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Cycle Chic in Copenhagen and Beyond


You can trace the term "cycle chic" back to 2006, when Mikael Colville-Andersen launched his Copenhagen Cycle Chic blog. It means different things to different people, but basically, "cycle chic" is about riding in everyday clothes instead of specialized gear like spandex or cycling shoes.
]When I was in Copenhagen last December I had the chance to meet up with Colville-Andersen. After touring the city's first-rate bike infrastructure, I asked him about cycle chic. He said the number of collaborators and followers around the world is constantly growing, making cycle chic a movement-within-a-movement. So for this video, I crowdsourced video from a few other cycle chic bloggers to see what's so hot about using fashion and style to promote bicycling. Enjoy!
<blockquote class="_text"> [music] </blockquote> <blockquote class="speaker_1_text"> <cite class="speaker_1" >Kristen Walker:</cite> [0:06] Cycles Chic means different thing to different people. I think there's the element of fashion in having beautiful bike. But it's also more about a movement to move, and a lifestyle choice about getting out of the car, and getting back on the bike and feeling the wind in your hair.Henrietta Hajdu.</p><p>[0:26] With all those fashion pictures everyday, you can see people naturally, effortlessly, and smoothly riding their bikes in the cities. So I think, with out words, we can operate with their emotions and make them love cycling. </p><p>[music] </blockquote> <blockquote class="speaker_2_text"> <cite class="speaker_2" >Mikael Colville-Andersen:</cite> [0:44] By starting this blog which featured elegant Copenhageners on bikes, of both sexes, I would like to say - it hit a nerve. I still don't understand how a global movement came out of one guy on his way to work taking one photograph of something which is like an Eskimo taking pictures of snow, a girl on a bike in Copenhagen. I guess the world was ready for Cycle Chic.Kristin Tieche.</p><p>[1:06] We just photographed the lovely people in their fantastic clothing and what they're wearing. And we talk about it. </p><p>[1:10] Wiltold Kopec. [I started this blog because I wanted to see what cycle chic is in Todz, to create the Todz version of Copenhagen Cycle Chic] </p><p>[music] </p><p>[1:31] Mikael Colville-Andersen. </p><p>[1:32] It's not just pretty pictures. It's also advocacy, without actually saying anything about advocacy. It's flashcards. It's showing people, "Look, cycling's easy, cycling's gorgeous, cycling's a great way to get around your city. See? See? See? See?" And hopefully it sinks in. Which it is, and you can see it all over the worlds.Henrietta Hajdu. </p><p>[1:47] We chose to write this blog in Hungary because when we first saw Copenhagen Cycle Chic, we also realized that this was probably the best way to promote cycling here in Budapest. </p><p>[music] </p><p>[1:57] Mikael Colville-Andersen. </p><p>[2:01] I often call It social documentary. For the past three years, all I've been doing is staring at this bicycle culture thing. Ironically, very few people had ever done it before in Danish history. It's just basically the way that we use the bikes. The effortlessness with which people ride their upright bikes. But also the way that their families use the cargo bikes. Just the way the bicycle is a fifth limb for the people of Copenhagen. </p><p>[music] </p><p>[2:21] Wiltold Kopec. [The number of cyclists here is not as high as in German, Danish, or Dutch cities, but when it comes to quality, the appearance and the kind of people who choose to bike as their means of transport, we are on par with the European class] </p><p>[music] </p><p>[2:43] Kristin Tieche. </p><p>[2:45] If you are somebody who is on your bike, riding from point A to point B, wearing normal street clothes, you're part of the movement. You're part of the trend. </p><p>[2:54] Kristen Walker.The point of Charleston Cycle Chic is to show people, locally, that riding a bike to dinner or to restaurants is possible. And I like to take photos of locals around town, and post them up to show off their great bikes, show of a really great outfit they're wearing. </p><p>[3:10] On a larger scale, I'm hoping that the more people get on bikes, the more bike-friendly our city can become, and then better infrastructure we can build. </p><p>[music] </p><p>[3:19] Mikael Colville-Andersen.You know while I didn't invent Cycle Chic, Cycle Chic is as old as the bicycle as we know it. 120 years ago when the bicycle was invested, and gave this mobility to the working classes and to women. Women were hopping on bicycles in their regular clothes, just like we've seen all around the world now. It's beauty, it's the bicycle, its livable cities, really so... and it's all in the details. </p><p>[music] </p><p>[3:48] </blockquote> <br/><br/>
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  • John Harshbarger

    One sees the same thing here in Omaha, Ne. I see business men all the time in suites going down the street. I myself wear my normal clothing as I simply can't bring myself to wear 'cycling clothes'. It's more comfortable and it's great for the spur of the moment decision to go somewhere.

