Bicycle Network: Women's Cycling
Less fashion, more function
Meg Ulman’s bicycle is a functional part of her femininity
Years ago when I first visited Amsterdam I couldn’t understand why so many people were walking around with one trouser leg rolled up. It didn’t take me long to realise that it wasn’t a fashion statement, but a cycling practicality. Jeans, suit pants, overalls, tracky daks; it was a utilitarian fashion statement that went beyond the usual age, gender or socio-economic qualifiers.
When I moved to regional Victoria three-and-a-half years ago, my initial impressions of the bike riders I saw in the Netherlands came to mind. Not because they had tailored their trousers to their transport, but because practicality was the statement du jour.
Getting my hands dirty...
When I lived in the city it took me 45 minutes to ride to work, so by the time I arrived, my clothes were dishevelled, my hair sweaty and my cheeks, a robust red. I would arrive at the office and always feel so unkempt, so unladylike. I would race to the bathroom to gather myself and smooth my hair and clothing into a professional facade.
Now I live in the country where my definition of ‘feminine’ has changed. In the city, where I was born and bred, I thought feminine meant unruffled and neat, delicate. If I could have sat side-saddle on my bike I would have. Now that I live in the country I define my femininity less by how I look, and more by what I do. As I now grow my own vegetables and keep my own chickens, you will often see me pedalling to town in my gardening gear. In the city I would check myself in the mirror before going out in public, but now I wear my soil-covered clothes and straw-filled hair like a flag I wave proudly to proclaim who I am.
...and my bike too
And so too with my bike. Wiping the city grime from its bright red frame was once a nightly ritual, but now I parade that dirt like a badge of honour too. Maybe it’s because one dirt is earthy and one polluted. I don’t think I was conscious of that differentiation before I moved, but now that I’m here my life is a collection of bullet points on an ongoing ‘before and after’ list. There I had a heavy-duty lock to tether my ride but in a small town that’s unnecessary. What’s most vital now is the detachable basket I have on the front. There, I was always in a rush and would calculate the shortest route from A to B. Here I live more slowly and take the long route when I bike to town, keeping my eye out for wild fruit trees in season.
This article first appeared in Bicycle Network Victoria's Ride On magazine, August-September 2009