what’s a boy to do?

Oh dear. The troubles we face these days. According to the New York Times,

Yet even with bicycle commuting up in New York by 35 percent from 2007 to 2008, according to the New York City Department of Transportation, there are still impediments to its being widely embraced by the city. These range from the obvious — like, how do you lock your bike so it won’t be stolen 30 seconds later? — to more slippery issues of style. How should you dress to bike to work? Which bike has an acceptable level of manliness? These are tricky questions. As the parade of 10-speeds, mountain bikes and, more recently, fixed-gear designs knocked the upright, old-school bicycle off the road, accouterments like fenders and chain guards came to be seen — by men, at least — as eccentric. If a guy is going to get on a bike, he wants to imagine he’s Lance Armstrong, not Pee-wee Herman.

Fashion. Masculinity. Bicycling. “Worlds colliding, Jerry! Worlds colliding!” Don’t get me wrong, I spend more than my share of time pining for all the pretty people pictured day after day on copenhagencyclechic and elsewhere. I go back and forth on whether to buy some swanky new town bike built by the likes of Velorbis, Biria, Sogreni, or some such, or instead to build up my own classic machine using some busted old Raleigh off ebay. And I frequently dream of pedaling to campus, sitting upright and moving along at a leisurely pace, in a tweed sport coat and worsted wool bike cap, with my attache across my shoulder or on the front rack, some crisp, sunny, fall day. But in the end, I am to Rapha as, say, pulp fiction is to Shakespeare. (Of course, savvy readers know there’s more than one way to take that.)

Photo by David Roemer and stolen from The New York Times

Photo by David Roemer and stolen from The New York Times

For all the utility we credit these inherently beautiful machines with having, we seem, oddly enough, no less concerned with status and presentation. The article talks about the “hefty price tag” on a Dutch bike, and then features a shot of some model sporting an outfit totaling more than $5000, nearly three times the cost of the bike. This, I’m sure, works in a manner similar to “The Blue Blood Cruise” in Roland Barthes’ reading, doubly framed by both New York and the fashion pages. But, personally, I am far less comforted by the implied validation than I am challenged (and inspired) by examples found among other segments of our two-wheeled family.

Now, I’ll be the first to confess that, for as much as I love fixing up busted old bikes, I’m no less obsessed with shiny new machines and enamored with all the accouterments available for purchase at my local bike shop. And there’s a part of me that doesn’t care what prompts someone to ride, so long as more people do so. There’s plenty of room on this bandwagon, and a litany of good reasons to be on it.

When I really take the time to think about it honestly, I guess it comes down to the mood I’m in on any given day. Sometimes I want to be Lance Armstrong. But sometimes I really want to be Pee-wee Herman. My sense of fashion has always been suspect anyway. And I’m not aware of any adverse effect either lycra or fenders is having on my masculinity, such as it is. So I suppose I’ll keep having it both ways (and then some).

It’s funny how similar ideas seem to surface everywhere at once. Here’s a bit on fixie fashion at Wired, which I found just today via the mellowvelo. And of course the BikeSnob has a thought or two about today’s article in the New York Times. Everyone seems to be concerned with style. Perhaps it’s the nature of spring.

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4 responses to “what’s a boy to do?

  1. merricontrary

    pee wee herman is way cooler than lance.

  2. This is actually pretty amusing: Some Americans (I think) living in China created a parody of the NY Times article: Shanghai Style: The Chinese Bicycle, 5,000 Years of Civilized Riding and The ‘It’s the S**t!’ Factor. Good for a few chuckles….

  3. Thanks for the link, David! These are hilarious!

  4. I can understand the locking up issue (because it’s just not cool to have your ride home stolen!), but I just don’t get the “how do I dress” thing. I’ve always gone by the mantra, “be comfortable.” There’s nothing worse than pedaling up a hill when your pants are too tight, or being too hot cause your outfit didn’t go with the weather. If that means you keep your work clothes at work, cool; if it means you ride in your work clothes, cool. 🙂

    I just don’t really see the issue there, lol.