One of the things that drew me to the Innertube map project was its emphasis on promoting cycling as a normal mode of transport; the off-street paths as a way of getting from home to work to school to the shops, as opposed to something that you use occasionally for a sporting activity.
This wider concept has long been promoted by a variety of cycling culture blogs and websites, such as Copenhagenize. Copenhaganize’s stylish sister interested me all the more though – the now-infamous Copenhagan Cycle Chic.
The latter has now spawned world-wide offshoots, including our very own Edinburgh Cycle Chic. The blog has several contributors, and an accompanying Flickr group. It’s the brainchild of local cycling advocate, trainer, and blogger Kim Harding, who kindly humoured my amateurish but enthusiastic interest in bike blogging, and answered a number of questions on Edinburgh Cycle Chic and the movement more generally for me. Thanks, Kim!
“The idea behind cycle chic is very simple, you dress for your destination not your journey, treat the bicycle as a means of everyday transport. You don’t put on special clothes to catch a bus, so why to ride a cycle?
I decided to start the ECC blog to celebrate these people in Edinburgh who use the bicycle for everyday transport, without fear, in the hope that it would inspire others. I wanted to show positive images of ordinary people doing something which is as safe as walking and should be perfectly normal.”
With its nasty weather, northern latitude, and undulating terrain (Amsterdam this ain’t), Copenhagen seems, at times, not so different from dear old Dun Eidinn. Aside from the far superior cycling infrastructure and the sheer normality of bike use, of course. Could Edinburgh ever become like Copenhagen or Amsterdam with regards to normalising cycling? And what needs to happen to achieve this?
“There is no reason why Edinburgh should not be like Copenhagen or Amsterdam, or any number of other cities around the world where the bicycle is considered to be everyday transport.
How do we get there? Well, there are two aspects to this, one is infrastructure and the other is culture. Firstly, we need to change the infrastructure to make the city more welcoming to pedestrians and bicycle riders, and make it easy and convenient to get about on foot and by bicycle. Edinburgh City Council have made a start on this, we have seen an increasing number of pedestrianised areas, cycle paths and cycle lanes over the years. Hopefully we will see the introduction of 20mph speed limits over a large part of the city – making our roads feel safer for all, breaking down the major barrier to cycling.
Then there are cultural changes, getting people to think of riding a bicycle as an everyday form of transport. And this is where the Cycle Chic ethos comes in. Mikael Colville-Andersen, who first coined the term Cycle Chic [and runs the original blog] , also talks about citizen cyclists, people who ride a bike from A to B. In countries with a bicycle culture, it is an ordinary everyday thing, not just a leisure activity…the big difference in these places is that it has been made more convenient to travel by bicycle for short distances than to take the car.
In this country, most people have been taught to think of “cycling” as a leisure activity, either as amenity cycling or as a racing sport, basically as an end in itself. Now there is nothing wrong in that, but at the end of the day it is only going to appeal to a limited number of people, as most will see it as something that’s not for them. I find this rather sad, as just about everybody can cycle in some form or other, and most people, when you get them to try it, enjoy it. If we make cycling and walking the easiest and most convenient ways of making short journeys, then people will start to travel that way. I see Cycle Chic as a way of persuading people to think of riding a bicycle as normal….Images are important, that is why they are so prevalent in advertising, and that is why I want to show positive images of people riding bicycles.”
And there are many of these in Edinburgh, if you look. Kim and I met to discuss Cycle Chic and cycling culture over coffee at Peter’s Yard, the popular café in the Meadows (Quartermile stop, folks!), and the outside tables provide the ideal people-watching opportunity. I recorded this dialogue clip whilst we were there:
There are certainly an abundance of positive images on the blog and its accompanying Flickr group (which currently has 18 contributers, many of whom also post to the blog), showing cyclists from all walks of life – students to commuters to older people to families – with the unifying feature of riding bikes whilst looking ordinary yet also extraordinary.
The original Cycle Chic tells of how the movement began almost accidentally, growing out of street-style photography into a world-wide phenomenon. Kim’s interest in bicycle blogging, too, started somewhat accidentally – his main blog (‘The Ubiquitous Blog’) began as a general forum for his writing, but cycling drew in the readers, sparked the most debate, and became the major focus. Eventually, this led to Edinburgh Cycle Chic. The blog started around a year ago, but has really taken off in the past six months. Now, it’s growing rapidly. Kim tells me it averages 30 hits a day (though once reached over 100 – when Mikael Colville-Andersen commented!), and he expects it to grow further as a consequence of mainstream fashion’s current interest in bikes.
I recently spotted a Pashley Brittania in New Look’s in-store adverts (albeit one with the saddle at an inappropriate height for the model, but baby steps…), just one of many fashion adverts to feature a classic bicycle as a prop recently. A couple of years ago Coca-Cola incurred the wrath of health and safety campaigners for an advert featuring a cyclist in ordinary clothes (the complaints, incidentally, were rejected), whilst elegae mainstream is clearly catching on to the Cycle Chic concept. Even that staid bastion of the British high street, M&S, has looked to bicycles to advertise their wares in an even more direct way.
Ultimately though, a few token bicycles in adverts (or adverts on bicycles) do not a cycling culture make. I thought a nice way to finish this article would be to ask Kim for some words of encouragement for those inspired to cast aside their hi-viz and lycra* (and indeed did so in the audio clip). Yet this seems inappropriately prescriptive, conveying what’s ultimately a state of mind or cultural shift through material changes. Rather, what perhaps makes a fitting conclusion is a quote that Kim shared with me, from Mark Twain: “Ride a bicycle, you’ll not regret it if you live.” And given the evidence, you’ll most likely live longer than if you didn’t ride a bicycle…so you might as well do so with style, of whatever kind appeals to your personal aesthetic sensibilities.
*Not that there’s anything wrong with a bit of that now and again. I myself identify as lycurious ;).