘mainstream’ audience, which is so important if we’re really going to get the benefits that cycle friendly cities can offer us. Two things:

    If we’re talking about gender (and other kinds of) equality, then we need to be talking about and pushing for better infrastructure – this is the key to mainstream cycling, and something that can seem to get missed in some kinds of cycle chic movements (for example, Frocks on Bikes, and other ‘wear high heels and smile’ movements). We have the evidence to show that people need infrastructure to cycle, and particularly women, who in general carry more things when they travel (children, groceries) and are less willing to risk breaking a leg on their way to work. Cycling is an equity issue, if we think about the fact that people on lower incomes are going to be harmed more by car-centric planning as fuel prices rise. Lack of infrastructure is more harmful to these groups. An illustration of this is that people should be able to ride in their normal clothes – so, if you make comments like ““high heels on wheels” put women’s lives unduly at risk unless you’re riding a short distance, very slowly, on a wide path with no cars, light bike traffic, and very few pedestrians”, then the next thought needs to be that we need to get that environment where that happen. It’s about changing the enviroment, rather than what the person wants to wear. If they don’t feel they can wear heels on a bike, then my bet is that for lots of people it’ll be the bicycle that will be left at home rather than the heels, if they are not committed to cycling.

    The second thing is that I take issue with comments about the ‘impracticality’ of Dutch style bikes – in countries with healthy cycling culture, it isn’t just women in high heels that use them. It’s women not wearing high heels, as well as men, the elderly, children, everyone. There’s a number of things that make them good for everyday cycling. Perhaps they aren’t ideal for long, hilly commutes (although that depends who you ask) – but are we really going to get people who aren’t ‘cyclists’ to make long, hilly commutes? It’s important to get the message out that people don’t have to cycle up hills, for huge distances or in the rain – we still get the benefits if some short trips are made by bicycle instead of car.

  22. MG July 25, 2012 at 7:27 am #

    Thoughtful post, and I like many of the ideas here. However, call me uniformed, but I still find it impossible for me to embrace the term “cycle chic,” as I do relate it to gender stereotyping, as in young women wearing heels and dresses on cute mixtes. Perhaps that is due to the chic term, which I find inextricably linked to fashion. Cycling does not have to be a fashionable pursuit in order to be viable transportation method for women (and anyone else, for that matter). Thanks again for getting my brain going this morning w/ your post.

  23. Kerry July 25, 2012 at 8:13 am #

    Great post. Just wanted to note that much of this goes beyond cycling. Running is another sport where people get convinced you need $100 shorts and $200 shoes just to jog around the block, and where I often feel the need to defend the ability to run in, if not exactly “everyday” clothes, at least the ratty old gym stuff you already have in the back of your closet (vs in makeup and expensive Lululemon garb). I also would emphasize that I often feel objectified (and receive unwanted comments/attention) when wearing dresses, whether cycling or not, and that perhaps cycling just makes more visible an inherent cultural problem. It’s easy to think these problems are cycling-specific, but I think it’s just another–in many ways unique–venue in which more pervasive issues are played out.

  24. Jym July 25, 2012 at 8:20 am #

    • My own style is dumpster-diver meets software engineer, so I’m not exactly what one would call fashion forward. Still, I’m a bit of a visual aesthete, but I enjoy a wide variety of styles on bikes rather than what’s considered fashionable that week, which seems really dull, and insanely restrictive, particularly for women.

    When the cycle chic websites started showing up, I honestly don’t remember which one I first looked at, but it was mostly a gallery of unhappy women who obviously weren’t being photographed voluntarily. It seems to me that this would have the opposite effect from the manifesto. I was turned off to the entire genre, though I have coma across a few websites since then which feature a variety of styles and, shockingly, unfashionable smiling.

  25. Laurel July 25, 2012 at 8:32 am #

    Mr. C-A lost me when he said, in response to a photo of a cute girl on a bike added to the Cycle Chic flickr group, “helmets are not cycle chic, period” and the photo was banned. He owns Cycle Chic, and has google searches for the term, so if you dare type those two words together anywhere on the internet he will weigh in. He is a design purist, like most of the designers I’ve ever known, and he has an all-or-nothing vision for his Cycle Chic baby and any deviation from that vision will be swiftly reigned in. I get it, but I think it results in him alienating the wrong people a lot of the time. By the “wrong people” I mean regular people who are cycle-curious, not just the “cycle geek” athletes he presumes are the only people who could possibly object to his one-track vision of urban cycling. Honestly, this is why designers don’t work with customers. For PR reasons. Real people are too messy and ask too many questions.

    Anyway, as others have said, I think the Cycle Chic “controversy” has become a distraction from the core message, which is good: that people can just get on a bike and go where they’re going, same as they would if they were walking or riding transit or driving. Mr. C-A is probably flippant about critique because he hears it all the time, and it usually amounts to no more than excuses. Legitimate excuses, but excuses none the less. In the US we are constantly badgered with messages about safety, and the evils of sweat (it dries!), and the evils of high heels (seriously, easier to bike in than walk in!), and all the billions of bike-exclusive accessories we absolutely need for any eventuality (you live in a city, help is not far if something goes wrong!)

    We can talk about urban cycling without engaging Mr. C-A and his google search terms at all, and I think we’d be better off. He doesn’t own the phrase “just get on your bike and ride!” and I find that phrase a much better motivator anyway! :)

    • Erik Griswold July 26, 2012 at 11:59 am #

      Is this the Flickr Group that has the sentences “We prefer shots that feature cyclists WITHOUT helmets and ‘gear’. We’ll delete any shots that don’t adhere to our aesthetics. Please put your helmet shots somewhere else.” in it’s rules statement?

