Stylish Cycling Manifesto

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Stylish Cycling Manifesto

I can’t find where I first read it, but to paraphrase someone wise: “The way to change the world is to have more fun than they do, and make sure they know it!”

As cyclists, we’re essentially rolling billboards for cycling. Everything we do on a bike is noticed and noted. That’s why it’s important to be aware of the messages we send while riding. This is especially true in a small city like South Bend–since folks don’t see as many cyclists, each one makes a bigger impression and represents a greater proportion of all cyclists any given observer will see.

Thus I pose this query: Are we each doing what we can to represent the best of cycling? Are we effective advertisements for bikes? We’re usually having more fun, but do drivers know it?

In this line of thinking, I propose an introductory framework for what I’ll call (for lack of a better term) “Stylish Cycling,”  the practice of lookin’ good on the bike.  First, I’ll pose some overarching philosophies and theories of Stylish Cycling, then some specific practical implementations of those theories.

Theory of Stylish Cycling

1.  Look like you’re having fun, even if you’re not.

2.  Treat drivers and pedestrians with poise and respect, even if you’re not getting it in return.  Yelling and “saluting in the Chicago way” don’t

3.  Other adjectives that describe how you want to look:  smooth, fast, useful, effortless, breezy, cool, assured, purposeful, fun, etc.

4.  Make sure it’s obvious that you’re riding because you want to, not because you have to.  Do whatever it takes to avoid looking like you’ve accumulated a few too many DUIs or can’t afford gas.  We want people to envision themselves riding, and that means suggesting that they adopt your motives for riding.

Practice of Stylish Cycling

1.  Smile!  Even if you’re cranky and someone almost killed you, pretend you’re in on a huge joke that nobody else knows yet.  You look better when you’re smiling, and it makes you feel better too!

2.  If you’re wearing lycra, hide it.  This is the basis of urban messenger/fixed-gear style that’s now sweeping cities across North America.  Unless you’re in a paceline on a racing bike, or on a multi-day tour, there’s not many excuses for wearing “spandex” in public.  In fact, I’d bet almost every experienced cyclist long ago promised themselves that although they like bikes they’d never go so far as to wear those shorts…

3.  Follow the rules of the road.  It’s not a legal issue, it’s a respect issue.  If you must break the laws, make sure nobody’s looking or else do it in a way that onlookers wouldn’t begrudge you your indiscretions.

4.  Learn to pedal without swaying your upper body.  The Europeans call it “souplesse”, the art of pedaling in smooth, effortless circles.  If your shoulders are rocking, you’re probably doing it wrong.  Shift down!

5.  Invest in a nice helmet, and make sure it fits correctly.  This isn’t a safety issue, it’s a style issue.  If you get hit, it’ll definitely help your case that you had one on.  It tells people you’re a serious and intentional rider, not that your car’s in the shop.  I suggest the Giro Atmos or the Lazer Genesis (my personal favorite), but if it looks good then it is good.

6.  Try to avoid conspicuous sweating.  If you must sweat, wear clothes that don’t change color when sweaty.

7.  If you’ve got panniers, carry them around whether you need to or not.  Fill em with grocery bags.  This may not work for every look, but it definitely sends the signal that bikes aren’t (only) toys.

8.  Wear sunglasses, and wear them over the straps of your helmet.  If it’s not sunny, just put clear lenses in them.  You’d look awful funny if you get hit in the eye by a cicada without eyewear, and helmets just look better with sunglasses.

9.  If you must repair your bike while on a ride, do it on a side street.  You don’t want an endless parade of folks thinking “Jeez I’m glad I don’t have to ride my bike!”

If this all seems a little too self-aware, it is.  Unless you’re one of those hip urban posengers neck-deep in fixed-gear bike culture, you’re probably not riding your bike for the style points.  Really, it takes a special kind of weirdness to leave one’s car for a bike.

But if we have any desire at all to see more normal folks on bikes, we need to recognize our own roles as rolling advertising for the velorution.  We are each more effective marketing than any billboard or public service announcement, and we need to start riding as such.  Not only will we be safer and better riders as a result, but also feel cooler while doing it!

By | 2008-08-07T18:09:29+00:00 August 7th, 2008|Categories: Advocacy, Commentary|7 Comments