Note: This piece is about how cycle campaigners present themselves, and therefore cycling, to the media and the public. Maybe that’s not clear, or maybe people comment without reading the article, but I don’t want to hear about your daily commute in the dark from Land’s End to John O’Groats.
Also, there are comments from people behind Pedal on Parliament and LCC’s Big Ride, and David Brennan (AKA Magnatom, and one of the organisers of Pedal on Parliament) has written a post with his thoughts on this, all of which are well worth reading. I was never having a go at these events themselves as they’re both great things – PoP is especially impressive, 3000 people on their first ever rally – I was merely using them as examples. See my second footnote for more.
The vast majority of British people never touch a bike from one year to the next. They know nothing about riding a bike except what they hear from the mass media, and the general anti-cycling background noise of the UK.
So what do you think goes through their mind when they see coverage of bike campaign rallies such as Pedal on Parliament or London Cycling Campaign’s Big Ride?
Both rallies were a sea of helmets, high-vis, and Lycra. (Are those men wearing special cycling sunglasses too? Those do exist, right?)
Why would anybody choose to wear these garments while riding slowly along a closed route which is free of motor traffic? It sends out completely the wrong message. It says that if you’re thinking about joining The Cyclist Gang then you need to go and buy special equipment from a specialist shop. It says that you always need to carry a helmet and a tabard around with you, and maybe some special gloves and funny glasses. It says sweat and fear. It just smells wrong.
Look at the bottom photo, from Pedal on Parliament. The guy holding the camera in the middle of the photo stands out like a sore thumb, a lone bike user in a crowd of cyclists. (Lookin’ good, whoever you are!)
Events like these are a great opportunity to show the public what casual, stress-free bike riding for all could look like, but instead they perpetuate the stereotype of cycling as requiring special equipment and preparation. Maybe UK cyclists are just so conditioned to the dreadful conditions on our roads that they forget they’re wearing a helmet and hi-vis, even while taking part in a traffic-free rally calling for a system which would make these items unnecessary.
If we’re trying to send out the message that riding a bike is for anybody and everybody, this isn’t the way to do it. All that special equipment just reinforces the common view of “the cyclists” – a homogenous out-group, a cliquey club for wormelow tumps, a strange day-glo religious sect. By dressing this way cycling campaigners are falling into the trap of the stereotype, and the newspaper reader thinks “look, here’s some of that crazy Cyclist Gang, now they want more money for their weird hobby!”
Wearing these clothes also backs up the belief that they are essential, and anyone riding a bike without all this safety equipment is wrong to do so. Every time there’s an article in a newspaper about cycling it will be accompanied by a photo of people with hi-vis and helmets, and this becomes normal and expected. Therefore anybody riding a bike without a helmet and while dressed in their normal clothes becomes unusual and questionable, and in the event of a collision “they’ll only have themselves to blame.”
I’m not saying that everyone should dress like they’re attending a job interview, but do cycling campaigners really have to dress so outlandishly? Can’t we just wear our normal clothes to demonstrate that riding a bike doesn’t have to be a dangerous chore or an extreme sport?
For me, one of the beautiful things about the bike is that you can just unlock it, hop on it, and off you go. But all this special gear suggests that riding a bike is an inherently dangerous activity for which you’ll have to spend time getting dressed up for. Using a bike should be an easy transport option for everyone, and if it involves all this extra hassle then people will choose to jump in the car instead, without stopping to don any special safety-wear.
Maybe cyclists enjoy the smell of a nylon tabard? Maybe there’s a sexy thrill to pulling on that skin-tight lycra? Maybe the helmet gives them special superhuman powers? I’ve no idea, as I’ve never worn any of those items.
Don’t get me wrong – I’m not having a go at the good people behind PoP or the Big Ride. These events show the wide level of support and push the agenda to those people in power. (Whether they work or not is another matter…) I know that the organisers can’t dictate what attendees wear, but maybe they could request people to wear their normal clothes? Maybe promote it as a themed rally – the theme being to dress like a non-cyclist! [Update: It turns out that LCC did – see Mike Cavenett’s comment below]
This is what Going Dutch looks like – people riding bikes for transport while wearing everyday clothing:
So the next time you go to a bike rally, even if you’ve ridden 30 miles in your Cyclist Gang costume to get there, do us all a favour and put the high-vis and the helmet in your bag before the cameras start rolling.
(And to those of you who attend these events in your everyday clothes, I salute you!)
Footnote, added 21:14, 23rd January 2013: I’m pretty sceptical about the ‘bad weather’ excuse for all the hi-vis on the Big Ride. I suspect that even had it been warm and sunny, there would have been just as many people in safety-wear.
Have a look at these images from the LCC’s Blackfriars Bridge flashride in October 2011
It’s dry and mild – plenty of people in shirts and jumpers – and according to this weather site the temperature was in the teens.
The second photo – five adults not even riding bikes, just standing there – has three helmets, one tabard, and 1.5 pairs of fluorescent cycle clips. (Although it looks like Caroline Pidgeon may have stashed a tabard in the basket, and kudos to the mother with toddlers in the bakfiets!)
I know the LCC tried to counter this image on the Big Ride, so this isn’t criticism of LCC or any other campaigns, but of cycle campaigners generally.
Everybody is free to wear whatever they want. It’s no skin off my nose if you dress up like a Christmas tree, but you’ll have to accept that it’s a very unappealing image to the eyes of the majority, non-cycling public.
Footnote, added 01:56, 25th January 2013: Also, for clarification, I was using the Big Ride and PoP as examples of a wider phenomena.
Here’s a random selection found by searching Google and newspaper websites for “cycle campaign” and the like: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17.
Perhaps I should have included these in the article.
140 responses to “Cyclists, you have an image problem”
Nail on the head!
Reblogged this on Tok and commented:
Enjoy cycling for its own sake… skip the costumes… its not a fancy dress competition!
I can see both points of view but to be honest it is all about the right tools for the job. Agreed, for ambling around the seaside and town or popping down to the shops you do not need to get kitted out lol. However, I guarantee you that if any incident happened with a motorist, they would justify their impatience or dangerous driving by saying ‘Where’s your helmet/hi-vis/lights’ etc. So often it is a case of damned if you do, damned if you don’t. If someone goes to the gym, they don’t wear jeans and a shirt as they will obviously sweat buckets and restrict their movement. Cycling has many applications and most who wear hi-vis will be commuting in heavy traffic, those such as myself who use it as fun/fitness will wear lycra/glasses etc. as it serves a purpose. Try riding 50-100 miles at a pace in jeans and I will be more interested in your opinion. So I would gather that most of the people their in the photo are simply used to wearing what they are wearing. It has become habitual, which perhaps they could look at, but it is wrong to simply point and judge saying they are sending the wrong message, when no-one can seem to agree on what that message should really be. Can’t please all the people all of the time! lol
Agree entirely, my one concession is padded cycling gloves, but I don’t always use them either!
All this clothing comes at a tremendous price, so cycling looks like an expensive pastime before you even start.
The more “normal” it looks the more people will be persuaded to try it.
Given the recent publicity in the motorcycle press about hi-viz not seen by motorists then it begs the question “why wear it?”
Agreed that the high viz gear perpetuates the status of cyclists as an eccentric ‘out group’.
Read any newspaper’s comments section on a cycling item though and it will loaded with ‘no wonder they get hit when they don’t wear high viz’ and ‘I saw a cyclist today without a helmet’ alongside the ‘no wonder they have collisions with all that red light jumping they do’.
I don’t wear a helmet – last I heard, they only help up to about 12mph – and I’d rather have a wider field of vision.
Hi-viz is a must at night. I know from when I was driving trucks that the legal lighting for bikes is poor (LEDs are improving the situation) and I was nearly involved in a couple of accidents with “blacked-out” cyclists – on unlit roads, at night.
And just forget lycra for someone my size!
I respect your decision not to wear a helmet but my three head to road off a bike actions have all been at under 12 mph. The two without helmets were stitches and concussion (I learn slowly) the third damaged the helmet but not me.
I agree with your hi vis comment. My experience also.
‘hi visibility’ need not be roadworker kit, though that is what is so often all that obviously on offer. I find a combination of a light jacket plus the absence of a helmet gets me noticed so I get a wider berth from drivers than I used to. And there is evidence (from Bath University) to back up at least the helmet experience.
A generation of marketing cycling as sport or recreation and not much else has left its mark on urban cycling. It’s a big monkey to get off our backs. This misconception that cycling MUST involve “gear”.
I like your post referring the clothing and appearance of the cyclist and the message they are sending to the viewers, i just find it little bit harsh on the guys who decided to join a rally. I do not disagree with you about “What cycling is about” (if I understand it well), but I think that here the issue is about identification as a cyclist from there point of view, and sending all those messages about “Safety” “Environment” and other that “bombard” the novice cyclists (like me). And now they (Me) are like: What did We do wrong?
I do wear a helmet always. On the other I really don’t trust it’s safety capabilities. I find it cooler in hot weather than a hat, and i like that in winter I can strap a warm liner under it, but that’s me.
I’m sorry if my English is bad, I’m coming from Skopje, Macedonia.
