Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Feminine Cycling For Everybody!

Photos by Sam Polcer

As I was writing a rather long comment on this Atlantic Cities article, it occurred to me that I should write a blog on the topic of what femininity means in cycling. I want to look at the big picture so I'll be considering what it is to use bikes the way women use bikes. Anyone can ride a bike the feminine way. It is simply this: riding slowly, in your normal clothes, with the means to carry stuff (or tiny people). A man on his way to work may very well ride in the same manner. Or he may just be concerned about his appearance. In the article, "How to Look Good on A Bike," Sam Polcer offers these tips to Esquire readers
Keep in mind that the vast majority of your fellow cyclists dress purely for comfort or aerodynamics, with fashion taking a backseat, so it’s actually a lot easier for you to impress on a bike.
Pace yourself. Sweat stains are never fashionable.

Dress for where you’re going, not how you’re getting there. If you’re going to the beach, dress for the beach. If you’re going to a cocktail party, wear a suit. Like I said, there are very few rules. Just watch that pant leg.
Outside of fashion concerns, riding the feminine way is about being able to ride with other people whether that means carrying small children or riding with older children, friends, or a partner. Feminine cycling is a widely shared activity, not limited to the fastest with the fastest bikes and most aerodynamic gear. Feminine cycling requires the space (read: infrastructure) to accommodate commuters and recreational cyclists, elders and youngsters. It then returns that space to the public, not just the athlete or the motorist.

Feminine cycling slows city streets down to a livable pace. In order to have widespread cycling in cities, speed limits must be lowered, traffic calming measures implemented, and segregated bike lanes built. All of these changes will make pedestrian, bicycle, and automobile movements more predictable and make everyone safer. If improvements to public transit were also made, automobile traffic might decrease in a real way as drivers would see viable alternatives to getting around the city.

I like framing all of these positive changes in cycling culture as feminine. I like that, for once, there are many voices saying that the masculine standard—in this case, male-dominated athletic cycling culture—isn't the standard at all. I hope that when better cycling infrastructure arrives and all the benefits to society are obvious, a mighty blow will be dealt to this country's miserable lack of political will to do anything that overtly helps women. On every city street there will be concrete evidence that what supports women benefits everyone.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Cycle Chic Shame

Stylist, Catherine Baba via Fashion Tadpole

Catherine Baba on a Martone Cycle Co. bike via Bike Pretty

It's always gratifying when you're kicking around an idea and you discover someone entertaining a similar notion. The other day, Christina of City Girl Rides voiced her frustration with "fashionable cyclist shaming." That's not her terminology, but for the sake of brevity and to serve my purpose, that's what I'll call it. I've touched on this topic before when I tried to make a distinction between how cycle chic had been appropriated by some and what cycle chic actually represents. As I've said before, I believe that cycle chic is about normalizing cycling to the point where riding whatever bike you have wearing the clothes in your closet is not a huge deal. It is not about establishing some de riguer mode of cycling. In fact, I think that the fashionable cyclist shaming is about reenforcing the technology and componentry fetishisation which supports jargon, tribalism, and consumption of expensive bikes and accessories. I don't want to take anyone's alleycat or century away from them. Have all the cyclocross bikes you like and wear a bib and an aerodynamic helmet if you want. I don't believe that my pretty bike rolling down the street diminishes the super light, technologically-advanced bike on the street at all. I don't believe that the heels I wear diminish anyone--not even another woman--who clips their feet onto their pedals. Perhaps this opposition is the natural reaction of a large entity, like the bike industry, which can't change just like that. Concern on the part of female critics is certainly not unfounded, but the critique that's often made is problematic.

One complaint that I've seen in some comment sections is that cycle chic creates an expectation for all women to wear skirts, heels, makeup, etc. while riding a bike. I don't see how the answer to this problem is to argue that women shouldn't wear skirt, heels, and makeup while riding a bike. The problem is the belief that womanhood is monolithic and that there's only one kind of real woman: If you're not conventionally feminine, you're not enough of a woman and if you are, you're not your own woman, you're brainwashed.

