A guest post from Melinda Casey. A mountain biker taking on the Beti Bike Bash TOMORROW with a great cause on the top of her mind as she pushes through every pedal stroke.
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A guest article from Maria Boustead of Po Campo. Learn more about Maria at the bottom of the article.
First off, let me define what I mean when I say “fashion” and “bicycling” for the purposes of this post. By fashion I mean personal style, or how people choose to express themselves by the way they dress. I am not talking about runway looks or the fashion industry or too-thin models. And when I say bicycling, I am referring to using your bike to go from Point A to Point B, not bicycling as sport or purely for exercise or recreation.
We all agree that we want more people to bike for transportation because of the numerous benefits to our environment, our cities and ourselves. The main reason people give for not biking is because it seems too dangerous, or, in other words, they are afraid of being hit by a car. Bike lanes, especially protected ones, and better traffic laws do a lot to make people feel safer while on the road.
While physical safety is often foremost in our minds, we mustn’t neglect the element of emotional security. Bike lanes help with the former, and I believe that connecting fashion to biking can help take care of the latter. Here’s how:
1. You can see yourself doing it
We humans are highly social creatures and everything we wear/do/say communicates something about us. We are attracted to things that mesh with our sense of self and distance ourselves from things that don’t.
The desire to “fit in” is heightened when trying something new, such as riding your bike to work. When we’re not sure how to act or dress, we look to the people we identify with to follow their example (psychologists call this “Informational Influence”). So, if people can easily see other people that look like them riding a bike, they will more likely try it. We should be striving to get as many styles in the bike lane as possible!
2. It becomes an aspiration – I want to BE that person!
Here’s where imagery comes in. Media can be very persuasive because, done well, it taps into our inner desires of who we want to be. So, not only can you see yourself bicycling, but you can see your “best self” bicycling.
Today we generally lump people into four categories: The Road Warrior, The Hipster, The Dutch Belle and The Safety-Minded.
All four archetypes are effective at resonating with different people, and, while you might not be as lovely or as edgy as the imagery indicates, you like to think of yourself that way. I predict that as fashion and bicycling continue to comingle, we will see more of these archetypes start to appear to represent even more people, which will, in turn, get more people on the road.
3. It just simplifies things
Have you overheard this conversation as much as I have?
Person 1 says, “Maybe I’ll try biking to work on a nice day, but I’m not sure how to get started.” Then Person 2 says, “Oh that’s great! It’s easy. All you need to is…” and then goes on with a mindboggling amount of detail about what types of bikes (and components) are best for different types of rides, how you must have your bike outfitted with XYZ accessories, what you should wear, what you absolutely should not wear (like, jeans), etc. Dude, don’t over-complicate things – someone is just trying to get to work!
Conversely, fashion is familiar and therefore provides a reference point. You don’t have to learn all new jargon or start reading new magazines to see someone in an outfit similar to something you own to put two-and-two together and say “Hey, I can bike in that!”.
Connecting fashion to bicycling also hits home for me personally because, while I have always biked pretty regularly all over Chicago (and even founded a bike bag company there), I had never liked calling myself a biker. The word just carried too many bad memories of behaviors and styles that I didn’t identify with. But, now that fashion is entering the mix, and I am finally finding bicycling-related articles and images that interest me in publications of aIl types, and new bike brands and new apparel and accessory brands that speak to me. It feels good to feel included. I guess maybe I am a biker after all.
Maria Boustead launched Po Campo in 2009 because she needed a bag versatile enough to clip on to her bike while en route and attractive enough to take into her office or to a meeting upon reaching her destination. There were so few options for this; it just seemed like a major oversight and she knew other women would appreciate a fashionable and functional bag, too.
I belong to a newborn bike team that was formed by a popular LBS as a way to bring more cyclists into the sport. I’m one of three women on the co-ed team and, through sheer terror that I will lose any fitness and no longer be able to keep up, I’m the most consistent woman on the group rides in town.
It’s certainly not because I’m the fastest. Not even by a long shot. I’m a forty-two year old mother of teenagers that only started riding anything more than a commuter bike in 2010. I believe in cycling for transportation and for health. I think cyclocross is the greatest sport ever invented and, someday, I hope not to crash my mountain bike every time I get on it. In other words, I’m just an average chick that likes to ride a bike. Yet I can’t seem to convince many other average chicks to join me out there.
