cycle chic. mikael colville andersen. thames and hudson hardback 288pp illus. £pound;14.95

cycle chic

in the town where i lived prior to moving to the hebrides was a substantially sized health food store filled with all manner of strange foods that apparently were meant to appeal to those not wishing to be carnivorous in their diet. shelf upon shelf of white plastic bottles with applied coloured labels promised a variety of demonstrably necessary vitamins and proteins designed to keep the vegetarian healthy in their quest for salvation from the inquities of meat-eating. most of it was distinctly overwhelming and caused many a moment of panic when realising that most of these imponderables were aimed at folks like me.

vegetarians come basically in two forms: those who no longer wish to eat meat because they don't like the taste or texture (me), or those who are distinctly against the need to kill animals in order to survive. there is undoubtedly something of an overlap between the two, and it is more common for the second category to lapse into demi-vegi territory than those who simply don't like meat. vegans are a whole nuther ball game altogether, but suffice it to say their even more restrictive diet/philosophy was also catered for by this sizeable store.

in those days, vegetarianism was regarded as somewhat on the faddish side of society, mostly due to the beautiful people having adopted it as their own; something of a fashion statement rather than purely a dietary choice. this turned out to be a double-edged sword as it was hard to convince many that not eating meat meant just exactly that. prawn salad would most certainly not do. but conversely, it provided a saleable market that encouraged stores such as that described and a slightly easier time ordering vegetarian meals in hotels and restaurants. there was a time when the vegetarian option consisted of simply leaving the meat off the plate and filling the empty space with more vegetables. this is likely why so many needed to purchase those vitamin tablets in the white bottles.

cycle chic

the uk vegetarian society was founded in 1847, thus pre-dating much of the veggie fad that infiltrated modern society in the late seventies to mid-eighties. up until my occasional visits to this nearby healthfood store, i had no idea that there was a society of any sort nor could i, at the time, see any real reason why you would need one in the first place. this i could attribute to my dislike of joining clubs or societies but also because i failed to see the connection between my wishing not to eat meat and forming a club round this dietary preference. it pains me to admit that i still find it just a tad bizarre.

however, at the time, the vegetarian society produced a newspaper, one that could be purchased in single copies within the shop, so i bought a copy, if only to satiate my appetite for comprehension. as with most publications promoted by specific organisations, inside this newspaper was a form allowing one to join the vegetarian society, something which, not unexpectedly, brought with it certain rules and regulations one of which has stuck in my memory since those halcyon days of yore: 'as a member of the vegetarian society, i will not knowingly consume any meat product'

my first reaction was how will they know?, but my secondary response was now one of repression. though i have never once entertained the thought of eating meat in forty-odd years of vegetarianism, no doubt there are those who have, even if only to ratify that discarding meat consumption was a valid move in the first place. i can only say that this reaffirmed my conviction that it is better not to join clubs in the first place; how each of us manages our dietary choices is one that need concern only us rather than an anonymous administrator in altrincham.

cycle chic

and so to bicycles, and in particular, mikael colville-andersen's cycle chic, an entertaining book of just how normal people dress when riding bicycles for ordinary reasons. i cannot hide the fact that my velocipedinal activities are most often aboard a colnago, ibis or chris king cielo and in the process of riding any of those three, i am inclined to wear more lycra than is possibly good for the planet, often augmented by variations of sportwool and merino. clothing such as this assists greatly in making me appear a lot faster than is truly the case and is justified, in my mind at least, by the knowledge that i would not go swimming in a pair of levis and a cardigan. if swot and hetty will be encountered en-route, then it is better to be suitably prepared.

however, much of my cycling, and by implication, much of yours too, is completely pointless. tomorrow i will exit washingmachinepost cottage early and take a convoluted trip around the principality with no target in mind other than to arrive at debbie's between 12:30 and one for lunch and a well-deserved sup of soya cappuccino. many, however, and for all i know it could be a substantial majority, ride their bikes as a means of transport with a definite destination in mind as they set off. an appropriately configured bicycle can carry quite a lot of paraphernalia, and riding speed can be easily adjusted to account for both swot and hetty. and though we may judge it to be deviant behaviour, it seems that many feel no compulsion to wear lycra, brightly coloured polyester or even pedals that clip their feet in place.