      So your helmeted cyclist photo got deleted (or “banned” as you call it) because it broke the rules, huh?

      Golly that’s surprising.

    • Laurel July 26, 2012 at 1:14 pm #

      Hi Erik,
      Yeah, that was the response that the person who posted the photo received when she objected to her photo being removed. And that’s totally legitimate, people can and should create guidelines for their flickr groups. I also heard that this flickr group gets trolled by photos of racers in helmets, and that’s really obnoxious and must be very frustrating for Mikael to have to moderate. Anyway, that isn’t the point. I shared this anecdote because it was that flickr incident when I realized that Cycle Chic wasn’t just about cycling while being chic, as I had thought as a casual browser of the group, it was specifically about celebrating a certain type of cyclist, and necessarily excluding another type, for ideological reasons. That, plus the way in which it was defended (similar to the sarcastic tone you use here, actually!), turned me off. Don’t worry, it is a popular movement, it doesn’t need my approval to thrive. Nor do I need the approval of Cycle Chic. :)

  26. darren July 25, 2012 at 9:02 am #

    I’m afraid i haven’t read all of the comments, but tend to agree wholeheartedly agree with those that I have. Hope i’m not repeating somebody else’s point, but on the flipside, I also hope that perhaps we can also throttle back on the slightly-derisive MAMIL characterization that’s spreading. While the issues of gender, sportiness, and dogmatic clothing dictates are very real and have been as (more?) toxic on everyday bicycling as the Chicery, as one who sometimes squeezes his “MAM” carcass “IL”, i bristle a bit when i hear that phrase increasingly tossed about.

    To the “get on your bike and ride” sentiment that most of us seem to share, I would add “no matter who you are, or what you’re wearing.” No bike rider is better or worse than another.

  27. Melissa July 25, 2012 at 9:15 am #

    Thank you for writing such a thoughtful blog post. I’m not at all in the cycle culture of Portland, but I am a regular bike commuter who is, also, often appalled by the lack of class in this town. I was fully prepared to applaud CC for encouraging people to put down the ugly spandex and dress like you care about how you look. (Portlanders wear tevas to the theater and women wear sports bras as daily wear. This makes me batty.) When I clicked over to the CC site, I was expecting useful, stylish ideas, not creepy stalker shots of young women.

    If anyone could point me to a blog that has cute cycle fashion for actual people who ride in the rain and then need to show up to work in a professional environment, please reply with the link.

    One more thing: helmets might not be chic, but you know what’s even less chic? Cherry pie head.

    • Elly July 25, 2012 at 9:22 am #

      Ha! Well, I’m guilty as charged. When I first moved to Portland from the east coast one of the first things that I noticed was that people would wear fleece jackets with their business casual. Shortly thereafter I noticed I’d become one of those people. There are some definite pockets of classiness here, though. And it isn’t local to us, but I recommend LGRAB as a good starting spot for classy clothes-interested bike blogs.

  28. Girly girl July 25, 2012 at 9:29 am #

    It’s called Cycle Chic, not Cycling in Sweatpants.

    The point is to show women who walk around in dresses and heels or skirts and more ‘feminine’ clothing on a regular basis, that they can cycle in those clothes on a regular basis as well. …Not that all women should wear flouncy dresses and ride a dutchie.

    As for this movement being invented by men in an attempt to “hold us down” as women… you’re not doing women any favours by criticizing the ones that like to wear dresses and heels (whether you think they were, again, invented by men as a trap to make us weak and slow…you’re kidding right?) I like to see men in suits, and it’s not like that provides them with the most mobility possible.

    Cycling to work in heels is better than driving to work in flats. And if you buy into the whole heels are bad for you medical drama, then I would like to see you wearing inverse heels, which is what they actually suggest. Flats are just as “bad” for you as they offer no support. And no support is what I see a lot of here, for women who are a little girlier than you’d like to see. It’s no better than the men complaining we’re not girly enough.

    • Esther July 25, 2012 at 10:13 am #

      Gonna chime in as a frequent heels-wearer who buys into the concept that heels are kinda bad for you. (In my defense I bike more than I walk, where indeed, they do not make a difference. I consider it to be my smoking.) And I agree that the MAJORITY of women’s shoes, flats AND heels, do NOT offer enough support especially for the arch of the foot.

      I kind of think you are missing the forest for the trees though. Elly is not saying that women don’t, or shouldn’t, wear “girly” clothes and cycle in them. Far from it. Her issue is that Mikael Colville Anderson is the one telling people what to do (or not to do.) Please re-read her article more carefully.

    • Girly girl July 25, 2012 at 10:51 am #

      My comments are directed at the commenters and not Elly’s article, apologies for not making that clear.

    • Bad Planner July 25, 2012 at 11:23 am #

      Girly girl, we are in absolute agreement that biking to work in heels is better than driving in any footwear. I don’t mean to be insulting to those who enjoy cycling in clothes that I find uncomfortable. Your style is up to you and your feet are yours alone to do what you like with. You’re right about “flats” too. I would no sooner go about my daily routine wearing shoes with no support than painful heels.

      That brings up another issue. Why is there not better footwear available for women? Every now and then, some designer comes up with a shoe that’s both attractive and functional, but they’re incredibly difficult to find, especially if your budget doesn’t accommodate $150 shoes. When comfortable but cute styles are created, they don’t seem to stay on the market for long. That’s probably why I get so annoyed with high heels (aside from scenes where I’ve literally had to help carry people over cobblestone streets because they couldn’t walk in their shoes – sorry if this offends but it’s not feminist or even sane to go out in clothes that render you helpless). The prevailing obsession with heels, and the fusion of high heeled shoes to our society’s definition of femininity, makes it very difficult for me to find shoes that fit my lifestyle.

