Bicycle Network: Women's Cycling
Stylish woman or sweaty cyclist - must one choose between the two? Bron Willis ponders the challenges of combining bike commuting with looking good
Those Northside Ladies have got it right in their 2008 Bicycle Calendar. Miss May is truly elegant in her pearls, white peep-toe heels and stylish dark brown hair swept back in a bun, as she stands astride her equally elegant red machine. Miss June is pretty in pink and polka-dots – the perfect ambassador for the ‘hand a girl a spanner’ movement.
The bike lane ain't no catwalk
The calendar leaves me reflecting on my own bike riding attire. There is no elegance in sight when I hop on board my trusty steed – no cutting edge fashion as I roll down my driveway, pannier bags and all, en route to work in the city. And when I arrive, my Kmart gym pants and Cotton On tank top are complemented nicely by glowing red cheeks and unkempt sweaty hair.
Let’s face it, the Northside Ladies might be standing next to their bikes, but they ain’t riding ‘em. That’s not to say they’re trying to fool anyone; rather, their jaunty poses are a wonderful play on the stereotype of today’s woman. But it’s an interesting point that they raise.
Helmet hair and heels
Studies have shown that women are far outnumbered on Australian cycle paths and bike lanes. I could offer numerous explanations for this, but when all’s said and done I suspect it might have something to do with the challenge of combining commuting by bike, with looking good.
Years ago, the feminist in me would have been appalled to admit that – yeah, it bugs me too. But over time, I have come to believe that wanting to look good should have no bearing on wanting to be recognised as a capable and valuable member of society – one who can ride a bike and look powerful, or ride in a car and look beautiful, whichever she chooses.
But it strikes me that not all women suffer the same predicament – looking good and commuting by bike are apparently not mutually exclusive. Plenty of women ride along Brunswick St in their knee-high leather boots and funky gear (just like Miss November). My sister is a perfect example. I met her on the weekend for an afternoon of shopping. There she was, the perfect contradiction, dressed delightfully in a tomato red dress, poised and ready to go on her mountain bike with ‘Hammer’ emblazoned on the crossbar. Some women seem to mix their cycling with their ‘femme’ in stylish stride.
Being at ease with making do
But when cycling around the corner becomes cycling across the city, the situation changes a little – for me, anyway. It’s easy to ride to work in my daggy gear, shower and smarten up for a day in the office. But things become more complicated when I want to extend my cycle commuting to a drink with a friend at that nice wine bar in the city, or a pub on the way home. Helmet hair and sweaty gym pants don’t really cut it at the The Melbourne Supper Club. Dragging my pannier bags with me kind of diminishes my sense of chic. And finding somewhere to get changed before I ride home? What a drag!
But here I am, still riding my bike. And here I am, at the end of the page, with no neat solution – no new fandangled dress that turns into a pair of knicks when it’s time to head home, no portable powder room that arrives when I snap your fingers and say “alacazam!” I guess I like riding my bike. I guess, as it turns out, riding my bike, does help me to look good, indirectly.
And I guess I’ve decided that – whilst I’ll choose the train or the car if I really don’t want to upset my do – I am a woman of many faces and sometimes, (just sometimes) it’s just fine to not look good.
Note: To enquire about the Northside Ladies Bicycle Calendar (2008 or 2009), email email@example.com.
This article first appeared in the April-May 2008 issue of Ride On magazine.
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