All the Best
Great post! I suspect that the heart of the problem is that the cycling culture in the UK is “driven” by the bike retailers and the various magazines full of adverts for expensive kit that you “really really need”. The bike you ride and the kit you wear identifies you as a certain type of cyclist – hard, serious, mega fit, cool or simply poseur. People are persuaded that to be a proper cyclist they need all this stuff and their choice of bike ensures that often, in reality, they do.
I used to do it, I thought I was making some kind of statement (I’m not sure what though) then I went to The Netherlands and suddenly the stupidity of having to dress up for a 5 mile bike ride hit home. The really cool guys were the Dutch, looking good in ordinary clothes, riding casually, not getting het-up and sweaty – treating their commute like it was no big deal.
And the thing is that 50 years ago, we used to ride like that too.
You have definitely hit the nail on the head. I have also realised after reading your post that this is probably why I don’t meet up and join in with some sort of march, although I do very much admire and respect those that do organise and join in.
Even I, who’s trike is my only mode of personal transport, tend to think of myself as not being “one of them”. You can certainly see why non-cyclists see cyclists as a “them and us”.
But then I have also thought how those that city commute nowadays are a specific breed. When I was young in the 50s and 60s the majority of workers cycled. They didn’t cycle furiously, they didn’t wear special clothing and they certainly didn’t feel hard done by if their place of work didn’t have showers on arriving at work.
It’s a personal choice of course and very seldom will one see someone on a bike in all that get up here in ruralshire, unless part of a cycling club. But if I am to be truly honest, I do look at them when I see one and think “pratt, why are you dressing like that!”
Helmets and hi viz have been pushed simply for people to get rich. Even having to ride in heavy traffic as we do here there is no proof that helmets or hi viz saves lives.
If commuters in the cities were to all throw away their “cycle clothing” and become bicyclists in their dress and mode of cycling it would be more obvious that bicyclists should not be sharing the same space as motors, no more than a pedestrian should.
Many, many cyclists are doing a great deal of harm to bicycling as a normal mode of transport than they realise.
Just read your comment and although agreeing with most of it I have to disagree when it comes to high viz in the dark. One night this December my father was cycling the same route as I was driving and, even knowing he was there, because of his everyday clothing I could hardly see him. I am a fan of red and beige so my coats are light and bright. my dad wears black and navy. I Immediately went to ikea and for a couple of quid bought him a hi viz vest to put in his pocket and use after dark
No proof why helmets save lives is constitution not to use them? Poor argument.
I suggest you review https://sites.google.com/site/bicyclehelmetmythsandfacts/
The document makes a fairly compelling argument in favour of helmets by pointing out just how flawed most anti-helmet arguments truly are.
Many of the arguments it seeks to refute are misquoted or exaggerated. Although there is a bibliography at the end, almost none of the contentions in the text are evidenced and several are plainly false or greatly exaggerated.
It also misses many of the arguments.
No, I am not going to sit down for a day or two and refute each in detail.
It was raining.
I used an umbrella.
I put my hood up!
The ‘reckless maniac’ on sunny day on a segregated path picture is wonderful. Would he cycle on a wet day through the London suburbs into Central London for a cycle rally dressed like that? Unless he was a comedian hoping for laughs, of course.
Why is this fashion policing thought important? The CEGB indulges in it; I stopped donating because of it. If they are still reaching out just to the guy ‘(Lookin’ good, whoever you are!)’ it’s going to be slim pickings. Not many of him in that huge crowd of cyclists.
Surely, the important thing is the cycle as the transport not the clothes.
That ‘maniac’ is me.
As it happens, I *did* cycle in ordinary clothes on the Big Ride. I used an umbrella to keep myself dry while cycling around. I could do this because it was completely safe, on closed roads. I would never use an umbrella, of course, on these roads when they are open to traffic – it’s just a little too hairy.
But I do cycle in ordinary clothes all the time, unless I’m cycling to exert myself. If it’s raining, I’ll put on rainwear; the sort of jacket I might wear while walking around. It’s not dayglo.
OK, I’ll bite.
I cycle in all weathers and times of day in work clothes or “everyday clothes”. I have waterproof over-clothes – i.e. jacket and trousers – that I always carry when cycling, because it often rains and I find they keep me dry if it does. I don’t cycle fast and personally have no use for lycra. I realise there is some debate as to the usefulness of a hi-vis fabric for cycling (as with helmets, which I generally don’t wear), but on balance, at night, given the sad fact of our inhospitable road network, I feel hi-viz (like lights) might increase my safety. So the jacket I carry is a hi-vis one, which, being designed for cycling happens to have other features which I like. Namely no hood – I hate trying to see over my shoulder with a hood and don’t mind wet hair – and convenient pockets and vents.
Now, I could carry a similar non-hi-vis jacket in for daylight use *as well*, but that seems a bit unnecessary. And I’m not so bothered how I look so I’d only be doing so to keep the anti-hi-vis brigade happy.
> Why would anybody choose to wear these garments while riding slowly along a closed route which is free of motor traffic?
…erm because afterwards I have to ride home in the dark on horrible busy roads and it’s raining and why should I carry two jackets to keep you happy?!
My point is, that to smugly berate those wearing hi-vis jackets despite the fact they agree with you on pretty much everything else, is almost as dogmatic as insisting people should have to wear that kind of gear, and is therefore likely to lose you friends. For me this post crosses the line between cycling advocacy (good) and fashion policing (bad). I appreciate @aseasyasriding deliberately seeks to avoid appearing judgmental, but the 09:56 comment still comes across as a bit superior.
I think this is cart before the horse stuff. Change the roads by getting people out of their hi-vis jackets? The hi-vis is a symptom, not a cause.
Oh, and personally I find the idea of carrying a big vertical stick with radial eye-height spikes sticking out in a crowded environment to be pretty antisocial, even if it’s raining and you call it an umbrella. I don’t like them when walking on busy urban pavements, and on bikes – where I like to have my hands free for riding and wind-speeds are higher – an umbrella seems like a crazy idea. But that’s just me…
One other thing – I think you’ve slightly missed the point of the Embassy. It’s not just about reaching out to existing cyclists; it’s about reaching out to ordinary people, who are most certainly put off by the idea of wearing what they would consider ‘silly’ clothing like lycra, helmets, or hi-viz.
Nobody is judging anyone who wears these items of clothing; I can understand the desire people have to protect themselves. I’m sorry you think the CEoGB is ‘policing’ what other people choose to wear, because it’s not true at all. But Schrodinger’s Cat is absolutely right – like it or not, there is an image problem here.
I thought it might be you: Dutch bike and South Coast. I lifted the ‘maniac’ from the original post. Not my description of you at all.
You are quite right. Given what you say above I had missed the point of the CEGB.
I think Don below has summed it up very well.
50 years of cycling has brought me to a mix of cycling and walking gear (no lycra because it’s a bit close fitting for my figure) that suits me and, I hope, aids my safety. If you really want existing cyclists onboard these clothing posts don’t help. I come to this blog as a cyclist because of the Dutch angle. How many non cyclists follow these blogs? Precious few, I’d warrant.
Thanks Dilys – I was also referring to the ‘maniac’ description in the post!
I agree with Don’s post, and with Paul M’s. Definitely a ‘horns of a dilemma’ – conditions compel people to dress like this, which in turn presents cycling as abnormal. The cycle needs to be broken.
If someone does not get on a bike because they think a safety high-vis jacket in London’s traffic looks too silly to bear maybe they are just too stupid to ride a bike anyway.
Yes, they’re too stupid, too scared, too lazy – sod them all, let’s keep cycling exclusively for us confident fitness fanatics! Making cycling accessible to all should be the last thing we do.
So me wearing an old helmet and an ugly builder’s high-vis to get to work on my bike makes me an elitist fitness fanatic? Interesting point but if you think I should campaign for accessible cycling by putting myself at risk I am really not in, it would be simply irresponsible towards both new cyclists and myself. I just think your theory does not work for London.
If they were too scared they would want to wear the high-vis stuff indeed, if they were too lazy they would not even consider cycling… so I just used the word stupid for those hypothetical people who would discard the option of cycling based on image and I reiterate that.
Did you read the article before commenting? It’s about how cycle campaigners present themselves to the media and the wider public.
You wear what you want, I don’t care.
But “cyclists” have to face up to the fact that when the “man in the street” sees thousands of people wearing shiny helmets and day-glo vests it looks weird and foreign to them, and therefore whatever is being campaigned for isn’t for everyone either, it’s exclusively for “cyclists”. (The language used is always “cyclists are today campaigning for better conditions for cyclists” but that’s another post…)
But all those cyclists are propagandized into wearing that shit by all the “stupid” people who insist on cyclists wearing that stuff otherwise they deserve to die.
We can’t win.
Don’t wear a helmet and it’s your own fault if you are crushed to a pulp beneath a skip truck.
Don’t wear a shiny yellow thing and it’s your fault if, “sorry you’re dead, but I didn’t see you”
I’m all for dutch style cycling as just part of normal life.
But brit cyclists are practically FORCED to wear weird gear. Every media report which shows “good” cyclists (as opposed to lycra nazis from hell) show them wearing shiny weird gear and polystyrene hats. Talk to THEM!
