Cecily Cycle Chic

I’ve learned that when it comes to physical challenges, my own self-doubt is often the greatest source of motivation. Let me explain.

For the last few months or so, I’ve been obsessed with the whole cycle chic subculture. If you’re not familiar with the concept, the Cycle Chic Manifesto is an excellent primer.

I have this vision of these lissome, willowy women wearing flowy dresses, high heels, and elegantly made-up faces astride sturdy, dutch bikes pedalling through the city. I so wanted to be one of those women, but I’m a large, ungainly girl who, despite the makeup, is mostly frumpy and inelegant. I’m not some waifish mystic pixie on a Batavus: I’m a slow fat girl on an inexpensive Trek bike. I am not the stuff my cycling dreams are made of, and I thought I never would be.

I studied cycle chic photographs and websites with a fervor that bordered on obsession. Many nights passed in a daze as I flipped from blog to blog, soaking up the culture, living life vicariously through this cycling sisterhood. Yet no matter how much I learned, no matter how many of these women said they just decided to start riding, I didn’t think that I could ever be one of those women.

Until today.

Tuesday dawned sunny and bright with scarcely a cloud in the sky. I knew it would be a perfect day for cycling, but the idea of putting on my daily librarian-cum-bike commuter uniform of cardigan, nice-ish jeans, and Mary Janes had no appeal. Instead I reached for a form-fitting flirty purple dress and bright orange high heels. I applied my makeup with a light but expert hand. I donned a bright orange jacket, my trusty daisy-covered helmet, and wheeled my bike up the basement stairs out onto the street.

The wind caught the hem of my dress as I sped downhill, but I didn’t care. The breeze felt like a chilly kiss on my bare knees, and the sensation made me sit a little straighter on my bike seat. My head was high, my chin pointed defiantly forward as I pushed up and coasted down hills on my way into the office.

A few strangers smiled at me as I passed, and I smiled in return. Maybe it was the incongruous sight of a rather large black woman who dared to wear a purple dress while she rode a bike around town that made them give me a second look, but whatever the reason I found that I didn’t really care why they were looking at me. I felt great, I felt alive, and most importantly, I felt beautiful.

Photo by letsgorideabikehttp://flic.kr/p/7ZJWZH

23 thoughts on “Cecily Cycle Chic

  1. Well, I've only met you f2f once, Cecily, but by no stretch of the imagination can I think of you as ungainly, slow, or fat! You're being way too hard on yourself – you're pretty, strong, and abundant (mentally/ intellectually). Love the image of purple dress and orange heels – yes! Very sharp!

    That said, here's a pet peeve I have with regard to urban cycling: one thing that I don't think will ever square with “cycle chic” is helmets. I know I'm in the minority here, but I love that people don't wear helmets in Europe and instead dress normally, while here in North America you're supposed to get yourself up to look like Lance Armstrong in spandex and head-gear. There is nothing, but nothing, that kills the chic image of effortless cycling deader than an aerodynamic piece of plastic on top of one's head, imo…

  2. You should see my helmet. It's green (it matches my bike) and has giant white daisies painted on it. Very chic! :)

    I like my brain way too much not to wear a helmet. The thing that many of the cycle chic advocates in Europe – especially Mikael Colville of Copenhagen Cycle Chic – seem to take for granted is that we don't generally have the benefit of divided bike paths here in North America the way they do in Europe. In addition, cycle culture is deeply ingrained in the European culture and psyche in a way that we can't even begin to imagine, so the sight of people on bikes is so common that drivers respectfully share the road with cyclists rather than treating us as obstacles to overtake.

    BTW, thanks for the compliments. Fat to me is just an adjective, like blonde, or left-handed. And since my knee surgery last year I am a little ungainly. Less so when I'm on my bike, however.

  3. YES. Sounds glorious!

    I've come into a bike too, in the last couple of weeks, and have gone riding in the park the last two weekends. Digging it so far.

  4. Wow. You are a really good writer. Dottie and Trish inspire me endlessly too especially since they do focus on thrift store shopping rather than the most expensive items out there.

    The dress you wore sounds gorgeous!

