Walking around in a woman’s body, as anyone who’s done it knows, means that you are subject to an ever-shifting set of societal expectations, restrictions, and judgments about how to dress and behave. Put that woman’s body on a bicycle, and things get even more complicated. (Men have to deal with their own set of norms, but that’s another conversation.)
A couple of months ago, the writer and bike advocate Elly Blue started a conversation on Twitter with this seemingly simple question: “What does “feminine” mean? I’m serious. It keeps coming up in the context of things women can do to feel that way on a bike, + I’m confused.”
That tweet set off a wave of comments about the way bikes and bike clothing are marketed to women, the ever-contentious concept of “Cycle Chic,” and a whole lot more. It’s not a new conversation, but it is a remarkably persistent one.
Among people who bike in the United States, women remain a distinct minority, accounting for only 24 percent of total trips. Advocates have been trying to figure out what keeps women off the road (concern about safety is one leading answer). Bike marketers looking to increase the bottom line have tried to crack the code of how to sell more to women, with the crude pink-and-flowers motif recently giving way to images of urban sophistication and chic. You can find countless blogs by women who ride bikes in all kinds of ways: racers, adventurers, fixie aficionados, moms steering kid-packed cargo bikes, explicitly fashion-conscious arbiters of style.
But to judge from the responses unleashed by Blue’s tweet, the question of what exactly it means to be a woman riding a bicycle remains complex.