  • http://crankmychain.com CrankMyChain!

    Well done Elizabeth! I especially like the point he made that this is advocacy without saying it's advocacy and then the cards you show. Nice.

  • http://www.livablestreets.com/people/elizabeth elizabeth press

    Thanks, CrankMyChain! And, thanks for the Portland shots!

  • http://www.livablestreets.com/people/lecola RC

    love this, I try to be cycle chic whenever I'm out on my bike, we can't all get away with the spandex shorties ya know!  :-)

  • Bicycle Sheik

    I am cycle chic!

  • http://velovogue.blogspot.com Kristin Tieche

    Great job and thanks for including Vélo Vogue! Feel the movement!

  • http://www.frankfurter-fahrradsommer.de Frankfurter Fahrradsommer

    Oooops, I have to change my dress code... Très chic!

  • http://walkbikejersey.blogspot.com/ Andy B from Jersey

    Cycle Chic has made me fat!

    Don't get me wrong. I think Cycle Chic is one of the best movements going to promote cycling as fun and effortless. As Mikael always points out, the correct message to promote cycling to the masses needs to emphasize bicycling as pleasurable not something that must be endured.

    Anyway, I used to ride "Cycle Geek" every day to work; fast Italian road bike, spandex, Sidi shoes, etc. just to go back and forth 3 miles to my job. However, after work, I'd normally blow out 20 to 30 miles before heading home.

    Then I discovered (indirectly), Cycle Chic through an old but perfectly functional 3-speed I found that was put out for trash at the curb. That 3-speed helped me rediscover how fun and effortless riding a bike can be at slower speeds. Soon there after, Mikael's original blog, with all the beautiful ladies and dapper gentlemen got me eying my 3-speed in a whole new way.

    So I started riding it to work in regular office cloths, finding that it was actually quicker once I factored in the packing and changing. Soon I started to have fun with it, seeing what nice cloths I could wear and still make it to work.

    Unfortunately, the 3-speed and wearing jackets on the way to the office does preclude 30 mile rides after work and the weight started to pile on. The desk job doesn't help either.

    I took the road bike to work the other day and blew out 20 miles afterward. It felt great! Should do that more often but it sure won't be every day. The 3-speed is still too much fun and easy.

  • http://www.livablestreets.com/people/Green_Idea_Factory Todd Edelman

    Great piece, Elizabeth! Nice use of graphics cutting to what Mikael was saying. I also like his words towards the end about not inventing anything. Great mix of genders, but I am curious to see how ethnically diverse Chic is in the USA... and in Europe.

    I am a little confused about what the guy in Lodz was saying: Was he talking about the cycling conditions and the people or just the people?

    Finally, what Andy B said is important: Fast rides on racing bikes etc. is great fun, so if you can show a couple of people who do both types of riding it actually improves the brand, as it were, by making it seem less culty or rigid...

    ... on that note, I hope you are able to expand this to 27min. or so, if you know what I mean 😉

  • Jen.

    Am I really the first commenter to ask why there are so few helmets in this piece?  I know these folks are trying to get non-riders interested in riding, and maybe helmets don't look cool to them... But they ARE cool, and I think they look cool too.

  • http://www.livablestreets.com/people/Green_Idea_Factory Todd Edelman

    @Jen: The simple answer is that most urban cyclists in Europe do not wear helmets. Are helmets "normal clothing"?

    How's this for an idea? No one tells anyone to wear or not wear a helmet, or says that either practice is cool, or uncool. Is that cool with you?

  • Jen.

    Are these sites not purporting to relay what's cool in cycling fashion?  Since one sees no helmets here, one might think helmets aren't cool. I'm not about to urge a law that requires you to wear a helmet, but keeping brains inside heads is about as cool as it gets, as far as I can see.

