If you are reading this blog, chances are you already know next week is Bike to Work Week and maybe you are already trying to get your friends, coworkers and family who don’t bike to work to give it a try. I have been doing that very same thing for the last 15 years, first as a citizen “cyclist,” then as a paid “advocate” when I worked at the Bicycle Federation of WI, and currently as a “bureaucrat” in my role as Bicycle and Pedestrian Coordinator for the City of Milwaukee.
I have recently become convinced that I and many bicycle evangelists like me have been going at it all wrong. I place the blame squarely on the back of Demon Lycra. I think we “cyclists” have pushed the idea that before you get on a bike you need to put on skin-tight bike shorts, a high-vis yellow jersey, special shoes and a helmet with a mirror. The result has been the majority of people say, “No thanks, that is cool for you, but I don’t really want to be part of that club.”
There is a growing “Cycle Chic” movement which I feel has a greater power to convince “non-cyclists” who own bikes to ride more for transportation than traditional bicycle advocacy techniques. It relies more on advertising and marketing techniques that try to appeal to people’s desires. Cyclechic emphasizes that bicycling is easy, convenient, fun and even sexy.
With nothing more than traditional Lycra advocacy, the number of people bicycling to work is growing nationally, and it is exploding in Milwaukee, up more than 320% since 2005. While encouragement events like Bike to Work Week have helped, it is no coincidence that the rapid growth began immediately after the City added about 30 miles of bike lanes and has continued to improve infrastructure to make it more attractive, convenient and safe for people to consider riding a bike for transportation. How safe is it though? The City’s crash rate for bicycles is down 75% in the same last five years.
But still our numbers (1% in Milwaukee) are pathetic compared to European cycling meccas where closer to 40% of all work trips are taken by bicycle. I think the Lycra advocates have been picking from the low hanging fruit, meaning people who consider themselves “cyclists.” I don’t know how many people consider themselves “cyclists” but if we get every person who does to bike to work, I bet we still only end up with about 5% or 10% (Portland is at 6% and Minneapolis is at 4% for comparison).
Yet in Milwaukee, 49% of people say they ride a bike, and I bet if you asked, the vast majority of those people don’t consider themselves to be “cyclists.” In order to get more of that 49% to ride bikes to work or the movies or a restaurant, we need to promote biking in regular clothes. In the same way most people brush their teeth every day without calling themselves “brushers” putting on special clothes first or reading American Dentist magazine, we need to get people to think about riding a bike for short trips without thinking they have to change clothes.
So although I don’t really have to wear a suit and tie to work, I
have been suiting up at least a few days a week. I can wear business casual, but my New Years resolution this year was to dress better when I bike to work so I become a rolling cyclechic example that you can ride your bike in whatever you normally wear. Heck, if I could pull off Christian Louboutin heels and a Chanel dress, I would wear them to convince more people to try biking for transportation.
This whole Cyclechic movement started with a blog of the same name from Copenhagen, Denmark. Since that blog started, a slew of other cyclechic blogs appeared. My current favorite is Lets Go Ride a Bike from just south of the Cheddar Curtain in Chicago, IL. I like that one a lot because it is written by two women and they can rock the heals on bikes and get away with it.
Let this be a clarion call to my fellow bicycle advocates: suit up, do up your do, put on your heals and join the Cyclechic movement(even if you like the Lycra). Give some good old Milwaukee “Fancy Riding” a try and see if you don’t catch more bees with that honey.