Saturday, October 22, 2011

Making An Important Distinction About 'Cycle Chic'

Too many people are conflating this

From morning bike porn. This is image #475. The images directly preceding and following this are more like regular porn, in my opinion, but you can decide for yourself.

...with this
"Style & Substance" is looking like an ironic tagline on this Esquire cover.
The first image says to me, "Chic people ride bikes." It doesn't say to me that you have to look chic in order to ride a bike. Upon further investigation, those curious will find that chic people ride bikes slowly in order to arrive at their destination still looking chic and actually enjoy the ride. The language of personal bests, cycling computers, carbon frames, and whatnot has been excised from the cycling conversation to emphasize looking and feeling good. Everybody can understand that. I think that's what cycle chic is all about--anybody can ride whatever bike they like in whatever clothing they think is cool. Style is personal. You don't have to ride with the peloton like the peloton to be cycle chic. Of course, this concept could be executed better with more diverse subjects--shorter people, heavier people, darker people, older people--but I think greater diversity is on the horizon as the movement grows. The images we'll see won't be predominantly from fashion houses selling the bike as the "it" accessory for their latest collection, but from women taking in their streets on their bikes.

Additionally, the first image is a realistic portrayal of using a bike. That couple could've been waiting at a red light that wouldn't change so they decided to walk their bikes through the crosswalk. (A totally advisable course of action). Moreover, they can cycle in these clothes. She's not wearing super-wedgie producing booty shorts and he's not naked. They don't look tired, dirty, or disheveled. They look like they could jump right back on those bikes and have a grand time. They appear to be dressed for a grand time. In fact, I want to be the woman who can convince her boyfriend to dress like that (and I wouldn't mind having a man who looked like that either). This is cycle chic bike porn. All of my happy buttons are being tweaked. I'm digging the clothes, the city streets, the bikes--the lifestyle. Yes, please. Gimme some of that cycle chic.

The second image is porn-porn. The woman on the bike is an object like the bike which you can't even see. The headline below her cleavage reassures readers that there are more pictures of her accompanying the feature about her because ogling her body is way more important than learning the slightest thing about her as a person. The only positive thing I can say about this picture is that at least it's not an image of just her butt or just her crotch. Let's just say that if a photo looks like it was taken by a creep hiding in some bushes waiting for women on bikes to have wardrobe malfunctions, it's not cycle chic. I would also propose that an image with a naked or half-naked woman and a bike that elicits the question, "What bike," is just porn; it's not bike porn. Another question to consider: does the woman look like she could enjoy the bike? If the composition of the photo doesn't lend itself to the possibility that the woman could enjoy the bike then it's definitely porn because that's the hallmark of regular porn--no female subjectivity.

I try not to get deep on this blog, but citygirlrides pointed out that the whole "girls on bikes" thing is being co-opted by folks who don't give a damn about girls or bikes. Then I saw the debate on Momentum Mag and I had to add my two cents. I think that cycle chic is about the way women want to live--it encompasses the way they want to dress and the fact that they want to ride in a seperated bike lane. At the bottom of it, cycle chic is also about normalizing cycling. It seems to have escaped the attention of Elly Blue and others that chic cycling is slow cycling. One doesn't have to be super fit or young or have the best bike to toodle into their city center for coffee. That sounds inclusive.What doesn't sound inclusive is this debate. We all want to ride our bikes, I don't see the point in dismissing anybody because they want to look a certain way while doing it.


Mikael said...


Edinburgh Cycle Chic said...

Well said!!

Barb Chamberlain, Bike Style Spokane said...

Yes. Yes. Yes.,

The anti-Cycle Chic bike advocates sometimes are telling me what to do/think/wear just as much as the objectifying dehumanizing oglefests.

I wrote on the same theme but you did it far better. I'm adding a link to this post on mine (

I'm so glad I started compiling the Women Bike Blogs list ( That's how I found great blogs like this one to read. We're a growing community and we can learn so much from each other.


Anonymous said...

With regard to diversity, be sure to check out Marc at Amsterdamize. He takes great care to capture all sorts of people riding in and around Amsterdam. Of course, Amsterdam may be more ethnically diverse than other places in Europe, so maybe for him it's like shooting fish in a barrel. :)

Courtnee said...

Thank you everyone. I know I'm preaching to the choir, but I had to get it off my chest.

Barb, I think you hit upon something unique and important in your post. I think there's a sentiment amongst a lot of feminists that if we don't all fall in line there will be no progress. "If you were skirts and heels, then no option outside of conventional femininity will ever be valid. If you're a stay-at-home mom, then my choice to be a working mom will never be valid." Shouldn't we have gotten to the stage of feminism where I get to determine the kind of woman I want to be?

Cecily, thanks for the tip. I'll be adding Amsterdamize to my blogroll.

She Rides a Bike said...

I agree with every word!

First of all, I really respect so much of what Elly Blue writes but I did get my back up with her dismissal (IMO) of women who are interested in fashion and want to express that interest while on their bikes. It's not simply a matter of us wanting to attract the male eye. Even if that were part if it, well, that's biology.
I also think that Mikael gets ridiculously pigeon-holed with the porn-porn people. Anyone who regularly reads his blog knows that he features all types of shapes, sizes, genders and ages of people in CCC - and they all look wonderful in all their diversity. As a woman approaching 50, I appreciate seeing women my age and older on bikes, actively living their lives rather than moaning about aches and pains, and of course, looking their best. That is what I aspire to.

Courtnee said...

SRAB: Thanks. I'm puzzled about the dismissive attitude towards fashionable female cyclist, especially when it's supposed to be due to some feminist ideology. If I'm cycling on my own terms--and those terms include skirts and heels--isn't that feminist? Meh.

Also, I don't see anything remotely porn-porny about CCC so I totally agree with you on that.

Dottie said...

Thank you so much for saying this. I absolutely agree and it's great to see intelligent women standing up for the movement. I get so mad when I see people conflating bike porn with women riding their bikes in dresses. Like, simply by existing as a woman on a bike while not in athletic gear, I am some kind of joke? Fuck that. I am a proud, strong feminist, whether I happen to be wearing heels or sneakers on my bike on a particular day.

Courtnee said...

You're welcome, Dottie. I thought we were at the point in feminism where we're fighting to hold the feminine up in this culture as an equally valid mode of expression/behavior/being. Behaving as "one of the boys" to be accepted was acknowledged as reinforcing patriarchy. Considering this, I don't see why there's so much resistance to a woman who'd like to wear a skirt and heels while cycling. Sheesh.

Andrew said...

Have to agree with everything said and every sentiment. Well done

Courtnee said...

Thanks, Andrew. I'm definitely feeling the love and I'm heartened by all of you chic cyclists asserting your right to style!

Andrew said...

Re read you post and had a wider look at the other blog. There are some really wonderful photos and then the other photos that just leave you or me should I say slightly depressed. Maybe because the quality is dragged into vulgarity by the other stuff.
then re read your post again
I then find myself in agreement with you even more then I did the first time.
Head up, onward and upward and remember you are on the the side of light and right. Style will always contain that element of magic that's recognised were ever it inhabits and always elevates the soul. The other stuff will always corrupt.

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