      I don’t object to high heeled shoes being one of the available options or to people wearing them. I do object to the idea that “women in cycling” is “all about high heels on wheels” as was asserted in a recent cycling article. Both women and men should have the full range of footwear, clothing, and bicycle options available to them and be able to make the choice that best reflects their individual priorities. Diversity is good. The problem with cycle chic is that it reinforces a form of non-diversity that’s particularly harmful because of all the historical baggage that comes along with it.

  29. Krissa July 25, 2012 at 1:47 pm #

    I actually don’t read Colville-Andersen’s blog – for all his stomping about aesthetic, I find the layout and color scheme really off-putting – but I spent a frustrating 20 minutes flipping through his coffee table book last weekend and some very similar thoughts jumped out at me (Elly’s, not the commenters, although those are fascinating as well!).

    First, it’s worth pointing out that I actually do agree with the basic (but much more inclusive and loosely-defined) idea of the “just ride” philosophy. I bike in my everyday clothes, which in the summer is 99% dresses and skirts. Sometimes I wear low heels or wedges, mostly I wear flats and sandals. I usually wear my helmet because Brooklyn drivers are no joke, but if I’m cruising along the park paths or the greenways, or if it’s crazy hot outside, I will head out in a cute hat instead (I recognize that the logic applied here is a little spurious). I have a stylish bike that reflects my style, and I try to accessorize it accordingly. Then I draw the line at fetishizing the whole process and I just ride my damn bike.

    I found the language of Cycle Chic’s manifesto to be extremely prescriptive and elitist, even if it’s meant to be tongue-in-cheek. “I will endeavour to ensure that the total value of my clothes always exceeds that of my bicycle”? That’s pretty insulting to people who don’t buy couture and still manage to look and feel great about their style. And then there’s the “responsibility to contribute visually to a more aesthetically pleasing urban landscape” … or, less pompously, I could just bike because I like it, and because it’s something that’s healthy, engaging, and pleasurable.

    Mostly, I think of Cycle Chic as I do The Sartorialist; it’s not meant to be a reflective, inclusive snapshot of the culture. It’s what one visually-obsessed male finds attractive, and any attempts to package it with higher ideals is ridiculous. I would much rather read LGRAB, or Chicago’s Bike Fancy (who frequently interviews the women she photographs so that it’s not just eye-candy, but also an interesting perspective from a fellow commuter).

  30. X July 25, 2012 at 4:20 pm #

    An interesting post that tackles some common issues with the emerging and conflicting cycling culture of North America.

    The thing I admire about cycle chic is that it documents people who don’t consider themselves as part of the cycling community. They are just part of the community that happen to be photographed riding a bicycle.

    Citizens who are taking advantage of the benefits in their city that the previous citizens fought for.

    Toronto is changing and even though there is some conflict mainly due to the lack of proper infrastructure, people are inspired to ride by just seeing other people ride.

    Cycle Chic is almost the Ron Jeremy of the Virtual cycling community. Showing if someone can ride in heels than anyone can.

    People take notice of the beautiful and the ugly. Thankfully the site is Cycle Chic and not Cycle Shit.

    I support the movement as there is more good than bad that comes out of it. And let’s face it, without the drama we’d have less discussion. I’ve gotten to meet peoole from all corners of the world who just want to make their city better. Bikes and beauty are a side effect of a city that works for everyone.


  31. J.E. Sawyer July 25, 2012 at 4:31 pm #

    “I don’t know about Denmark”

    This disclaimer alone puts you in a more open-minded position than Colville-Andersen, who opines about personal cycling safety as though the streets of Los Angeles are comparable to the streets Copenhagen.

  32. Ray July 25, 2012 at 6:19 pm #

    I have to laugh at the thought of wearing what was in my closet when I first starting commuting by bike. I found out very quickly that blue jeans and any kind of shirt in my wardrobe just didn’t cut the mustard. Why? It’s just too damned hot and humid here in the eastern part of North Carolina.

    Off to the store! I’ve found over two years of commuting that the local department stores (J.C. Penney, Target, Wal-Mart, etc) usually have what I need: Moisture wicking tee shirts and moisture wicking short pants.

    Sure, I won’t be spied on by the lens in the hands of MCA, but at least I’m somewhat comfortable and having fun during the commute.

    When I see the beautiful people in MCA’s photos, riding so elegantly in Copenhagen, I wonder:
    1. Are there any hills on their commutes?
    2. What distance do they ride on their commutes?
    3. What’s the typical temperatures and % humidity when they commute?

    Come on over to the eastern part of North Carolina and try a bit of commuting in the summer. Use a minimum distance of five miles and include some hills. Let’s see how regular “office clothes” hold up!

  33. Julian July 26, 2012 at 12:47 am #


    Some valid and pertinent points in your piece.

    Luckily for us in the UK, we don’t seem to have any manifestos or dictats re bike style rides. There is an element of men perving on women attached to this culture, though – especially on Facebook.

    I moved in the opposite direction to you, a going from Lycra sporty/ utility riding to ( for me) a more useful everyday-clothes riding mode.

    I have also got sick (esp on group rides) of seeing people always riding in tatty looking, garish, sun bleached Lycra/dayglo/hi viz. it seems to me that this ‘tattiness’ has been the dominant form of the cyclist now for the last 25-30 years, so other issues aside I think a sea change is both healthy and inexorable, really.

  34. Stephen July 26, 2012 at 4:58 am #

    You state that CBC and its founder “promote[s] a vision of “normal, mainstream” bicycle transportation that is sexist, exclusive in many North American contexts, and unrealistic as an advocacy strategy.” I’m not sure I agree with that.

