City cycle style? Can't it be like this everyday please?

Last Friday the City of London's historic Smithfield meat market played host to the first City Cycle Style event.  Bike manufacturers, cycle clothing designers and chic cyclists united to put on a new kind of cycle trade show, combining music, food, fashion and fun. 

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There were glamorous girls kicking back in cargo bikes from Velorution, hot young guys on tricked out bikes looking dapper in spats.  The latest on offer from those fleuro-weavers Dashing Tweeds graced the catwalk as did some nice-but-a-bit-expensive panniers from Michaud.  A great range of town bikes suitable for city exploring were on view; Viva made a great impression, whilst Moulton showed off two of their very latest designs, with the stripped-down belt-driven TSR-2 especially popular with those taking test rides after the event.  All set against the iconic/ironic back drop of a couple of gleaming red London buses parked under the beautifully lit Smithfield market hall roof.

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I've written before how cycling in the UK has a major PR problem surrounding the wider public's perception of people who choose to get about by two wheels.  The vast majority of people who don't choose to cycle just can't see themselves riding because they don't subscribe to the current dominant image of cyclists; that 'Lance Armstrong look'.  Perhaps events like last Friday's can go some way towards showing that you don't necessarily have to armour up in lycra, day-glow and helmets in order just to ride a bike to the shops and back.

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Mikael Colville-Andersen, of Copenhagen Cycle Chic would probably be quite perplexed by there even being the need to hold such a show.  He is as equally dismissive of those who would try to set cycling's stall out as purely the reserve of sports riders as he is of people who seek to sell you 'urban cycling clothing'.  His thinking (from this blog post) is quite clear on the subject; "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....  ..If you want to ride a bicycle to work or the supermarket over short distances, you do not need 'gear'. Just open your closet."

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David Hembrow, from A View from the Cycle Path, takes a different view.  Commenting on a previous post of mine about 'What's stopping women from cycling', he explained that he thinks 'cycle chic' (if you want to call normal, everyday and ordinary utilitarian cycling that) comes not from a desire by cyclists to be stylish but as a consequence of cyclists no longer being under stress.  "The hats and hi-vis come from the conditions. They're a symptom of cyclists under stress. Once cycling becomes subjectively safer, these things disappear. I don't think you can force it."  He writes eloquently on his blog what he thinks the steps are that the authorities ought to be taking to make cycling a less stressful and subjectively safe activity for all: it starts, of course, with providing top class decent cycling infrastructure everywhere, and then building on that.

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Me?  I take a view somewhere in the middle.  There's no doubt that there is a sense that the bourgeois are early adopters of 'chic cycling' here in the UK.  But the idea that it somehow costs money and you have to buy another form of expensive gear to subscribe to everyday and ordinary cycling doesn't sit easily with me either. In the same breath there is no doubt that the wider public view of cycling as being a physical, sporty activity is unhelpful and events like Friday's can help to dispel that view.  All in all, Friday night's bikes and fashion show was a great showcase of the potential and opportunity that lies in cycling in the urban environment and shows that perhaps, one day, the streets of London could be filled with effortlessly cool cyclists just like Copenhagen.  Part of that will come from how people choose to present themselves as cyclists, much more will come from 'non-cyclists' taking up riding as a consequence of how our roads provide for those who do so.  Perhaps events like Friday's can be a useful stepping stone towards that path?

14 comments:

Tim Beadle said...

What I see when I see these pictures, nice as they are, isn't the normal-yet-well-turned-out citizens of CPH or AMS, but Trendy Young Hipsters, who are not like me at all.

It's great that they're not wearing lycra, but they've just swapped one form of fetishisation for another.

The whole Chic thing gets misinterpreted all over the world.

Sue 'sans' helmet said...

...I concur with Tim!

girlandsteed said...

Really good point that the high-vis style is a consequence of a road system that is hostile to cyclists. Lovely to think, that some day, somewhere over the rainbow, when the roads are safe I may never have to wear neon reflectors again. However, surely the all-in-one lycra and clippy-cloppy shoes are more about performance than safety. Sadly, I don't think they will disappear any time soon- not before testosterone fuelled competitiveness does anyway.

http://thetrustysteed.blogspot.com/

Beate said...

I'm with Tim and Mikael Colville-Andersen.

If anything, I think the media is shifting people's view of cycling from 'Lance Armstrong' to tweed, retro and too uber-cool to get your head around. People would be forgiven for thinking you need to design a whole new wardrobe for your new hobby, if the current coverage is anything to go by.

