Monday, February 3, 2014

To Bike in Heels or Not

Apparently, there has been some recent brouhaha over a couple of blog posts regarding riding a bike in heels (although this topic comes up frequently outside the confines of these posts). This isn't typically a subject I'd even wander into for a full post, but since I was specifically asked about it, I figured the easiest way to respond is to write it out here. If you're interested in the original posts, they can be found here and here. In the most simplified form (really, reading both posts is a better reflection of the individuals' thoughts) one blogger is tired of hearing about biking in heels and wants to see more work done to get women educated and skilled in regard to fixing their own bikes; and the other is in response to the original post and discusses her belief in riding in heels and taking her bike to a shop to have a flat fixed (or whatever fixes might be needed).
*Image found here
So what are my thoughts? It's interesting that I'd even be asked this question because, frankly, I don't care. Okay, perhaps it isn't so much that I don't care (I care about anything that gets someone on a bicycle), but rather that it seems like a topic that shouldn't even require so much impassioned discussion. If a person likes to ride in heels and skirts, go for it. If a person wants to ride in full team kit everywhere s/he goes, do it. Seriously. I'm not trying to be funny, or even make light of what is obviously an important topic for each of these ladies, but it really doesn't affect me in my every day life. I have ridden my bike dressed to the nines, and I've ridden in some fairly funky (read: stinky), lycra-ridden clothing over the years, and I don't feel like I am any more of or less than any one else, regardless of how I'm dressed. I wear clothes because they cover my body, keep me warm, etc (and because if I rode around nude it would scare a lot of people, and I'd no doubt be arrested for parading around in the buff - since, as far as I know, it is illegal here in these parts). I wear shoes because they provide protection, keep me warm, etc (and I have actually been on a bike without shoes - it wasn't particularly pleasant - but I can't say I'd never do it again, honestly). Yes, I have heels and I also own "bike shoes" and I have used them both (and lots of choices in-between) when the time is appropriate (and sometimes when it was inappropriate - but I'm just that sort of person who doesn't care what anyone else thinks about it).
*Image found here
I think it's awesome to see men and women out riding in their everyday attire. If it is an easier choice than transporting oneself by bike and having to change when s/he reaches his/her stop, of course it makes sense to just wear the clothes that will be worn at the final destination. If a person is more comfortable biking in lycra and wants to change once s/he arrives at the end point, I see nothing wrong with that either. I view all of this as a personal preference, not a matter that should be decided by any person, entity, government, or anyone else.
*Image found here
In regard to women being capable of fixing their flat tires or doing minor repairs to a bike - again, I think this is a matter of personal choice. If an individual rides in areas that there is a means of having problems easily addressed by a bike shop and they are willing to pay for the service, why have issue with this? We are not all skilled in such matters (and I know plenty of dudes out there who take their bikes in to shops for every little repair because they either can't or don't want to do it themselves - so this isn't a gender-based thing for me), and/or we may not have interest in even learning such a skill. If I choose to not learn, it doesn't mean I shouldn't be allowed to ride a bike.
*Image found here
On the other hand, I also think it's a great idea for every person who rides a bike to at least have a basic knowledge of how things work and can be fixed. As I've stated here many times over, I am one of the least mechanically-skillful people on the planet, so I will be the first in line to have someone else take over such things. However, I also know what to do if I really had to fix something, so hopefully, I won't end up stranded in the middle of nowhere without the means to get myself home. This doesn't mean that every persons situation is the same though and I have no problem or issue with anyone who chooses one option over the other, or any combination of the two ends of the spectrum.
*Image found here
Bottom line: I think any way a person chooses to ride is spectacular (I do take issue at times with those who do things that make it worse for those who follow the rules of the road though - but that has nothing to do with the attire selected for the ride).  More people should be out riding a bike and enjoying such a great activity, means of transportation, and/or sport (depending on the way a person rides). We would probably all be a lot less angry and rage-filled on the roads if every individual knew first-hand exactly what it's like to be on the roads with big, sometimes scary, several-ton motorized vehicles. So, while I try not to get caught up in the banter that can take place between (or among) cyclists, it doesn't matter to me what you choose to wear on your ride, nor whether or not you choose to fix your own mechanical issues - just get out there and ride. Life is too short to worry about what others are wearing (or not) or what they are doing (or not). Do what feels right for you - whether that's dressing like a fashionista, like you're riding the next Tour, or somewhere in the broad spectrum in between.

17 comments:

  1. It never ceases to amaze me how passionate some people are in regards to how one should ride a bike. As Americans, we should view cycling like the rest of the world: as a means of transportation. When looking at it through those eyes, wearing everyday attire while pedaling starts making more sense.