    I’m a male, like Mikael, who enjoys attractive women. Duh. But when I look at his website, I see pictures of all kinds of bicyclists. Sexist? I think that’s in the eye of the beholder. Not quite sure what exclusivity you’re referring to, but there are many large cities that are making impressive strides towards becoming more bicycle–friendly, and riding to work or the store in normal clothing, even stylish clothing, is feasible and even perhaps desireable. I’ve been commuting to work at my professional job for more than a decade in a medium-sized city in the Deep South with very hot summers punctuated by rain. I use to kit up to the nines, and after reading CBC, I now prefer to wear street clothes, even coats and ties when I need to, and bicycle slower on quiet streets. And yes, I think looking somewhat put together (if you don’t like the word “chic”) on a bike makes a very interesting political statement.

    I’m not sure CBC’s advocacy is an unrealistic strategy. If you divorce the message from the sender–just like I, as a professional city planner, learned to do when attacked by John Forester personally–the message is actually workable, although it tends to challenge the dominant idea that most bicyclists have, namely that bicycling in the street is inherently dangerous and that “serious” bicyclists have to ride racing bicycles and do the whole Lycra and clip-in shoe thing. I think, again, from a planning perspective, that creating bicycle infrastructure that allows people to ride in normal clothing under normal circumstances, rather than forcing them to act and look like racers, is a better planning strategy for increasing modality and reducing car trips.

    All clothing is a costume. Riding on public roads is a political act, as is bicycle commuting. And never pick an argument with someone who buy broadband by the terabyte…;)

    • Chris July 26, 2012 at 12:15 pm #

      Stephen, while I agree with some of your sentiment I really have to take issue with your comment about cycling being a political statement. That is the problem in North America where we must politicize everything and cycling is seen as some sort of lefty pursuit. It is absolutely not in Europe.

  35. Jess July 26, 2012 at 9:41 am #

    while i will always appreciate a good debate, i am torn about this article, elly. my full time job is bicycle advocacy, i am attending the PWPB ( i look forward to introducing myself to you), and as you can see from the website address, due to Mikael’s website, i began a satellite here in my city.
    prior to stumbling upon CCC, i never saw a website dedicated towards people riding bikes. i never looked at his website weighted on the ‘sexist’ side b/c i see plenty of photos of families on there, senior citizens, etc. which i am a big fan of. women are beautiful and if they are stylish on a more frequent basis over there then so be it, it’s not like he’s picking out their wardrobe. when i started biking seriously, all i saw on the roads were men in their lycra – i never fit that.
    aside from the clothing component, i know there’s deep rooted barriers as to why more women aren’t biking here in the U.S. but, let’s keep it real that clothing IS one of the main factors. in the U.S. and while mind sets are slowly changing, biking is still viewed as this recreational sport and hasn’t taken on the mindset that it is a viable mode of transport – sometimes more advantageous than a car. until the U.S. takes seriously, bicycle infrastructure (1.6% funding is a joke) where we are automatically thought of when designing or RE-designing our streets then i feel that in a lot of cities,drivers will still continue to look at biking as a ‘fad’ or some kind of ‘agenda’ behind it.
    do i get looked at for wearing skirts and heels and flats and suspenders – yes. BUT, i have yet to have negative feedback regarding my wardrobe and MORE women tell me ‘thank you, i didn’t think that was even possible on a bike but you showed me.’ that’s why i have my blog. maybe my blog is ‘apples’ and mikael’s is ‘oranges’ in that regard???
    we have a huge gender imbalance issue when it comes to bike riding and encouragement happens through the reinforcement of femininity, i’ll continue it.
    there is a ladies group ride called ’2 Wheels & Heels.’ it began via my friend in cleveland, ohio. it is now happening in: Columbus, Austin, Colorado Springs, Victoria B.C. Chicago, and Minneapolis. I began with 15 girls. Last night I had 30 and they all praised the ride. They’ve been ‘looking’ for this kind of ride. This ride makes them feel confident to take the necessary baby steps to start riding in the roads. the feeling of ‘intimidation’ has been disarmed. If the gender needle moves towards equilibrium then i’m doing my job.

    • Elly July 26, 2012 at 10:47 am #

      Hi Jess, (and everyone!) I appreciate your thoughts on this, and the work you do. Truly. I’m torn as well on the topic. I went through a phase of being super excited about the idea of cycle chic. At some point I started to see everything from a critical, feminist perspective (largely thanks to my experience with the US bike industry) and decided that it was WRONG to wear any girly clothes or … fortunately that didn’t last long, particularly thanks to meeting people doing good work like yours.

      Now I hope I have a more balanced view. On the one hand, it seems just as wrong, maybe even more so, to tell someone not to wear high heels as it is to tell someone to wear them. On the other hand, the sexism that is pervasive and taken for granted in most parts of the bike world (and the non-bike world), which the whole idea that women should be brainless ornaments is an integral part of, is a serious barrier to women bicycling. And to everyone bicycling — for instance, stereotypes of macho behavior for men (which I’m glad Cycle Chic also helps to break down; even though the stereotype of “listen fawningly to the lecturing man who is always correct” is just as bad) are just as problematic when it comes to everything from what kind of infrastructure is seen to be adequate to who gets to have what kind of fun on bikes.

      My whole purpose in this article is not to tear down Cycle Chic and throw it all out, but to provide a much-needed critique — keep in mind that a critique is by definition an analysis, not necessarily a hate-fest. In a recent interview, Mr. Colville-Andersen claims that there are no critiques of his work, and it seems that it is becoming well enough known in the US that allowing it to be applied as an orthodoxy, especially by a self-proclaimed “iconoclast,” is not the greatest idea.