The main critique seems to be that bringing fashion into cycling is bad for female cyclists because fashion teaches women to tailor their appearance to male tastes. I don't buy that. Even though I've only found this one survey that supports the contrary, I think its widely known that women dress for other women. Moreover, I think fashion is a form of self-expression that allows women a lot of liberty. No colors or fabrics are off-limits to women. We can even appropriate men's clothing, like tuxedos. On the other hand, shame will not allow Anthony Bourdain to wear red pants. Just consider some of the things he's ingested and turn that statement over in your mind a bit.

Before I start to ramble, I'll cite a better feminist blogger who gets to the point succintly:

"Fashion is one of the very few forms of expression in which women have more freedom than men.

And I don’t think it’s an accident that it’s typically seen as shallow, trivial, and vain.

It is the height of irony that women are valued for our looks, encouraged to make ourselves beautiful and ornamental… and are then derided as shallow and vain for doing so. And it’s a subtle but definite form of sexism to take one of the few forms of expression where women have more freedom, and treat it as a form of expression that’s inherently superficial and trivial. Like it or not, fashion and style are primarily a women’s art form. And I think it gets treated as trivial because women get treated as trivial."

Some of us just wear clothes and some of us strive to put together a look. Not everyone expresses herself in the same way so it's not mandatory that female cyclists fly the cycle chic banner. But it's not okay to exhort other female cyclists to be real cyclists who ride a certain kind of bike and the expert-approved shoes. It's not okay to say that a certain bike will be bought by people who just want it to look good in their apartments because the bike company was founded by a fashion industry insider. Catherine Baba obviously rides hers.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Philanthropic Cycle Chic: Part 3

Zambikes makes a bicycle trailer that organizations and individuals within the country have outfitted to serve as ambulances.
The zambulance.
The incredible machine pictured above isn't for sale outside of Zambia. It is one of the good works produced from the proceeds of the sales of Zambikes' bamboo mountain and road bikes. The Ministry of Health in conjunction with the Malaria Consortium has distributed fifty "zambulances" itself, while Zambikes' efforts have placed another 900 bikes throughout the country. They train people to become bike mechanics and started a social ministry last year to train deaf and mute people to become bike mechanics. They also expanded into Uganda and plan to develop their social enterprise there through the end of this year. On their donation page, they've announced plans to begin distribution to South Sudan and fund twenty-five zambulances there. They also need help with their stalled project in the Democratic Republic of Congo; the zambulances are on the ground, but the means of distributing them to 120 villages in need have dried up.

UBB pannier

UBB handlebar bag

Both United By Blue bike bags are made of 100% organic canvas and come with a year guarantee. With the purchase of each UBB product, you help support the company remove one pound of trash from the world's oceans and waterways. They've also virtually eliminated plastic from their production process so they're doing their part to keep plastic out of the environment in the first place.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Philanthropic Cycle Chic: Part 2

Miir Bicycles High 5 Diamond Frame

Miir Bicycles High 5 Mixte

Miir Wave Single Speed

Miir Bicycles Bambini balance bike

MiiR started out as a company that made water bottles and used the proceeds to provide clean water to communities lacking this necessity. Now, they've partnered with Kevin Menard of Transition Bicycle Company to make bikes to answer the transportation issues of communities in need. For each bike purchased, one person gets a bicycle.

Obviously, MiiR is serious about its bikes. Menard brings over ten years of experience to this new initiative and the team has put together four simple bikes with quality components in lovely colors. All of the models are currently available, except for the Bambini which won't ship until the end of September.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Philanthropic Cycle Chic: Part I

The Bombay Express: A 20" bike for women or men .

The Maharani: A 22" loop frame "named in honour of the lady consort of a regal Maharjah."

