We're in the midst of a self-imposed hiatus from writing new blog material, as we're busy hustling behind-the-scenes on our first full-length book. But rather than suffer through total radio silence, we thought it would be fun to periodically revisit old articles we've published over the years, many of which are no longer available online. The following, written by Chris, originally appeared in Hush Magazine on October 1st, 2012.
As Copenhagen’s Bicycle Program Manager, Andreas Røhl likes to point out, there are two types of cyclists in the world: militant cyclists and civil cyclists. If you’ve spent any time on two wheels in our fair city, you’ll recognize the undeniable fact that Vancouver is dominated by the former: Gore-Tex clad Super-Dads, hunched over mountain bikes decked with “One Less Car” stickers, pedaling like maniacs with scowls on their faces. They are an unfortunate product of their environment, which contained some of the most historically unfavourable conditions in North America: inadequate and unsafe bike infrastructure, an incredibly wet climate, an unforgiving terrain, a misguided mandatory helmet law, and a MEC-mentality that pervades everything we seem to do outdoors.
The slow-moving, smartly-dressed civil cyclist is a rare species in Vancouver, but that is changing incrementally, as attitudes and conditions around cycling improve. Not driven by politics, people are choosing practicality and accessibility; rather than saving the environment, they are merely embracing the humble bicycle as a graceful, elegant, and dignified way to move around the city. This simple idea was the genesis of the Cycle Chic Movement: when Mikael Colville-Andersen, a Danish-Canadian filmmaker, began photographing Copenhageners as they made their everyday, two-wheeled travels around their city. Over the past six years, these modest photographs have spawned a global game-changer: a manifesto-based republic of a hundred blogs worldwide, inspiring people to think differently about their bikes. To quote a dear friend: “Cycle Chic and their content inspired me to give up aspirations to spend loads of money I didn’t have on cycling gear, and remember what I used to ride in as a child: my regular clothes.”
In an intriguing turn of events, the Critical Mass demonstrations around the world are gradually handing over the reins to the Cycle Chic Movement. The local council in Budapest, for example, recently cancelled their semi-annual Critical Mass event (which was the largest in the world, attracting upwards of 80,000 participants). Explaining the cancellation in an official statement, they first acknowledged the role that Critical Mass played in transforming Budapest into Eastern Europe’s most cycle-friendly city. More importantly, they went on to recognize the fact that "even more powerful new engines have emerged: the Cycle Chic Movement, which is successful in increasing ridership and breaking down stereotypes with greater visual impact in the city." This is Bicycle Culture 2.0: the transition from a militant bike culture to a slower, simpler, more civilized one.
If the Cycle Chic Movement can be summed up in one sentence, it is this: “Dress for the destination, not the journey”. A person on a bike does not need special clothing or gear any more than someone walking or taking the bus does. For a slow, short ride in a relatively bicycle-friendly city such as Vancouver, the extraneous shoes, spandex, socks, pants, shorts, jackets, gloves, helmets, straps, mirrors and high-visibility vests are both excessive and prohibitive. To quote the brilliant Eben Weiss (a.k.a. The Bike Snob): “Putting on all the necessary gear… is only slightly more convenient than scuba diving”. It shouldn’t be. The only accessories truly needed are ones that facilitate urban cycling in regular clothes. These should be included with the purchase of your bicycle: a chain guard, kickstand, skirt guard, fenders, light, bell and basket. Everything else is distraction.
In choosing not to participate in the needless consumption and fear-mongering that typifies militant cycling, it is also just as important to avoid the riding style it encourages. Not only does that protective gear imply that cycling is inherently dangerous and complicated (actively discouraging the average by-stander from giving it a try), it also leads to risk compensation, causing the wearer to ride faster and more recklessly than they otherwise would. In choosing style over speed, and elegance over exertion, you are a completely predictable vehicle on the road, travelling at a jogging pace, yielding to pedestrians and cars, and following all traffic laws. Think of yourself as walking with wheels; you are Mary Poppins, not Bradley Wiggins. You’re likely riding a few leisurely blocks to the grocery store, not zooming through a construction site or a war zone.
Once you discover the simple comforts and pleasures of civil cycling, you won’t look back. There are few things in life as enjoyable as cruising half-speed in the sunshine, watching all the other motorists and “avid cyclists” racing for the prize. My daily ride to work on my three-speed, Dutch-style bicycle is an absolute dream: dressed for the office, sitting up straight, never breaking a sweat, and turning plenty of heads. In doing the same, your mere presence in the urban landscape inspires others, without being labeled an activist. If the bicycle is ever to move past the dismal 5% mode share it enjoys in Vancouver, it will have to be with more than just the middle-class, middle-aged road-warriors who currently dominate the bikeways, seawalls and separated lanes of our city. Every citizen will consider cycling a feasible mode of transportation, irrespective of age, sex, ethnicity, fitness, politics or financial means. That is the basis for the new bicycle culture: advocacy in a blazer, dress shirt, and pinstriped trousers. I hope you’ll join me.