Cycling as a mode of transport shouldn't require any wardrobe updates, just jump on and pedal away. Having said that, there's definitely a cycling revolution on the go - we're heading in the right direction!

Ben Brown said...

Really like the jacket in the last photo. But wouldn't you need mudguards and would that still be cool? As far as I'm concerned this event was in North London so all these hipsters are to be expected really.

Mark said...

Thanks everyone for your comments on this event - don't get me wrong it WAS a fun night and the atmosphere was fantastic on the evening. I just do worry somewhat that we are switching ourselves from one 'label' to another.

@Ben Brown If you're interested in the last jacket, Ben, I understand it is from Dashing Tweeds. It's woven with reflective cotton which looks normal until lit up (say by a car's headlamps) in which case it's highly reflective. Have a look at their website for prices / suppliers etc.

PS Smithfield Meat Market is hardly north London!
;-)

Anonymous said...

I don't get the whole problem with people buying and promoting new kit for urban cycling. People like shiny new gear, and anything that helps encourage people to get on their bikes in London is a good thing. Events like these are fun and help sell cycling to a younger cooler crowd. There's a rather dour tone coming across in the posts above - as if cycling should only be for Marxists and worthies. I love cycling around London, and wish far more people would do it, and it strikes me that a bit of fun and glam is exactly what's needed. I wasn't there last night (and not associated with the event), but I'm applauding from afar.

Matt

Mark said...

Hi Matt,

Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts.

There's no doubt that the event was a fun night (as I described at the begining of the post)

As some of the commentators above have shared however, there is a risk that you can end up substituting one type of 'gear' for another when I guess the true meaning of 'cycle chic' is having conditions safe and attractive enough for people to cycle in an everyday and ordinary way. That's nothing to do with Marxism or worthiness.

I couldn't agree more that it would be a great thing if more people cycled in London, I just wonder about the ability to push that agenda if you are coming from a financial / retail angle.

That said, and I forgot to mention in this post, the event was also a fundraiser for the excellent cycling charity Re-Cycle, and a fun time was had by all. I just wonder what it would take to make the image of cycling presented on the stage a reality on the roads?

Branko Collin said...

Mark, where were the very young and very old models in that show?

christhebull said...

@Branko - to be blunt, I don't see old people in *any* kind of promotion much. I don't see adverts for the Nissan Micra featuring a doddering old lady getting scalped by that helmet cammer Gaz.

However, I see your point - a true cycling city has children and the elderly riding quite comfortably as well as twenty-something students and professionals.

m e l i g r o s a said...

this is awesome - cycling is for everyone and it should be fun, stylish or not :D
great photos, Im loving all the UK fashion show links!
xxo.m

Anonymous said...

IMHO the 'bicycle chic' idea is about making it easier to start cycling by changing image of cycling: not having to wear lycra and neon vests, just your normal everyday clothes. Of course, there are fashion horses everywhere. So why not?

Now, just demand physically separated cycle lanes and you'll see lots of chic people cycling. Bicycling with cars is never going to be popular.

Do you think car drivers would be demanding separated cycle lanes if they were shown videos of the cycling rush hour hordes from Holland/Denmark and asked how much space that many cars would need? Would they realise that even if they themselves live too far to commute by bike, good cycle routes would encourage those who live closer to choose cycle over car? More bicycles= Less cars = Less congestion. They should be on the barricades already!


Regards,
Tim O.

Bobbi said...

I would highly encourage people to bike in cities, for it lessen the amount of pollution plus it serves as our exercise despite having a busy schedule. If people or the 'cycle chic's are conscious of what to wear, well there is a variety of way on how to look good while biking. I bet high visibility pants can now be fashionable. I mean when I buy muck boots, it was not the usual. It now comes in different style. I guess if one is really interested, he should find ways. Reasons are easy if you don't want it to be done, but ways could be many if you are all into it.

Bobbi said...

I would highly encourage people to bike in cities, for it lessen the amount of pollution plus it serves as our exercise despite having a busy schedule. If people or the 'cycle chic's are conscious of what to wear, well there is a variety of way on how to look good while biking. I bet high visibility pants can now be fashionable. I mean when I buy muck boots, it was not the usual. It now comes in different style. I guess if one is really interested, he should find ways. Reasons are easy if you don't want it to be done, but ways could be many if you are all into it.