Models on Bikes: Like or Don't Like?

Regular readers of Over the Bars know I am a big fan of the Cyclechic movement.  The term was coined by Mikael Collville-Anderson on his Copenhagen Cyclechic website. One effect of the cyclechic movement has been that marketing firms have begun to use bicycles to sell clothing. In the same way fancy sports cars and settings along the French Riviera have been used to lend a sense of sophistication and class to advertisements for fashion houses and many other products, the humble bicycle has become a badge of the cosmopolitan lifestyle.

I see this all as part of the mainstreaming of cycling for transportation.  There will still be room for people who prefer to ride in lycra and for those who like the additional visibility of yellow safety vests, but most people don’t want to wear special clothing just to go somewhere. Car companies don’t market new models with people wearing special driving suits and shoes, they use attractive models and actors to associate their cars with a particular lifestyle depending on the target audience.

When clothing and other products use bicycles in their marketing, they are trying to associate the clothes or the product with the bicycling lifestyle. Check out this recent example of co-branding in the videos below. In the first we see designer 3.1 Phillip Lim leveraging Linus Bicycles to promote his 2011 Fall/Winter women’s look as naturally urban.


In the second video below, Strellson menswear and Bianchi bicycles work together to sell each others products.


The idea isn’t that everyone should look like a model and wear expensive couture clothing, the point is people should not feel like they have to change their clothes to ride a bicycle for transportation.  Just as it would be inconvenient if you have to change you socks and shoes before you get in your car to go somewhere, people should feel free to hop on their bikes in regular clothes to meet friends at a cafe or run an errand.

There are some additional benefits that seem to be spinning off of the cyclechic movement. For example, companies are now making cycling specific clothing that works well on the bike but looks good in a cafe or even the office.  There are now a bunch of companies making clothing that looks like everyday clothing, but fits well when riding a bicycle and has some weatherproofing and safety features.  Take this new jacket from folding bicycle manufacturer Brompton.


One more spinoff of the cyclechic movement is clothing designers branding bicycles.  Typically the bikes they choose to co-brand are very practical commuter bikes.  There seems to be an emphasis on women’s bicycles too, which is great because for bicycle manufacturers, designing bikes with women in mind has traditionally been not much more than an afterthought in their product line.  Take this Kate Spade New York bicycle for example:

[vimeo w=400&h=225]

My pretty Kate Spade bike from Styleabaad on Vimeo.

For decades now, bicycles have mostly been marketed in bicycle magazines.  That seems like preaching to the choir to me.  I like the fact that riding a bike to go somewhere has entered mainstream advertising culture. Of course heavy marketing of any product, even bicycles and bicycle clothing, can leave some people with a bit of a consumerism aftertaste.  But overall, I think that more marketing of bicycles and further mainstreaming of the bicycle as a mode or transportation can only have positive long-term effects.

What do you think?  More bikes is good bikes, no matter what, or do you feel the cycling movement has been corrupted by it’s association with Madison Avenue and New York Fashion Week?

About Dave Schlabowske, Deputy Director

Dave was the first full-time staff member hired to open the Bike Fed's Milwaukee office 15 years ago. A former professional photographer and life-long Milwaukee resident, Dave likes wool, long rides, sour beer, and a good polar vortex once in a while.

9 thoughts on “Models on Bikes: Like or Don't Like?

  1. Interesting. I like more mainstreaming of bikes and would like to see movement toward diversifying bike attire. I believe the relatively low female “professional worker” commuter ridership in Milwaukee relates in some ways to related limitations. I found it notable that, in the first two videos which feature women, the emphasis is all about beauty and has nothing to do with technical performance. Yet the video which features a stylish male blazer, is all about performance. As a woman, this is the rub for me. By no means am I a style maven, and I definitely don’t “dress up” as much as many women, but I do need to dress “professionally” and bike. It would be nice to see more shifts here in Milwaukee in what is culturally and socially “appropriate” to wear to work in “professional” settings, together with a shift toward clothing that is BOTH technical and beautiful. As just one example, I noted that in the first two videos, the women are all wearing higher heeled shoes. Don’t get me wrong, I personally bike in heels on occasion, but it takes a special heel to work well and, frankly, even wedges and rubberized soles – while better, still give up something in ability to control pedals and make fast moves or stops. So, as is often the case in advertising, these ads perpetuate what I consider to be sexist, negative images about biking and beauty for women. That is a trend I don’t want to see cross over as we see more bike advertising. Conversely, the last video shows a woman in a flat shoes. More realistic is better!