  5. Thanks for the comment, Beany. I'd be a thrift-store queen too if I could count on finding things that fit me.

  6. This is beautiful. It feels like you are writing about me (a large Mexican-Irish woman who rides an inexpensive trek, or cheaper flying pigeon). I think any woman, no matter the race, age or size, riding free on her bike in jeans or a dress is the picture of beauty. Keep riding bike-sister, see you on the streets <3

  7. Best line: “I’m not some waifish mystic pixie on a Batavus: I’m a slow fat girl on an inexpensive Trek bike.”

    Glad you’re keeping it real.

  8. For a paper for class, I compared bicycling in the United States to bicycling in the Netherlands. I'll keep my findings as simple as possible.

    An American riding their bike in the United States is five times more likely to die than a Dutch person riding in the Netherlands. Thirty-five times more likely to get injured.

    Now, a helmet will only protect your head from sustaining injuries, but it's the head and brain that are the most precious parts of our bodies and the hardest to repair. You might have 10 crashes and 10 broken bones before the 11th crash where we see your head go through a car windshield. It is for that moment that I think most people wear helmets (myself included).

    I WANT so badly for us to have the bicycling numbers and infrastructure we see in the Netherlands and Denmark, but until that day arrives, you will see me like this.

  9. I'm trying, Paula. I had a nasty comment shouted my way last week that made me not want to get back on my bike, but I'm going to keep riding.

  10. I couldn't agree with you more about all that you have written in this post and this comment! (Mikael included!)

  11. Go Go Cecily! I just came across your blog and I think I shall now be a dedicated reader. I about fell over when I read your post – I thought someone was talking about me! I'm 6ft tall, built like the Midwestern girl that I am, and have been riding my bike all over the city of Chicago for 10+ years. I am about to get myself a dutch bike though – I'm car-less and I'm tired of rolling up my jeans. I too love those Cycle Chic girls and know that I'll never look quite so lithesome on my bike but damn it if it won't stop me from wearing some pale yellow retro converse sneakers and a cute skirt as I throw my leg over the saddle of my trusty Trek. I bet you looked fabulous in your purple dress and orange heels!! I applaud anyone who rides in heels! And I'm rather envious of your daisy-covered helmet .

  12. I've always been curious about Chicago and what the cycling is like there. Is it fairly flat? Other than the winter riding, what are the challenges of riding there?

    And congratulations on your Dutch bike! I hope you and it have a long and happy relationship. :)

  13. Yep, Chicago is very flat. People groan over a 'hill' when they ride up a viaduct! Hmm, challenges beside the ever-changing weather? Well, we have a lot of bike lanes but they are not very well maintained – sometimes I think the mayor punishes aldermen (members of the city council who represent specific districts of the city) by ripping up the pavement just in the bike lanes in their wards. It's very odd. And, most bike lanes are located between parked cars and traffic so there is always the risk of being door-ed. But overall it's bike-friendly. I ride year 'round though I don't ride in lots of snow and ice mostly because the roads become too narrow when there are lots of snow.

  14. Yeah, sometimes you just cannot avoid the nasty comments. If I was afraid of nasty comments to the point where I let them get to me, I would never leave my apartment. Keep riding and just know that if any of those assholes who yelled at you had the balls to get on a bicycle alongside you, their fat SUV riding ass would be eating your dust. People underestimate us large women, just because we are larger does not our riding cannot put them to shame (says the broad who rode 30+ miles last Sunday).

    BTW, that is a real picture of me you reblogged in your tumbr. <3

  15. Love your post! I am from Amsterdam and over here all kinds of people ride bikes (see lots of pictures at http://www.amsterdamized.com) including overweight ones. Although I must admit they don`t get photographed much by cyclechic lovers. I think that`s a shame because it would be an encouragement for overweight people to try cycling. Especially on a comfortable sturdy Dutch bike which, by the way, you can order online see this article. http://www.prlog.org/10661932-dutch-bicycles-ta….

    As far as bike safety goes, Dutch people take nasty falls off their bikes quite often which mostly results in arm and leg injuries. Here`s a good exemple of what often happens during the winter: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lqo4hwnJt6Y (Turn of the sound if you don`t like heavy metall music).

  16. Hi Norms,

    Thanks for the links and thanks for stopping by! I don't think a dutch bike would be useful to me here in Vancouver where there are so many hills. Being a larger rider means that most typical bikes aren't made to carry a lot of weight, and standing up on pedals to go uphill would put even more stress on the bike components, I would think. I need the lower gears, which is why for the time being, I'm sticking with my Trek comfort bike.

    I've seen 'dutch-style' bikes that have more gears which might be a compromise.

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