I think we’ve come full circle here! The entire article is about how cycling campaigners allow themselves to be presented via the media. If they’d just take the tabards and helmets off for the photoshoots and the rallies, the media would print photos of bike users without all that safety gear, etc. etc.
I totally agree! I thought I was the only one who never understood the trend for lycra and the weird hat. I also agree about the ‘them and us’. I have cycled for years and it has never occured to me that I maight need special clothes. I tour and have found that the ultimate wet weather gear is cheap army surplus which is light and stupidly cheap and designed to last and do a job. Like the guy above I do wear cycling gloves most of the time though. I got a bollocking one day when someone was appalled that my daughter was in the trailer with no cycle helmet! Riding a bike is not a dangerous sport! It is a means of transport!
Well all the dead cyclists wouldn’t agree that cycling is not dangerous. What’s the issue with wearing a helmet? Takes 5 seconds to put on. I would feel totally unsafe descending an alpine pass or riding on a main road without one. Many human activities require safety helmets. I can’t think why a cyclist wouldn’t want to protect their brain.
No disrespect to the article, which I generally agree with, but this is typical of the ‘arse-about-face’ way British cycle campaigning seems forced to go. Try and persuade the current cycling public to ‘dress for the destination, not the journey’ to make cycling appear normal again.
Whereas if we just changed the conditions like the Dutch did, all this need to wear helmets and hi-viz would effectively melt away anyway. Is it a coincidence that the few cyclists I see helmet-less and dressed in ordinary clothes are the ones who generally stick to the pavement, away from traffic?
Unfortunately we are forced by the conditions to try and protect ourselves. Additionally don’t forget the influence of family members (who perhaps don’t cycle) who encourage their loved ones to wear this ‘protection’ because they believe it is necessary. Where husbands, wives and children are concerned this influence can be particularly strong.
I try not to dress too much like a robot on the bike, but until we have condtions that are conducive to everyday ‘8 to 80’ cycling, then I think trying to encourage ordinary dress while cycling in Britain is a waste of time.
I’ve done bike to work day events in shirt & tie (not ideal in mid-June) and my shorter journeys happen in “normal” clothes. I’d not consider my normal commute in them though, without a radical shift in either driver behaviour, or infrastructural quality.
I find this sort of post dispiriting, and counter productive – the people in the pictures aren’t the enemy – and a lot of them were asking for the sort of infrastructure that would render their helmets and hi viz redundant.
To be fair, I don’t think this post is saying that they are the enemy. Maybe that’s not coming across too well, but I think the author would agree with you that the clothing is a symptom of conditions.
I certainly think that these kinds of photos do reinforce the impression that ‘cyclists’ are a clique, demanding special measures for themselves. Obviously that’s not intended, and no-one is to blame. As I’ve said in another comment, it’s a vicious cycle that we need to break out of.
“it’s a vicious cycle”. So right, in so many ways!
Lets stop calling each other names, let’s just all get on together! Lycra where it’s needed normal clothes where you want. We must all appreciate that cycling covers many disciplines, and if lycra clad roadies with no mudguards are getting a stripe on their back then they must be willing to put up with that in their training commute to work for the benefits the hard workout gives them. I sometimes use an electric assist bike for my 20 mile each way commute. That is my choice, I’m not stupid and I don’t consider any other cyclist stupid just because they don’t conform to my style of cycling, picking from commuting, mountain biking, fitness and road racing depending on my whim, neither do I call them names.
This! So very much this! I wear lycra/bright orange jacket with reflective bits/helmet as I do use my commute as a workout. It’s ideal- twice a day I get 35 minutes or so of high quality exercise- no other transport option give me that. But I could prefectly well use a more relaxed bike, dress in my work clothes (with additional warming clothing- my work trousers would not be warm enough at any speed at the moment!) and I’d possibly be able to leave at the same time- what with not then needing to shower at work. I could really get into that- but I’d need to find other time to exercise.
And comparing pictures of a political protest held on a wet weekend in April to pictures of ordinary riding in sunny weather in the summer and going “look how silly the brits look” isn’t that helpful.
The second photo is of a sunny day in Edinburgh though!
And my point isn’t about what people wear for commuting, but how cycle campaigners present themselves via the media.
Don is right that this way of dressing should melt away if the infrastructure ever appears. But cycling campaigners are still backing up the stereotype.
And again – this post never mentioned commuting through London, but riding slowly along a route which is closed to motor vehicles.
But that’s the whole point – cycling to and for should not be for your exercise – and those who cycle like that are exactly those who cause the rest of us so many problems – the road, tow-path and routes through parks are not race tracks so people who use them like this damage the whole debate re cycling. I belong to several cycle groups and we do varying rides – even on the leisure ones many are dressed up as if they are doing the tour de France – I simply don;t understand it. I don;t wear a helmet , my bike is adorned with flowers and I cycle many miles a day – in skirts if weather appropriate. – just as I did when I lived in Holland!
I turned up for a breeze ride on a Saturday with a none riding friend. We were the only people not in Lycra and I was by far the fattest person there! You are quite right, cycling is a form of transport that works for everyone, it’s nice that some people get loads of exercise, but it’s not just about that.
However, I think this article is attacking those of us who like to be lit up like a Christmas tree, but we aren’t at fault, the road design is.
Don, I’m in total agreement with you here. Yes the article made me laugh, and yes I do feel somewhat self conscious arriving at work in lycra/tight trousers, but having cycled the daily 16 miles round trip to work in normal clothes, I was starting to wear through my good trousers.
And although bicycle clips work in the main, there are still the times when you shred your trousers, normally your best ones on the way to an important meeting…
Lets try not to make people feel self conscious, wear what you want. OR someone could start making clothes that are suitable for cycling in- but aren’t garish colours and ‘work-out’ shape.
I smell a gap in the market.
Totally agree. It should go the other way round; safety and respect first, dressing up with the car-driver look after. And as I said earlier, lots of these clothes are to keep warm and dry on bad weather, even cycling safe I would still wear those.
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I remember the Hovis London Freewheel, they really tried to say to people not to wear cycle clothing, it should be a day out for everyone to enjoy riding normal bikes on closed roads. The Sky Rides have almost entirely gone the other way.
That’s one reason I will never join a Ski Ride. They push the “Cycle Get Up Gear” to the point where they are simple embarrassing people into wearing it. Making one feel irresponsible if one doesn’t make themselves look stupid simply to ride a bike. A bit like smokers were/are embarrassed into feeling like a leper if they light up even in the open air.
Sky Ride is just another good intentioned organisation which is really having an adverse affect on bicycling. How many of those that do a Sky Ride actually ever get out on their bikes again on a regular basis I wonder. How many of the kids that join in start riding to school because of it? How many get on their bikes to go shopping, meeting friends, or visiting, because they have had the experience of a Sky Ride?
Even as an adult one is unable to do a bikeability course if one doesn’t stick the plastic on the head and a glowing jacket on the back. Absolutely ridiculous!
I forgot to mention the Sky Rides – possibly because I feel queasy every time I see photos of them – but they’re the pits, aren’t they? An army of zombie bike riders in identical neon-yellow tabards? Everybody except Kelly Brook in a helmet? Ugh.
Completely agree, and that’s despite my avatar (done whilst teaching kids to off-road through woods)!
Interestingly, whilst celebrating the announcement of the Tour de France visit to Cambridge in 2014 in front of the BBC cameras, I realised and felt appropriately uncomfortable in my lycra riding gear. Most of the local cycling lobby and supporters were riding bikes with baskets and in normal clothing. I was in mid exercise ride, and quickly lost the helmet.
We are trapped on the horns of a dilemma here. Which would we rather – a demo of inappropriately dressed cyclists, or no demo at all (or at least one which is too small to attract attention)?
I have attended a number of flashrides around Blackfriars, Kings X and Parliament Square, and on each occasion strove to wear a suit and tie – on one occasion having to concede to waterproofs because of the weather. I notes that some others either wore ordinary clothes form habit, or like strove to make a point on these occasions, but most were dressed in cycling clothes, and many had helmets.
Actually, I wear cycling clothes too – a pair of dove-grey waterproof trousers, Rohan’s equivalent of Gore-Tex, a red or a brown Gore-tex jacket and Gore-tex walking shoes. None of it is high-vis or lycra or specifically bike wear, but I don’t wear my office clothes on my bike because the dry cleaning bills would go through the roof. It is a practical necessaity for cycle commuting in London.
It would certainly help if LCC and similar campaign organisations were to ask people to attend in mufti where possible, but as many of these events occur on the morning or evening commuter peak and people divert from those to attend, people will have to wear what works for their ordinary journey.
Another thing which would help is if bloggers taking photos could manipulate the scenes they snap – try to get as many muft-wearers, and as few uniformed cyclists, in shot as possible, even to the point of playing the wedding photographer and marshalling people into shot like “the Groom’s Family”
If those shots coudldbe put out into the mediasphere – I suspect not many professional media outlets send snappers to these events – we could get a more positive presentation out there.
“We are trapped on the horns of a dilemma here. Which would we rather – a demo of inappropriately dressed cyclists, or no demo at all (or at least one which is too small to attract attention)?”
