Thursday, September 30, 2010

Another Battle Won: Making Bicycles Fashionable

Many years ago, when middle-to-upper-class women in the US weren't expected to vote, get an education or do much of anything outside the home the advent of the affordable Safety Bicycle (the modern design which places the rider between two equal-sized wheels rather than above one large one)was seen as a great liberator. It gave women a chance to come and go on their own terms and wear (somewhat) more practical clothes. Susan B. Anthony, the de facto patron saint of Gender Equality, supposedly called the "Freedom Machinces."

Nowadays the uproar over a woman's right to wear pants is long behind us, and the roads are ruled by the infernal combustion engine, but a growing percentage of Americans are turning to the bicycle for day-to-day transportation again. Part of the opposition in professional circles, of course, has been the fact that bicycling tends to be associated with sweat, ruffled hair and practical, not fashionable, clothing.

But, according to this article that's starting to change a bit, as more celebrities, designers and trendsetters are taking to two wheels. This is a trend in the right direction, particularly as American bicycle manufacturers are starting to realize that not everyone who buys a bike wants to pretend they're going to race it some day. Bicycles designed for commuting and pleasure riding are becoming easier to get again, and providing the chance to swap street clothes for the skin-tight lycra.

While this movement is still pretty small, it's a step in the right direction. And, unlike certain economic tactics, the benefits of bicycle advocacy by middle-and-upper class commuters actually does trickle down to the poorer folks who have long relied on pedal-power to get to work. Better traffic management, better awareness and more bicycle-friendly environments benefit everyone, and cost far less in infrastructure than places designed for automobiles do.

Now, if we could just find a way to make it fashionable to wear a helmet...

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