Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Finally!!: Levi's Commuter Collection for Women

Super cute chambray anorak

Grey jeans are always good.

When Levi's launched their commuter collection four years ago, they criss-crossed the country in partenship with Urban Outfitters fixing bikes and spreading the news as they went. The recent launch of their women's commuter collection was presented to the public with a lot less fanfare. I would say there is a reason for this-- the women's collection is a miserly eight pieces and much weaker than the men's twenty-one piece collection.

I've used images from what I think are two highlights in the collection, but I have reservations about the jeans. The model is so straight through the hips that I don't think that I could wear any jeans that are geared toward her body type. And this, I believe, is the source of Levi's trepidation about doing a women's commuter line. They don't want to make a bunch of fits like, curvy, plus, and petite for what they believe is a small group of consumers. Fine. Women cyclists understand and are not a bunch of petulant children who are going to pitch a fit because Levi's didn't begin making Curve Id Commuter jeans right away. Still, there is a way to meet us halfway. Why not launch with a boyfriend jean with a relaxed fit that might accomodate curvier cyclists? Why not include waist sizes up to 36"?

Another matter for concern is the white elephant of this collection-- the $358 anorak. Are they for real? That price point is more than twice the highest priced item in the men's collection and it's an anorak. Two years ago, I bought a key-uutte chambray moto jacket from Levi's. Why couldn't they launch with a something like that priced a lot lower. They should've offered chambray vests (dressier than their trucker style) for $58 or something. After all, vest are supposed to be huge for S/S 2015. If they offered a diverstiy of pieces at diverse price points, they would probably be able to have pieces to speak many different kinds of women until they figured out how to create a selection of jeans to fit many different kinds of women.

Lastly, I think Levi's short-changed the women's collection by not including all of the features from the men's jeans on the women's jeans. If the designers didn't think that the gussetted crotch or bike lock loop looked good on skinny jeans, they should've created another kind of jeans with those features. The women's jeans don't have any features that the mean's jeans don't so they look deficient by comparison.

As I write all of this, I have to wonder, "Why didn't they think of this?" Do they want this collection to succeed or do they want to just say that they tried? Maybe they're just being cautious and I'm over-analyzing the situation. What do you think?

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

E-bikes Need Both Style and Substance

This substance could use more style.

Oregon Manifest TEAGUE X Sizemore Bicycle from TEAGUE on Vimeo.

This style could use more substance.

The top of this post features the winner of The Bike Design Project presented by Levi's Commuter collection. Denny has a couple of cycling accessories integrated right into the bike--lights and a U-lock--and a newfangled type of fender that brushes debris/water away from you(?). Okay. Let's try new things on our bikes, but without over-thinking the bike. A U-lock holster would've held the lock and allowed a cyclist to customize his handlebars. There are sensor-activated lights on this bike as well as the others, but none of the bikes have reflective sidewall tires. No design team used the slightest bit of color. No design team appears to have had a high regard for beauty.

Conversely, the Martone Cycling Company's idea for an e-bike is all about beauty. They took one of their vibrantly-colored, classically-styled bikes and slapped a battery on the frame. Without a basket, the bundle of wires connecting the battery to the bike hangs glaringly from the handlebars. It's as is they believed they'd pass this less-than-well-designed concept off as a true venture into the e-bike category because they're the pretty bicycle company. If their rechargeable battery came out of a slick compartment that also powered the bike's signal lights and acted as a basket, the Marton-E bike would've been a successfully funded Kickstarter campaign.

An e-bike should be neither a contraption on two wheels nor feature a battery stuck to it with Command strips. Integrating a rechargeable battery and some lights into a hot e-bike that gets tons of press and love from the fashion world may not constitute a leap in technology, but it's intelligent design as far as retail goes. How is poor Fuji supposed to produce the otherwordly Denny at a less than astronomical price point? How is Fuji supposed to sell a bike that looks like that at an astronomical price point? Consumers--especially older ones who rode bikes like this--are going to relate better to a bike that looks like a [traditional] bike. Everyone loves eye-candy. Industrial designers and bike industry insiders cannot be the only people who get excited about a bike because arcane design concepts do not move product.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

M.A.S.S. Bikes by Phillipe Stark and Moustache Bicycles

Mud (Phillippe Starck via designboom)

(Phillippe Starck via designboom)

(Phillippe Starck via dezeen)

(Phillippe Starck via dezeen)

"I wanted the bike to be able to go over all kinds of terrains and especially infinite and poetic territories." Ph.S

 This isn't quite what I was expecting from the man who brought us the Louis Ghost Chair. Even the scooter-bike he designed for the bikeshare of Bordeaux, France has the look of a classic bicyclette. Still, I find something relatable about the Mud electric bike. As a Southerner, it's not unusual to see a truck (or monster truck) plastered with an afternoon's muddin' during warmer months. Perhaps the people who like muddin' would like it even better if they could get covered in mud without soiling the interiors of their trucks. While the bikes aren't my thing, I might mess with these Starck x Giro helmets (below).

Mud (Phillippe Starck via designboom)

Mud (Phillippe Starck via designboom)

(Phillippe Starck via designboom)

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.