The bicycle has become the ultimate fashion accessory, but it was chic way before Agyness Dean started riding
by Rebecca Nicholson
guardian.co.uk,Thursday September 04 2008 00:01 BST
With the madness of Fashion Week nearly upon us, one sight is more certain than untouched food at a backstage buffet – Agyness Deyn will be tearing between shows, as usual, on her trusty bicycle. Her fondness of two wheels, documented by countless paparazzi pictures of her cruising through the New York streets, Strokes boyfriend in tow, set enough of a trend for Page Six magazine to declare it "a fashionable pursuit". Cycling's not only sustainable, cheap and healthy – it's officially chic.
pic from dailymail
Cycle commuting in London has increased by 91 per cent since 2000, and with that comes a natural evolution of style. Last year's limited edition Chanel bike may have been a ridiculous £6,000, and certainly ill-suited to London's cycle theft record, but Gucci soon followed with a limited Beijing-themed red model, embossed leather panniers included, which sold in China and Hong Kong for $3,400. Ludicrous, certainly, but also a sign of how fashion is starting to take cycling seriously. (Just ask Vivienne Westwood, a long-time devotee of pedal power.)
Chanel's limited edition bicycle, which sold for £6,000
But sales of "sit-up-and-beg" bikes were on the up long before Agyness took to her Electra Amsterdam. While they're easier on the eye than a clunky mountain bike, the explosion of Dutch or vintage style brands like Pashley, Velorbis and Grand 1888 allows cyclists to be more fashionable. They're slower machines good for leisurely rides – think riding home with flowers in your wicker basket, and you'll get an idea of the pace. You're far less likely to work up a sweat on a Pashley than you are on a zippy racer, which means you're far less inclined to reach for the dreaded Lycra.
This hatred of clichéd cyclewear unites bike-style bloggers across Europe and the US. They share a belief that the stereotype of an aggressive cyclist in Spandex shorts and wraparound shades does a great deal to harm the concept of cycling as simply a normal, everyday means of getting from one place to the next. "There are two major misconceptions," explains Caz Nicklin, founder of cyclechic.co.uk, an online store and blog for fashion-conscious women on bicycles. "One is that cycling is a geeky pursuit for which you have to be dressed from head to toe in Lycra. The other is that it's dangerous."
These concerns show that, despite recent growth, going anywhere by bike is still a novelty in Britain. A million Londoners may own bicycles, but only two per cent of journeys are made using them. We're still a long way behind the cycle-centric cultures of Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Berlin and even Paris, now, and it's in Europe that "cycle chic" really comes into its own.
The term was coined by blogger Mikael Colville-Andersen for his site, Copenhagen Cycle Chic, which collects and publishes his daily shots of the city's most stylish cyclists. He tells of girls in Louboutin heels who seem to stick with "beat-up old Raleigh granny bikes" and how the city's men are switching to "sit-up-and-begs" like the Velorbis Churchill, but really, he says, "We don't have cyclists in Copenhagen, we just have Copenhageners who get around on bikes."
Marc van Woudenberg, who runs the popular site Amsterdamize, supports the idea that fashionable cycling is about being able to wear your everyday clothes to do it. "It's not for the purpose of cycling, but for the purpose of dressing according to your personality and the occasion, be it work, school, a party, whatever," he says, adding, "Anything but Lycra."
And that's what the boom in "sit-up-and-beg" bikes like the Pashley Princess, the Electra Amsterdam and those beat-up old Raleigh granny bikes will continue to nurture – dressing as you would every day, in Louboutin heels if you like, enjoying your leisurely bike ride.