      In close, I’m really stoked by the quality of the commentary here from a lot of different perspectives, and am excited to get back to writing about and discussing other topics with y’all.

  36. Lovely Bicycle! July 26, 2012 at 11:46 am #

    A lot of prescriptive, bullying attitudes on both sides of the argument is what I am seeing. I am uneasy with aspects of MCA’s approach for the same reason I am uneasy with aspects of many of the comments here. Human beings have this nasty tendency to police each other, with women being the most common targets. A is bad for you, B is foolish, C is unfeminist, X is elitist, Y is classist, Z is socially irresponsible… Bad girl. Good girl. Really? Here is my view: I don’t think anyone has a right to dictate (either explicitly, or implicitly via moralising and subtle passive aggressive insinuations) what others wear on a bike and what kind of bikes others ride. If we’re inspired to write about our own preferences that is grand; but putting down others is something else entirely.

  37. Chris July 26, 2012 at 12:23 pm #

    I must be missing something here. ” to tell someone not to wear high heels as it is to tell someone to wear them.” Who exactly is “telling” you what to wear? The whole point is, if you can bike in heels you can bike in anything. No one is dictating or telling anyone anything. People are free to wear whatever they wish to wear when riding a bike but photographers also have the right to shoot what they think is stylish. Putting bikes and fashion together is a wonderful thing but no one is forcing it down anyone’s throats. For all the detractors here, it seems everyone reads the blog! Why is that?

    • Erik Griswold July 26, 2012 at 12:47 pm #

      Bingo Chris!

      Those aren’t staged photos. That’s what you would see on the streets of Copenhagen with frequency if you got yourself over to Copenhagen (or Amsterdam or Groningen) on of these days. MCA doesn’t sit waiting for extremely long periods of time to capture those pictures. Yes, he may take advantage of the Nordic sun and its lingering sunset in summer and he may utilize the colors of certain buildings and walls in Copenhagen as backdrops, but those pictures are pure street photography otherwise.

      You remember street photography, right? That’s what a lot of people did before September 11th and paranoid jobsworth law enforcement made it an outright hassle in the “Land of the Free”. Want some great examples that captured the times and the fashions? Head on over to the Nick DeWolf Photo Archive flickr page(s). Oh wait on second thought don’t, he might be a bit too “sexist” for you.

      So MCA shows you what might be possible in America and it makes you jealous? Or, can we never do it because “we have hills” or “we have humidity”. No the reality is that we have a dominating car culture that is backed up by dinosaur road engineers that don’t get it that “peak car” has come and gone and “peak oil” is right around the bend. And they have accepted the tenants of the Vehicular Cyclists because it costs nothing out of their budgets to implement. Look at some of the other Bikeyface cartoons; it is clear that she understands this.

      I hope that those of you who do obviously follow the Copenhagen Cycle Chic blog will also visit the Copenhagenize.com blog to see what could be possible in the USA if decision-makers would stop cow-towing to car-addicts and the chaos they create; stop “Ignoring the Bull” and start preparing for the future.

  38. Keith Snyder July 26, 2012 at 12:45 pm #

    I find Copenhagen Cycle Chic so irrelevant to any part of my cyclocentric life (which sometimes occurs in street clothes, and other times occurs in Lycra or some combination of both, depending on whether I’m going to the greenmarket with my kids, commuting to work, or riding a brevet) that I can’t take it seriously as anything but pretty pictures in the first place.

    I agree that it objectifies, etc., but it’s such a frothy piece of nothing that the easiest solution for me is to cheerfully continue glancing at it once a year.

    Which I just did. DONE!

  39. Jym July 26, 2012 at 1:06 pm #

    • The meanies are weighing in, so it looks like it’s getting to be about time to put a fork in this discussion. I think Elly’s points are well-stated, as were others’, but now we’re getting to the portion where people react to stuff that wasn’t actually written.

    As I wrote earlier, I’m not much of a dandy myself, but my riding partner is. On our recent tour up Highway 1 she had on an outfit that probably cost as much as my whole wardrobe. She’s actually been photographed by Bill Cunningham in her “bike clothes” (Dries van Noten), and even more importantly, she gets lots of views in my flickr stream. I haven’t seen the likes of her in any Stalker Chic blogs, though.

  40. Jaume Saladrigas Cussons July 26, 2012 at 2:12 pm #

    I see nothing wrong in Cycle Chic. If anything it helps to promote certain fashion trends and the right of all to dress as they please – avoiding Lycra and stupid helmets. Women and men alike look sexier cycling when dressed elegantly. I can understand though, people in the US feeling offended by those of us which have chosen to support iniciatives such as Cycle Chic. The prudeness and “moral standards” so in vogue in the US, clash with the more evolved views we have in Europe.

  41. Ryan July 26, 2012 at 2:26 pm #

    Like I said in my comment above — I view cycle chic as trying to showcase people not wearing bicycle specific clothing (aka spandex).

    Far too many in North America actually believe you need to wear bicycle specific clothing while riding.

    I also understand why the Cycle Chic flickr group doesn’t want helmets. With helmets being discussed the past little while in Ontario, I have seen the fear mongering used by the pro-helmet side. They make it seem as if a helmet will help in every situation. Helmet laws and even promotion make riding a bike seem dangerous, which just puts people off.

    I still don’t see where cycle chic is sexist. I see people of both sexes and all ages.

  42. David July 27, 2012 at 6:03 am #

    You don’t want this to turn into a discussion about helmet usage, but one of your first comments is a misrepresentation (if not outright lie) about Coleville-Andersens’s stance on the issue. He does not argue against helmets, he argues against MANDATORY helmet laws. Huge difference. Makes it hard to take the rest of your article seriously.

