10 June 2008

Straight-Talking, Straight-Sitting

Photo copyright Times Record News
Fred Mathes is 92. He also lives in America. These two facts don't stop him from riding his bicycle. A lot. Every day. This chap is Style Over Speed in a nutshell, and has been for decades before we starting calling it 'Style Over Speed' here at Copenhagen Cycle Chic. He still rides his 3-speed Schwinn, which is 56 years old and he doesn't feel he needs a newer bicycle.

“Did you hear about the centipede who fell in a ditch?” he asked. “He couldn’t get up. He was too exhausted trying to figure out what foot to put first. Same thing with a bike. Who needs 18 gears?”

He does not favour Lycra or cycling shoes. His riding clothes are whatever he happens to be wearing, usually a pair of trousers (he rolls up one pant leg), a long-sleeved western shirt and a stylish cotton hat from Italy.

Photo copyright Times Record News
It's interesting to remember that when Mr Mathes was born, bikes ruled the world, even in America. Bicycle Culture 1.0 was in full swing and millions rode around daily on simple 1 or 3 speeds, up and down hills, in all weather. Knowing that fact and seeing Mr Mathes doing his daily thing is fantastic inspiration.
Read the whole article on the Times Record News - Wichita Falls - website.

Mr Mathes, above, has it sussed, but then he has been riding long before the sports industry starting telling people they had to lean forward in awkward, uncomfortable and unnatural positions in order to 'cycle' - not to mention worrying about how much a bike 'weighs' or that you don't need chain guards or kickstands. And so on. My dear, darling mother had is sussed and I was always encouraged to sit up straight. Posture is an important part of body language.
Late Evening Light
If you like to ride fast and do so for training or racing, well... that's different, isn't it? You'll get a bike that suits that purpose, which is lovely. I used to race competively when young and enjoyed it thoroughly. But for the vast majority of people who ride daily or harbour secret thoughts about doing so, riding in comfort is the way to go. Style over speed. Elegance over exertion.
Late Evening Light
”In the late 19th century, large numbers of women were already using bicycles to get to work, women office workers and shop assistants wending their way each weekday morning from the suburbs to the town. They found the bicycle a convenient form of transport for distances up to, say, ten miles”.
Plucked from John Woodeforde's book ”The Story of the Bicycle”, 1970
And that was on machines that would seem monstrous to us now. Not to mention the fact that they were wearing frightfully heavy dresses and thick fabrics. If they could do it on those bikes, in those clothes, there are little excuses for not cycling chic today.
Dapper Chappie
"One sits on it either straight-backed, as though you're at a festive dinner party, or hunched foward, as though you just failed an exam. All according to the situation, your inclination or your inborn characteristics."
Johannes Wulff's 'Paa cykle / On the Bike' 1930

Old School Analogue Dreams - Dapper Text Checking
One charming nickname for normal bikes is "sit up and beg" bikes. Indeed. Sit up and beg for fewer cars, bike lanes, a steady tailwind and lovely cyclists to ride with.


Anonymous said...

Every day I read your blog in growing admiration. You are only stating the (almost painfully) obvious, but using such sparse and beautiful photographs and comments, it makes this site utterly compelling.

What a great advert for bikes and Copenhagen.

Here's to less cars, more bikes and more chic.

Colville-Andersen said...

Cheers. Thanks for that lovely comment.

Anonymous said...

Don't get me wrong, I love this blog - but this post seems a bit condescending.

I ride purely for pleasure. I don't wear lycra, a helmet, or any gear whatsoever. It is simply a bike and myself.

But try riding up the hills of Portland on a bike that forces a straightback posture. (Here is a hint: you can't.) Gravity will flip that front tire right over your head and you'll flip back off the bike and onto the concrete. How's that for body language? ;)

I wish we could all live in scenic European cities where everything is flat and simple, but climbing the hills in Portland requires one to lean forward. It's not awkward or uncomfortable in the slightest - and it's certainly not anything the industry pushed onto America.


