5 June 2009
The Good News and the Bad News About the Cycle Chic Movement
So. They're starting to call it a 'movement' this Cycle Chic thang. Good news. What started with one simple photo here in Copenhagen developed into this blog and then, two years later, it's all over the planet. Nice one. Splendid.
It has come to my attention that there is some good news and some bad news regarding the Cycle Chic 'movement' and I thought it necessary to respond.
The good news is that the very simple concept of riding a bicycle in your regular [preferably fashionable in my opinion, but not a prerequisite] clothes is being picked up by the press all over the world. This is a good thing.
The funny thing is that it's nothing new. Since Day One in bicycle culture, when the bicycle as we know it today was invented 120-odd years ago, people rode around in their regular clothes. The bicycle was a tool, a transport option and not much else. In many places, like here in Copenhagen, it still is. Imagine your relatives living in the years between 1890 and 1940. The odds are that they rode bicycles in their regular clothes.
It's great news that the bicycle is hot again. That we are on the cusp of what at Copenhagen Cycle Chic call Bicycle Culture 2.0. Good for the environment and C02 reduction yada yada, and great for creating liveable urban centres. Nicer places to live.
So the bicycle's return to the public consciousness after a half a century of car culture is good news for everyone, whether they're on a bicycle or not.
So what can be bad about that?
The Bad News
What I've been trying to say, between the lines, here at Cycle Chic for the past couple of years is that riding a bicycle is - and always has been - a rather simple thing. All you need is... a bicycle.
You have a closet filled with clothes, don't you? If you're walking about town, you'll wear them. You have clothes for hot weather and clothes for cold weather. Whatever clothes you wear as a pedestrian are suitable for riding a bicycle. You KNOW this. You were young once. You did it then.
So now that I've started a 'movement' [which is admittedly much better than a 'trend'] I've seen a sharp increase in the number of companies intent on selling 'cycling clothes' for urban, everyday cyclists. Whenever a trend or a movement appears, there will always be people keen to make some money off of it. Such is a market economy. Fair enough.
It seems ridiculous, however, when people attempt to overcomplicate a simple thing. If you fancy riding sports bicycles for long distances in your spare time, or you like racing bicycles, you will require 'gear'. I know this. I respect this.
If you want to ride a bicycle to work or the supermarket over short distances, you do not need 'gear'. Just open your closet.
I've touched on this issue a few times before.
- Cycle Chic Guide to Bike Commuting #2 - Cycle Clothing
- Cycle Chic Guide to Bike Commuting - #1 Choosing a Bike
- Terminology Folly.
A couple of episodes have come to my attention of late.
I've heard that a Shimano representative in the States walked into a bike shop with a new product. 'Cycling shoes' that were completely normal shoes, just with a Shimano logo. If you Google Shimano, like I did, you'll find out that they are a "International manufacturer and distributer of cycling and fishing equipment and accessories." I'm sure they make good cycling and fishing equipment, but hey... leave normal shoes to the normal shoes people.
Then there was an article in the New York Times yesterday, by a guy named Eric Wilson. Here's the opening paragraph:
There are many reasons why New York City commuters have been hesitant to bicycle to work in greater numbers: personal safety, the scarce availability of bike racks and the weather, among them. A perhaps more superficial, though still important, consideration is figuring out something to wear that will be both functional and professional looking. Or, at the least, something that will not show grease stains.
This is ridiculous. Pure bollocks.
Listen, according to the European Cyclists Federation there are 100 million daily cyclists in Europe. Alone in Copenhagen there are 500,000 cyclists each day. The vast majority wear their regular clothes because they're on their way to work or school. They have closets and they're not afraid to use them. They have happily not been subjected to this branding of cycling as a 'difficult' activity. It's quick, easy, convienent and enjoyable. A bit hot today? Slow down.
In this article from Reuters about how New Yorkers are getting on their bikes, we can read:
In keeping with the city's efforts to promote cycling, luxury apparel maker LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton asked students at the Fashion Institute of Technology to create chic yet affordable cycling gear.
"We want to do everything we can to raise the profile of biking in New York," Janette Sadik-Khan, commissioner of the New York City Department of Transportation, said at the news conference to announce the winning design.
"Having functioning, attractive gear so you can arrive at work looking stylish should be very encouraging," she said. "No one wants to show up at work looking like bike messengers."
Unbelievable. '...functioning, attractive gear'? Open your closets. Buy a chainguard. Fenders. Off you go.
Here's a Louis Vuitton 'cycling bag'. Or is it just a normal LV bag used by a girl in her normal clothes who just happens to ride a bicycle around?
Oh, and here's some 'cycling shoes' by Christian Louboutin. Not.
All hail the market economy, but not when it gets this silly and desperate. I'm quite sure that the established bike industry in non-bicycle cultures are worried. 'Big Bicycle' have carved out a niche for themselves over the past 40 years. Selling cycling as a difficult, expensive, sweaty sub-culture. Now they're faced with millions of regular people who just want to ride a bicycle. Um... let's slap a bike logo on some Chinese shoes... quick.
Okay, okay. The thought has occurred to me that it may be necessary with a transitional period in this new push towards Bicycle Culture 2.0. After decades of branding cycling as only a 'sport' or a 'recreational activity' and not much else, people in some countries may need a gentle shove in the right direction.
But then I remembered what I know about the marketing of bicycles at the turn of the last century. The bicycle came out of nowhere and yet people embraced it instantly and... rode around in regular clothes. Nowadays, when most people already know how to ride a bicycle, it's a bit stupid to sell 'cycling gear' to everyday cyclists.
Let's sell bicycles and bicycle culture. Let's make our cities nicer places to live.
But if someone wants to sell you 'cycling clothing' for riding to work or the supermarket, get the hell away from them in a hurry.
It's these people I refer to when I travel around giving lectures about 'Marketing the Bicycle to the Sub-Conscious Environmentalists'. Marketing good. Silly marketing bad.
In short: Men and Women of the Cycle Chic Movement! Reject the ridiculous marketing antics of would-be profiteers eager to sell you products you simply don't need! You already have established your style. Merely transfer it to the bicycle. Ride on.
Now back to the pretty photos.