Bike to Work Week Cycle Chic, Dress to Impress

Vintage sharkskin suit, dress shirt, tie and Steve Madden "bike shoes"

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

Ever chic, my wife Liz riding to work

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.


About daveschlabowske

Cyclechic advocate from Milwaukee
This entry was posted in Bike clothing, Cyclechic and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Bike to Work Week Cycle Chic, Dress to Impress

  1. Funny, I actually saw your photoshoot in the suit happening in the 3rd Ward a few weeks back! Was wondering what was going on, exactly. Nice to have it explained online.

    Look forward to following this blog! Glad you shared it on the MKE bike to work mailing list.

  2. Chris K says:

    Cyclechic? I hope that’s different than the tight jeans donned by the fixerati….

    Suits or jeans, sorry, can’t bring myself to be that uncomfortable – but then again, I don’t wear jeans or suits at work, so I would have to change anyway! 🙂

    Seriously though, I think geography to work has a little more to do with people taking up the blessing of self-transport than fashion. If I would look at my little microcosm of eligible inductees of bike-to-work in my department (meaning everyone), I find the following homesteads:
    – Shorewood
    – Fox Point
    – NW Side of Milw
    – Menomonee Falls
    – Muskego
    – Delafield
    – New Berlin
    – Bay View (me)
    – Brookfield
    – Cedarburg
    – Brookfield
    – Glendale
    – West Bend

    The common point of destination is downtown MKE – so who rides besides me? No one of course. Ours is a society that places the emphasis (some say dream) of moving ‘out’ once one gets to a certain socioeconomic stature. And our DOT is more than happy to make it ever more convenient to do so.

    I seem to be in the minority when it comes to having my #1 criteria of home locale is proximity to work….

    The #2 reason of more not biking to work (I think) is the dominant car culture. It is so ingrained in us that my co-worker who lives in Shorewood, drives to work then drives back to home to go to the club to “spin”. And a spin-off (hee hee) of this lunacy is my Muskegan co-worker who likes to ride 20 – 30 miles a weekend, but refuses to use the stairs at work, opting of course for the elevator for all vertical travel.

    WTF people!?

    Dave, if you want to plan an intervention in my department by doing laps on my floor dressed in your vintage finest – have at it. However, I think European style gas prices would do more for my crowd than tweed.

    my 2 cents.

    btw – keep up the blog man – I’ll be tuning in.

  3. daveschlabowske says:


    Thanks for the thoughtful response. Sure, commute distance has something to do with it. But in my grandfather’s day, people choose to live close to where they worked. He was hardly “green” back in the 60s. His heros were John Wayne and Charleton Heston. The only green reasons he lived close to work was to save money because he thought it was wasteful to live far away. When did saving money go out of fashion?

    Anyway, there is still hope since 40% of all trips are less than 3 miles. Heck 28% of all trips are less than a mile. Guess what? About 80% of all those trips are taken by car. Those trips are the remaining low hanging fruit we can go after when all the “cyclists” are biking for transportation.

    And don’t get me wrong, you should keep wearing whatever you feel comfortable in. If you don’t like wearing suits (I kinda do) and don’t have to wear them at work, that is cool. The fashionista component of cyclechic is more about selling riding bikes as sexy and fun so more people consider using bikes more often. It is certainly not to carve out another niche/clique with an entry fee and rules.

  4. Jason says:

    Good stuff, Dave!

    I stopped to get water at Greenfield Park yesterday, and had to rock,paper,scissors a guy out on a training ride to see who was gonna use the fountain first.
    We talked a bit afterwards, and he mentioned that he wished he could ride to work, but couldn’t beacuse of the “sweat factor”. I’ve heard this more than once, and really haven’t been able to come up with a solution for those who are concerned about being presentable in the office.
    Personally, I don’t care if I smell, or if my hair is messy.

  5. Russell says:

    I’m amazed at the number of “serious” cyclists do not have a bike that they can ride without changing their shoes.

    Everyone should have a ride that they can just get on and go – even for just the ride to the local I Scream Shoppe

  6. Todd says:

    Youre providing common sense solutions for a nonsensical world. I think your approach of “modeling” correct behavior is the right path. So much of the problem I believe, lies in the habitual aspect of our daily lives. We know it to be more environmentally correct, cheaper, healthier, rewarding, etc. to commute, or just run little errands by bike. But I think most people operate out of habit in the moment and just climb into the SUV to drive the block and a half to Walgreens. They dont stop and make any conscious choice. Perhaps the visual impact of a dude in a sharkskin suit can interrupt that reflexive behavior. And let’s be honest, you CAN rock the Chanel and Louboutin. Work it Sister.

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