I see a lot of coverage in the press on bicycling and fashion, much of it fueled by Copenhagen Cycle Chic’s wonderful photos of fashionable Copenhageners living the good life in one of the world’s most bike-friendly cities. It’s undoubtedly a seductive image and one a full-time transportational bicyclist like myself views with envy. The number of Cycle Chic imitators that have cropped up on the web is a testament to our desire to ride bikes in a civilized manner, in an environment where “share the road” means sharing a cycle path with 10,000 other cyclists, not fighting for limited shoulder space with diesel-spewing semi trucks.
I like riding in my street clothes and I recommend it to anyone who isn’t racing, riding extremely long distances, or riding in extreme weather conditions. Riding in street clothes makes us much more likely to hop on a bike for short trips; if I felt the need to throw on bike shorts and a lycra jersey every time I needed something from the grocery store, the day-to-day utility of my bike would be greatly diminished.
I do have reservations about placing too much emphasis on bike fashion though. The reality is that the U.S. is not Denmark, and our infrastructure is such that we truly do “share” the road with motor vehicles. Even in cities with high ridership and mature infrastructure, you’re highly unlikely to find a complete system of separated facilities. Given that here in the U.S. most of us ride very close to automobiles at least some of the time, it may be prudent to set aside our desires to be fashionable and do what we can to make ourselves visible to motorists.
A simple way to dramatically increase your visibility is by wearing a decidedly unfashionable chartreuse safety vest. A lightweight vest can be thrown over whatever you’re already wearing. Some are packable and compress down small enough to go in a seat bag or coat pocket. All are ugly as sin but may actually prevent a collision.
I have to admit, I don’t always wear a safety vest, just like I don’t always wear a helmet. But during high traffic commute hours, or when the light is low at dawn or dusk, I usually set aside vanity and let better judgement determine my riding attire.