    • Hey Juli, I think the Strellson video has all the same male beauty elements as any female fashion video. There is no way we are going to see more marketing of bicycles without a further perpetuation of typical beauty and sexism. As for the high heels, part of making that work is a good rubber platform pedal, which most of the European commuter bikes have and hopefully will become more prevalent in all bicycles. The whole question of high heels is really one for a bigger forum. My wife never wheres heels, but we have plenty of feminist female friends who love them. And as is the case in more cosmo cities like NYC, couture fashion is more a part of everyone’s cultural language. Finally, it is interesting that Minneapolis has nearly equal numbers of women and men who ride bicycles for transportation, but very few other cities do. A study of their bike culture and clothing might reveal some ideas that could be used elsewhere, like Milwaukee, which has one of the lowest percentages of women who ride bicycles for transportation in the country. Thanks for your thoughts.

  2. I noticed the band Wilco is giving away a sweet Chicago-built single speed bike to promote their new album. I’ve been seeing more and more of this. Bikes as an integral part of the “hip” urban culture, a re-imagining of the bike from something Lance Armstrong rides to something cool people ride to get places.

    Obviously this is a really great shift, but there are two potential pitfalls.

    First, what’s cool today is almost by definition not what’s cool tomorrow. Bikes are trendy, which is great now, but what’s to keep them from not being trendy a few years from now. It’s not like cars are trendy. Cars aren’t necessarily associated with the cool people who drive them, they’re seen as the standard way of getting around. So ten years from now bikes might no longer be cool, but cars will still be the end-all be-all, for cool people and non cool people alike. How do we make bikes less about being cool, and more about the plain old mundane business of getting from point A to point B?

    Secondly, what’s cool to me, as a guy who listens to Wilco, enjoys craft beer and owns a variety of witty, ironic T shirts, is most decidedly not cool to my neighbor, who listens to Southern crunk rap, drinks Keystone Ice and wears oversize blank white T shirts with no ironic sayings on them. We have two totally different styles. If the bike is associated with people like me, then people like my neighbor will be even less inclined to think about the bike as a transportation device. Cars effortlessly bridge these divides. Whether you drink Bud or drink a fine Merlot, chances are you drive a car of one kind or another. How do we make it so that bikes also bridge these divides, so that bikes are part of the scene for not only those who listen to Wilco, but those who listen to Toby Keith or Lil’ Wayne?

    I’m not saying we should discourage the trend of bikes being cool, just to be aware that “cool” is both ephemeral and very much in the eye of the beholder.

  3. The cross into mainstream advertising is a good thing. I think the fact that more bicycle styles are available is what drives everything. In the 70’s, you either rode a “ten-speed” or you were a dork, so mildly interested people lost interest. Then came the equally narrow and sales push of mountain bikes, so mildly interested people lost interest. The cycling industry hurt itself with its own fads. That’s why the fact that urban hipsters on fixies has stayed as a niche is so nice. It, too, will die off.

    The more “wicker basket ladies” there are, the better off everyone will be, no matter what kind of riding they do. Even hardcore roadies or mountain bikers should spend a couple of hours per week riding around town in everyday clothes, which they can do as recovery rides and will help others see cyclists as normal people. The solution is always the same: get out and ride. That will help the perception that riding a bike is normal, and doesn’t require anything other than a bike.

