A simple announcement for the upcoming National Women’s Bicycling Summit on Twitter set off the conflict. A male blogger claimed there was no gender gap in bicycling, which led to swift and sharp responses. But the most heated and lasting discussion began with a tweet by a woman who was disgusted that the summit will feature a fashion show with a male host. Especially since that male host is the founder of Cycle Chic®.
For those who aren’t familiar, Cycle Chic is ever-growing series of web sites from all over the world with a theme of “style over speed”. The sites feature photos from people riding bike in non-cycle-specific clothes, with a particular emphasis on fashionably dressed, attractive women. Women like my sister Patty, who wears cute little dresses and sandals on her bike in the resort town of Watercolor, Florida.
The man behind the Cycle Chic web site, Mikael Coleville-Anderson, is outspoken in his view that you don’t need an expensive bike or special cycling clothes to be a cyclist. You should just hop on the bike and ride in regular clothes and regular shoes for everyday trips. No lycra, clip-in shoes or helmets required. He’s famously and rabidly anti-helmet, leading the crusade against mandatory helmet laws.
But this time the controversy centered around the Cycle Chic Manifesto, which implores cyclists to be “aesthetically pleasing” and “ride with grace, elegance and dignity.” It uses gender-neutral language, but since the Cycle Chic site features women in skirts and heels more than men in suits, many felt it was imposing a beauty standard on women, not men. You can read the lively debate on Elly Blue’s Taking the Lane blog.
Stepping back from the fray, my take is that dressing up on the bike is culturally disruptive, like in the 1960s when men started growing their hair long or in the 1970s when married women started keeping their maiden names. It challenges what people think is appropriate so there’s criticism as well as wonderment.
When I wear skirts and heels on the bike I get a wide range of reactions, from surprise to appreciation to annoyance. Strangers have told me they love my heels, and strangers have told me that riding in heels is dangerous. That makes me chuckle since I’m in more danger carving down mountain roads or riding steep rocky trails. Riding in heels is easier than walking in them and I’ve yet to be scolded for walking in heels.
I hope the time will come where we will all look back at this and think this controversy was silly. Of course some people ride in regular clothes to work or for errands or to visit friends. Of course some people put on lycra when they want to ride far or hard and get a workout. We’re all just riding along, who cares what we’re wearing?
What are you most comfortable riding in: full lycra, baggy shorts, t-shirt and jeans? Do you ever ride in dressy clothes? Why or why not?