Bikes and fashion (and me) meet in Blacksburg next week

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The lady in this photo is Sheilanova Molina y Vedia, our host during our brief stay in Austin two weeks ago, looking chic as she headed out to her office, by bike of course. Though we stayed at her house, we only saw her for a few minutes; she was busy organizing a bicycling fashion show. Her philosophy, she told us, is that “Every woman can look beautiful riding her bike — and also sort of Mission Impossible. That’s my vision.”

Clothes and appearance have not often been at the top of my mind, and especially not in the last few years. But I have unexpectedly had a few opportunities to reflect on bicycling and fashion in the last month of tour.

Before we left on this tour, I asked my friend Ellee Thalheimer, who is from Little Rock, Arkansas, for tips on how to comport myself here in her native South. For starters, I needed to look nice, she said. It would put people at ease and make them more receptive to my message.

So we went through my closet, and she approved only a single item — a black denim dress with pockets. Shaking her head at my paucity of options, she told me I needed to go shopping, and then delivered one final piece of parting advice: “Do *not* smell bad.”

Those words have been ringing in my ears since, during long, hot drives, load-ins in 80+ degree weather, and even a mountain bike ride that involved clambering over an eight foot fence, from all of which the dress has emerged somewhat worse for the wear (though that hasn’t stopped me from wearing it anyway — sorry, Ellee).

As a result of her advice, though, I’ve done laundry a bit more often than I might otherwise have thought to. And maybe it’s my imagination, but it does seem like days I wear that dress people are a bit friendlier and chattier after our events than on the days that I give up on fashion and hygiene and just wear old jeans and a sweaty t-shirt.

It’s enough of a difference, though, that I’ve been thinking that when we get home I’ll consider taking a little more care with things like looking presentable. Perhaps looking sharp once in a while will bring out some friendly smiles and make Portland seem a little less grey this winter.

Sheilanova’s philosophy is similar to that of Pedal Chic, the bike shop that is sponsoring our Greenville, South Carolina event tomorrow. It’s one of only a few (or maybe the only) women-specific bike shops in the country, and I’m looking forward to visiting.

I have another good reason this week to think about fashion: on Tuesday, May 1st, we’ll be in Virginia for the Blacksburg Cycle Chic Commuter Celebration and Fashion Show. It’s put on by a super energetic Virginia Tech student and activist Lyndsay McKeever, who has in the midst of a semester has created and promoted what promises to be a really interesting and well-planned event. I’ll be giving the keynote address, speaking about the economics of bicycling and the gender gap. If you’re in the area, come by!

It’s fascinating to watch ways that the bicycling movement has integrated with fashion and how the conversation about gender has fit in to that. While I have some quarrels, I also have great admiration for anyone willing to get out and ride a bike at all, much less in an outfit that many might consider impractical or outlandish. I’m looking forward to reporting back from Blacksburg next week. Stay tuned!

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