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    1. Agreed. I think cycling in the U.S. is still very much viewed as a sport, rather than as a means of transportation for the vast majority of the population.

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  2. Thanks for putting this out there. As bicycling gets more and more popular, I have been kind of dismayed with the whole "Cycle Chic" phenomena. I suppose it's inevitable and if it gets more women on bikes, it's not necessarily a bad thing. But it also brings in issues of what's considered feminine and putting pressure on women to look a certain way even when on the bike, an intrusion I do not appreciate. As a female who does not own heels, much of the discussion is lost on me and when I've tried to write about it, it ends up sounding really snarky and that's not the direction I prefer to go. So, again, thank you for putting out a balanced write-up. More female butts on bikes should be the ultimate goal!

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    1. I think the Cycle Chic - what shall we call it - movement? - is fascinating in itself. I respect it in that it allows people to see that riding in everyday clothing is perfectly fine and doable for anyone. I do think it can get out of hand... but, I am more of an every day Keens-N-Jeans sort of gal myself. To me, the point of it is just to ride in whatever we have in the closet, rather than feeling as though we need to go out and buy special clothes to ride a bike. I, personally, would have a terrible time biking in 5 inch heels - but I've seen it done - and these ladies are totally comfortable, so I say more power to them.

      I understand that there is also additional information to be read when viewing photos of women in skirts and heels on a bike. We could go into deep discussion about the pressures put on women to dress a certain way or behave a certain way... but, I suppose my point came across (hopefully) that I'm really looking simply to say that it shouldn't matter what we wear. We should never feel as though we are an object or supposed to behave in a certain way. I do want any woman, however, to feel comfortable and confident in any way she chooses to ride her bicycle.

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    2. I completely agree. Just because I choose to wear sneakers/boots doesn't mean I'm trying to look more sporty, this is just my everyday attire. Also resent the term tomboy, as if wearing pants makes me less of a woman. People should dress like how they would if they walked or drove. If those women wear heels to drive, then they most certainly can cycle in heels. The only concession I make is for sweat. I typically don't wear a winter coat if I'm on bike.

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  3. Thanks for posting.

    Personally, I hate the 90's look of cycling lycra and make some attempt to eschew typical America cycling clothing. That said, as a guy, it is tough to ride very far - especially in warm weather and/or hilly terrain, without conceding to synthetic clothes. I think a lot of women can get away with more attire choices, because I'm told many of you only "glisten". Me, like most guys, I sweat. So clothing that promotes prompt drying is essential.

    I think the lifestyle represented on websites such as Cycle Chic takes advantage of the short flat commutes and cycling trips available in older, European cities. I hope someday, this is more available in the U.S., as our cities are re-developed in the post-automobile world.

    As far as heels, don't wear them, but I will say that the larger, flat pedals with traction pins available today make fashion shoes easier to wear while cycling. Look for pedals that are about 100 mm x 100 mm in platform size. I ride with the Velo Orange Grans Cru Sabots and love them.

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    1. "Glisten," that cracks me up! My commute is 12 miles round trip, with a couple of little hills. When it is hot in Memphis, it is HOT. I do not "glisten." I sweat. In that weather, I have to clean up and change at the office. On the other hand, once the morning temperatures are below 80-degrees, I can make my ride just fine in work clothes.

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    2. You beat me to it, Kendra. I was thinking the same thing... I know I definitely will sweat if it's more than a few miles (particularly when there are hills to contend with on a ride).

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  4. Look, like BIke Musings, I don't want women to be slaves to fashion. And I don't want to create unrealistic expectations about women having to look fabulously made up and dressed up even when out for a bike ride. Trust me, my friends would laugh themselves senseless at the idea that I am even vaguely fashion conscious. But what that blogger misses is that biking in heels -- and talking about biking in heels -- isn't about a frivolous obsession with fashion (note how easily I could have substituted "girlish" for "frivolous" and we've got a whole other conversation about gender going on).

    I work in a professional context where it's not uncommon for me to show up wearing a skirt or dress and low (clunky) heels, which, by the way, are perfectly comfortable for a long workday on my feet. It came as a complete surprise to me that I actually could arrive at work dressed for work. I didn't bike commute for years because I thought of the bike as something for sport and recreation, not transportation. Even when I made the mental shift to transportation, it took a while before I actually grasped that I didn't need to show up at work dressed for sport and then change into work attire. A lot of women may be staying off of bikes because they also don't know that you can, in fact, bike in heels* (*shorthand for work attire). That is precisely why it matters that we keep talking about and writing about great ways to dress and ride.

    If discussions of fashion have eclipsed conversations about bike repairs and self-sufficiency, that's not really the fault of the cycle chic bloggers, is it? That's not their thing. What we need is not less writing about women biking in work attire, but more writing about women fixing their own bikes.

