02 December 2011

Cycle chic, personal style, and feminism

(Forgive me, folks, I'm a couple of months behind on my blog reading, but I had to share my thoughts on this...)

So. Wanting to wear stylish clothing on my bicycle makes me a tool of the patriarchy?


Heaven knows there are lots of sexualized 'cycle chic' photos that have been circulated that have almost nothing to do with bicycles and everything to do with the male gaze - for amazing commentary on that see Sweet Georgia Brown - and lots of other 'cycle chic' photos that have everything to do with selling us stuff we don't need. The criticism that the cycle chic movement is vulnerable to being co-opted by sexism and consumerism is a valid one. However. That doesn't mean the movement itself is sexist and consumerist.

On a continent where girls stop using their bikes sometime in their teens because they think it makes them look dorky, and where the idea that bicycling is a fringe activity is used to justify rolling back funding of much-needed bike infrastructure, I believe that photos of women and men (of all ages, sizes, and shapes) enjoying bicycle rides to go places and do things help to make cycling more accessible.

As for the perception that cycle chic prescribes a particular, exclusive, commercial version of fashionable: I do not believe that expensive clothes, or expensive bikes, are a prerequisite for cycle chic. That line about your clothes being more valuable than your bike in the Cycle Chic Manifesto? I think its author is talking about using the bike as a tool for living - along the lines of his post about your bike being like a vacuum cleaner. I stand with Velouria on that topic, and think emotional attachment to bikes we've customized to our tastes is part of what makes bicycling appealing - but the point is that perhaps he's using 'value' (not expense) as a stand-in for relative importance. He's saying it's not about the bike, it's about your personal style and your needs, and that your bike should suit you, not the other way around.

I don't believe that youth and a standard definition of beauty are requirements of cycle chic, either.

It doesn't matter if you wear something you've made, something you've thrifted, something you found in a big-box bargain bin or something you had to get on a haute couture wait-list to buy. It doesn't matter if you're twenty or forty or eighty. What matters - with both personal style, and cycle chic - is that you feel great about yourself, and that you're having fun. To me, the most attractive thing about any photo of a bicyclist is the sense that they're having fun on their bike. They look great because they feel great, no matter what they're wearing.

I'm a 40-year-old plus-size mother of two who lives in the suburbs. I ride relatively inexpensive workhorse 3-speeds, for fun and the occasional grocery run, and I stop riding when the snow flies (icy roads plus drivers not expecting to see cyclists in outer-ring subdivisions is a bad combination). I have a closet full of jeans and t-shirts and thrift-shop finds and handmade jewelry. I rarely wear makeup, and I don't do designer labels (Well, I have this one scarf, but it's not an obvious status piece.). I am a chic cyclist, and a feminist, and an advocate for better bicycle infrastructure and more sustainable living.

None of these facts preclude any of the others.

What a shame that some bicycle advocates don't see it that way. I guess they're just not listening.

(PS: Yes, I know there's an issue with the Disqus comments right now - I am waiting on their support people to tell me how to fix it. Apparently they upgraded their back end and broke the CSS somehow. Meanwhile, you can read the white-text-on-white-background if you highlight the comments.)

24 November 2011

Kidical Mass rides in Novembrrr!

After following the Totcycle blog for a couple of years, I finally had a chance to join his Kidical Mass ride last week.  The occasion was the grand opening of the Ship Canal Trial. It's a great piece of bike infrastructure as it lets people get from Magnolia and the Ballard Locks to the Fremont bridge, without having to take a confusing and not-particularly friendly interchange near the Ballard Bridge.

The forcast was for chilly, with a possibility of rain and/or snow. Chilly by Seattle standards, of course, which translates to 35-40F (2-4C). I hadn't taken Spencer for a winter ride before, and I was a little concerned about how to dress him. I started digging through the closet to find last year's winter gear. The snow pants fit great, but were probably unnecessary. Tried to find toques without pompom that would fit under bike helmets. The good mitts were left at karate class. And Spencer's winter coat looked awfully short in the sleeves. This is when I began to feel like a lousy mother and a lousy Canadian. Didn't I know that winter was coming? Has it ever skipped a year? In the end, the best solution was to wear last year's coat and a warm pair of my mitts that were long enough to cover his wrist, even with the somewhat too short sleeves. Extra sweaters, scarfs and toques were added, I packed the pannier, and we were ready to roll.

