Beginners’ guide to bike chic

Loathe lycra? Take another look at the well dressed citizen Jane revolution riding up a storm along New Zealand’s inner-city streets

Auckland bike-chic blogger Unity Finesmith is always on her bicycle, but has never owned cycling gear. Cycling in style is about showing people that riding a bike doesn’t have to involve lycra and sweat, she says, and you can actually look quite cool on your bike while efficiently getting from A to B. And while Unity may not own any shiny stretch cycle outfits, she’s the proud owner of three bicycles, including a restored 1950s Triumph – her “weekend sports car”.

So you’ve heard about cycle chic, but aren’t sure how to get on board?

Eschewing the idea of cycling as a sport, the bike chic (or bike chick) trend embraces bike riding as an everyday activity. And as with the Slow Bicycle Movement from Copenhagen, it’s all about style over speed. As cycle aficionado and Wellington mayor Celia Wade-Brown puts it, “Plenty of people walk to work without feeling like they have to run.”

Pippa Coom, deputy chair of the Waitemata Local Board, agrees. She says it isn’t that cycling’s been kidnapped by sports cyclists, it’s just that they’re the most visible on the road and tend to get the most attention. They’ve also been the most willing to cycle without dedicated cycle lanes and other bike infrastructure. Pippa doesn’t own a car, and as someone who’s ridden to work for the past six years, she’s a natural advocate of creating a more cycle-friendly city.

Like Unity, Pippa is also a keen Frocks on Bikes-er. This movement was born of a 2008 Wellington City Council Bike to Work Breakfast, when co-founder Isabella Cawthorn looked across a sea of lycra and high-visibility outfits and wondered why so few women had shown up – and why those who had were the only ones dressed like normal people. Turns out these other soon-to-be ‘frockers’ felt the same as her.

Frocks on Bikes emphasises the elegant side of cycling and encourages those of any ability to join in. Essentially, all you need is a bike and a helmet. The group helps out with practical concerns, such as running Street Skills workshops, where certified experts offer advice on topics like bike handling and defensive riding skills.

Cycle shops can be a bit daunting for beginners. As Isabella says, most good bike shops offer ‘sporty’ bikes, including mountain bikes and road bikes (although some road bikes are the bike of choice for chic cyclists) and ‘trick’ bikes, like BMX and fixed-pedal bikes. But you’ll also find increasing numbers of aesthetically pleasing cruiser or commuter bikes, which include fold-up versions, comfortable but high-class ladies’ bikes and single-speed cycles.

Top tips for looking good

1 For classy cycle wear, look no further than your existing wardrobe for that 50s-inspired frock, comfy pair of jeans or power suit. Simply choose to ride in clothes suitable for your intended destination.

2 Choose style over speed so you arrive at your destination cool and fresh.

3 Essential cycle-chic accessories include a chain guard and mudguard to keep your trousers or skirts clean and out of your bike chain’s way.

4 Baskets or pannier bags are another must. They look great, hold your shopping and can be easily personalised with flowers, badges, patches and ribbons.

5 Ditch the high-vis vest and smother your bike with lights. They come in various colours so you can accessorise while keeping safe at night, and many conveniently clip off and fit in your handbag.

Given the recent spate of horrific cycle accidents around the country, cycle safety is something that riders really need to take seriously. Forget helmet hair – helmets are a must when road cycling and especially if you want to avoid a hefty fine. Use standard hand signals to inform motorists of your intentions. Expert frockers also suggest riding slowly and making eye contact with drivers. Though it may seem counter-intuitive, ditching the neon gear and riding in clothes suitable for your intended destination can also help keep you safer because you’ll look less like a cyclist and more like a regular person. Pippa says she always feels safest wearing normal clothes when she’s cycling. “And a short skirt also helps to make sure cars give you plenty of room,” she laughs.

If you don’t feel comfortable on the road, try the footpath. As long as you watch out for driveways, always give way to fellow footpath users and don’t zoom along at 40 kilometres per hour taking out young parents and their baby buggies, you shouldn’t come to any grief.

Embracing cycle chic is not only a style statement, but also a climate-friendly, healthy, cheap and low-stress alternative to hanging out at petrol stations, trying to find parking or crawling along roads clogged with single-occupant cars. And as Celia says, any mode of transport powered by Fairtrade chocolate has got to be a good thing.

Women’s Royal Dutch Gazelle classic- style bike from The Urban Bicycle Company

Where to buy bike bits

Coloured chains, tyres, lights, beautiful baskets and bikes – the crew at T. White’s Bikes can revamp your old bike, create your ideal bike from hand-picked pieces or sell you some sleek and stylish numbers. They deliver throughout New Zealand. New bikes range from $600 – $1,500.

Beachbikes.co.nz import cute and colourful Electra cruiser bikes from San Francisco. Even better – for any order over $50, freight is free within New Zealand.

Above: Riders at the Frocks on Bikes Wheel Stylish fashion show and annual Love To Roll Valentines Day Ride; photography by Andy Morley-Hall and Matt Grace

The Second-Hand Bike Shop sells good-quality second-hand bikes from $200–$600. They even fix up old, donated bikes and give them to refugees – what good sorts! To donate your old bikes in Auckland call Refugees as Survivors, 09 270 0870, or email [email protected].

The Urban Bicycle Company imports high quality, elegant bikes made in Germany and the Netherlands and delivers to most cities. Electric bikes range from $1,500 – $4,000.

UK-based Bobbin Online – stocking tweed spats, 50s-esque rain hoods and glittery ‘cyclodelic’ reflective cuffs – is a terrific place to peruse an array of accessories (they deliver) and pick up bike ideas.

Hitting the streets

Frocks on Bikes – There are now ten flocks in New Zealand, with more over the ditch. Read more at www.frocksonbikes. org. Watch out for cycle-related events in ‘Frocktober’ – the launch of the season.

Get DIY – Want to learn how to fix your bike? A number of DIY stores have popped up around the country, including Auckland’s
Tumeke Cycle Space at 27 Edinburgh Street (Sundays 11am–3pm) and Wellington’s
Mechanical Tempest at 128 Abel Smith Street (call 04 972 7260 for hours).

Bike Polo – Mount your cycle, grab your handmade mallet and head off to bike polo. This three-a-side version is still relatively underground, but there are clubs in Taupo, Christchurch, Northland and Auckland. Look out for the decorated wheel spokes.

Critical Mass – Started in San Francisco, Critical Mass is a fun bike ride through the city. It meets on the last Friday of every month in several cities including Whangarei, Dunedin, Wellington and Auckland.


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