I think it has to do with the fact that it’s intimidating to be a woman in a group of very fit guys. And when I say very fit guys, I’m talking about the fastest cyclists in our community. Nice guys, but very fast. Most of the group rides we do have a “catch-up” segment that allows the group to re-form before moving on down the road. I’m usually the last one in, or next to last if I’m having a good week, and often a few of the guys will swing around to accompany me to the end. This is what keeps me going. I love these guys and, though I hold things up, they always encourage me. Still, I will do just about anything to not have to be the one to ask them to dial it back a bit.
And they are guys. Though we may all keep a Lady Schick in the shower, cycling is a very testosterone oriented sport. With the one-up-manship, crude language and large amount of spitting, it’s hard to convince a girl friend that pedaling a bike for two straight hours in a harrowing pace line is sane, let alone fun.
I think women have a place here though. All of these guys have wives or girlfriends that only want a bit of encouragement to get them regularly riding. There are plenty of women in the LBS glancing at the zippy new road bikes, but talking themselves out of it because they have no one to ride with. Well, dammit, I’m going to do something about this. I’ve learned from the best how to be encouraging and supportive and it’s time I pay it forward.
March 2013 will see the start of a new Weekly Women’s Ride in our community that is fun, inclusive, and all female. No intimidation to keep up with the guys, no worries about how those funny shorts look, and no spitting. We will ride for the sheer joy of the wind in our faces and for the happy-hour margaritas we will consume when we’re done.
But I’m not done with the guys. As the year progresses, maybe I can convince one or two of the women to tackle the Thursday night group ride with me. Then, a few weeks later, maybe someone will try Tuesday Night Worlds. If I’m really successful, there will be a group of women enjoying cyclocross with me in September. The crowning achievement, however, would happen when another woman and I get on the front of the November gravel ride and we hear a masculine gasp from the back say “Can you gals slow it down a bit?”
Michelle Windmoeller first learned to ride in 1977 on a used gold chopper-style bike with a wicked banana seat. Since then she has toted schoolbooks, kids, household furniture, and, literally, a commercial kitchen sink on her bike. Based in Columbia, MO, Michelle owns Blue Cypress Solutions and writes about health and wellness issues. She officially invites you all to join her for a long, leisurely ride in Missouri sometime. She’ll bring the PBR. Photo Credit: Kate Woodard
A guest post by Laura Colbert of Loose Nuts Cycles in Atlanta, GA
I’m really excited to follow Arleigh’s New Years post from yesterday. I too have spent the past couple of weeks reflecting on the past year and what I would like to see in the coming year. Continue reading →
Mountain bikes vs. real world
In my previous post, I wrote rather sentimentally about my love of mountain biking as a way to check out from real life, if only for a short time. Unfortunately for us, mountain bike rides end. At some point, we all have to rejoin reality.
Part of my reality is working in a 9-to-5 office at a company that loves its business casual dress code. I love my job and, to be honest, I kind of love business casual clothes (pencil skirts! patent leather heels!), so that part of real life is pretty awesome. What I don’t like about returning to reality is that evidence of my out-of-work activities is usually conspicuously apparent (e.g. a 4-inch, blue bruise on the outside of my otherwise professional shins framed beautifully on top by the hem of a skirt and below by the aforementioned heels). When my co-workers and superiors notice the new marks on my body, my mountain bike and professional worlds collide. Despite being fiercely proud of what I do and how I spend my time, these moments always make me a little self-conscious, like an awkward pre-teen who’s the only non-adult at Take Your Daughter to Work Day.
Let me give you guys a real-life example:
I recently returned from a shred-cation (My friends and I created several names for our 4-day, Oregon mtn biking tour of awesomeness–”shred-cation”, “shred-venture”, and “shred camp”. I’m sure you can pick out the theme there.) and returned to work the next day wearing one of my favorite skirts. My outfit revealed some small bruises, a couple minor cuts on my arms, and one patch of peeling skin near my elbow. At some point in the day, I was catching up with a co-worker and at the same time applying some antibacterial ointment to the cuts and scrapes. I apologized for doing this while we were chatting, although I’m not sure he had even noticed. This leads him to ask why I had bruises and cuts. (He’s a new employee. The rest of the office is very familiar with my recreational activities.) When I explained my choice of vacation and the consequences of coming around a washed-out, sandy turn in the high Oregon desert too quickly, his response was something between apologies and disgust. It was an uncomfortable and awkward reaction…”I’m so sorry for you”, “Why do you do that?”, “Ugh”, and so on…. Mountain biking was obviously an activity that he had never tried or considered.
