Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Forswearing normal?

The lead-in to a recent post on the League of American Bicyclists blog:

“Riding a Bike vs Looking Normal” (WBS12)

Maria Boustead doesn’t call herself a cyclist — despite the fact that she rides 15+ miles per day. In fact, she started her company, Po Campo, because she recognized a growing market of women just like her; women who want to ride their bikes without the obvious baggage of being a cyclist...

The "obvious baggage of being a cyclist"?  Hmmm...who defines baggage, us or those folks parking a Chevy Tahoe or Ford Expedition on the city street? Ok, a little bit later on, Maria comments further (in an excerpt from her own blog) "...There are lots of things to like about biking to work (more to come on that). My least favorite part was entering my office carrying so much more stuff then everyone else, with my bags inside of bags and helmet and lights… I felt like I was being forced to choose between riding a bike and looking normal...."

Later on, commenter Brad chips in "...I see around me on my commute that the look of the spandex wearing “athlete biker” is rare anymore. ..."

Three cheers for looking “normal”...whatever that means to you.  What I fail to see is why those who wring double duty out of our dreaded “spandex” (i.e., wearing it both to commute and on weekend non-commute rides) are increasingly subject to put-downs not only from motorists but also from the “new normal” of cyclists and not to mention, an organization founded on cycling, the League of American Bicyclists.  Is Spandex too lurid for the public, only suited for bike races among our own kind, or Bicyclist Pride/Coming Out Day in places like Santa Fe, The Village, and San Francisco?  Does bicycling only become acceptable if we cyclists are "closeted"? Is there something wrong with a bright yellow lycra jersey for visibility and lycra shorts for someone who commutes 5-10 miles at a high cycling speed? Does form still follow function?

Baggage. I sympathize with others who lug their helmets, lights, and panniers into the office because there is no secure storage elsewhere. Companies need to embrace cycling. The difference between Maria Boustead showing up with her “baggage” to stow and Maria’s colleague stowing a car in a 10×20 foot parking space is a fine point lost on me--the two differ only in where they must stow their baggage and in the tonnage of baggage a cyclist gives up to a motorist. I bet Maria is saving the company as well as herself some money by stowing bags instead of a Chevy.

There is a running subtext in the cycling advocacy world lately. We are being encouraged to become “Copenhagenized”, i.e., ride slowly on bicycles, in our street clothing, on cycletracks, and forswearing helmets. Sounds a little stifling to me. Kinda like a cycling equivalent of the burqa.

The New Normal?
In our quest to make cycling universal, lets not make it boring or stifling. Embrace the bicyclist. Don't worry about the togs, even the proverbial Tour de France silly outfit. That's what change rooms are for.  If you want plastic bags in a wicker basket, great. One of Maria's really chic and organized bike bags, even better. Its about enjoying life and riding the bike, right? Without the burqa.


Anonymous said...

I think it's more about the presentation of bicycling. If the only people cycling in your town are doing it on $4000 carbon road bikes, with lycra pants and loud jerseys, Joe Random Water Mammal might feel like this was a means of transportation that was out of his reach.

I mean, hardly anybody wears a leather helmet and scarf to drive their car somewhere anymore. Nobody's saying you can't do that, or that it's a problem if someone wants to. They're just trying to make it approachable for "normal people".

Khal said...

I see the guy in lycra on a 4k Carbon bike as equivalent to the guy driving a 911 to work. The 3 sigma example. I ride a much cheaper bike that I built up myself but with the stereotypical loud jersey, in part because the loud jersey likely increases visibility.

The three sigma example should not impede others from doing what they consider normal and I doubt it does. One never hears about the three sigma motorist making it look like normal motoring is out of reach of Joe Random.

I think what is starting to make cycling approachable is a combination of better infrastructure, better commuting bikes, and e-bikes, which don't require Quads of Steel to get somewhere.

Ian Brett Cooper said...

To be honest, I haven't liked spandex bicycle gear since I first saw it in the 1970s. It looked obnoxious then, and it looks obnoxious now.

As for what you call the 'new normal', it has been normal at least since I started cycling in 1970. It is normal because you don't need spandex to ride a bike - you just don't. And the 'ordinary clothes' look is not new - if anything, it is classic.

Spandex is what's new, and as long as the makers of spandex bike gear keep making it look like people are being poured into shorts that are 3 sizes too small, and making bike jerseys that look like an industrial accident happened at the dyeing stage, people will dislike it. Let's face it - spandex, on the average person... well, to be frank, it looks like a messy accident. On a fit person, it looks like they are participating in an Olympic event. Its closest analog is swimming gear, and it makes cycling seem like a pursuit that, like swimming or scuba diving, requires tons of specialized clothing, which it doesn't.

