When I arrived in Newport a few months ago, having spent the past decade in New York, I was in no hurry to buy a car. I’ve been enjoying getting around entirely by bicycle, even when dressed up for a meeting or event. That’s called “cycle chic,” which is defined by Wikipedia as “the culture of bicycling in fashionable clothes.” Back in 2011 I wrote just such a feature for Ralph Lauren Magazine, which has been freshly pasted below thanks to the Internet Wayback Machine. As spring approaches, we’ll revisit a few of these posts from Ivy Style’s 2011 Bicycle Week, which included one of our most popular posts ever. But first up, piece for RL. May you have sunshine this weekend and the time and urge to get outside.
Who says you need to wear sweats when you exercise? Just don’t get grease on your trousers. — CC
By Christian Chensvold
Ralph Lauren Magazine, Spring 2011
The modern gentleman’s style arsenal includes bespoke suits, bench-made shoes, Egyptian-cotton shirts, seven-fold ties, and Swiss watches. But parading good taste on the sidewalk runways of the metropolis is becoming passé.
In the silent skirmish for style supremacy waged every time two dapper gents pass each other, a trump card is needed. Long ago it was a polished carriage with tufted seats. Today it’s a bicycle — preferably a rare, custom-made, and extremely elegant bicycle.
In urban style centers such as Paris, Berlin, Amsterdam, and Copenhagen, modern boulevardiers are increasingly turning to stylish and high-tech velocipedes for the final stamp on their fashion statement—the first time since the golden age of bicycles in the 1890s.
The bike industry, long focused on competition and technical innovation, hardly knows what to make of it. “This huge phenomenon is occurring outside the mainstream bike industry,” says Rich Kelly, communications manager for Interbike, the nation’s largest bike industry trade show. “This is the first time there’s ever been a lifestyle component to bicycling.”
For most of the twentieth century, companies like Schwinn and Raleigh sold casual cruisers with a single fixed gear and a comfortable upright riding position. But the advent of twenty-one-gear mountain bikes and Lance Armstrong’s headline-grabbing victories at the Tour de France eventually associated cycling with an aggressive forward posture, space-age helmets, spandex bodysuits, performance drinks, and power bars, and the overriding image of going somewhere in a hurry.
Urban style setters are changing all that. “It’s not a race,” stresses George Bliss, co-owner of Hudson Urban Bicycles, in New York’s West Village. Bliss specializes in upright bikes, ones with turned-back handlebars for back-friendly posture, cushioned seats, and fenders to keep water and dirt from soiling clothes. Helmets are stored in a back room and brought out only at the customer’s request. “We’re finally starting to see the emergence of a European-style, adult-bike culture that does not involve helmets and competition,” Bliss says. “And people in the fashion industry are the only reason I’m still in New York and haven’t given up.”
According to Bliss, women first led the way, valuing bicycles for their practicality as well as style potential. In 2007 the Danish journalist, filmmaker, and photographer Mikael Colville-Andersen began posting Sartorialist-style photos of fashionable women cycling around Copenhagen at his blog, copenhagencyclechic.com. Soon Cycle Chic—a term that Wikipedia defines as “the culture of cycling in fashionable clothes”—became a global phenomenon that inspired “copycats and collaborators,” while the original blog earned such accolades as Top One Hundred Blogs Worldwide, according to the London Times, and Marketing Magazine’s Top Ten Hottest Fashion Websites. Today Colville-Andersen is billed as an “urban mobility expert” and “bicycle anthropologist” and gives lectures on urban cycling around the world.
For Americans to join their European counterparts in seeing urban cycling as efficient, safe, fun, healthy, and of course stylish, real change may very well be led not by environmental radicals, with their “critical mass” disruptions and renegade stance, but by something far more genteel and akin to the bicycle’s sudden-craze debut as consumer product and transportation alternative at the dawn of the twentieth century. “Bicycling is glamour and sophistication, and it’s time for it to be fashionable again,” says Bliss.