  4. I agree with a lot of what Dave Steele said – Madison Ave is just following the ‘cool’ trend, making it appear that they (and advertising) are still relevant. And even in these adverts, the bike is merely a prop, a symbol of what is cool (by some) right now. It’s prop the way that Jerry Seinfeld’s mountain bike was a wall decoration in his apartment – it sat there IDLE for how many seasons? Did you ever see him ride that bike?? Heck, what about Kramer (who borrowed EVERYTHING from Jerry)? He didn’t even touch it!! This is the guy who swam in the Hudson and didn’t even think about getting on a bike in NYC. Now that says something….

    Sorry for digressing, but I assume the agencies will drop bicycles as being ‘it’ as soon as the next ‘it’ comes along….

    As I hope that we are at the beginning of a post-consumerist movement, whatever is ‘cool’ and ‘hip’ should move aside to what is convenient and has utility – which bikes have that in spades. As more and more Americans look for ways to simplify their lives, spend less, enjoy more, lose weight, connect with their neighborhood, tread lightly, etc – the bike is waiting for them (probably in their garage). What I believe the focus for the advocates should be is not how you LOOK, what you WEAR or what you RIDE – it should be blazing the trail to make the routes safer/more convenient, lobbying for some real improvements to the cycling infrastructure and reassurance that it can be done by ‘riding the talk’. It seems to me that projecting an ‘image’ of what you ‘should’ look like to be cool and ride just creates barriers.

  5. Why is there a necessity to coin a term as banal as cyclechic at all. really? I agree with Dave, if we simply make bicycles “chic” or “trendy” or “cool” and pair them with fashionable, pretty, well dressed people with perfect jaw lines and beautiful hair, their utilitarian purpose is marginalized. In the end, we’ll just have a society of people who collect “cool” bikes and subsequently drive up their price. bikes are beautiful, but let’s put more emphasis on their utilitarian purpose which really makes them so marvelous. When I’m on my bike, it is an extension of myself; I feel connected to my bike and not only because it looks pretty. If people expect their bike to make them “cool” or “beautiful” or “hip” I’m afraid they’ll miss what’s really special about owning one = Independence

  6. My apologies on the delay the response- as I’ve been mulling this over

    A ‘movement’ (chic, hipsta, lancalots or whatever) actually works to segregate diversity and distance people from bicycles as transportation, rather than unify. While this is an all encompassing cycling blog,( and who doesn’t like to look fabulous on a bike?) transportation cycling has an economic and convenience factor that is being consistently over looked.

    Recently in continental Europe I did not see one glorious and beautiful bicyclist in an effervescent sundress with matching hat and basket taking pictures of themselves while pouting. I witnessed the humanity of using a bicycle to simply get around. Nothing special, nothing unique and more importantly a better option than a car or a scooter. No one ‘dressed up’ to ride a bike, and of equal note no-one appeared to care if you would.

    As we move past the ephemeral image and seek to uncover the lowest common denominator which allows cycling to be the easiest, most simple and convenient way to move two miles or less, (Oh- wait, it already is!) let’s remind ourselves that special dress-up clothes or bikes are really not necessary and an emphatic discussion in this realm is often distracting and stratifying.

    See you all at RW24 tonight!

  7. “special dress-up clothes”…funny, but isn’t that what “performance” cyclists do all the time. The idea behind cycle chic and the mainstreaming of cycling is that you do not need special dress-up clothes. But people dress up everyday to go out to clubs or to cafes or to meet up with friends. So they hop on a bike wearing those clothes. That is the idea. Wear what you would anyway. Obviously, the photographers at CCC have a lot of subjects so they pick ones that are pleasing to the eye. It proves the point by being less than subtle. If a women can bike in a skirt and heels than the everyday person can ride in whatever they please. And that includes spandex and padded shorts.

    • Yes indeed, we do wear special dress-up clothes to go to work (suits and ties), to go out at night (evening wear), to go to church etc. Dress for what you are doing, not how you are traveling there, unless you are going on a cruise ship 😉 That means you should wear lycra on a team training ride, to a race, and perhaps if the ride is the activity, like on a 70 mile recreational ride. Just don’t change your socks to go to ride your bike to the corner store.

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