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Why I Love Cycle Chic

ERIK SANDBLOM 2014-04-29        #23222

Denmark's minister of transport, Pia Ohlsen Dyr, makes the front page as she cycles to a meeting in Beijing

The cycle chic movement started with a blog called Copenhagen Girls on Bikes. It was an apt title for the content, but it would never have gotten where it is today if pretty girls was all it was. Cycle chic is also part of the resurgence of cycling. Sadly many people today are not accustomed to everyday cycling and assume it must be very complicated. Cycle chic is a fast way of fixing this misconception. Cycle chic shows that cycling is a four-season, all-purpose form of transportation that anyone can do. Cycle chic is also an educated response to the idea that cycling is dangerous and requires special equipment.

You might even say that cycle chic is a safety device in itself. In Ian Walker's famous study in England, he put a sensor on his bike and recorded the passing distances he got. It turned out that when he wore a helmet, drivers passed him on average eight centimeters closer. When he wore a wig instead of a helmet, making him look female, drivers gave him extra space. The study was followed up by the Florida Department of Transportation which found similar results. Cyclists in what FDOT called "bicycle attire" were passed closer than cyclists dressed in casual clothes.

Stockholm. Foto Jeppe Dyberg Larsen

Cycle chic focuses more on women than on men, and so has been accused of being sexist. The pitfall of cycle chic is that it can make women feel pressured to look good before getting on a bike. This can go both ways though. If we do nothing to address the image of cycling as healthy granola, those who want to start cycling may fear being labelled uncool. Cycle chic is about encouragement. It's about acknowledging that people are self-conscious, and that's okay.

Sure, a few more dapper men among the cycle chic photos would be nice. But we do want to show that skirts and heels work just fine with urban cycling, and until men wear skirts and heals, there might be more women in the pictures. I think we need some cycle chic for kids and pets too. They don't want to stay at home all the time.

Rome. Photo Mikael Colville-Andersen

So I like cycle chic. It's not perfect, but it's good cycle advocacy because it humanizes cycling. In the meantime, it seems bicycle urbanism och bikenomics are the new fashion.

But I like the critics of cycle chic too. I didn't write this article to shut anyone up. I did it because I notice a lot of people think about these things. I think it's a topic that should be okay to talk about, and it should be okay to have civil disagreements about it too.

Take care, and don't forget that cyclists live longer.

Utrecht. Photo Mark Treasure


Drivers overtaking bicyclists: objective data on the effects of riding position, helmet use, vehicle type and apparent gender. Accident Analysis & Prevention 2007
Finally, when the (male) experimenter wore a long wig, so that he appeared female from behind, drivers left more space when passing.

Operational and Safety Impacts of Restriping Inside Lanes of Urban Multilane Curbed Roadways to 11 Feet or Less to Create Wider Outside Curb Lanes for Bicyclists. Florida Department of Transportation (PDF)
On average, motorists provided slightly more space when passing the cyclist who was not dressed in bicycle attire.

The Mary Poppins Effect? - Lovely Bicycle
Speaking solely from my own experience, I'd noticed as soon as I started cycling for transportation that drivers are nicer to me when I dress "normally."

The Good News and the Bad News About the Cycle Chic Movement - Copenhagen Cycle Chic
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.

Underdressed for Your Bike?? - Lovely Bicycle!
Traveling by bicycle can make us more self-aware and self-conscious, simply because we are more visible. Sure, we can hop in the car wearing old sweats with our unwashed hair up in a bun, drive to pick up some milk, and no one will be the wiser. But on a bike we will be observed.

Street harassment: Anatomy of a pain in the ass - Taking The Lane
What if every single one of us, male or female, responded to situations of street harassment by gently letting the harasser know that it just isn’t cool?

Bike vs. Bike - Cycle Chic Debate. Momentum Magazine

So ladies… Bikeyface

A critique of Cycle Chic - Taking the Lane
there is not exactly a rich cultural tradition of men admonishing other men to shut up and look pretty, or be seen rather than heard

Cycle Chic Shame
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.

All-cause mortality associated with physical activity during leisure time, work, sports, and cycling to work. Archives of Internal Medicine
Bicycling to work decreased risk of mortality in approximately 40% after multivariate adjustment, including leisure time physical activity.

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