    Disclaimer: I'm not really interested in fixing my own bike. If it breaks down on the way to work, I'll lock it to something secure and hop on a bus or call a friend for a ride. I'm also not interested in fixing my own car, but no one has ever questioned whether it was okay for me to commute by car.

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    1. Yes. Yes. and Yes.

      I understand that it can be annoying/irritating/fill-in-the-blank adjective to those who aren't as - hmm.. what word to use here - concerned - with fashion, but I agree that there is a larger topic at work in these discussions that has little to do with attire choices at all. If I am riding around town (generally under 15 miles round trip), I will wear pretty much whatever I have on because I don't think I should need or have to change to transport myself. I'm comfortable in my clothes, and I'm comfortable on my bike in those clothes, so there's no reason to feel as though I need special attire for my bike trips.

      I agree that we don't see a whole lot of female bloggers chatting about fixing their own bikes. I am guilty of this myself (even when I do my own repair). Partially, I wonder if anyone would have interest in reading about repairs (because they are generally quite simple when I'm the one completing the task), and partially because it's just become second nature to do these things and then forget about them. This might actually be a great topic to send out to the reading audience and have you all submit your stories of bike repairs. It could make a great series and a way to help other females who may be intimidated to repair their own rides. Hmmm... wheels are turning now. :O)

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    2. I agree with you Kendra.

      A couple of thoughts:

      Ladies like my mid-20's daughter (who is very girly-girl) tend to shy away from cycling. If the Cycle Chic fashion approach broadens the appeal to women so inclined, then I see that as a positive.

      As far as bike repairs. I have taught my girlfriend to change her tire or adjust her shifter and she is confident she can do so if she had to. Still, even if she is not riding with me, I am glad to do it for her - and she appreciates that. I think women should be OK with that - not feeling like they have to do something to prove something about themselves. I do think it is a good idea for everyone, men and women to learn basic maintenance and repairs. Especially if you run high pressure, skinny tires, you will deal with flats sooner or later.

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    3. Wow, I watched this post unfold in the last couple of days, and what seemed to be pretty tame turned into a hot one.

      Being someone who rode both ways, dressed, and then kitted, I can say, wear what you want/what makes you comfortable, no matter the situation. If heels are cool, wear them (I don't, as they just don't suit my level of hair). Just get on your bikes and ride.

      Tooling: Women can do it, no problem. I think sometimes they chose not to, just like men. I can tell you from extensive experience, once you have it down, it's easier and more therapeutic than any profession. With the bicycle, there are always solutions to the problems, and a direct result of your work, nearly immediate. You make an adjustment, it goes into gear, immediate happiness. A tire is flat, then it's not, no tow trucks, service shops, or high $$$. On the same note, I do like good service shops, that know more than I do....

      Just ride.

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    4. Unfortunately, we still live in a world full of individuals who hold on to the belief that women and men should behave in certain ways and that the characteristics of each gender shouldn't cross. There are the few who have managed to escape these typical "roles," or who choose not to care what others think, but unfortunately even though I want to believe things are changing and can alter as we move forward, there are ideas that many hold on to in regard to what a woman should be doing or is capable of doing on her own. Just as there are ideas of what men "should" be able to do. Neither is right in my eyes. Several decades ago, a stay at home dad would have been absolutely absurd to most of the population, but there are plenty of them today. Just as there are men who are not skilled in home repair, changing the oil in a vehicle, or repairing a bicycle, there are women who have the aptitude for such tasks.

      In all of this, I suppose my thoughts are simply that clothing choices are at the bottom of my list of things to be concerned about when it comes to bicycles. Cycling (whether for sport, recreation, or transportation) is still very much male-dominated here in the U.S. Whether that has to do with our (as a whole) perception that it's too dangerous for women, or that we've revered a culture that has spread out making it difficult in many areas to commute by bike - I'm not sure. Probably a combination of factors at work. I think things are changing here though (slow as it may seem sometimes), and if biking in heels (or cycle chic movements) help to get more folks on bikes, bring it on.

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  5. Great post! Thanks for adding to the conversation. Ultimately, I don't care who wears what, and in a less impassioned approach, what I really want is for the conversation about women and bikes to focus on things that don't reinforce patriarchal ideology, as the promotion of biking in heels actually does. And I want my fellow women to feel feminine without things like heels and make-up, that may be enjoyed for the sake of dressing up, but shouldn't be promoted as the standard, ever. Don't get me started on make-up...

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    1. "What I really want is for the conversation about women and bikes to focus on things that don't reinforce patriarchal ideology..." Agreed. This is a tough one to actually reach/get to, but hopefully things will continue to evolve.

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