When we got to the end of the driveway, it became clear that I had overreacted and we were both terribly overdressed. So, we stopped to strip off layers, and my pannier was then stuffed with fleece for the rest of the day. Still, I'm glad we had the mitts and scarf - little bodies get cold quickly. Especially, when they don't help much with the pedaling. Finally, we were on our way and were only a little bit late to our meeting place at the Ballard Library. 

Spencer was ready to go.
Despite the chilly weather, there was a great turnout. I didn't get a complete head count, but suspect it must have been about 40 people. And the bikes! There were at least three Madsens, one Bakfiet, a couple of trailers and two trail-a-bikes. Clearly, this was a very bikey crowd.

We rode west on NW 57th St., one of our candidates for a neighborhood greenway. It's always fun riding with such a big group. We can chat with folks, admire the different bikes and swap stories. Of course we're still careful about traffic, but we don't really have to worry about visibility with a group of this size! We took 28th Ave NW and then Market St. to the Ballard Locks, where we had to dismount to cross the canal. There is no denying that this was a production. The walkways across the locks are relatively narrow - there's just enough room for a bike and pedestrian to cross each other. A group of cargo and family bikes takes a long time to cross. Fortunately, traffic was very light - there aren't many tourists out on a chilly November morning.

The locks were still pumped dry for their annual maintenance. We could see a few folks working away at the bottom, which gives a sense of how big it really is. The barnacles clinging to the wall were starting to get rather stinky by this point. It didn't seem to bother the crows and gulls, though - they were still enjoying their sushi.

See the three white dots? Those are the workers in their white hard hats.
After many photos and three separate bathroom breaks, we were finally ready to continue on our way. We rode along Commodore Way and through Fisherman's Terminal. It's a light industrial area without a bike lane, but the road is relatively wide and there was hardly any traffic. We arrived under the Ballard Bridge just in time for the opening ceremony. A good sized crowd of cyclists and walkers had gathered by this time.

Peter Hahn, the head of SDOT, gave a speech and cut the ribbon with very big pair of scissors.

However, for our group, the big attraction was Julian's thermos of hot apple cider to warm those chilly fingers.

Before too long, we were on our way. I don't have any photos of the new trail, yet, but there's a nice one here. It's a pleasant ride that I'll definitely check out again and will be my preferred route between the Pier 91 trail and the Fremont Bridge. However, there is a rather annoying double 2-curve to cross the train tracks. I know they need to slow bike traffic down and direct folks to cross at a right angle, but this really seems excessive. Still, it's a minor flaw in an otherwise great trail.

After crossing back across the Fremont Bridge, we split up to get food and then met again at the Fremont Brewery. This was my first time there, and I'm delighted to discover such a cool place. It's a local microbrewery which makes absolutely delicious beer. It's a tasting room, not a full-fledged bar and they don't sell food, but allow you to bring your own it. It's really a big room with picnic tables at one end and big, shiny vats at the other, but seemed cosy and friendly. It's also remarkably family-friendly - they even have a couple of baskets of toys! Only in Seattle. Sadly, I have no good photos from this part of the trip, so you'll have to take my word for it until you can go there yourself.

After food, a beer and lots of chatting and tracking down stray children, it was time to go. We'd had a full day and I knew we were in the pre-melt down phase. Plus, Spencer was getting tired too. We weren't the only ones who'd had enough. Thirty seconds earlier, this little guy had been flopped over the edge of his bucket seat. If only I'd been able to get my camera out earlier.....

It was a great group and a terrific ride. I hope we can do it again soon! And I did buy my son a new winter coat the next day.

02 October 2011

Scenes From Tweed Ride

Sweet poster, via the Facebook event page.
Today I went to the Edmonton Tweed Ride with a few friends. Despite rain that ended at the last minute, there were an impressive number of people who came out. We had a wonderful time, met lots of great people, and rode a perfectly gorgeous route through the river valley.

It started pouring mid-afternoon, but - thank goodness - it stopped in time.
Here is Eliza, dried off and ready to go after a rejuvenating tea at Karen's.
The City of London souvenir hankie tied to the vintage purse is a sly little homage. 

The bike pile in front of Pembina Hall.