The thing is, there would still be a demo – road conditions are still poor here. Can still have a demo even if people come wearing jeans and shirts.
But to be honest, no demo at all is preferable because it would indicate conditions are fine and there’s no need to make a point.
What do large crowds of dutch cyclists ona drizzly cool day in April look like? The shot of dutch cyclists looks like it was taken on a warm sunny day.
If the LCC Big bike Ride had been on a warm sunny day, then hopfully what you’d have seen in the pictures is a sea of red- as this was requested.
Dutch people cycling in the wet dress like people walking in the wet.
This isn’t quite as cold as the LCC ride, but here are some cycling on a drizzly day in early June in Utrecht –
Look at Mark Wagenbuur’s blog. There’s plenty of footage of people riding in the rain, and the snow, and the dark. Here’s one for starters: http://bicycledutch.wordpress.com/2013/01/17/dashing-through-the-snow/
I went on that ride…in chinos, shirt and crappy looking (not high viz!) waterproof jacket cos it was raining. And i had a helmet (sorry)
I had to ride for 20 miles or so to get to the rally, mostly slowish so not a big problem on that day but normal clothes for cycling are out unless you’re going slowly or on shorter journeys. I don’t wear high viz or go out of my way to look like a cyclist but I do have cycling specific clothes for my long commute – I’d be drenched in sweat on even freezing days otherwise.
So remember, we don’t all have a choice like you seem to think.
But I do understand your point and mostly agree, It’s not a good look 😉
I know what you mean about people riding far to get there, but the whole rally is a special effort, so people can make a special effort to remove the helmet for the cameras!
yeah if they knew the cameras were on them 😉
but it’s a real pain riding along with your helmet hanging from the handlebars bashing about…and getting the inside wet from the rain 🙂
maybe the next ride (hopefully there’ll be one soon protesting about the so called justice being handed out to killer drivers lately) will emphasise that people should wear normal clothes?
I’m pretty sceptical about the bad weather excuse for all the hi-vis on the Big Ride. I suspect that even had it been warm and sunny, there would have been just as many people in safety-wear.
Have a look at this, from October 2011: http://lcc.org.uk/articles/massive-thanks-to-the-2500-londoners-who-took-to-the-streets-for-a-people-friendly-city
It’s not cold – plenty of people in shirts and jumpers – and according to this site the temp was in the teens: http://bit.ly/10JVyI1
This is one of the best articles on the topic I’ve seen.
I’m with you 100% on this, which is why I created an entire cycling website about “people on bikes” not “cyclists” — http://www.cyclelove.net
Here in Cambridge – perhaps because such a large percentage of the local population use bikes daily – the majority of cyclists do wear “normal clothes” and are noticeable simply due to weight of numbers. I suspect that quite a few do elsewhere, but because hi-vis vests are, well, highly visible, those cyclists that wear them simply get noticed more.
We get constant grief if we don’t have hi-viz and lights. If we don’t wear what amounts to fetish gear (and pretty damned odd fetish gear at that) then we’re lambasted in the press and, often enough, in person when some gob****e yells at us from a passing car.
And now we’re setting the wrong example if we DO go gimp on the roads?
The vast bulk of cyclists in Cambride wear they’re normal, every day clobber – we’re expected her, we’re a normal part of the street scene. So for much of the time most cyclists feel rather less threatened on Cambridge streets than they do in, say, London. I’ll wager that while our twenty something percent modal share in Cambridge is obviously ten times that of London, there’ll be a 2% or so figure that is all aglow with bright shiny gear and kinky spandex. And you know what? No one really resents them for it. Why should they?
I don’t think that the problem is that cyclists have a bad image; the problem is that in most UK cities only the glowing yellow enthusiast dares venture out on a bike. Crack that, and the problem vanishes.
I think Cab’s point is a good one: while you can cycle in anything you want, from jeans and a t-shirt to haute couture, it’d be a big mistake to blame those riders who choose to wear hi-vis, lycra etc. for any image problem cycling may have. If there is an image problem it’s more likely to be due to the media, which frequently portrays cyclists as beardy-weirdy loner freaks – that misconception then becomes attached to riders in hi-vis because they’re the ones that non-cyclists notice.
It’s much worse than that. Everyone taking their driving test will read HC Rule 59 that helmets, hi-vis and the rest should be worn. I’ll know we have a proper cycling culture when that can be dropped.
That should never have been included in the Highway Code. That particular rule really makes my bile rise. Even schools wont allow children to ride their bikes to school unless they wear helmets and hi viz. What right do they have to have to make up their own laws for children when not on school property.
I think you’re forgetting that London is a big city. Many people who commute via bike are travelling 6+ miles – so they tend to need the kit! If they traveled in normal clothes they’d have to go very slowly and their commute would take far longer. Also many who take on a long(ish) cycle commute often become keen cyclists and ride 30/40/100 miles at weekends. So they need the kit, and once you own said kit, wearing it on the commute seems logical. Sadly most Londoners don’t live 2 miles from their office, so riding in slowly in normal clothes just isn’t an option.
Finally, you use photos of a demo to make your point. Don’t you think that people who care enough about cycling to attend a demo may 1: be keen cyclists, 2: have traveled some distance to be there, so wore comfortable cycling kit.
as a counterpoint, dutch cyclists, having better infrastucture, see a 6 mile commute as something to be done at lower speed on “normal” bikes in their work clothes.
More like 3 miles at most. https://www.peopleforbikes.org/news/best-kept-secret-dutch-biking-dutch-hardly-bike
See my post below. I do own the kit, but it’s not yellow and I don’t wear it for work. My commute used to be, like you say, 6 miles each way and then I rode every day, rain or shine or ice and snow, in normal clothes, at the cycling equivalent of walking pace, which is 3mph by the way, but cycling takes one quarter the effort so that was a half hour journey. Sure I could have gone quicker, like the speed I sometimes go at weekends, but not quick enough to save the time it would take to shower and change.
Then the office re-located to twice as far away, so now I ride half as often, just the nice days, but that’s another story. Over 12 miles, I thought, the fast and furious approach is sure to save some time. But it didn’t. Despite dressing in lycra and using a faster bike, I still only saved about the same amount of time as it took to shower and change, plus all the faff of clothing logistics. Although 2/3 of the way is country lanes I couldn’t maintain speed in the urban area and trying to do so was clearly hazadous: less time to make each split-second decision and for drivers to see me before I cross their path, more injury if one of us gets it wrong.
A relaxed and reasonably pleasant journey became both physically and mentally stressful. YMMV but I didn’t enjoy it and can’t imagine that any normal person would. Only fitness freaks would think of running to work and I’m sure the same applies with cycling.
Speed cycling is fun on quiet open roads, not in built-up areas where quite apart from the traffic, it’s impossible to predict when someone may step off the pavement. As it didn’t even save time, after a few months’ trial I resumed normal Dutch-style commuting. It works, even when its twice as far as 6 miles. And I’m sure it’s safer too, even on British roads.
“And I’m sure it’s safer too, even on British roads.”
I can only speak for my experience of Wilmslow – Manchester, but a “relaxed” speed on several parts of the commute seems to be an invitation to have the p*ss taken by drivers. Going quickly doesn’t eliminate that, but I get far fewer close passes, and less tailgating in these sections when I make an effort, than when I potter along.
For those who wonder what the Dutch wear in the rain, here you go – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WkgKYjrNLwg . My wife still has her wet weather plastic outfit (about 12 euros!). Yes, it gets a bit “moist” but once you learn to slow down so you don’t get so hot, it’s fine.
Understandable points all – good job there’s the chance to get it right this year, 18th May, when POP2 happens. Looking forward to seeing you all there (appropriately attired for the destination, the ride, the future or the current road conditions).
“Whatever you wear, whatever you ride”
I once went to a protest here in Melbourne and felt so out of place amidst the sea of blinding yellow jackets and insectoid helmets that I simply had to leave. It’s a moot point as to whether this kind of image projects a dangerous image of cycling (and I know a lot of people get quite passionate on this topic) but in my opinion it certainly makes riding a bike look a hell of a lot more difficult and specialised than it really is.
Excellent article. I will link to it from CTC Forum whenever the opportunity arises. I do wear lycra and occasionally a helmet when the ride IS the destination, but I do not possess anything yellow and always, as Don says, wear clothes appropriate to the destination when cycling for transport, including the 12-mile ride to the office.
I reckon that by riding through the town at a steady pace in normal clothes and helmet free, I’m advertising cycling as the normal, safe and comfortable way of getting about it really is. Obviously one has to be sensible. I don’t wear black tops, but there are plenty of bright enough colours without resorting to the level of paranoia signalled by plague yellow and shocking pink!
I pity the helmeted ‘donkeys’ who occasionally sweep past, labouring under the burden of a backpack that presumably contains their normal clothes, in addition to the necessities of work and cycling that are comfortably carried for me in a pannier on my ‘drahtesel’. Also lacking mudguards, these garish victims of road and off-road sporting fashions even have the donkey’s brown stripe up their backs!
You think the people pictured are a problem? I suggest the nude cycle ride does more damage than people in day glo many times over.
