Friday, May 22, 2009

In Defense of the "Frivolous" Bike Craze

[J. Crew catalog excerpt; image from pink-to-green.blogspot.com]

During the past two years, traditionally styled bicycles have gained considerable popularity in the US. Fashion models in ad campaigns have been featured riding Gazelle and Jorg & Olif, celebrities have been photographed cruising around on their Electras, and there is over a dozen weblogs now across North America dedicated to cycling and fashion. The New York Times made it official by referring to the stylish bicycle as the current must-have fashion accessory.

It is hard not to notice that some of the discussions of the “Dutch bicycle craze” come with a degree of scorn. There is an assumption that those who are buying such bicycles are not actually interested in bicycles, but merely want the latest “It” item -- a frivolous, consumerist attitude that is embarrassing to the real, authentic bike lovers. I have gotten this response form several shop owners when I told them what kind of bicycle I was looking for, as well as from some acquaintances who have been riding road bikes for years. Surprised and disappointed to encounter this sentiment, I offer two lines of argument in response.

[Gazelle Toer Populair for Club Monaco; image from thisislavie.com]

First off, those rolling their eyes at the girls who supposedly must have a Dutch bike as a fashion accessory, may be misunderstanding the situation. If you read the first post on this weblog, I think you will get a pretty good idea of why many women in the US do not ride bikes, and how introducing them to traditionally styled bicycles can change that. When I saw a Gazelle on the street for the first time, I did not know what it was. I had no idea whether it was new or vintage and whether it was considered popular in the public eye. What I did know, was that finally I was seeing a bicycle that I would be willing and able to ride.

The point is, that before the Dutch-style bicycles began to be imported in the US, it was simply not possible for fashion-conscious and unathletic women to ride a bike. There were no products for them to buy that would have accommodated their lifestyles. Now there are, so they are buying them. Therefore, to say that they are buying fashion accessories that happen to be bicycles is to misjudge the situation. They are buying these bikes, because finally the kind of bicycles that suit their tastes are available.

Second, even if some persons are interested in these bicycles only because they have been deemed a fashion must-have, I do not understand why this should evoke criticism. Is it not the ultimate victory for cycling advocates and environmentalists, that it is suddenly possible to get even the most unlikely suspects interested in commuting by bicycle? Wouldn’t it be an ideological coup for the go-green movement, if all those glamour girls previously driving enormous SUVs now think that cars are totally uncool and anyone who is anyone must have a Dutch bicycle? I can assure you that the majority of the population is far more likely to be influenced by these giggly spokespersons than by the earnest Green activists. It really seems like a win-win situation to me.

So please, hard-core cyclists: do think twice about criticizing those who you think want a bicycle “for the wrong reasons”. Consider instead what a fabulous thing it is, that they want a bicycle at all.

19 comments:

  1. I love this post!! I've been wanting to write something like this for a while but have been too lazy, and now you've done it better than I could have :) I, too, have noticed the same disdain. Seriously, how awful that people have to look at pretty women ride around the city on pretty bikes.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thank you for your comment Dottie; here's to restoring the Romance of cycling culture!

    ReplyDelete
  3. Great article. Cheers to a beautiful bicycle-culture!

    ReplyDelete
  4. I am an overweight mama of three. There is no way I am ever getting on a racing bike in anything resembling lycra. I, however, have total bike love thanks to my Dutch bike. More and more the minivan remains parked and I get around by bike. Why sneer at that?

    ReplyDelete
  5. > sara said...
    >
    > More and more the minivan remains parked
    > and I get around by bike.

    As it is, I have hardly been driving my car since we moved to the Boston area; I really don't enjoy it. But I don't particularly like the T either. So my Pashley will probably become my one and only transportation method. Since I wear almost exclusively skirts and dresses, this would not have been possible with a sportier bike.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Pam Anderson could use a cup holder, then she'd really be comfort cruisin'

    ReplyDelete
  7. The next accessory needed for biycles - a cup holder on the handlebars. Not a bottle cage, a cup holder... Hmmm. You can get hip-flash holders for bicycles already.

    ReplyDelete
  8. I just saw a photo on one of the other blogs, where a bike had an actual cupholder mounted to the handlebars... where was it!

    ReplyDelete
  9. This is brilliant! I have a road bike, wear lycra and clip into my pedals but for fitness/sport not for commuting. I love both worlds. I am influencing more people by cycling in style then I ever did in lycra. A lot of the women that I've talked to are intimidated by road bikes and would never consider clipping in. But I've now convinced my mom to ride by purchasing a slightly used Trek low step model. She hasn't been on a bike in over 20 years when she fell. I like the quote that I saw on a Gary Fisher catalog.."Anybody who rides a bike is a friend of mine".

    ReplyDelete
  10. I think this is a wise reflection on the north american biking community. In Europe, everday people cycle to get to work, school, etc. But here in North America it seems only to be the hardcores on expensive road or mountain bikes with panniers and all kinds of bike clothing who cycle. This scares everday people away from cycling. If more people just hopped on a bike without the gear, I think it would show that anyone can cycle! Good points!

