Trading helmets for fedoras

By Daryn Wright
Photos by Mark Burnham/a>

Vancouver Cycle Chic is a new initiative aimed at growing the appeal of bikes with fashionable cyclists 

The bicycle is a clean, efficient alternative to motorized transportation. Yet it is either ignored by the city, or when it is acknowledged, it is deemed too utilitarian for use in our daily lives.

There is something worrisome about a city that caters to cars and buses alone. Vancouver Cycle Chic aims to remedy Vancouver’s detachment from cycling as a daily activity. David Phu founded the Vancouver-based blog after discovering the original Copenhagen Cycle Chic brand online.

“What started as self-comforting Google searches of ‘biking in jeans’ ended with discovering the Copenhagen Cycle Chic website, meeting [its founder], and being invited to start my own chapter in Vancouver,” says Phu, who defines “cycle chic” as a label used for the everyday citizens seen in the photos on the blog: people who go about their daily lives on bicycles and in regular clothing. The Cycle Chic blogs tend to focus on personal and ordinary style, but routinely showcase exceptional fashion on bikes as well.

A large part in the promotion of “normal” urban cycling as advocated by Phu is a movement towards changing people’s attitudes towards urban cycling.

“I believe cars, bikes, and pedestrians have an equally confusing time sharing roads.  It’s fair to say that there is a lack of informative materials to help road users understand their rights and responsibilities,” says Phu.

Part of this reconciliation involves merging stylish, or everyday cycling with safety issues. Vancouver’s infrastructure is less accommodating to cyclists than, say, Copenhagen, and this leads to issues with helmet laws. However, Phu explains that helmets may not be the solution to Vancouver’s cycle safety issues.

“There is enough research that suggests helmets are not what they seem. There are many people out there putting themselves in hairy situations on sketchy roads all the while thinking this $30 plastic bucket, will save their life,” says Phu, explaining that the helmet is rated to withstand less than 30 km/h of impact in one particular angle.

Vancouver’s involvement in an urban cycling culture is only in its beginning stages, a large part being Vancouver Cycle Chic conception. Velo-City, an annual conference held by the European Cyclists Foundation, and Velopalooza, a two-week biking festival, are also happening in Vancouver this summer.

“Cycle Chic is just a modern name for something that has been normal for 125 years: people riding bicycles in cities,” says Phu. “In some regions, the bicycle has been marketed as only a tool for sport or recreation and not much else for more than a generatiwon. So people, unfortunately, have this perception that riding a bicycle is an extreme activity that requires all manner of gear.”

This is perhaps one of the reasons that Copenhagen is one of the most bicycle friendly cities in the world: they have a mainstream biking culture that is accommodated by the city’s infrastructure.

“Reversing 75 years of outdated traffic engineering that prioritizes cars — the greatest flop in the 7,000 years that cities have existed — and focusing instead on intelligent, cost-efficient transport forms is the key,” Mikael Colville-Andersen, the founder of the original Copenhagen Cycle Chic explains. “Helmets are fantastic tools for lazy politicians hoping to win cheap brownie points. Very little science was involved in the implementation of B.C.’s helmet laws.”

The difference is that Vancouver, a comparatively young city, does not have the infrastructure to support the movement of “normal” cyclists: those individuals riding to work wearing heels or a suit, a normal sight in Copenhagen. Instead, these individuals face glares from drivers, displeased with having to share a lane with a cyclist.

One of Colville-Andersen’s main tenets of urban cycling promotion is the consideration of design. This applies to both the people who are moving in and around a city on bicycles, as well as the design of a city itself. “It’s anthropology. If people who resemble you and me are moving about a city on bicycles, it makes the city a nicer place to be. It adds a human level to our transport.”

This simple human truth — that seeing people and being in contact with people on the ground level is a good thing — seems obvious. Yet there still remains a very tangible resentment towards urban cyclists in Vancouver. Cycle Chic is another piece in the puzzle in changing perspectives, which will hopefully lead to more policy changes in the future.

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