Cycling is a man’s sport. From anyone’s perspective: there’s no female Tour de France, no female Armstrong or major pro team. Local serious riders are usually 10:1 on Velodromes or road rides. Even as an industry at the annual Interbike conference in Las Vegas, women are almost always demo models, media or support. It can feel kind of discouraging.


Thankfully there’s a lot of ladies who haven’t gotten that memo.

In cities and towns all over North America (hello Canada!) women are making major waves in cycling – but it doesn’t look the same as what the boys have done. Women are making cycling an everyday, civic and style minded affair to integrate into the everyday as something that’s non-competitive and… fun.

Bicycling, like exercise, meets with a lot of “it’s not convenient’ excuses. But a new generation of women are lobbying their city governments, opening unique businesses, starting collaborative groups, educational projects and leading the way for major social change in their own communities. It’s amazing that the renaissance of women and social action in regard to cycling hasn’t met with overwhelming positive coverage by local and national media, but in a way that makes it better: women are free to make their own way and listen to the needs of their own communities over the homogeny that happens when something becomes a (inter)national trend.

There has been a national trend that’s overshadowed and in many ways lessened the progress that’s happening: it’s called “Cycle Chic.” Popularized by a blog out of Copenhagen celebrating fashionable cyclists in that city stylishly riding a bike as transport, it caught on everywhere as a vision of what cycling should become. It’s a leap born largely out of desperation: cycling as transport in America has long been viewed as juvenile or something that only the poor or slightly deranged might be driven to. Watching beautiful pictures of designer apparel clad gorgeous Europeans on classic city bikes seemed to be the answer to changing that mentality. But it seems strange that America has adopted a view point that unquestioningly adopts the perspective of an old world socialist government. What’s good for one country isn’t always the right solution for another. American fashion houses have put forth their own, sometimes silly, answers to making cycling an envious lifestyle fantasy.

But however amazing New York designer Philip Lim’s 3.1 Girls on Bikes collection for fall 2011 is; it’s the daily conversations and innovations that make something once reserved for children and Frenchmen a protected and cherished form of everyday transport. In this effort it’s the thousands of unsung heroines that are slowly making major changes bound to positively affect millions of people who might not yet think bicycles are mankind’s greatest invention.

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11 Responses to New Series #girlbikegangs How Women Are Changing US Cycling

  1. Courtnee says:

    There has been a national trend that’s overshadowed and in many ways lessened the progress that’s happening: it’s called “Cycle Chic.”

    You really want to take that position two posts above your New York Tweed Ride coverage?

    Also, what damage has cycle chic done to cycling advocacy? How does telling people that they too can ride in normal clothes diminish the progress of cycling in N. America? How does telling people that they need not worry about the weight of their bikes or riding fast discourage ridership?

    “Cycle chic” and the bicycle-as-accessory are two different phenomena. Cycle chic doesn’t fetishize the bike or push expensive designer bikes; fashion designers with their eyes on the streets have picked up cycle chic and used it to push [their] bikes as an “it” accessory. Their price points make their bikes exclusive, but I don’t think it makes cycling appear exclusive and I think the media presence they lend cycling only helps and makes commuter/recreational cycling look effortless and cool. Whats so wrong with that?

    Lastly, no one ever said cycle chic was the silver bullet to end N. America’s cycling woes. However, it can’t possibly hurt to have a bunch of people excited about riding bikes (stylishly) find out that the infrastructure of their cities doesn’t support that pursuit very well. In fact, that appears to be how greater cycling advocacy arises out the growing awareness of the public–a public that didn’t pay much attention to the grievances of guys in spandex and aerodynamic helmets.

    • admin says:

      I agree that riding in normal clothes and for that matter costumes or anything at all is to be encouraged. The problem is that Cycle Chis is a term owned by one person with a mission beyond making cycling more mainstream and fashionable. Cycle Chic is anti-helmet, a stance fine in Copenhagen but that’s dangerous in the US. I think we need to tell people what they CAN do, not what they can’t.

      There is plenty of room for all kinds of style, all kinds of people and riding. I agree with the benefits of getting designers involved in cycling – I know I am!