The reason many cyclists dislike it is because they see the price of it and they conclude it's for folks who have more money than sense.

It has nothing to do with efforts to 'Copenhagenize'. It has to do with the urge to just get on a bike and go, and then get off and do whatever it is you want to do without messing with a whole different outfit, changing rooms, etc. This is not some kind of plot driven by rabid 'Club of Copenhagen' infrastructure advocates. It's just a matter of aesthetics and convenience.

After all, when did cycling become so paraphernalia-oriented? It used to be just a way of getting from A to B faster than walking. Sometime in the 1990s all this 'stuff' just seemed to take it over. Nowadays, it seems to many of us 'classic' cyclists that you can't be considered a 'proper' cyclist unless you have all the gear to go with it.

As for me, I'm happy someone other than me is taking a stand against all that commercialized nonsense.

Ian Brett Cooper said...

And yeah, I know spandex is merely a clothing choice, and if a person wants to wear stuff, who am I to complain. But flared trousers and lounge suits were clothing options in the '70s, as were spangly dresses and weird hats in the 1960s. Some clothing choices need to be stopped.

Ian Brett Cooper said...

Hehe, can you tell you struck a nerve. The lycra/spandex thing just drives me nuts. I don't even really know why. Maybe there's something in the fabric that sends out subliminal anger messages.

bikeolounger said...

I forswore normal when I chose to drive a bike instead of driving a car.

Twenty years ago, I started riding recumbent bicycles, and forswore normal in a slightly different manner.

Five years ago, I started wearing kilts instead of jeans much of the time. I found that kilts don't mix well with USS recumbent bikes--the material in the pleats compromises steering control. I do wear kilts on my upright bikes much of the time, however.

Ian Brett Cooper said...

"As for me, I'm happy someone other than me is taking a stand against all that commercialized nonsense."

After writing that, I went over to the LAB site and quickly realized that the person I thought was taking a stand against commercialization was hawking her own line of commercial cycling junk - specifically, bags that look like they'll last about a week before falling apart.

Khal said...

Seems to me LAB and the New Normal is rebelling against an imaginary enemy. The percentage of cyclists who ride while flying the colors, so to speak, is a fraction of the small number of people who ride a bike. Is it the lycra-clad cycling extremist who inhibits cycling? I kind of doubt it. My hunch is that more people don't ride bikes simply because they choose not to ride bikes. I don't forswear cars because a few people choose to dress out and drive 100k sports cars.

I used to ride 11 miles to the University in normal street clothes and then spend half an hour cooling off. Moved to half the distance and did the same. I started riding on weekends out to the eastern end of Long Island and started getting inflamed testicles. My M.D. told me to forswear the cutoff jeans with the nasty seam down the middle and get some cycling shorts. Back then they were wool Protogs. Problem solved. Wish I could still get them today.

On short rides, I really don't care what I wear. On long rides, I use whatever is in the bike drawer. That means two Hawaii Bicycling League jerseys I bought when I was on the Board, three jerseys designed by Patrick O'Grady, a cartoonist and free lancer, and a couple century ride jerseys. Maybe its my rebellion against normal. Normal has always bothered me.

Jon said...

As with Khal (details aside), I started wearing bike clothes because it made sense. I was riding to campus in jeans and a t-shirt and then changing into clean underwear and a clean t-shirt. At that point, why not wear clothes that deal with sweat better and don't get caught on bits of the bike?

Yeesh. Are motorcyclists getting crap because they're wearing helmets and gloves and heavy pants and jackets?

Khal said...

Some motorcycle groups do get crap because they wear colors. The New Mexico Motorcyclist's Rights Organization has a list of businesses who have not been business friendly to some of the moto clubsd, i.e., Harley folks who dress out seriously. Although they do tend to look a little scarier than a pack of skinny guys in funny looking lycra, one has to avoid acting on stereotypes unless they are borne out.

I once was trying to cash a traveler's check in a New Jersey town while riding my moto to a friend's place from my home in Rochester, NY. The teller was stalling and looking at me funny and she finally relented when I produced a USNROTC ID card with my happy face on it rather than my driver's license. I guess that card made me honorable, whereas the black leather "Marlin Brando" jacket made me scary and dishonest.

Khal said...

BTW, that leather is just as functional as lycra in its own way, and is definitely not just for show (although if I put "Los Alamos Evil Scientist's Moto Club" on mine it would be a statement). I've had the pleasure of grinding off leather from my jacket while sliding down the road on two occasions, one on black ice and one because of a front wheel mishap. Glad it was leather and not skin..