    You sadly don’t get it. The real revolution in US cycling will come from getting non-sporty types on bikes, and the Cycle Chic movement can have a large impact on this group because despite what you think, there is a huge number of people out there who are indeed turned off to cycling because they don’t want to get “geared up” to do it. They will never be “riding fast across town on a sporty road bike”. Cycling is still a sport or a recreation here, not a mode of transportation, and whether you realize it or not, lycra and helmets are a deterrent to getting more people on bikes.

    • JAT in Seattle July 27, 2012 at 11:26 am #

      Perhaps you mistake “Critique” of Cycle Chic for “Criticism” one is a reasoned analysis of and one is a denigration of… Like a lot of the discussion of practical cycling Cycle Chic (and your post above) tends to deal in prescriptions and absolutes, and I think that tends to fail us all.

      My key take away from Cycle Chic and Coleville-Andersen is “You’re Not Doing It Right!” To me, it comes off as smug and that’s as likely to lose the hearts and minds as helmets and lycra are. If Elly and company are saying of Cycle Chic and Coleville-Andersen – hey we like to wear what we like to wear, but your site and attitude come off as condescending and a little pervy, I think we women-bicyclist-positive guys just have to shut up and accept that view.

      If wearing heels is a mandatory component to the widespread acceptance of cycling in America, David, I hear Manolo Blahnik now makes an SPD compatible model; what size shall we order you?

    • AA May 19, 2013 at 10:32 am #

      Nope, he argues against all helmets. If you say you wear a helmet, he will browbeat you, as if that will make you change your mind.

  43. Kristi Woo July 27, 2012 at 12:12 pm #

    Without having read any other commentary except the article and the comic and Michael Coville Andersen’s reply:

    hmmm… I guess I would say that there is a balance. Where what is comfortable for you and what is functional for you on a bicycle. Wear what makes you safe as well. If that includes lycra or a tweed blazer, heels or sneakers then wear it – wear what suits YOU.
    As a designer, I think some things look better than others in clothing, but I also think some music, food and art is better than others. It can come down to technical details, like lines, contours, shapes and colours, but in the above convo, it’s clearly not about that. On the surface, it’s more about taste ( and it’s clear lots of us have different views on that), but deeper down it’s seems to me that it’s about how we choose to express our freedom in cycling through our garb. Our costumes are our armour – helmets, heels or not.
    Overall, though, the thing we all share, is the love of cycling, the independence that it provides us (<3!), and possibly the forward moving beacon of hope it provides for a better, more interactive, cleaner living future.
    I know that I'm a maker of cycling and travel specific clothing so it may be seem, to some, contradictory to say all of the above, but really it's not because what I design is meant to fit into existing wardrobes to make the cycling and travelling garb more functional and/ or stylish, whatever that means to YOU. That is the bottom line, every person has a different idea of style, so go with it, whether it's the flannel grunge t-shirt, the hipster version of it, or a highly reflective vest. Wear it as long as reflects ( no pun intended) YOU.
    To the collective journey on two wheels ~ <3
    Kristi @ riyoko
    p.s – I do see where you, Ms. Wright, and you, Ms. Blue are coming from – that the stereotype of women is being propagated through a mandated visual representation in fashion. It's a hard subject to control though. What I can hope, and see happening all the time, is that once other sisters get on the bike, that they make informed decisions as to what they choose to wear, equally, if not more importantly based on functionality and safety that on style. If the two mesh, then that is even better (from my designer opinion and eye;)). We all have something to appreciate in our individual styles — without them, there would be no such thing to call style. <3

  44. Ryan D July 27, 2012 at 12:59 pm #

    Getting dogmatic about clothing seems pretty silly. I wear what’s appropriate for my ride: my current commute is a pretty casual 10-15 minutes, so I wear whatever I’m wearing to work. It’s super convenient, so why not?

    But my last job was a 30-minute ride away, about a third of it significantly uphill, so I wore “bike clothes” – there was no way I could do that ride in “regular clothes” and show up in any sort of respectable state.

    I change my attire when I walk, too. I usually leave my good shoes at work, and walk back and forth in a pair of more comfortable shoes that I’m not worried about getting wet or dirty. And when it’s really hot, I often wear a light gym shirt while I’m walking & sweating, and change into a dress shirt at work. I hope I haven’t violated any “Walking Chic” commandments. :)

    • Kristi July 27, 2012 at 7:05 pm #

      This could be true. I think I may have gotten a bit carried away with ‘beacon of hope’ – but everything else I stand by.

  45. Rollie July 30, 2012 at 9:12 pm #

    This “movement” was dead long before you put this final nail in the coffin. Because first of all, why does everyone need a frigging IDEOLOGY to go do the simplest of things? But besides that, “Cycle Chic” was a stillbirth from the very moment someone coined the name. In fact you really needn’t look any further than the name itself. Cycle Chic. It’s one word too many. Fully half of it is fluff. Cycle is the only important part. But I suppose Cycle Keep Your Stupid Ideas To Yourself doesn’t quite have that ring to it, plus look at how I’m already getting all extremist and dogmatic. Distrust all “movements.”

  46. Stephen July 31, 2012 at 10:02 am #

    Oy, is the horse dead yet? This was amusing to a point–beyond that, it neatly illustrates the bicycle-advocates-as-circular-firing-squad mentality in the U.S. that prevents us from being taken seriously in many planning and engineering offices. All this kvetching over a few pictures of women riding bicycles in heels taken by a guy who cheerfully admits he likes to take pix of stylish women (and men) in Copenhagen turned into feminist diatribes against high heels, sprinkled liberally with shots against and for helmets, and charges of voyeurism against MCA. Let’s give a rest, shall we? No one’s being forced to wear heels or dresses or give up helmets, and no one has to go hear MCA talk, or even visit his website. I’m with LadyFleur–this is much ado about nothing…

    • Jym July 31, 2012 at 10:11 am #

      Cool story, bro.