    ReplyDelete
  11. I remember the first time I saw a Gazelle. It was my first day biking in Europe and I didn't know enough about bicycles to understand why it enthralled me. I considered stopping the rider to ask what kind of bike it was. Then 15 minutes later I saw another one. And then another one. Then I saw a whole row outside a bike shop. Needless to say, ours wasn't a exclusive romance.

    ReplyDelete
  12. Finally, bikes for the rest of us!

    ReplyDelete
  13. I'm a great fan of the gazelle and other "dutch" bikes. The fashion part is just lucky. The reasons for my fandom are they are low maintenance, high in integreted features, strong enough to carry passengers, and have a riding position that means you don't need to wear spandex or even remove your belt to ride comfortably. Those who scorn the "sit up and beg" bike as they used to be called are themselves suffering from outdated values riding their road bikes, fixies, or all-terrain bikes. They are the ones missing lights, comfort, load-carrying, integral lock, closed mechanicals, mudguards etc. WHO is the fashion victim again?

    ReplyDelete
  14. Honestly, these "Dutch Bikes" are actually quite practical machines. However, I prefer to go for vintage machines. For some reason old Raleigh DL-1 Roadsters and similar old bicycles actually weight a lot less than modern offerings. Perhaps the tinkerer in me makes me biased towards bicycles that need some love and attention, or the greenie in my prefers to recycle and buy second-hand.

    ReplyDelete
  15. Just a reminder :) Dutch bikes are nothing "new". I ride a Jorg&Olif in Toronto and its identical to the bike my Oma (my actual grandmother, not a bicycle) used to ride everyday. Dutch bikes have not changed much over the past 100 years or so.

    Picture this: My Oma, 75 years old, cute white curly "sheep" hair, polyester dress from sears, her figure never having quite recovered from giving birth to 10 kids, wearing orthopedic shoes and riding a gazelle on city streets with a basket full of groceries and her tan pleather purse.

    Now, does this sound like a fashion plate to you?? :) lol. No, but Oma had been riding this bike since 1927 and if it wasn't practical surely she would have found a better option over the 7 decades...

    I'm first generation Canadian but would never dream of riding a "sports" bike, ever. They just don't make any sense. Especially in the city.

    I have very little room in mt downtown apartment, but a good thick powder coat and heavy steel frame means I can keep my bike outside in the worst Canadian winter. And sitting upright means I can see over the traffic making my commute safer. Also, I'm dutch so I'm tall and quite sturdily built. At 5'9 I'm the shortest girl in my family and love the fact that I can get on a bike that doesn't feel like its going to squash like a tin can! :)

    ReplyDelete
  16. Andrea - Keep in mind that this post was written over a year before your comment. It is funny, because in March 2009, when I was looking for my first bike, they were very much new in my area and the concept was unknown to most bike shops. Now, in October 2010, everything has changed and they are a much more familiar phenomenon!

    ReplyDelete
  17. I am going through your older posts (they are all worth reading and so I do,with pleasure!)
    I am both a fan of old style racing bikes,randonneurs as well as the here mentioned dutch bicycles and the comfort and practicality they possess. It is a good thing you have started this topic because you are giving more and more people the chance to go out and start thinking about buying and riding a bicycle instead of using a car and all the advantages it can bring. I also realise that here, in Holland, we have had it far mor easy to cycling than it seems the majority of people in the USA have had,(thanks for pointing out the differences when it came to availabity , I did not know it was so hard to buy old style,straight position bikes in your part of the world) but its good to see that more and more people are opting for cycling ,not as a fashion statement but truly for the love of cycling..to quote again; anyone one a bicycle is a friend of mine..whether they wear lycra or elegant clothing;-)

    ReplyDelete
  18. I agree... None of the bike shops I know of in Melbourne have things like dress guards. There's a small online store which sells more feminine gear and they have a skirt garter to keep it from flying up in the breeze, which is a start :-p

    But the mainstream shops mostly seem to be tergeted at the Spandex Brigade, or whatever they're called. At least they sell hybrid bikes. It's better than nothing, right? :-p

    ReplyDelete
  19. I would like to chime in and note that those who say sit-up bicycles are somehow not real or that they are just making a fashion statement are practicing a fairly obvious form of hypocritical projection when it comes to everyday cycling. After all, what is a stripped-down hipster fixie if not a fashion statement? How about a lightweight carbon fiber bicycle with high-end components used for commuting? Or a wrapped-handle bend-over road bike ridden by someone in spandex with their very tight tush perched up in the air? I don't mean to denigrate any of these or a host of other personal fashion statement bicycle scenarios-- merely I'm trying to point out that everyone who rides a bicycle is doing so for a particular reason and with their own style. Performance is one, yes-- and hauling groceries on the way home from work while sharing the road with city traffic is another. A "real" bicycle in such circumstances, ridden by a person who is not particularly competitive or an athlete, is just as likely a sit-up-straight one with plenty of ways to carry cargo (including kids :-), sturdy gears and brakes, and good lights. It really has very little to do with how one dresses. If you like to dress up in your everyday life, and your bicycle is part of your everyday life, then you're likely to dress up when riding your bike. Skinny jeans, Pearl Izumi trunks, or a flared trench coat-- man or woman, it's all fashion. And if I like to wear a skirt (or perhaps a kilt) and prefer a step-through frame, it's just as "real" a bicycle as a diamond frame. Bicycle Diversity!

    ReplyDelete