Monday, 1 October 2012

Get the Lady a Bike!

No fashionistas here. Just a mom and her little girl,
riding their bikes, making it looks simple and easy.
Last week, my husband wrote a piece for Hush Magazine titled: Towards a Slower, Simpler, More Civilized Bicycle Culture. In it, he discusses the Cycle Chic movement and the concept of dressing for the destination, which I have written about before. Unfortunately, I think the message was lost for a few people, referring to this style of cycling as shallow, or limited to fashionistas, among other comments. I then read a post from Momentum Magazine; How to Sell the Cycling Lifestyle to American Women. In this article, they talk a lot about how current marketing, merchandising and visuals of the cycling culture in North America is focused on men, speeding along, sometimes in highly dangerous situations, and I can't help but think these two articles compliment each other in challenging our pre-existing concept of what "normal" cycling is.

You may have heard it before, that if you want to sell something to the masses, you first have to sell it to women. An article about selling to women, available here, notes that women are responsible for at least 85% of consumer purchases in their household. So it seemingly goes without saying that if you want to increase the modal share in North American cities, like Vancouver, you need to make riding a bike look accessible, affordable and, most of all, safe to women.

Women are visual creatures, much more so then men, so when we're out and about in the city, we're taking everything in, and that includes people on bikes. Just yesterday, while out on our group ride, I recall myself noticing nearly every person we passed on a bike, and you want to know which ones stood out for me? The ones dressed in their everyday clothes, smiling and enjoying a ride along the seawall. Ok, so maybe I'm a bit biased, because I'm noticing people that look like me. But isn't that just the point? 

When I'm out riding my bike, or doing anything for that matter, I don't want to feel like the only one at the party. As a woman riding a bike in my everyday clothes, I see every strange look I get from passersby dressed in cycling specific clothing. I know that a lot of what my family and I do makes us part of a smaller group. From the food we eat, to the way we commute and much more, so it makes me very happy to see people like me on a bike. 

So, back to the point made that Cycle Chic promotes a shallow ideal. What's important is to look past the initial image and understand the idea behind it. No one, not even members of the Cycle Chic worldwide community, wants to stop people that already ride bikes from doing it. What the intention is is to show the average person who maybe only rides occasionally along a waterfront, or has never thought of a bicycle as a viable means of transportation, that all they need is a bike that doesn't have to cost a fortune, and the clothes in their closet. 

Further to that, women, who currently make up a dismal 24% of all cyclists in the US (couldn't find Canadian stats), need some positive imagery to make them consider cycling as a safe, accessible and viable option for commuting. In my opinion, I feel that showing men, women, children and families riding bikes in their everyday attire is one of the best ways to achieve that. There is a huge lack of that in marketing materials, but it is growing, slowly but surely. Until bike and bike accessory companies catch on, though, the best form of advertising is seeing people in your city doing it; people just like you. 

Which was the point my husband was trying to make. We're not telling people to do away with their gear if they don't want to, or to ride slower. Ride however you want in whatever you want. BUT, if you do want to make a quick jaunt to the corner store, maybe leave the bright yellow coat at home. Or, if a female (or male) friend is considering trying out riding a bike to work, try not to intimidate them by telling them they have to buy a sporty, lightweight hybrid or a drop hundreds of dollars on gear at bike shops to do it. It is just as acceptable for them to go buy a used or vintage bike for less, and ride in what they would wear to walk, take transit or drive.

In the end, we all want more people on bikes, no matter what we wear or ride; for health, the environment, or just for the sheer pleasure of doing it. If you want to wear all the specialized gear, buy a lightweight bike, and ride fast, then by all means, do it. Just understand what we're trying to do, too. It's not shallow, and we're not all fashionistas. We're just a family that would rather ride our bikes, and want to encourage more people, especially a cautiously curious lady, to do it, too!

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