Despite some crazy pre-ride weather, complete with a rare waterspout in Lake Michigan, Wisconsin’s first Tweed Run went off without a problem. Most riders arrived at Sven’s Cafe in Bay View just before the heavy rain hit. Relaxing over tea, coffee and good food, Milwaukee’s country squires’ patience was rewarded with sunny skies in short order.
The riders left Bay View around 2pm for Cafe Hollander, on a generally north by northwest heading. Casey (the ride organizer) planned a route that took us through Downtown, East Town(e), Brewers Hill and Riverwest. We even pedaled slowly through Center Street Daze(sic), one of the few places in Milwaukee where a bunch of people dressed in tweed on bicycles does not attract undo attention.
People kept asking us what the ride was all about. We all struggled for an answer. You might as well ask the Packers why they play football or why people dress in matching shirts to bowl. There really is no sane reason for a bunch of people to dress up in tweedish outfits and ride bicycles together except that it is fun.
I guess that if I were forced to give a reason other than “it’s fun” to have a Tweed Ride (or Run), it would be that by dressing so over the top, we demonstrate that it is possible to ride a bicycle dressed in something other than Lycra, since riding in regular clothes still remains something of a novelty in US bicycling culture.
People often tell me “I would bike to work, but I have to wear a suit.” And even many women who like to ride bicycles would not think about pedaling out to dinner in their favorite heels. A Tweed Ride makes the point that you can still look good and ride a bicycle, even if it does so in a humorous, self-deprecating manner.
People don’t change clothes to drive cars, so why change to pedal bicycles? In most places around the world, bicycles are seen as just another mode of transport. For the Dutch for instance, riding a bicycle is just something everyone does when it is convenient. In Amsterdam, where more than 50% of all trips are taken by bicycle, people don’t think of themselves as cyclists any more than American’s call themselves “motorists.”
I brush my teeth twice a day, but I don’t call myself a “teeth brusher” and change into a special outfit to do it. I vacuum the house every week, but don’t subscribe to Vacuuming Magazine.
For a long time bicycle advocates, myself included, were all about technical clothing. We were constantly badgering people to wear bright colors, safety vests, etc. I was personally really big on high-vis fluorescent green Gore-tex jackets with pit zips. I even gave talks about how to dress for bicycle commuting, as if Wisconsinites need instruction in how to dress for the weather. That just sounds silly to me today.
Then about six years ago I looked in my closet and realized I had an entire rack of cool vintage clothing that I loved, but never wore anymore. I had traded shark skin for soft shell and I wasn’t happy about it.
About the same time, Mikael Colville-Anderson, a film director and photographer in Copenhagen launched his fabulous blog Copenhagen Cycle Chic and started what is now a world-wide Cycle Chic movement promoting riding bicycles in regular clothes, as is the norm in Denmark and many other European cities.
I had been to Copenhagen and Amsterdam, where I was first exposed to the idea of riding in ‘fashionable’ clothes. Trips to New York City further reinforced the bicycle fashionista in me. From Brooklyn to Manhattan, the many new protected bike lanes there have made bicycling increasingly popular. Now you are as likely to see stock brokers, super models and fashion designers on Gotham’s protected bike lanes as you are Chinese food delivery guys or bike messengers.
Having studied bicycle safety for more than a decade, I knew that statistically riding a bicycle is a very safe activity. I also knew that bicycle safety has everything to do with following the rules of the road and little to do with what color outfit you are wearing.
If you want to be seen in the dark when you are driving a car, you turn on the lights, you don’t drive a bright yellow car. Similarly, people riding bicycles should have bright lights when it gets dark, and perhaps even when driving during the day.
Suddenly I realized that perhaps most people who like to ride bicycles don’t want to squeeze into a fluorescent yellow Lycra outfit or go drop $175 on a Gore-tex jacket with pit zips when they have a closet full of jackets that work just fine for every other outdoor activity. I considered that I might be turning more people off to cycling than I was attracting them with all the talk about special clothing.
Don’t get me wrong here, I have not signed onto the Cyclechic Manifesto. Sometimes I like to wear vintage clothes, so sometimes I ride in them. You want to wear Lycra to bike to work or the store, that is totally cool with me. There are a lot of companies that make really great bicycle specific clothing. But if you want pedal to the stadium in jeans and a Brewers jersey to cheer on your team, you should feel comfortable doing so.
The point is to normalize bicycling as a safe, practical and convenient mode of transportation that you don’t need special clothes for, not to say everyone has to wear tweed or vintage suits to ride a bike. That is just as off-putting as the pro-flourescent argument. Wear what you would normally wear to work, the store or to go out at night. I don’t care what you wear as long as you accessorize it with a bicycle.