  • http://www.livablestreets.com/people/bikeculturetheory Justin

    @Jen. Often I do not wear a helmet when I ride my city bike around town. Curiously, my brains stay inside my head somehow.

    Some studies have shown that a helmet is actually even more crucial for motorists when driving. When was the last time you saw a motorist wearing a cool helmet in his car? When was the last time anyone urged a motorist to wear a helmet, or even snidely suggested they should have to?

    I don't think helmets are that bad, and when I do not wear one it isn't because it's uncool. It's just that they are not absolutely necessary at all. Those Europeans have much more experience with city biking than we do. I think they must have some sense of what they are doing.

    - J

  • http://velovogue.blogspot.com Kristin Tieche

    @Andy B - I have actually lost weight riding in style to work and back (and everywhere else)! Better than sitting on a bus! 😉 So yeah, continue with your kick-ass long athletic rides and then also ride your bike to the movies, to dinner, to bars, to shop, on dates, etc!

  • maaaty

    @jen & justin. I'm with you, Jen, on the helmet issue. I'll always wear one, at least in the States. In terms of fashion, helmet design has come around, and there's lots of creativity brewing now.

    If these charts are accurate -- http://www.cyclehelmets.org/1079.html -- Justin's right on. Much lower helmet use and much lower fatality rates in western European countries. But it would be specious to suggest that X leads to Y here, no?

  • http://walkbikejersey.blogspot.com/ Andy B from Jersey

    Don't worry. I plan on doing both. It's just that got to get on the racing bike a lot more often and get out from behind this damned keyboard!

    BTW, haven ridden in many truly bicycle friendly places in Europe (and the US), you begin to realize that its the drivers of cars and the lack of quality infrastructure for bicyclists that necessitates, or at least makes one feel that helmets are necessary. If your riding Cycle Chic style and not Cycle Geek style (slow and not for all out speed) then cycling is really very safe.

    What actually makes cycling somewhat hazardous in this country are our homicidal drivers, a lack of proper infrastructure for bicyclists and unsafe bicycle operation by the cyclists themselves. In true cycling cultures these three issues are properly addressed, making mandatory bicycle helmet use rather unnecessary unless again, one rides for speed.

  • http://www.livablestreets.com/people/justinleemiller justinleemiller

    There are style trendsetters on bikes in the US too, but I don't think they refer to it as cycle chic. You might notice people in Amsterdam ride boring old black bikes and while wearing great clothes. It's the opposite in New York. Everyone rides these tricked-out, amazing, customized bikes while wearing jeans and a T-shirt.

    Also, it looks as if they bent over backwards to show some helmets. No one in Europe wears a helmet except maybe in England or if he/she is an athlete. That's the big surprise when you ride in Amsterdam, Berlin, and Copenhagen.

  • http://www.livablestreets.com/people/elizabeth elizabeth press

    Actually @justinleemiller I didn't bend over backwards to show helmets. I wasn't even aware of helmets when editing. But, I just played back the first few shots of the video to see how many helmets are there and yeah there are some. In my personal opinion: wear a helmet if it gets you to ride and don't wear one if it is going to keep you from riding.

  • Jack

    Mikael rules! Looking good, feeling good with NO helmets means CHANGE? The USA needs cycle chic badly.

  • eric

    "Some studies have shown that a helmet is actually even more crucial for motorists when driving. When was the last time you saw a motorist wearing a cool helmet in his car? When was the last time anyone urged a motorist to wear a helmet, or even snidely suggested they should have to?"

    Justin, cars have safety features that include seat belts, airbags, and crumple zones all of which are designed to absorb the impact of a collision. Cars are engineered to protect the occupants, so you comparison is pointless.

  • http://www.livablestreets.com/people/bikeculturetheory Justin

    @ Eric. My sense is that all those 'safety features' are not really about protecting you from the outside world but protecting you from the 2 ton cage you are in if you are driving a car. It's the car itself that you need protection and safety from. The point I've taken from these studies is that you should be wearing a helmet in a car. In fact, I think Mikael covered this a year or so ago (the motorist + helmet study) and is where I first read about this. Based on the grissly carnage of the car wrecks I've seen, those 'crumple zones' aren't working out so well.