Semester Bicycle's CityBike. They also make a Commuter. Each is available in 52, 56, or 60 centimeter frames.

I had hoped to get a gander at the Feed USA folding bike for Target, but my tiny local store didn't have one. I thought it might disprove my fears about the quality of the bike. After searching for reviews of Target's previous specialty bikes, I didn't find much. One blogger with bike knowledge gave the Missoni x Target bike a disparaging in-store review, but no one seems to have ridden one and loved (or loathed) it enough to blog about it or drop a review anywhere. Considering this, I'm sure you see why I didn't have high hopes for the latest Target bike. And that sucks because cash from each bike goes to charity. I started wondering if there were other bikes for sale that helped good causes. I'm happy to say that there are and they seem to be legitimate road machines.

The Indian Bicycle Shop This London-based business partners with The Mann Deshi Foundation to support the education of underprivileged girls in rural Maharashtra, India. More than half of girls leave school (which is free) before age ten, in part, because transportation is expensive. For every ten bicycles purchased, one bicycle is donated to a girl in need of reliable transportation. The bicycles are made by a family-owned Indian company--KW Bicycles-- that makes most of its parts in-house and bought much of its tooling machinery from the former bicycle-manufacturing capital of Nottingham, England. It's no happy accident that KW's steel roadsters have the looks of an English classic. There are four different frames--three of them have top tubes which gives ample opportunities to male feminists to support this project.

Semester Bicycles On their Kickstarter page is a diagram of their innovative "hextubes," but it's the result that blows me away. Their bamboo bike is so slick--not at all homemade-looking like their previous bikes. I think this is a huge leap forward for bamboo bikes even if the frame isn't solely bamboo. In a group picture, a Semester team member is holding a bike with sky blue stays and chainguard and a brown saddle--the color story is lovely. These bamboo bikes could be quite pretty! Even if you're not in the market for a new bike, I urge you to check out their campaign and consider backing their venture. This new small business will help support the revitalization of the economy in Alabama's rural, forgotten Black Belt. The Black Belt was named so for the area's rich topsoil, but also took its meaning from the large number of slaves used to drive the plantation economy in its 17 counties. The black population created a prouder legacy for the area by making it the crucible of the Civil Rights movement. I think that a community that committed itself so passionately to a struggle against enormous odds and violent hatred is a great candidate for an economic rebirth one small  green business at a time. They have proven their patience and fortitude.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Bloggy Atlanta Goodness

The MARTA Chronicles is hilarious. I'm pretty sure that this transit rider's experience applies to many systems across the nation. Enjoy.

Also, check out this blog especially for Atliens, ATL Urbanist.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Team Cycle Chic

ugly truth
Photo: Garance Doré

Macy's is mining Parisian style and looking to the streets for their new brand, Maison Jules. Someone at the department store company must see cycling and street style blogs as the hottest things going right now because Macy's had tapped Garance DorĂ© to shoot the campaign which features a limited edition bike by Martone Cycling Company. According to Elle, the bike/retailer collaboration doesn't end there. The exclusive coral-colored bikes will be awarded to Macy's shoppers who send an in-store text containing a unique code found at the Maison Jules department of the store on August 1st. Then, in September, there will be a style contest on Instagram giving participants the chance to win bikes and a grand prize consisting of $500 of Maison Jules clothes and a trip to Paris. (I hope they give the grand prize winner a bike too). 

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Atlanta, The New York Times Wants Your Biking Wisdom

Not the New York Times map.

The New York Times has its own interactive map that Atlantans can find here. The little dots around Atlanta are encouraging signs of its nascent cycling scene and its cool cyclists, except for the dot in Reynoldstown. Reynoldstown ain't as big as nothin' so how could one declare that there are, "not great opportunities around Atlanta yet," from one's experience of biking Reynoldstown. Gimme a break, anonymous Reynoldstown pessimist. Even the cyclists in the OTP (outside the perimeter) sprawl have made sunny contributions to the map.