  47. Julie Hardee July 31, 2012 at 8:08 pm #

    You probably aren’t even reading comments at this point, but I wanted to thank you! I didn’t know that ONE MAN takes credit for the movement and excludes helmet wearers and whatever else doesn’t please him aesthetically enough.

    [personal insult deleted! - eb] and I hate that he gets so much credit and I hate that people continue to put him on platforms where he can mislead the masses with his message then pick and choose who is actually hot enough.

  48. Erik Sandblom August 20, 2012 at 8:17 pm #

    I think there are some exaggerations and false dichotomies in this post. Mikael doesn’t police people, he’s just not afraid of calling out bad advocacy. If you’re referring to the winter cycling infographic, the author says it wasn’t meant as advocacy. But in the same flickr stream there are other political images advocating for cycling.

    You say people figure out that they don’t need lycra to cycle, but 99% of journeys in the USA are not done by bicycle. Some advocates take the same willful position that helmet promotion doesn’t deter cycling, because they wear a helmet and it doesn’t deter them. But even in Portland, over 90% of commutes are not done by bicycle. So a lot of people don’t have it figured out. And it’s not just a matter of bike paths, it’s about attitudes too. 40% of trips in the USA are two miles or less, and every car driver has a driver’s license and experience with traffic. Sure, not everyone can cycle every trip and sure, much of the infrastructure needs a lot of improvement. But still, the numbers don’t add up.

    You say that cycling is being defunded because it’s viewed as an elitist, leisure activity. Well sure, if we say that lycra and helmets are no problem at all, then opponents of cycling will say it’s a leisure activity. It’s ironic that John Burke’s blog post lamenting the transportation bill has 100% sporty cyclists with helmets in the masthead.

    About “contributing visually to a more aesthetically pleasing urban landscape”, to me that’s a matter of being proud. For many people, dressing up a little makes you feel good about yourself. I’m thinking Gary Fisher or Portlandize. This is often forgotten. Looking good says “I have a right to be here” in a natural and understated way, which can be important in any situation, not least cycling.

  49. missbabounette November 14, 2012 at 1:21 am #

    I actually do not understand this post. I do not see what is so offensive with Cycle Chic. I do understand that there is a cultural difference about what Americans and Europeans consider “everyday wear” or even “work clothes”. I also understand that in the US many people ride their bikes as a sport and may find it offensive should others decide to do otherwise.
    From what I have seen in the Cycle Chic blog, it is understood that when you ride a bike as a sport, it is normal to gear up, but when riding a bike to go to work, school, grocery shopping or for a small stroll, why gear up? That is the essential message of Cycle Chic: to ride your bike as a means of transportation. Wearing what you would in your car, but on a bike.

    The problem with cycling in the US is not the clothes people wear, it is the infrastructure. People are not encouraged to cycle otherwise than as a sport. Many routes in the US lack cycle lanes and when they do have lanes, they are not seprated from the road.
    Also, it is not a problem of wealth either; you can’t get cheaper than a bicycle as a means of transportation (well your legs I guess). As for the “chic clothes”, that is all of personal preference and anyone can be “chic”, especially today with stores that offer cheap yet classic clothes, or thrift stores, or Ebay. Again, the word is “chic” and not “designer”. Don’t mix them up.

    Personnaly, I hate wearing high heels. They hurt my back and my feet, so in the summer I wear flats and in the winter i have boots with 2cm of heels. I do get why people have an issue with heels and cycling. Is it dangerous? Probably as much as walking in them (which in my case is very dangerous). If you closely look at the Cycle Chic blog, as I have almost seen every picture posted, then you will notice that most women don’t wear high heels. So again, I don’t get the criticism there either.

    Finally, it has been pointed out that Cycle Chic is mysoginistic and that the author of the blog show what he thinks women should look like and only photographs women.
    Firstly, he a guy and a photographer, so indeed he is more likely to photograph women than men, though there are many men in his blog. Secondly, if you take the time to read the comments on the blog, then you would know that most “everyday bicyclists” are women and not men. Finally, if you define someone who takes pictures of women in their everyday clothes, that can go from a miniskirt with heels, to leather jackets with bikers boots, as a “gendered manner” than I am glad that this man photographs women who all have their personal style, and are not dressed up as many think so. (I find it offending that people in the US consider the pictures of Cycle Chic as women “dressed up”. Open your mind up a bit and understand that there are cultural differences between countries). If anything, than I have encountered more snobbish comments on US blogs that I ever have on Cycle Chic. Snobbish comments stating that an almost $200 saddle is worth it to look stylish!

    I find what Cycle Chic does really nice. I a blog of a guy who photographs real everyday people riding their bikes with their personal style. He states that you shouldn’t buy cycling gear (again to go to work, school etc…) that you just have to open your closet and voila! How can that be elitist? He photographs mostly women, and good for him. The relationship between bicycles and women’s emancipation is a beautiful one, glad to see it still lives on!

    Before taking a stand against Cycle Chic, perhaps you should look at ALL the pictures in the blog and decide if realy all the women in the pictures wear expensive skirts and heels.
    Just take it for what it is, a street fashion blog with bicycles in it.

    • Dmitri F January 30, 2014 at 8:59 pm #

      You summed up most my points in your excellent comment, thanks.