I agree mildly with what you say, but it’s not a great point, is it? When people talk about the barriers to them cycling, not wanting to wear high-viz isn’t one of the biggies, is it? And the expense certainly isn’t.
Generally good work on the website: keep it up.
For the Big Ride, we (LCC) did ask people to come dressed for a parade – in fancy dress, red & white outfits, and/or normal clothing.
We tried to reinforce this by using images throughout our campaign and in the lead-up to the Big Ride showing normal people (many of them kids) in normal clothes – like these:
And we also had announcers at the start of the event suggesting people take off their helmets and high viz.
Similarly, we encouraged our photographers to snap people not in cycling gear, though clearly this is difficult.
Saying all this, we also have to recognise that sadly many Londoners don’t feel safe without a helmet or high viz, so we don’t want to make them feel they’re not welcome on protest rides, even if we might prefer them to come dressed a little differently.
Ultimately, the biggest frustration was that the weather on the Big Ride was so bad that pretty much everyone had to bring their most waterproof clothing, which is usually a cycling or outdoor jacket of some kind, often trousers too.
If it had been a sunny day, I suspect the photos would have looked very different…
Thanks for your comment. I was aware of the “wear red” theme at the time (though I’d forgotten about it when I wrote this post) but I arrived a little late so I missed the very beginning, including the call to remove safety-wear. It’s really great that you did this! (I’ve added a note to the article.)
I do remember that heavy rain too! So while I wore my normal black coat with the hood up, it makes sense that many people had brought waterproof jackets which were hi-vis, and had no other option but to wear them.
I’m not sure what the Edinburghians’ excuse is though! The weather looks lovely on the PoP photos (though it may well have been cold). I wonder if the London ride would have been as day-glo if the weather had been nice?
Either way, the article wasn’t meant to be having a dig at the Big Ride or PoP (or at the way people dress to commute) but at the image which a good many cycling campaigners give via the press. For every big ride, there are dozens of articles in local newspapers about a new cycling initiative or other, usually accompanied by a posed group photo of local cycle campaigners, off-road, in full safety regalia. Even looking at Sustrans’ homepage today, the first photo I see is of two helmetted bike riders on a motor-free shared-use path…
The ride in Edinburgh was on open roads: about a dozen Police bicyclists were supposed to be the only assistance, but more officers were brought in when the group grew too large. By the time the first cyclists had reached the end (the route was only one-and-a-half miles), there were still cyclists all the length of Middle Meadow Walk waiting to start.
I reckon that less than half those participating wore high viz or helmets – and a good many (half?) joined in on the day with no prior knowledge of the event. In fact, there were only a couple of hundred present quarter of an hour before the start time – and the organisers were looking pleased!!
Hiya – as one of the POP organisers (and a Cycling Embassy person and someone who rarely if ever wears hi vis and doesn’t even own a helmet) can I defend our ride a bit? Bear in mind ours wasn’t a closed road event – unlike the big ride. Also April in Edinburgh, however sunny, can be extremely chilly and most people only have one or two wind-proof jackets and if they’re cyclists (or hillwalkers) they tend to be quite brightly coloured). Also bear in mind that as well as the sea of hi vis you’ve picked out (and the Hi vis tends to stand out in photos … so it dominates the image) there were also children dressed as lobsters and tigers, a man in a splendid tweed outfit and at least one person with a chicken on his head and, no, I’ve no idea what that says about cycling either.
But the really important point is that, yes, the 1.5 miles of POP was an extremely safe environment – but the majority of attendees had to get there with their bikes, through Saturday shopping traffic on quite hostile roads. One of the amazing thing about POP was the huge numbers of kids that turned out – some on balance bikes – and I for one am not going to tell any parent not to take any precaution they feel necessary to let their kids ride on those roads. And with these things, turnout is hugely important. Telling people not only that they have to give up their Saturday because a bunch of people on twitter had had a mad idea BUT that they had to dress in a certain way as well – well it wasn’t going to happen. The main thing was that they came.
We will be encouraging more fancy dress on the next ride, anything to make it more fun and kid friendly, but as an organiser who’s going to spend the next 4 months running myself ragged getting the next POP organised, I’d still rather see 3000+ people in hi vis than 300 people wearing something more tasteful.
Thanks for your reply – I’ve added in a link at the top of the article, as I think it provides some good balance!
I know there are good reasons why people might choose to wear their hi-vis jackets due to the weather but I think my point still stands. Many of the people on PoP were wearing thin hi-vis tabards – hardly warm winter wear, and they’ll do nothing against those cold Forth winds! I can’t imagine why anyone would anyone choose to wear a thin hi-vis tabard in bright sunshine.
I know you can’t go round forcing people to take their helmets off Surely it would be reasonable to say, at the start, “we’re in a safe place, everybody, so there’s no need to wear your helmets or hi-vis gear”? A gentle reminder, as it were. The 3000 people you attracted was amazing, although I wonder if a photo of 300 people in regular clothes would have more impact than 3000 cyclists conforming to stereotype?
As I said in the article, I have only best wishes towards the organisers of PoP, etc. But I’ve seen photos of the launch of PoP 2013, and my heart sank. It was an off-road, posed photo shoot! All that safety gear is completely superfluous. It just backs up the prejudice that cycling is inherently dangerous.
And this video of PoP 2012 makes me want to shout “you’re all in the park, dammit!”: http://local.stv.tv/edinburgh/magazine/97310-how-3000-cyclists-came-from-all-corners-of-scotland-to-reclaim-the-roads/ It hardly looks like an environment which requires a polystyrene hat. Again, I think this just perpetuates the stereotype that you need special clothing in order to ride a bike.
All the best,
We’re all on the same side here – but those folk gave up their Sunday afternoon for that photo on a bitterly cold day – and I’m not going to criticise what they wore for it!
Seriously, I understand the point you’re making, I live it every day myself personally, but please please don’t pick unnecessary fights with the people who are on your side. If you read the POP manifesto you’ll see that we’re asking for conditions where people feel their kids are able to ride the way the Dutch do. We’re building a broad coalition of support, and if we start excluding people for doing it ‘wrong’ we’re just not going to have the effect we need to have.
I know I can come across as a grumpy sod, but my intention isn’t to pick fights but just to point things out as I see them. And excluding people for doing it ‘wrong’ is what the general hi-vis/helmet pressure is all about!
I appreciate that those people turned up on a freezing day, but I don’t think it would have come across as ungrateful to have said “listen guys, we’re going to ditch the helmets and tabards for the photos, make it look as Dutch as possible, after all that’s what we’re campaigning for!” Maybe not, I wasn’t there.
But PoP is a political movement, and what one wears does matter. (I know it should be about the message not the medium, but unfortunately humans aren’t like that.) If the whole point of PoP is to campaign for safe bike riding conditions, then anyone turning up for an event will surely be very understanding if helmet- and tabard-removal is suggested.
I thoroughly agree with PoP’s aims, and I know that you can’t dictate what people wear. I’m not saying there’s an easy answer to all this either. But what we wear says something about what we do, and all those helmets and tabards suggest an activity which is dangerous.
This is very much part of why Cambridge Cycling Campaign adopted a policy of being against any events requiring hi vis/helmets (though it isn’t an absolute policy, sensibly) and in publicity photos go out of their way to avoid such gear
Hello again Mike. Having pondered this, I don’t think the weather would have made much difference. Looking at the Blackfriars Bridge flashride photos, there’s plenty of hi-vis on what was a mild autumn night: http://lcc.org.uk/articles/massive-thanks-to-the-2500-londoners-who-took-to-the-streets-for-a-people-friendly-city
The second photo – people not even riding the bikes, just standing there – has three people wearing helmets, one tabard, and 1.5 pairs of fluorescent cycle clips. (Although it looks like Caroline Pidgeon may have stashed a tabard in the basket, and kudos to the mother with toddlers in the bakfiets!)
I know the LCC tried to counter this on the Big Ride, as you explained, and I get the impression that your photo selection procedure errs towards chosing pics of “normal” looking people, so this isn’t criticism of LCC or any other campaigns, but of cycle campaigners generally.
I went to the LCC Go Dutch ride, and one of the Parliament flashrides at the start of the year, wearing my helmet (and hi-vis for the evening flashride). While I understand the logic of saying people don’t need all the typical hi-vis safety gear and helmets on closed roads, most people are cycling to the event on typically hostile normal roads. Should I hide my helmet when I arrive to ‘normalise’ my image? As it was raining, should I have a spare ‘mufti’ waterproof so I don’t look too bright?
I hate wearing hi-vis, but I have to dress for the road conditions we have now. It’s a symptom of roads that put the onus on cyclists to ‘be seen’ rather than drivers to look, and a legal system that thinks a tabard and a polystyrene hat are adequate protection against an HGV. When roads here start to look more like the Netherlands, perhaps I’ll try to look more Cycle Chic 😉
Bingo. While I wore a suit and hat (in cream and red – so straight to the dry cleaners’ afterwards!) to help make the political point of the ride, if I’d had comfort in mind I’d have been in my usual lycras. I only felt comfortable (and marginally so, at that) wearing work clothes because I knew I wasn’t going to have some fool gunning past me in a white van at forty, and I only had half a mile to ride between the station and the route -even then I had cycling mitts and padded shorts on underneath, for comfort.