  • http://velovogue.blogspot.com Kristin Tieche

    @Jack - Cycle Chic has spread all over the U.S. and North America like an epidemic! If you don't see it happening in your city, then start the next blog!

  • http://www.cyclingshoesreview.com Frank Buasch

    Great video. While some of us in the US and Australia use versatile and functional road bike shoes - your video highlights a whole different aspect to cycling.

    No helmets worn in Europe - may be I should move there....

  • http://www.livablestreets.com/people/Green_Idea_Factory Todd Edelman

    Regarding helmet imagery: No matter what their official position is on helmets, I think it is nice if cycling-promotion organizations (like Bike League, the Alliance for Cycling and Walking and all their national and local members, etc.) have imagery on their websites and public materials which at least roughly reflects actual helmet use among the individuals which they represent.

    As most cycling helmets for urban use - thankfully - are never actually used for their explicitly-marketed and officially-stated function, their primary function is to communicate some message about responsibility, or lack thereof. For me this message is about the irresponsibility of designers of mobility infrastructure and users (no matter their intention) of primarily private vehicles and simultaneous transfer of responsibility to vulnerable road users, encouraging them to buy something which solves neither the primary causes of the disease, nor many of its symptoms, and may make things worse.

    Thus, the helmet is a mirror of a society which is often well-intentioned but caught in a candy-coated safety drug-induced fog of over-promising and under-delivering ideas like "share the road" and "complete streets". The truth, I think, is that cyclists and pedestrians cannot ultimately share the world with private urban vehicles and that streets were complete before cars came along, and so with them the balance is forever not right.

  • Greg

    @eric kinetic energy is proportional to the square of the speed. So a cycling going 15 mph is subject to forces 16x smaller than a person in a car going 60 mph. So it's not surprising that motorists would benefit from wearing helmets. But no one is going to propose that because driving is seen as normal in US society.

    Cycling is much safer where they don't wear helmets. So clearly even if helmets are a bit helpful, they aren't *very* helpful. Otherwise you'd see something in the data (which no good study looking at large populations has found.)

    And while there's excellent evidence that helmet promotion deters cycling, there's very little evidence at all that it protects cyclists.

    Tom Vanderbilt had a nice discussion with Prof. Ian Walker about helmets here:


    FWIW I wear my helmet when I cycle in the US and don't when I cycle in Holland. And I feel a lot safer in Holland :-)

    So in summary, from the experiences of Denmark and Holland, we know of a lot of ways to make cycling *much* safer than it is in the US. Helmet wearing is clearly not one of those ways.

    Furthermore promotion of helmets discourages cycling while distracting attention from real proven improvements.

    So helmet promotion is not helpful to cycling.

  • Acer

    Cycle chic? stupid. ppl have been riding in everyday clothes forever. If you're riding for performance or training etc. then you wear the gear.

  • http://copenhagenize.com Mikael

    What's a helmet?

  • Herzog

    I dunno... something astronauts wear... or something.

    The guy from Lodz is saying that cyclists in his city are few but got style!

  • Heels+Wheels

    Yaaaaaaaaay! ?ód? Cycle Chic! My city! I'm so proud... ^_^
    I do own a helmet, but I wear it for off-city riding (we have a lot of forest areas at hand 😉 ) or when the rain gets *really* unbearable (and a visor comes in handy).

  • http://cyclechicvalencia.blogspot.com/ Fernando Mafé (Valencia Cycle Chic)

    Hello Streetfilms,

    I you inform that I have integrated your fabulous video Cycle Chic in Copenhaguen and Beyond, in the blog Valencia Cycle Chic, Friend and small brother of Chic Copenhaguen Cycle.

    Thank you for your so wonderful work. Here also we fight for the sustainable mobility and the bicycle

    Fernando Mafé

    Valencia Spain

  • http://www.thecitizenrosebud.com Bella Q

    I remember stumbling on his blog oh so many years ago, and LOVED the idea of making this "a movement." It amazes me how it has caught like wildfire, I know we all were riding in normal clothes anyway, but to make it a thing to be proud of, makes me warm all over.

    GREAT piece, so wonderfully well done!