I'm all for a nice casual cruise on a 3 speed townie, but I'm also a big fan of putting my head down and pedaling out all of my energy for miles upon miles. It is one of the most therapeutic things I know of. Different strokes for different folks.

Colville-Andersen said...

Sorry you felt it was condescending. It's always with a pinch of irony.

Regarding hills, the point in teh post is taht people climbed them 90 years ago on clunky, heavy old bikes and survived. And respect to them.

And regarding the flat, simple cities - we have debunked that myth aaaages ago. :-)

There are many cities with hills and mountains in Europe where 20%+ of the population still ride their bikes. For the most part on the kind of bikes we show in this blog.

But sure, whenever we write "we ride in the snow!" someone will say "we get more snow than that". Or "We ride in the rain and wind!" - we'll hear "we get more rain and wind than that". Same with heat, hills, what have you. There will always be somebody who ride under different conditions.

Which is why we choose to highlight the very fortunate fact that the vast majority out there DON'T face adverse conditions.

Anonymous said...

I do agree with Anon @ 14:39.

When it comes to the bike wieht issue, I am aiming as light as possible. Other, more seasoned cyclists seem to have similar reasons, as well--http://drunkandincharge.blogspot.com/2008/06/not-that-it-matters.html, and also http://chiccyclist.blogspot.com/2008/06/our-staircase-to-fourth-floor.html.

Leaving my bike outside overnight in my quiet suburban neighbourhood is like putting out a free bike parts/ vent your aggression here booth.

I currently have a 3 speed bike in a moderately hilly area, and I can see why some people would opt for more gears. A lot more. Perhaps by summer's end I will have been converted to a fewer-gear mindset...


Anonymous said...

That post didn't seem the least bit condescending to me!

I also live in a hilly area, in fact it's a lot hillier than Portland (where I've spent some very happy weeks enjoying the bike culture). Swansea is a hill. This post isn't, the way I read it at least, saying that gears or athletic postures are the enemy, merely that they aren't the only way to ride a bike - and that you shouldn't be forced to accept the bigger/faster/more is better logic when it comes to bikes.

Like the original post says, there is nothing wrong with wanting to ride fast (Swansea's hills are a blast the other way), but slow is good too no?

And who looks cooler, Fred Mathes or Alberto Contador? I think we all know the answer to that...

Anonymous said...

Aww, Gramps! I definitely want to give a hug to Mr. Mathes. <3

I agree with your first post wholeheartedly, Ol of Swansea. :-)

Who doesn't love a good tailwind? I had one yesterday for the first time in what seemed like months and I barely had to switch from one gear. Ahhhh.

Unknown said...

I like both styles of riding - sit up and beg and head-down and go. On a long day ride I like my tourer with the dropped ("curly" as you call them) bars. The many different hand positions dropped bars allow for more comfort over a long day. On a faster ride the leaning forward stance is comfortable because your body is resting on a cushion of air and spreads the load of your weight over more points. Cycling specific clothing on long rides, too. Ordinary clothes get wet sticky and 'orrible due to effects of sun and rain.

Around the town - well, that's a completely different thing. Sit up and beg: Yes! Everyday clothing: Yes! Ride slow: Yes! - you don't want to get wet sticky and 'orrible in everyday clothes. You don't want to wander around the shops in anything other than everyday clothing.

So, for me it's "horses for courses".

I'm all for the "slow bike movement". T-shirt order on the way - when it appears in the "shop".

MELI. said...

im glad you posted it.
.xo &bikes

Kristin Tieche said...

Just read the whole article about Mr. Mathes, and boy is he ever a character. Sent it to my mom, whom I'm trying to convince to get on a bicycle again!

Anonymous said...

Mr Mathes is my new hero. I hope I'm that cool in half a century.

“I’ll give you a motto. I think it’s important. Be truthful. Keep learning. Keep loving. That’s enough,” he said. “Those are the big headings. Everything else is frosting.”

Señor Mathes, un abrazo desde Suecia!

Colville-Andersen said...

Thanks for all your comments.