The infrastructure, the style of riding and the clothing can’t really be separated – if the infrastructure’s not there, there’s a strong disincentive to sedate cycling, so ‘normal’ clothes suddenly become far less practical for many of us in real life. As such, the ubiquity of ‘abnormal’ cycle-specific clothing gives its own strong message – not necessarily the one the writer would prefer, but a real one nonetheless.
I take your point, you think they look a bit daft… However, the thing is they will have travelled on London’s busy roads to get to the traffic free ride, and making yourself ‘blend in’, look casual & not concern yourself with safety measures (like the silly life-saving helmet), is actually somewhat ‘daft’.
The guys in Holland are probably more relaxed because they have the infrastructure to promote cyclist safety.
Until that happens in our cities, I would rather take responsibility for my own safety & the safety of others, by looking a bit if a wally!
Reblogged this on jodiemurrell.
100% agree. It’s an absolute must do. The good people that organise these events, who aim for mass media exposure, must encourage people attending to unshackle themselves from the chains of their oppressors. No helmets, no hi-viz, no bloody victim-blaming-car-safety-anything, have a taste of what life would be like if we achieve what this event is setting out to do!
Can’t we see by turning up in all this crap, we’re conforming to what the anti-cyclist want. S.C is absolutely bang on.
If anything I’d encourage a bra-burning type metaphor, all hi-viz jackets piled up in Hyde Park set on fire, should have been done on the Big Ride, possibly with a Bo-Jo effigy on top. No more oppression by motorists to make us wear this shit. But joking aside, the point is exactly that.
I went to the London Big Ride, and I went in jeans, no helmet no hi-viz, but I had my hi-viz in my bag because it was likely I’d spend the day in town and cycle home in the dark. But I’m not going to go on a ride championing cycling wearing the exact thing that I hate about cycling and the conditions in which I’m forced to do it.
Lycra in the other hand seems to be a personal choice. Not mine. But even so, leave it at home lads, just for the day. If I remember, the ride was so slow due to the large turnout that the only danger present was being bored to death. No helmet is going to help that.
You are absolutely right. The main culprits are probably cycle retailers selling sports bikes that are not fit for purpose and advising people that all this clothing and stuff is essential. A good short term revenue generating strategy but with the unintended consequence that the 90+% of people who don’t regularly ride a bike are alienated.
You don’t need bicycle clothes any more than you need special gear to walk up the road to catch a bus.
For 50 years I’ve cycled everything from mountain paths to A roads and thought I was a cyclist. My clothing has evolved, including helmet and hi vis, to suit my needs, but today I’ve discovered a whole new sub group where the bike is just an accessory to the clothes.
Let’s get back to infrastructure, please. I’m not going to change what works for me to suit the Trinny and Susannahs of cycling but I would like my cycling to be safer on the roads (and better provision on rail, tram and bus after that).
Hi Dilys, I don’t think anyone is asking for you to change what suits you, the post is clearly about the impression given on the day of these events. Our PR if you like, we need to play a political game, and presentation is important. I very much doubt 50 years ago you were wearing hi-viz, Lycra and helmets!
There must be recognition that a major part of making cycling a real viable option for mass transit is to make it appealing and accessible for everybody. This includes the message that it is totally possible to jump on a bike at any moment in clothes that you are otherwise wearing, exactly as one would do if taking a taxi, tube or car. Cycling must be presented as a viable alternative to other transport. In order to give this impression of what will be possible, why not take off the helmet/hi-viz once you’ve arrived at the event as clearly you share the objectives otherwise you wouldn’t have turned up. I think it just helps to broaden the appeal. As soon as it over, reality is back upon us, by all means hi-viz, Lycra and helmet to your heart’s content.
But cycling will not be a viable alternative to other transport until we get the infrastructure. As has been suggested, you are putting the clothing before the infrastructure. One of the links to another blog shows a lady with what looks suspiciously like a tarted up track frame and an item of clothing that matches her dinky, but oh so stylish, saddlebag. Stunning image. i may drape a spare tabard over my saddlebag for the same look.
Many of us of the high vis helmet brigade aren’t wearing such because we are frightened; we wear it because we have found it works. Not a few of your followers have said so here. They appear to be the regular cyclists who actually turn out for campaigns.
Ntw, your blog – your opinions, but I need something to support that promotes Dutch style infrastructure.
Agh! I’m not telling people to ditch the hi-vis and helmet for their commute! They can wear whatever they want.
The point of the article is that there’s no need to wear this stuff when on a closed, traffic-free protest rally. Nor is there a need to wear it when posing with some signs for the local paper.
I’d argue that wearing helmet and hi-vis in these circumstances is actually damaging to a campaign’s aims, as it only serves to perpetuate the idea that riding a bike is inherently dangerous, and requires a willingness to dress up specially for.
I completely share SC’s frustration. This is not about ‘putting the clothing before the infrastructure’, in fact nothing could be further from it. It is about putting across an astute message to help us achieve ‘Go Dutch’ aims. Clearly LCC understood this, as Mike has confirmed, efforts were made to ask people to come in ‘normal’ clothes. But years of propaganda has obviously made its mark on people.
Cycling has an image problem. And those who cannot see this have their heads in the sand. We need some seriously good PR and we should try to help ourselves where possible.
One of the ‘Go Dutch’ benefits is that it is possible to make zero distinction between a cyclist and a non-cyclist, in the same way as you can’t tell if someone is a driver or not, or a walker or not. ie one can wear what they would normally wear, be it office clothes, casuals, whatever, because the cycling conditions are such that sociable, relaxing, enjoyable cycling is possible. The irony here Dilys is that you are the one promoting a particular clothing not SC. And that clothing has negative connotations with the dangers of cycling, aggression on the roads, partisanship, racing, a minority pursuit, helmet hair, lack of individualism and general rubbish-ness. All things that prevent more people from taking up cycling and reinforce perceived prejudices. Rightly or wrongly, that is simply the case.
You will argue that it is clothing suited to the job. And I would agree. But the point of ‘Go Dutch’ is to open cycling up as a broad church for everybody, to get funding to increase take up, and then to increase funding, which in turn will increase take up and so on. It is not simply about making the current racing cyclist able to get from A-B quicker whilst bombing through town. It’s about Mum’s taking kids to school, social commuting, communities, safety, efficient transport and a whole host of social benefits.
We need mass appeal. So whilst the spot light is on us, and whilst we are in a totally safe environment that does not require hi-viz or helmets, we should look to promote what cycling can be like to the reluctant and to the uninitiated. We should say “Look! This is completely liberating, I just jumped on my bike no hassle, it’s safe, it’s fit, it’s cool, it’s quick, it’s convenient, it’s sociable, basically it’s brilliant.” What we say to people when we parade in hi-viz and helmets, is: “We are different to you. We choose to wear clothes you hate. We have to glow so we don’t get run over. We protect our heads because we’ll get brain damage. Come join us, it’s really shitty but we like it anyway because we’re weird.”.
If we want Dutch style cycling (not just the infrastructure, but the whole ethos), cyclists should be the first to embrace it when the chance presents itself, not the last.
Just to follow up my comment, I see Mike of the LCC did ask for normal clothes to be worn, and to put the hi-viz away at the start of the ride. I have to admit I didn’t hear this as I was probably listening to my iPod (I know, hang me now for crimes against the Daily Mail motorist). But despite this prompting from LCC, my impression of the people on the day was that the majority wore hi-viz and helmets, and I think that’s probably even more damning. It seems that such is the fear instilled into cycling that we must cling to these safety harnesses even in the most benign of conditions, reinforcing their very perception, both to cyclists and importantly to potential cyclists.
Thanks for your comments Ian, it’s clear that you understand completely the point I’m trying to make! (And you’re very good at articulating it too, maybe I should hand the blog over to you… :D)
That was my main thought on the day of the LCC Big Ride, too. The message was “Love London, Go Dutch” and thousands of people had turned up looking about as un-Dutch as possible.
Frequently at the start of club rides at our meet point, I get asked if I’m cycling or just having a brew because they cant tell based on my attire.
However these winter commutes – I hi-viz it up for those few blind folk who cant see properly out of their windscreens and end up passing far too close anyway. Infrastructure and education. Without those things nobody will ever take it up and often those things make me sometimes think about giving up.
Absolutely spot on. As someone who rides in ordinary clothes I find all this hi-viz and helmets stuff bizarre and uglifying. Perhaps all we can do is act normal and hope they’ll eventually come round!
Take a look at an average selection of a Critical Mass bike ride. They’re not full of lycra and high-vis…. e.g. http://www.flickr.com/photos/overland07/475412167/
Absolutely! After expressing amazement that I cycle 4.5 miles to work, people are usually incredulous that I don’t wear a helmet. I have succumbed to a bit of HiViz in the winter though….If you want to try REALLY free cycling join us this year on http://wiki.worldnakedbikeride.org/index.php?title=Brighton_%26_Hove (and London etc etc)
I think cyclists are marginalised, misrepresented and derided in Britain. It has become very difficult to campaign as cyclists to try and improve the situation. The Times “Cities fit for Cycling” campaign would have been better as a “Civilised Cities” campaign. To improve conditions for cyclists we need to appeal to, and campaign with, a broader group of citizens who want a better society.
