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Cycle Chic: The Movement Which Turned Bicycles into Fashion

By Siegfried Mortkowitz

I don’t know about you but before I get on my bike, I put on a helmet, socks and sneakers, an old pair of jeans and, depending on the temperature, I grab whatever sweater, t-shirt or jacket that’s handy. And if it’s raining or snowing, I put on the TV. I don’t want to make a fashion statement while rolling; I just want to roll.

But there are people – many of them are women – who do see the bicycle as a fashion accessory and a platform to show off their chic wardrobes, such as this New Yorker leading off a story in The New York Times: “Talk about making an entrance. Intent on arriving at a recent gala in style, Topaz Page-Green swooshed onto the scene on her trusty vintage roadster. She wore, of all things, a scarlet dress with a slinky 1920s feel. ‘It was to the ankles,’ she recalled. ‘I had to hoist it up’.”

© Elizabeth Lippman for The New York Times

The story was featured in the newspaper’s Fashion & Style section and its headline read: Bicycle Chic Gains Speed. It should, actually, have read Cycle Chic because that is the name of a movement founded (and named) in 2007 by Mikael Colville-Andersen, a Canadian-Danish urban designer and mobility expert who works with local and national governments to help them make their cities and countries more bike friendly.

Colville-Andersen coined the term cycle chic (or, yes, bicycle chic) to denote cycling around town in fashionable everyday clothes, bike accessories, and chic bikes, such as Ms Page-Green’s “trusty vintage roadster.” It seems, though, that his mission was to make cycling itself chic and he is credited with helping to turn cycling into the globally popular transportation mode it is today. He began with the Cycle Chic blog in June 2007, in which he published what is sometimes referred to as “The Photo That Launched a Million Bicycles”.

The Photo That Launched a Million Bicycles © Mikael Colville-Andersen

The blog aimed to put a growing number of his photos about Copenhagen’s bicycle culture in one place on the internet. These photos included shots of fashionable Copenhagen cyclists riding their two-wheelers around town. As a result and to everyone’s surprise, the media and cyclists took the phrase cycle chic to another level (as the New York Times article above illustrates) and launched a global movement and a fashion trend. In turn, the blog took on a street-style mode and attracted a broad readership that included people interested in fashion as well as those working in the industry.

The Cycle Chic blog was named among the Top Ten Fashion Blogs by the Guardian (which also dubbed Colville-Andersen “The Sartorialist on Two Wheels”), was included in the Top 100 Blogs Worldwide by the Times and was named one of the Top 10 Hottest Fashion Websites by Marketing Magazine.

Mikael Colville-Andersen by Thomas Rabsch

Not only that but the blog inspired the creation of hundreds of other, similar blogs and websites around the world, many of which came together to form the Cycle Chic Republic, which held annual conferences to discuss the impact of cycling on urban lifestyles.

Note, however, the past tense held. The link to the Cycle Chic Republic website timed out, strongly suggesting that it no longer exists. In addition, the final Cycle Chic blog entry is dated September 7, 2018, which implies that Colville-Andersen has moved on and that the Cycle Chic movement has served its purpose, which the blog defined as, “Cycle Chic aims to take back the bike culture by showing how the bicycle once again can be an integral, respectable and feasible transport form, free of sports clothes and gear, and how it can play a vital role in increasing life quality in cities.”

In any case, cycling has always been chic no matter what you’re wearing, right?