Friday, April 18, 2014

What Does 'Feminine Cycling' Mean?

There's been an interesting conversation happening online about feminine cycling. Elly Blue, of Taking the Lane & Elly Blue Publishing is reputed to have started it with a tweet:

“What does "feminine" mean? I'm serious. It keeps coming up in the context of things women can do to feel that way on a bike, + I'm confused.”

This article on Atlantic Cities with a wide variety of interesting perspectives on what feminine cycling means to them here. This is an interesting topic for me as a female cyclist, a biking advocate, & a mother. I could go on forever about what 'feminine' means, but I think for today there's enough to talk about if I just stick with the more or less mainstream idea of feminine appearance: dresses, skirts, makeup, jewellery/accessories & impractical footwear.

"Dressed down" but still in clipless shoes & gloves!
When I started riding for transportation about 15 years ago (as opposed to for recreation, like I did as a kid) I don't remember thinking much about femininity in relation to riding my bike. I got really into the then relatively androgynous world of technical gear. Women's cycling clothing was very sporty, & very similar to men's, just a few darts here & there at the waist, basically. I wasn't particularly interested in feminine gear, because at that time 'feminine gear' was usually floral &/or pink. Not that into either one, myself. I just wanted it to fit.

This was back in the days before I reproduced, when I commuted to work by bike. I was a gear head & kitted myself out in top to toe spandex, goretex, clipless pedals, cycling gloves, dorky wraparound shades, panniers, even cycling specific socks. This made sense on the rainy days or the really hot ones, but most of the time I could have just worn my work clothes. Especially since work was downhill from where I lived--I didn't even break much of a sweat en route.

Travelling to Amsterdam was probably the beginning of the erosion of my gearhead road warrior image. There I saw men, women & children of all ages (seriously--from newborns to the white-haired) on Dutch Oma fietsen (heavy, upright step through frame city bikes) wearing normal clothes. I also noticed what seemed normal for them was a little more fashionable than what I usually saw at home, particularly for middle-aged & older women. Women would sometimes ride in what most people would call "feminine" clothes: skirts, dresses, bright scarves, purses, sometimes heels.

Could I look more like a tourist?!?
I'd brought my yellow reflective striped cycling jacket on this trip, partly because we were planning on cycling, but also because it was waterproof, small & easy to pack for a month of backpacking in four countries. When I wore it cycling over the canals & along the cycle tracks of Amsterdam, I stuck out like a sore thumb & felt a bit of a dork.

Nowadays when I ride, femininity isn't something I think about either, any more than you would when you drive somewhere. It's just the best option for getting from point A to point B. However, gone are the days of padded shorts + jerseys with pockets in the back. I just wear what I'd normally wear: jeans & tee shirt or occasionally a dress/skirt in the summer, plus flats. That's not to say I don't ever think about my appearance, but more a factor of not having time to think about it. I've got two little kids--I rarely have time to put much effort into my appearance no matter how I'm getting to where I'm going.

When I thought of my most feminine ride of the past year, this immediately came to mind:

Heading home from the Mount Pleasant Farmers Market with Linnaeus in the iBert & Bronte in my belly.

Riding a bike in a dress & sandals, (with a purse, even) at 39 weeks pregnant, with my other child on the bike too. No mistaking me for a man in that outfit... so it's feminine, I guess?

I do think about cycling & style a bit more when I'm off the bike, because of the recent trend that's seen bicycles creep into fashion shoots, because of Cycle Chic & the now fabulous selection of bike-friendly but not sporty gear like Po Campo bags. But femininity isn't generally how I frame it in my head. I don't care that much about what everyone wears on their bikes or if women are feminine or not--I just want to see more people riding.

To answer Elly's question (I know, took me long enough, right?), I think 'feminine cycling' is what you make of it. Dress, heels & floppy hat or fuchsia floral print spandex, what's really important is that you are biking.

What do you think? What does 'feminine cycling' mean to you?

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