I quickly felt like I had to defend myself and my choices, not because I was doing anything wrong, but because of this other person’s complete lack of understanding or comprehension. I felt like I was trying to explain my choice of feminine hygiene products to a teenage boy, rather than my choice of leisure time activities to an adult co-worker. I don’t think my co-worker meant anything by his reaction. I think the idea was just new to him and he was trying to understand it. That didn’t make me feel any less embarrassed in the moment though.
These situations are not uncommon in my work life and I certainly don’t mind being “the cyclist” for my co-workers. It’s just that when my mountain bike world and my work world rub against each other, it creates a really uncomfortable friction. I don’t want to have to explain what I do in my free time. I dread these moments. Having to justify how I spend my time and the resulting consequences (bruises and cuts) takes away from my enjoyment of riding. It steals a little bit of that awesome post-ride glow. It also unfairly makes me feel a little less professional, like I’m not as suited to be in the office as my co-workers. While I know it’s not their intent to make me feel that way, the result is the same.
My co-workers don’t have to explain why they choose to tailgate at college football games every Saturday in the fall or go to the gym a couple times a week. Why do I need to explain and justify what I do for fun? Whatever the answer, this battle between my mountain biking and professional worlds makes the return to reality after a great weekend of riding just a little more disheartening.
I love mountain biking. It’s an inexplicable love, given the tears, bruises, and soreness that it sometimes (…ok, usually) entails. I have tried explaining to many confused friends the reasons why mountain biking is fun while one of my legs displays a blue and green bruise surrounding a still-moist cut that is a direct result of this love. I imagine that someone viewing one of these conversations from across the room might guess based on the other person’s reactions that I’m explaining my love for a chain-smoking boyfriend who can’t hold down a job. It always leaves the other person fairly confused and with very little to say other than “Well it’s not really my thing, but it sounds like it makes you happy.”
After leaving many of these conversations feeling disappointed with my inability to translate my affection for mountain biking into words, I think I can finally articulate my reasons for loving such demanding sport. In my mind, it’s impossible to untangle the physical act of mountain biking from the short road trip to the North Georgia Mountains that precedes some of my favorite rides. I live in Atlanta, which is known for its sprawl and its traffic, two elements that combine to create this extended mass of a city that has its own gravitational pull, making it hard to escape. Don’t misunderstand me, I love Atlanta, but that doesn’t diminish the excitement of escaping from it and all of the pieces of my life that takes place inside of it. As the car and the bikes mounted above it pass under the circular highway that demarcates Atlanta’s perimeter, I can feel the city’s pull diminish and I breathe a little easier.
Once the car finds that day’s trailhead, I have completely escaped the city’s inertia. My ride begins and everything disappears. I pedal away from the city, from work, from normalcy. For a couple hours (or if I’m lucky an entire day or a whole weekend) I get to pretend that all of existence is the woods and creatures immediately surrounding the trail and that my sole purpose is to fill my daylight hours with climbs and descents. It doesn’t matter that I have 87 emails in my inbox because I need to find the best line through this network of tree roots in front of my wheel. It doesn’t matter that my family is stressing me out about Christmas plans even though it’s June because I have 50 more yards of rocky, baby-head uphill to climb before descending the amazingness that I know is just on the other side of this peak. It doesn’t even matter that I’m so overworked that I have nightmares about my job because the shade feels nice and I finally found the perfect rhythm over those water breaks. In the back of my head, I know that eventually the ride will end and I will have to return to all of life’s normal stressors, but it doesn’t matter in those wheeled moments. My first priority is my front wheel and my second is the back.
Even if life won’t allow me to escape the city and I have to settle for an hour long in a nearby in-town trail, I still leave my phone at home, pedal off quietly on my own, descend into some hidden patch of woods, block out the city’s traffic noise, and give myself a short recess, a momentary vacation from life. Mountain biking is an escape, if only temporary, from the constant tweets, status updates, and other busy-ness that we normally prioritize.
Given the other forms of escapism in today’s world (reality TV, alcohol, drugs, most of the internet) I think I’ll stick with mountain biking.