      It should also be noted that these days about half of Copenhagen Cycle Chic photos are taken by a co-blogger who is a woman.

      The fact is, Cycle Chic has been wildly successful at showing people around the world that cycling is normal. The response to his first “Cycle Chic” photo was surprise from both women and men alike – surprised that you can ride your bike in a skirt and without wearing “weird clothes”. Plenty of weirdoes commented on the fact that the woman was not wearing a helmet. That alone was what prompted him to start the blog in the first place.

      And yes, plenty of women actually dress like that in Copenhagen, Stockholm and many other European cities. Come here in the summer and you’ll see.
      One key reason is that much of the year we have to wear ugly winter clothes and spend most of the day in darkness. So naturally people tend to dress nicer to compensate in the summer months.

      And while there are actually many photos of men on Cycle Chic, the fact is that the absolute majority of cyclists in the “3rd world countries of cycling” are men, so one of the main aspects of Cycle Chic is to show women that you can ride in whatever you wear daily. And in fact to show that women can indeed be a majority of people on bicycle in a city.

      But I think the key issue is that MCA does not see himself as a cyclist, his message is primarily directed at non-cyclists.
      Cyclists in the US and most other countries are a clear minority and so he actually doesn’t care what most cyclists think of him and his message, as long as they do not resort to personal attacks and name calling.
      Naturally many cyclists in countries with bad cycling infrastructure will be dedicated cyclists. When these cyclists raise their voice, they often talk about how bad protected infrastructure is, how good helmets are, and how good taking the lane is.
      In my view, taking the lane is a useful safety precaution, but it should be equated with carrying a gun for protection in a bad neighbourhood, and not be promoted as some sort of “perfect cycling utopia”.
      In MCA’s view, it’s the spawn of the devil – because if the reaction is anything less, the city will take the cheapest route – paint some sharrows and call it a day.

      Helmets? They might have some use in some places sure, but since helmet promotion is so strong from both cyclists and governments alike, the message against helmets needs to be ever so strong.

      Just the other day an advertisement showing a woman cycling in a dress without a helmet was banned by the british censorship board, specifically because she was not wearing a helmet.
      This if anything is proof that the fight against helmets needs to be intensified.

      MCA does not berate anyone for wearing helmets. He berates cyclists and especially governments, for promoting the wearing of helmets based on flimsy evidence and more often than not, personal anecdotes.

      In Copenhagen more women cycle than men. In Copenhagen women and men alike dress fashionably, even if just going about their daily lives. In Copenhagen there is excellent bicycle infrastructure.
      MCA is from Copenhagen and his message is clear: If you want more normal people to bicycle, you need to show people that cycling is normal, you need to build infrastructure and you need to stop listening to vehicular cyclists.


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    [...] the influence of women grows across all types of bicycling, there has been quite a bit of debate about the representation of gender in everything from ads to advocacy campaigns, race tracks to [...]

  12. Bikeleague.org Blog » Blog Archive » Image Matters: Elly Blue’s Bike Test - September 20, 2012

    [...] the influence of women grows across all types of bicycling, there has been quite a bit of debate about the representation of gender in everything from ads to advocacy campaigns, race tracks to [...]

  13. Cars banned from Paris roads; bikes banned in Iowa; anti-dooring campaign launches in NYC; bicycle superhighways in the sky. and more « Cascade Bike Blog - September 25, 2012

    [...] As the influence of women grows across all types of bicycling, there has been quite a bit of debate about the representation of gender in everything from ads to advocacy campaigns, race tracks to [...]

  14. Danish Modern: Copenhagen Cycle Chic’s Mikael Colville-Andersen | Grid Chicago - November 16, 2012

    [...] helmet promotion troubles many North American advocates. And at least two female bike bloggers have critiqued his Cycle Chic aesthetic and rhetoric as being sexist, elitist and counterproductive for encouraging regular folks [...]

  15. Siti Baik: Bikes, Fashion, and Heritage | Woman On a Wheel - December 7, 2012

    [...] During my time here in Jogja I’ve been hanging out with a bike fashion group, which is something new and different for me. I’ve never been one to participate much in bike groups centered on fashion; partially because it just hasn’t been my jam, and also because there are many aspects of the Cycle Chic type bike fashion movement that I find problematic (Elly Blue provides a thoughtful critique of the Cycle Chic movement here). [...]

  16. Da li je ova stvar seksistička? Uvođenje “Biciklističkog testa” | cyberwanderlust - April 30, 2013

    [...] je uticaj žena rastao u svim vrstama biciklizma, vodile su se mnogobrojne rasprave o prikazivanju polova u svemu od oglasa do lobističkih kampanja, od trkališta do sastanaka [...]

  17. The Cycling Community Can Do Better | echo in the city - February 21, 2014

    […] to dress stylishly on a bike, I am talking about something very specific here, and I refer you to this excellent post by Elly Blue for the full […]

  18. *Another* Critique of Cycle Chic | Intentio Lectoris - April 15, 2014

    […] Blue at Taking the Lane has already written the feminist takedown of Mikael Colville-Anderson’s Cycle Chic movement that needed to be written—but there are […]

  19. Weekly Lines for May 18th: Just how feminine are you? | The Foundling - May 18, 2014

    […] wearing make-up and dress more like a man should be a choice. Female cycling enthusiasts like Elly Blue are trying to spread the word that cycling can easily fit into a woman’s everyday lifestyle, […]

  20. Three Things to Love About Elle’s “Biking in Style” | flying frames - July 9, 2014

    […] of stylish, functional gear to the perceived need for special riding clothes to commentators’ emphasis on fashion all-together.  I am certainly one of these critics.  Depending on my level of frustration with gender norms in […]

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