Geoff, I couldn’t agree more! (I’ve another post in the works about this…)
Campaigners also need to use the right language. Saying something like “we’re cyclists campaigning for better cycling conditions” makes people think “well, I’m not a cyclist, so that’s not for me.” Whereas saying “we’re campaigning for conditions which will improve transport choices for everyone” is a much better way of putting it. (Anyway, that’s another post…)
Great article. My 6 year old son cycles to school every day in his school uniform, although I do insist on hi-viz jacket in winter. As his mum, I struggle to find decent clothes that cope with the winter roads and still look stylish. My bikes (race and MTB) are also less than ideal for dressing ‘normally’ – the Dutch bikes encourage that “image” much more. Just not sure that I can justify yet another bike!
My thoughts exactly. As a native Dutch bike rider in London I still keep to my old habits: just wear your own clothes and no helmet please. I never understood why you should be super-protected, you look like a canary and when you fall off your bike in 90% of the cars you land on your chin anyway. And dressing down and up when going to the pub is so annoying…
It’s funny because you answered my point in your last statement, you seem to overly concerned with image and not at all with safety?
In the last paragraph you mention
“Me time time you got to a bike rally”
Take your hi bus costume off before the cameras start rolling?
The point is that they rode there in that gear because its essential, why? Because numpies that drive around our streets can’t see us when we wear a French connection jacket, skinny jean with our asses hanging out of the back like your beloved camera man!
Helmets are a choice for people who wish to community or cycle for leisure safely, they are available from halfords for about £15, as is a hi visvest for about £7 which you will find is the law to keep in your car if you every cross the channel so get used to having them about, it appears they save lives!
I not sure where you conjour up the faint hearted notion of jumping on a bike travelling across town stress free and locking up you bike without a care in te world, I used to feel like that when I road a tomahawk!
You bike, wheels, seat post, pedals anything that is not glued to you bike or the railing it used to be locked to are safe.
Lastly cycling doesn’t have an image problem, it looks like 2 wheels, low cost travel no matter how tight your Lycra or how loose your denim, the problem we have is a voice and we tend to have issues like this being raised which are of no importance what so ever,
Wake up the raids are not safe Hollands a lovely place where cycling is respected. If you actually follow the sport you would understand why! And yes they are cycling sun glasses there to stop stones blinding you!
Do you really think the case for better infrastructure is being made by wearing hi-vis and helmet to a rally? That people see it and think, “all that gear shouldn’t be necessary, if only the roads were safe”? I doubt it. I think it reinforces the idea that helmets and hi-vis are compulsory items to be worn whenever in the vicinity of a bike.
While we’re conjecturing, why wouldn’t people think “Huh, it can’t be that bad, they’re not even wearing helmets or tabards?”
Interesring point of view. To anyone who doesn’t know, I’m one of the organisers of POP. I think this one deserves more than a reply on the blog though, so I’ll cover this subject in my own blog tomorrow evening.
Interestingly I am off to Amsterdam at the end of the month to ride a bike for a day. I will be wearing a helmet….and my helmet camera. I realise that I will look like a plonker…..
Me and my girlfriend came up from Southampton to take part in the rally. We came in normal clothes n did the ride on Boris bikes. We got quite soaked but it was a great event, lovely to ride at your own pace without fear of traffic.
Noticed loads of different people and styles there, I think most people who have cycled before would have turned up in a waterproof, which is normally a bright colour so can also be used at night/poor visibility. More practical than getting soaked!
I totally agree, which is why 2 years ago I set up Water off a Duck’s Back. We make stylish waterproof cycle clothes (with hidden reflective pannels). So you can cycle in safety and style without looking like a hi vix tennis ball! http://www.wateroffaducksback.co.uk
The key thing here is the distinction between riding a bike for transport and riding it as a sport in it’s own right. It’d be like walking to the shops in full on running gear.
I’m not in a position where I can cycle to work, but I use the bike for transport as much as possible, and the only obvious cycling clothing I wear is a helmet (for the peak as I wear glasses, caps blow off) and depending on the weather either a waterproof or a warm jacket, both of which are Aldi (no designer labels here thank you) and primary colours rather than hateful hi-viz. Some of my normal fleeces are bright red and blue anyway.
The whole country has been blighted by this bollocks hi-viz is “safe” thing with everything from dog coats to pushchair covers being flouro yellow, and making children wear hi-viz everytime they leave the playground on a school trip.
We are not putting cones out in the middle of the motorway – we don’t need to dress up like we are. Bloody drivers need to open their eyes and look cos if they don’t the only useful fancy dress would be a suit of armour!
I don’t really agree at all.
I like wearing cycling specific clothes because of the material and fit. I sweat a lot when riding so don’t wear my normal clothes when I’m out and about.
Also since we don’t have the wonderful facilities that other countries have which encourage and allow a much slower and relaxed pace, this is why we wear high vis clothing. . . because SMIDSY is a real issue.
We want more people out on bikes, but let’s not lie and pretend that mixing it up with traffic is something that an 8 year old or 88 year old can do in many areas.
The culture (clothing and attitude) will change when the infrastructure does.
Until then I’ll stick with my cycling kit when I’m riding around motor traffic.
I cycle to work in a pair of cheap shorts (not lycra) and baseball boot type trainers. I do wear a cycling jacket which is hi-viz and a “wickable” (what does that mean? all I know is it dries quickly) t-shirt, just cos I sweat a lot, there are no showers at work, and I don’t want to have to carry spare clothing. I wear a helmet cos my wife said if I got hurt and wasn’t wearing a helmet then she’d kill me 🙂
I just wanna point out that for those that arrived on time but not early, it was impossible to hear anything from the start line (where the bus and speakers were), so the stuff about asking people to take their helmets off for the cameras wouldn’t have been heard by thousands of people.
Also there seemed to be about 25 false starts, so it wasn’t just the helmet talk that caused confusion 🙂
Hi-viz and helmets might be a problem but you have totally missed the main point, IMHO. That is, no matter if you are a ‘all the gear’ person or a CTC rebel down-dresser, the likelihood is that you are cycling along at 15+mph. That’s what makes it look inaccessible and undesirable to the other 98% of the population. You lost focus there compared to so many of your other posts.
Cycling along at 15mph and above on a protest rally?
It’s an interesting blog post, but I notice you take exception to the people in “special cycling gear” in the PoP photo. Unfortunately you’ve based a large part of your “argument” on a single photo representing about 1% of the turnout at an event I’m pretty sure you didn’t attend. We (infact, I) wrote to every single registered cycling club in Scotland as part of the build-up to PoP to encourage their members to share our message and try and attend if possible. So, guess what? They did attend, and a lot of them in their club colours (people in cycling clubs tend to do that). We had people cycling long distances to join the day, because they felt strongly enough to do it – we weren’t just asking people to join from a single city – this was a national event. We had people coming up from the South of Scotland (60 miles), through from Glasgow (50 miles) and even Aberdeen (120 miles) to join us on the day. My own cycling club (yes, I’m one of those awful club cyclists) made a big turnout on the day, joining straight off their Saturday club run (45 miles training ride). Are you criticising them for not going home and slipping into something more casual (although the club President did turn up with his kids in his bakfeits). What you cannot see in your photo are the other 99% of the riders and the huge array of styles, attire and headgear that was present. Also, it’s a pretty weak tactic to try and compare someone riding along a beach on a sunny day to people turning out on a bitter April morning in Scotland or the lashing rain in London.
And lastly – you miss one major point. The Edinburgh ride was NOT a closed road. It was NOT traffic free. We had a small section of police cyclists with us (c. 12) to escort 3,000+ riders, who were good enough to wave us through red lights on a few junctions. But it was an open road situation. We were also faced with there were no closed-road, traffic free routes to the event. Everyone had to do the usual take-their-lives-in-their hands approach to try and get to the event in one piece. I’m sure a lot of people would love to have taken off their shackles of hi-viz and helmets that gives them a small placebo feeling of safety on the road, but it just wasn’t the case on the day for a lot of people. And that’s what they were out to try and change, so I’m not sure criticising them from the sidelines helps at all.
Thanks for your comment, but I think you should take a deep breath and read the article again – the whole article this time. It wasn’t aimed at PoP or any event specifically, I just used those as examples. And I haven’t based my conclusions on “a single photo” of PoP – I looked at dozens of photos, and watched videos, and they’re all full of hi-vis and helmets. I wasn’t at PoP but I’ve been on many cycle protests in all kinds of weather and this point has occurred to me every time.
So I think the weather argument is invalid. I’ve covered that in the footnote, as have others in the comments. Even away from motor traffic, whatever the weather, cycle campaigners have a tendency to wear safety gear. It’s this constant drip-drip-drip of such images that feed the expectation that hi-vis/helmet are effectively compulsory.