Sarah rides this Vulcan with the adorable bell and basket she scored at Calgary's BikeBike.
Even Robert was dressed to impress.
Loving the argyle socks.
Coreen sewed her outfit, isn't it rad?
Gorgeous, bubbly Sarah. Love her skirt and boots.
Impressive trackstanding skillz. Loved her flapper dress.
Organizer Neil telling us about our route and destination.
Down Saskatchewan Drive,

and across the road into Belgravia,

where the sun decided to join us.
At the top of (the former) Keillor Road we paused to chat with another group of cyclists.
After taking it slooooow coming down the switchbacks - because I was more than a bit nervous about my rod brakes in the wet road conditions- Judy and I had Keillor Road to ourselves. So pretty. In another week or so the leaves will have all fallen.
Notice the point-blanket scarf. This is how Canadians do Tweed.
At the other side of the bridge across Whitemud Creek everyone was waiting for us slowpokes and having a lovely chat.

Judy took a great photo of me - thanks Judy!
Our destination, after a bit more riding: the new(ish) Fort Edmonton Foot Bridge.

Judy admires the view upriver.
We stopped at the midpoint of the span to hang out.
The downriver view. Pretty!
Everyone looked so great. I wish my photos turned out better - my candid approach doesn't always work.

Luckily there were a lot of cameras there. Here are some great shots that Tess took, for example.
I'm sure more will get posted to blogs over the next few days.

Kevin demonstrates his mad trackstanding skillz.
You are here.

On Keillor Road on the way back. Some of the horses were in the field at the equestrian centre.
Taking a breather at the top of the hill on the Saskatchewan Drive MUP.

Soon after this we parted ways - some of us needed to get home early,
while the rest carried on to get dinner and drinks at The Next Act.

Neil tells me there will be another Tweed Ride next Spring! Can't wait!

There are more great photos and a video of the ride at TuckamoreDew (as mentioned in the comments).
I also found a ride report with links to others' photos from the first Edmonton Tweed Ride (in 2009)!

26 September 2011

Moving Planet Seattle

Saturday was the Moving Planet Seattle Event. The theme was transportation, so it was fitting that folks met around the city for group rides to Lake Union Park. About 20 of us met in Ballard for the ride, including three families.
Our trail-a-bike.

A kindred spirit had an Xtracycle.
A tandem bike completed the set.
Our fearless leaders set the pace in the awesome, traffic-stopping conference bike from the Dutch Bike Company. This beast is mighty, but slow and a tad too wide for the trails. So, we took a traffic lane and made a slow parade to Lake Union Park, with enthusiastic waving and bell-ringing at passersby. Once there, the group dispersed to explore the different events, though we did run into each other throughout the day. Metaphorically speaking, that is.
The conference bike in all its glory.
The Center for Wooden Boats had wooden sailboats for kids to play with on the boat pool. Spencer was so excited to see the boats, that I could barely get him to leave long enough to lock up our bike. We probably spent 20-30 minutes there.

I was more excited to see this bike, which looked suspiciously familiar....

After looking around for likely suspects, I took a deep breath and asked "Hey, are you the Family Ride blogger? I recognize your bike." Yes! It was Madi from Family Ride, who was friendly, charming and  happy to talk about bikes, boats and kids. She asked if I'd been on some of the Totcycle rides, because I looked "sort of familiar". After a minute, she realized that she'd seen us here on the blog. That, my friends, is the kind of fame that blogging can bring you! 

Jennifer and Madi, who both looked "sort of familiar".
Spencer eventually had his fill of the boats, so we wandered off to see more sites. Along the way, he was caught by the plastic bag man. The costume was made from 500 bags, but he'd lost a few along the way. Kids just couldn't resist trying to pull them off. At least, my kid couldn't. And I did make him stop and give them back.

There was a great kids' craft table, which spawned many masterpieces. A fish doesn't need a bicycle, unless, of course, it's a bicycle powered by cocktail umbrellas.

I was delighted to run into my friend Arvia. The folks at the family bike expo talked her into taking the kids for a spin in this:
I tried it out as well. It was reasonably easy to pedal, at least on flat pavement, but quite tricky to turn. It has an extremely wide turning radius and you end up leaning over ridiculously far. It felt like I was about to fall over, but it's really quite steady. Not exactly a practical bike for most people, though. 

Some bikes were made just for fun:

More crazy bike-like objects.
Oh, yeah, there was also a rally:
Mike McGinn, Mayor of Seattle
We listened for a while, but when Spencer tried to take a nap in my lap, I knew it was time to go. All in all, it was a great event on a beautiful day. The organizers did a good job of combining fun, family activities with real activism and awareness, a tricky thing to balance.