in fact a significant number wear exactly what would be the case if they decided to go by bus, by car or even on shanks's pony (walking). not for them the silicon grippers to retain jerseys or shorts in place, nor indeed any predilection for shoes that might make them walk like a gaggle of ducks. if fashion dictates that syle is indeed style, why for one moment would it be considered right and proper to allow the bicycle to alter this mindset. the worrying factor is that this hypothetical majority could well be right and it is we who are guilty of deviant behaviour.

cycle chic

do not for one minute misunderstand my point; the world is large enough to encompass all manner of cyclists, but consider for a moment that the garb i primarliy review on the post is only stylish and acceptable within a certain milieu, one which most of us accept as normal. at least until mr colville-anderson came along and pointed out that, in fact, the emperor might not be wearing any clothes at all.

cycle chic started as the author's blog in 2007, quickly mushrooming into something of a franchise. if you take a look at the blog's current incarnation it is easy to identify links to another 56 cycle chic websites all across the world, from edinburgh to sacramento, from oporto to strasbourg. the principle behind this display of normality aboard a bicycle has even been appropriated in minimalist form on the rapha website in the shape of the survey section. the type or make of bicycle is seemingly unimportant, and it would appear there are no restrictions in colour either. the worrying thing is, it all makes perfect sense; who wouldn't be happy to dispense with the faff of rummaging through the cycle wardrobe for that favourite pair of shorts, deciding whether to wear a long-sleeve jersey or short with armwarmers, whether to take the bike with eggbeater pedals and appropriate footwear or whether the portent of speed might favour the carbon-soled race shoes, thus making the choice of bicycle that which currently wears the three point pedals?

wouldn't it be so much more dignified, civilised and pragmatic to simply take the bicycle from the bike shed and go for a ride?

this is, entertainingly, what all 288 pages of mr colville-anderson's book are about. it would be somewhat unfair and prejudicial to plainly state that it is a book of photographs of people on bikes. this bland admonition could apply to many a cycling periodical with which cycle chic has very little, if anything, in common. however, such lack of pretension in the book's illustrations is not reflected in the author's introduction: "Bicycle Culture 2.0 is upon us. The rapid rise of the global movement that Cycle Chic has spawned, points to the fact that society has longed for the return of the bicycle. Now more than ever, the bicycle is back. We've missed it. Let's keep it around this time, shall we?"

cycle chic

modesty apparently is not one of mr colville-andersen's finest traits. unless i'm very much mistaken, the above quote attributes the fact that, all over the world people are riding ordinary bikes in ordinary clothes simply because the author chose to reflect the trend in his blog. i would think that to be an unfortunate assertion.

the passage is followed by the cycle chic manifesto, something i would have thought to be a contradiction of terms, but it is here that echoes of the vegetarian society rear their ugly head, for the final point of this manifesto states 'i will refrain from wearing and owning any form of 'cycle wear'

says who, exactly? and again, who's checking?

surely the whole point of cycle chic, as ably demonstrated by the hundreds of illustrations in this very fine pictorial volume, is that one is at liberty to choose. thus if i take the notion to wear a rapha softshell jacket with a pair of chinos, pink converse allstars and a cashmere scarf, surely the choice is mine to make. i am not, however, immune to the humour engendered by said manifesto, stating that 'i will endeavour to ensure that the total value of my clothes exceeds that of my bicycle' and 'I embrace my responsibility to contribute visually to a more aesthetically pleasing urban landscape.'.

the book depicts a great number of people enjoying their bicycles and the transport it provides in the ways that they see fit; page 69 shows a peleton of roadies passing a young lady on a more modest bicycle carrying an umbrella in the up position and it is a telling fact that it's the more numerous roadies who look distinctly out of place.

perhaps one day the bicycle will become as ubiquitous as this book would suggest is in the process of happening. maybe bicycle culture 2.0 sneaked in when i wasn't looking, and there's a whole world out there sniggering at my natty bib-threequarters and merino jersey. i tend to think not, but if ever there was evidence to give cause for second thoughts, this is it.

friday 11th may 2012.


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