I accept what you say about PoP not being on a closed road, I didn’t realise that, but watching videos of the event I can see it was hardly a heavy traffic situation and the implication that PoP was therefore dangerous enough to require safety-wear is clearly preposterous. Certainly, I’ve been on much scarier cycle protests, without police protection and where motor vehicles are trying to force people out of the way, dressed in my normal clothes. I think maybe people wear those clothes to ‘fit in’ and feel part of the gang, which humans do all the time, but 99% of people won’t want to join that gang. I don’t object to people doing it, but I’m not going to pretend it’s a good sales pitch.
This video of PoP shows people before the event, walking around a park in bright sunlight wearing helmets and hi-vis tabards. Trust me, as someone who doesn’t know a derailleur from a dropped handlebar, this is a bizarre scene. The point of this article isn’t to tell anybody off for wearing their club outfit. Wear what you want, but understand this: to non-cyclists, cycling gear looks weird and off-putting. It marks ‘the cyclists’ as an out-group with whom they have nothing in common. If the aim is to reach out to people, looking like that won’t work. If the aim is to have a ‘Cyclist Pride’ parade, hi-vis ahoy!
(It’s odd. I write an article about someone who died and it hardly gets a view. I mildly criticise “cyclists” and there’s over 100 comments, many from people angry because I’ve insulted their gang. Ho-hum.)
I’m not criticising anyone for turning up to PoP and trying to change the world for the better – really I’m not. I think it’s fantastic that so many people turned up, due to hard work of people such as yourself, and it’s a real achievement to bring so many people together for a common cause. The article was just trying to see how these things can look from the outside.
“(It’s odd. I write an article about someone who died and it hardly gets a view. I mildly criticise “cyclists” and there’s over 100 comments, many from people angry because I’ve insulted their gang. Ho-hum.)”
This one was RT’ed by an awful lot of people (mostly those who didn’t have a problem with your message, in my timeline at least) – as I keep pointing out, we’re moving in a small world here. I think I came to it via twitter, (which is also how I saw the Gary Mason piece when you published it, coincidentally).
If this trivialisation of opposing points of view (you don’t offer a similarly belittling “cause” for the many people popping up to attaboy you here) is going to be par for the course here, I think I’m done with commenting on this article.
I’ll admit when I’m wrong, and you’re right about that John. That bit was uncalled for and unfair, and not relevant to the discussion.
In defence of those who retweeted it, they probably didn’t know it was in reference to that comment.
Hi Andy – I think you guys did a great job to organise the second POP, and I loved your Panda art work too. The organisers deserve a great deal of credit.
I think it is unfair to label this blog as ‘criticism from the sidelines’. It is sensible comment clearly with the best intention to help hone the message.
I, like SC, did not attend POP but did attend the London Big Ride, and I attend various other rides in London; dangerous junctions, Blackfriars and critical mass. I will not comment on the POP ride, but the London Big Ride, was clearly called ‘Go Dutch’.
But the image portrayed in many of the press clips is not necessarily that of Dutch relaxed cycling, it is of british style cycling of hi-viz and helmets, which hitherto remains a minority pursuit, partly due in fact to the hi-viz and helmets. That’s not to say it was not a triumph of organisation and participation. But could our message be stronger, appeal to more people?
I believe there’s an advantage in terms of supporting the principles of the ultimate aim of ‘going Dutch’ by showing politicians and the public “this is how the Dutch ride, look how much more relaxed and appealing it is”. We are taking off the hi-viz and helmets because we no longer want to ride like this, and it appeals so much more without it.
LCC have confirmed (see Mike above) that they asked people to drop the hi-viz and asked photographers to try to capture people cycling in ‘normal’ clothes. Obviously this is difficult if even only 50% turn up in hi-viz, as it stands out (after all that’s their purpose).
So this blog is clearly not alone in thinking about the image portrayed to the wider public specifically at these type events. And I think it is a useful message to us cyclists to take on board when we attend these events, whether it’s in London or Edinburgh.
“The gross and net result of it is that people who spent most of their natural lives riding iron bicycles over the rocky roadsteads of this parish get their personalities mixed up with the personalities of their bicycle as a result of the interchanging of the atoms of each of them, and you would be surprised at the number of people in these parts who are nearly half people and half bicycles.”
― Flann O’Brien, The Third Policeman
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Very good article, it sums up the situation perfectly. I cycle every day in London and never wear any special cycling gear such as lycra, helmet, special shoes, cycling jacket etc. Cycling is a normal activity so why wear weird clothes? If you want to get more people to cycle, wear your normal clothes.
Fluoro jackets are not of as much use at night as a white jacket is. Fluorescence works in sunlight, not in the dark or under normal artificial light.
In daylight, fluoro jackets are such an over-reaction that they make the cyclist look paranoid, not confident or competent.
I think an added dimonsion is that ‘Dutch cycling’ is far more routed in localism and short journeys. In London, most riding is at rush hour, repetitive habits, not spur of the moment. I cycle around my local area without helmet, in whatever I was wearing when I needed to leave my house. But I cycle to work everyday because over the long term, longer distance, rides, cycle clothing is more durable (think of the crotch in those jeans you once owned), more comfortable, especially for a journey where time is more of the essance. In London our cycling is still too much like a wheel – people from the ‘burbs getting into the centre for business during the week. We must think about increasing cycling, for local ad-hoc journeys too. This requires a different set of policy measures to those currently being enforced in London. Cycling doesn’t need to be every journey you make, but ideally over the longer term more of the public replaces some of their car / bus / tube use with bike use. This leads to another common misconception we must avoid with the media – cyclists aren’t a discrete group, we are also car drivers, pedestrians, tube users at other times too.
As a Dutchman, I respectfully disagree. When I commute by bike to work (25 km, over an hour each way) I wear exactly the same thing I wear when I take the train. The only difference is that during the cold season, I wear a thermal shirt while cycling. My boss (who’s in his late 50s) regularly commutes a comparable distance by bike, and dresses similarly. You do meet the occasional racer commuting in full helmet-and-lycra-shorts kit, but it’s by no means necessary – and they don’t wear hi-viz, either.
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Depends where you are in The Netherlands. Our commute across Amsterdam was 5 km and took us half an hour. On the same (tandem) bike in Melbourne we commuted 10 km crossing two river valleys yet it took us no longer than the five flat kilometres of Amsterdam.
In Melbourne, though, clothing management is much more demanding because of the generally warmer weather and the hills to be climbed. Not steep or long hills, but enough to make a significant difference.
An interesting observation has made me a little more open minded here. I was waiting for a bus on Friday at about 11.00. It was a bright sunny morning following a wet night. A man cycled past me (travelling west) wearing a dark jacket and jeans / dark trousers and a woollen hat. Within 300 meters he had all but disappeared against the shiny black asphalt. As the road has a slight gradient and he was going downhill to a bend I wondered just how visible he would be to a driver travelling at 50MPH – the speed limit for that stretch of road – don’t forget, I was stationary and watched him “disappear”.
The sun was almost directly south but if it had been more westerly – maybe 3 hours later, I suspect that road and sun glare may have made him even less visible.
Maybe until we get proper provision it should be the case for High Vis on the Highway.
I really don’t object to people wearing helmet/hi-vis when riding on the UK’s roads. I can totally see why people would choose to do so.
But I do think that cycling campaigners should consider the image they give out when presenting themselves to the public and the media.
It’s like a job interview in a way, and as the saying goes, “don’t dress for the job you have, dress for the job you want!”
You don’t have to wear cycle-specific clothing to dress conspicuously.
It is only in limited circumstances that you need to dress fluorescently to be seen. Unsaturated yellow, geen or orange in daytime and white at night is more than sufficient in most circumstances.
Amsterdammers make a point of not outdoing each other on conspicuity. It is the driver’s responsibility to be looking out for them so they dress normally. Wnen everyone does it, it works.
It doesn’t work so well in Australia (where I live) because so many cyclists see themselves as individuals and seem incapable of group identification unless they belong to a club. That is an exaggeration, of course, but there is a stark difference to behaviour in The Netherlands (where I have lived for a time)
Black is not the ideal colour to wear. Fluorescent may be a better choice but I suggest it is not the best choice, except in foggy conditions.
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I was on the first PoP. Brompton with trailer. Two weans in the trailer, one on a bike. No plastic hats or high viz.
We didn’t go on the second because of the emphasis on segregation.
I am so relieved to read an article that addresses this issue. I am 42 and am just starting to research buying my first bike in thirty years. Most of the information I have come across makes cycling out to be this huge clique that demands that you dress in bright, skin tight everything.
I just want to ride a bicycle for pleasure, transportation and to get back into goos shape; I’m not trying to win any marathons, nor am I interested in taking out a loan for equipment and apparel.
Thank you for writing this article.
Thanks for your comment, Joseph, I’m glad to have helped show you that cycling doesn’t have to be cliquey or require special clothing! I know nothing about racing bikes, gears, pedals or frames either. Cycling is (or, should be) for everyone and anyone. It’s so simple, I don’t know why some people like to complicate it so much.
Have you found the Cycling Embassy yet?
Thank you for recommending the Cycling Embassy; I live in Michigan in the U.S. and had not heard of it. I am reading it now. Thank you again.