Out there in the real world, which I occasionally visit out of curiosity, there is an image of cyclists as lycra-clad loonies. Nutters who regularly take their life in their hands and spend ludicrous amounts of money on both bikes and fluoro clothing, they are definitely “them” in life’s game of “them and us”. If you’re not with us, you may very well be wearing lycra.
Even commuting cyclists have a bit of a mad monk image. Encased in sturdy, rain-proof cycling gear, they plough through the storms, hunched over the handlebars, head bent, water dripping off the end of their thin, cold noses. You’d have to be crazy. In this country cycling is, if it exists at all, strictly a fair weather recreational activity.
It’s not viewed that way in parts of Europe, of course. There are cities in Denmark where over 60% of all urban trips are made by bike. They don’t have our weather to contend with, mind you. No. They have it easy. They have snow.
It’s all in your point of view, and from up here on the seat of my new Pilen bike, the view is remarkable. It’s a girly bike – complete with basket – yet big enough for all 185cm of me to ride in comfort. It has no top tube, sporting instead a lovely, step-through frame that means I can simply strap on my helmet, throw a high visibility vest over my outfit and ride off into the sunset, regardless of what I’m wearing. It has a sturdy rack that I can simply clip my backpack to (no need for special bike panniers, unless you want them), built in lights and lock, and the carrying capacity of the basket is huge.
In this weather I regularly ride in a skirt and sandals, and it’s fascinating, because I get almost as much of a startled reaction on my Pilen bike in my long skirts as I do on the far more surprising Christiania bike. (And not just because of the combination of skirt + bike + windy day, which was a bit of a learning curve, let me tell you!)
I think it’s the combination of seeing someone riding in ordinary clothes, in a very upright position (my husband calls it a “lah-di-dah” riding style), complete with skirt flowing in the wind, and the foolish grin I am usually wearing. It’s a statement, and a radical (for us) shift in perspective. Perhaps it is different in the inner suburbs, but out here on the lunatic … er… sorry, urban fringe, people don’t ride for transport very often. If they do, they invest in The Gear. Simply getting on your bike in whatever you’re wearing, as a way of easy transport – that’s not something people here have wrapped their heads around before.
Years ago I was converted to cycling when I rode around Rottnest Island on a hired bike. I was a nervous, inexperienced cyclist without a clue – I had never even ridden a bike with gears – and I always thought that cycling must be hard work. Travelling all that distance under your own steam! Who has the energy??
On Rottnest I discovered the miracle of the wheel. Mankind may have worked it out thousands of years ago, but it was a stunning revelation to me. Wheels have this magic trick. They roll. Sit yourself on a bicycle, whisk the pedals around once or twice and the whole magnificent contraption rolls. For free!
No carbon footprint, no smog. Just the joy of flying down the hill. Sure, you have to get up it again, but even that isn’t so bad with the magic of gears (another revelation I came late to). Get yourself low enough gears and you can trundle up the steepest of hills without breaking a sweat. Granny gears, the lycra crowd call them. I’m not proud. I’ll take great-granny gears, if I can get ’em.
You don’t have to be a lycra loon. You don’t have to be super fit. Discover the magic of the wheel for yourself.