Khal said...

Getting on a bicycle and riding somewhere in whatever you happen to be wearing has always been perfectly normal, i.e., what Ian calls the existing normal. Absolutely true.

The boom in sport cycling, with all of its expensive paraphanalia, during the last few decades has indeed resulted in USA bicycling being looked at as sport cycling alone. I think the sport cycling market shot up because far more people wanted to ride bikes for sport and recreation alone rather than for utility riding. But that doesn't mean that sport cyclists inhibit utility cyclists any more than sports car owners inhibit station wagon owners. Its just that in a country where car is king, the rightful place of a bicycle was seen as on a roof rack. Don't blame me for that. I ride in my silly lycra to work more than to play.

What I object to is pigeonholing cyclists into "normal" vs "something else", as if part of the cycling advocacy community wants to reject its more flamboyant part. Reminiscent of the "people's liberation front" splitters skit from Monty Python that I like to use as an example.

More people might someday take up Ian's "normal" cycling when it fits their lives, not when they stop seeing me looking like a rolling industrial accident (I agree that some of this stuff DOES look like a rolling industrial accident!). Meanwhile, I stopped being arrogant about looking like a rolling industrial accident decades ago when as president of a statewide bicycling association, I had the honor of speaking for cyclists, whether they dressed up like me or like Ian while on the bike.

Steve A said...

Do you KNOW Maria to be a cyclist - as compared to a person on a bike - just like many of those spandex/Lycra people on $4000 bikes? Besides, doesn't Buycycling consider $2000 a "cheap" bike now? It isn't about the clothes or the bike - as you and Ian know.

Khal said...

Steve, one of these days I want to put up a blog post of "10 Great Bicycles Too Cheap to be in Buycycling Magazine's Annual Review"

At the risk of using someone else's book title, no, its not about the bike. Or the silly outfits.

John S. Allen said...

What's next, will we be hearing excuses for not using lights at night? I can just see it: "Mandatory headlight laws reduce appeal of bicycling, study shows."

Anonymous said...

Give it a break and stop the immature in-fighting Khal. It's about getting on a bike.

Khal said...

Its also about occasionally letting off some steam on a blog, Anon. Let's not take everything in life too seriously.

Ian Brett Cooper said...

Buycycling Magazine is a joke. Actually, all bicycle mags are a joke these days. Even 'Bicycle Times' has turned to the Dark Side in recent months. It's sad.

Ian Brett Cooper said...

"one of these days I want to put up a blog post of "10 Great Bicycles Too Cheap to be in Buycycling Magazine's Annual Review"

Having never spent more than $450 on a bike in my entire life, I'd like to see something like that.

Of course, $450 used to be a whole lot more back in the early 1980s, when I spent about that much on the bike that carried me around Europe, but still.

Khal said...

From the inflation calculator ( "What cost $450 in 1983 would cost $1000.16 in 2011."

When I built up the Long Haul Trucker last year, I spent about 500 bucks on a new frame. The parts were stored in a box from when I took apart a 1994 Trek tandem a couple years ago. I don't know what it would have cost me to build the LHT up from scratch had I bought everything new, but it was a pretty good deal cobbled together out of spare parts. Aside from a new old stock tandem and a mountainbike, the bikes in the garage were all cobbled together out of frames and parts that were scrounged separately. They work just fine and keep my technical skills sharper than otherwise.

Ian Brett Cooper said...

450 was a bit of a rough estimate. It was actually 700 Deutsche Marks in 1984, which worked out to about 200 pounds sterling at that time, which was, if memory serves, maybe $250 - $300 (the dollar was strong back then), which is (according to the inflation calculator at about $670. Either way, my financial ability to buy bikes has (sadly) taken a bit of a plunge in recent years.

Ian Brett Cooper said...

You know Khal, I've been a bit of a prick in these last couple of blogs of yours. I'm sorry. Sometimes I write then send before I've had a chance to think about what I've said or who I'm talking with.

Khal said...

No apology needed, Ian, and thank you for commenting. I think this is a hot button issue for both of us, for different reasons. Thanks for commenting, even if it was a little warm in the room. That's what discourse is for.

Jimbo said...

I switched it up the other day and rode my steel road bike into work while wearing some awesome spandex and a messenger bag to hold all my stuff. It was fun! And it sure was a change from commuting on the trails.

On the way home from work, some guy in a giant Ford truck slowed way down next to me as I stood up to ride a hill and yelled, "Nice ass!"

I took it as a compliment. Shake it if you got it!