      Riding bikes stylishly is my favorite thing in the world, but it’s not the only thing. Bikes are like shoes! I have 5 and only 2 of them are for racing 🙂

  2. Byron says:

    Nona does take that position and so does Bike Hugger with this post:

    and I’ve said as much in other posts; to further its cause, Cycle Chic choses an “other” to market against and that’s the enthusiasts. That elitist, self-centered, euro-centric view ignores a large market and in this case women. Every one of the women in that Cross race I wrote about owns a second bike, likely rides to work, and probably dresses up on the bike sometimes too. But they’re not in it because of what the style makers think, they like to ride in a group, test themselves, compete. Lose weight too. So Cycle Chic’ers stereotype “guys in spandex” and my response is yeah, right, “bitches in dresses,” bike snobs.

    See more here

    where I say

    “Who do you think owns more than one bike and has the budget for a $1,000, 3-speed that’ll match their Kate Spade dress? Middle Aged Women in Lyrca Shorts . . .”


    You don’t see the diet industry’s spokesman saying, “wear this gear and not the gear that the fatties wear.”

    Nobody incorporates bikes into their lives more than the enthusiast and they’re the influencers on their friends, neighbors, and relatives that ask, “what bike should I get.”

    And they’re not saying, “you shouldn’t get one unless you commit to riding on it in jeans.”

  3. Courtnee says:

    I own more than one bike and I don’t race on the weekends. I don’t ride fast–I’m always in the rear on social rides. Neither Kate Spade nor Karl Lagerfeld nor Rosita Missoni inspired my enthusiasm for cycling. Similarly, [sport] cycling enthusiasts lent me no insight or enthusiasm for commuting by bike; Commute By Bike did that, to a degree. There was a little too much talk of bicycle-shaped objects and neoprene. I just wanted to jump on the bike that I had and ride it–that’s where Copenhagen Cycle Chic came in. Mikael made it seem easy without putting down the sport. All he said, in effect, was

    In North America, the sports industry [my emphasis] have worked hard for decades to sell cycling as a sport or a hobby. Now we need to get people to realise it doesn’t have to be only a sport. It is transport for people in normal clothes.

    “> He may have mentioned that the sports industry eliminated civilized cycling accessories like fenders, chainguards, and skirtguards, but I don’t recall him going after racers. Anecdotally, I’ve heard slow/chic cyclists speak of aggression from speedy, sporty cyclists. So who are you calling a bitch? (Not language conducive to getting the indicator species to take to her bike).

    • admin says:

      Hi Courtnee,

      Thanks for the reply. I don’t think anyone called anyone else any names. I go to pains to avoid making things divisive or tribal, as it all too frequently happens. I think that intelligent debate and understanding multiple perspectives is the best solution for evolving from having many groups who self identify in one way to a happy culture that supports all kinds. Though drama does wonders for the entertainment factor!

  4. […] a hockey stick, tennis racquet or softball bat, or to break a sweat. There is chatter on blogs like this and websites like bike hugger about increasing awareness and participation not just in cycling, […]

  5. Well, Byron did refer to “bitches in dresses, bike snobs” so there was a bit of name-calling.

    ALL of the “my riding is the right kind, yours isn’t” serves to divide an already-small group. It also doesn’t acknowledge that riding a bike is a behavioral continuum, both across individuals at any snapshot in time and for the same person over time. These “enthusiasts” don’t START that way–at some point they were beginners too. So saying the enthusiasts are the ones other people turn too begs the question of how they became such experts. Who knows? They may even have started as the maligned “lifestyle” riders.

    This fits in with a two-part blog post I just wrote, triggered by another post (not Nona’s) that impugned people whose motives for riding weren’t sufficiently worthy.

    Someday all of us will be able to get over ourselves and just ride our bikes. In the meantime–since I do like to look nice when I get to work–I’m quite happy to have designers paying attention to women on bikes as a target market. I don’t underestimate the power of popularization to turn something extraordinary into something ordinary, and therefore accessible.

  6. […] and bicycling. Please feel free to pass them along to anyone else who might be interested in them: “New Series #Girlbikegangs: How Women are Changing US Cycling” The Bird […]

  7. […] a hockey stick, tennis racquet or softball bat, or to break a sweat. There is chatter on blogs like this and websites like bike hugger about increasing awareness and participation not just in cycling, […]

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