Fact: cycling is fashionable. Technology, lifestyle aspirations and a real need to get around has us reaching for our bikes on a scale not witnessed since the Second World War. London is fast becoming the new Amsterdam.
And the UK’s other major cities aren’t far behind. Unlike Amsterdam, where endless droves of identical bikes stream past, fashion conscious UK cyclists ride BMXs, classic racers, folders, fixed-wheel bikes, even the (often very) odd recumbent.
These 21st century bikers are aligning themselves into tribes in which the choice of bike is an extension of their wardrobe and a direct reflection of their beliefs and aspirations in wider society, politics, music, fashion and, of course, art.
There are many tribes, including the largish one that isn’t so pleased that cycling’s fashionable, so if your tribe doesn’t really fit, don’t panic, this is a portable sport – when you have the heart, lungs and legs for one style you can re-invent yourself in any other.
[part title="Fixie Fashionista"]
Feel the love, but don’t bother reaching for a brake ‘cos it ain’t there! Fixed wheel bikes are machines in perfect harmony with their rider’s legs. Try one and you’ll understand.
It’s Zen and the art of riding in traffic. Just don’t stop pedalling. Ever. Or you’ll be thrown clean over the bars.
The fashion for modifying classic road racing bikes by ditching the freewheel and setting up a direct connection between wheel and legs started with penniless couriers trying to keep their costs down. These days riding a fixie about town is more an ideological than an economic statement.
The courier image hangs on: over the shoulder bags, body piercings (most visible, some thankfully not), no helmet, narrow, sometimes ridiculously narrow, handlebars to keep you moving through tight traffic and flyers in the wheel to tell everyone which gigs you’ve been to. But now, as you’ll see around the specialist shops, in Brick Lane for example, the spectrum is wider. Pretty girls love riding fixies as much as ugly guys.
The image: Ice cool, chic and master/mistress of the technically very demanding.
Bike: High-end road bike frame stripped of all creature comforts, and most safety features. Fix wheel (no freewheel), 12-inch wide handlebars, and suicide front brake, if any.
Fashion: Three quarter length combat jeans, studded belt, over the shoulder bag. No washing machine.
Media: Guardian, Metro and, of course, eBay/theGumtree. com for new old bikes.
[part title="The Streetwise Commuter"]
Practical, safe and cost conscious, streetwise urban riders choose function over fashion. Their preflight checks run a little like this: helmet, tick; weather proof clothing, tick; lights, tick; panniers, tick.
Then they swing a leg over their folding hybrid. Practicality has a chic all of its own. Albeit one that’s a might tricky to explain to the uninitiated. Used day in, day out, commuter bikes and their riders acquire a grimy purposeful look that is, to the uninitiated, not all that appealing.
The image: Green, practical, economical, planet saver.
Bike: Mezzo, Dahon, Airnimal, if you can’t afford one consider the big name commuter hybrids.
Fashion: Tight fitting, man made materials with plenty of reflective strips.
Media: Daily newspapers, Practical Parenting and Grand Designs magazine.
[part title="The Old-School BMXer"]
The old-schooler loves music, fashion and 16in wheeled bikes. Wearing headphones over their beanie hats hardens the external image and keeps the world on the outside while they tread their chosen path. Not all BMXers, not even the grungers, are rebellious teenagers with a two wheeled hobby, many have taken their passion and the street sharp style into their twenties and thirties.
Think media agency types, designers, DJs and you’ll not be far off the mark. And it’s not all fashion over function, likely as not these guys will know how to handle a bike. Skills, hewn from painful years perfecting the perfect trick performance can be called on with little or no day-today rehearsal.
The image: Battle scarred urban style lords of extended youthfulness.
Bike: Federal, We the People, Mutiny.
Fashion: Skinny jeans, baked beanie and a pair of Vans.
Media: Dirt, Dig and Ride magazines with a side order of Kingpin to go.
[part title="The MTB Gravity Junkie"]
The extreme off-piste snowboarders of the cycling world. Easily mistaken for colourful storm troopers, no self-respecting downhill rider would be seen pushing their bike back up the hill without full body armour and a full face helmet hung over the handlebars.
Flip the gravity switch and these guys make the impossible seem effortless. 10m drop ins, flying through the tree canopy and landing on a piece of trail less than a metre wide or clocking 40mph down a rockstrewn mountain side is all in a day’s play for these guys.
Only trouble is that, once you get good at this stuff, you’ll have to start travelling a long way to find anything to challenge you. Think Wales, Scotland, the Alps and Whistler.
The image: Rough, tough and, frankly, awesome all over.
Bike: Super-tech big hitters from Juliana, Intense and Giant.
Fashion: Oversized everything, it’s motocross in the mind, and you can sometimes hear it coming out through the mouth – Brrrm…brrrrm…
Media: Dirt, Moto and Ride magazine.
[part title="The Die-Hard Road Cyclist"]
To many this is proper cycling. To be a player you’ll need very deep pockets. Carbon fibre, titanium, 10 speed blocks and classic Italian brands like Colnago and Pinarello are the playground currency.
Whole days are spent, literally, on impossibly hard saddles hiding from your sworn enemy; the wind. Enter the warm embrace of the tea shop after a gruelling day and the pain instantly evaporates as the endorphins replace the bad times with a runner’s high like no other. One you’ve earned, with your own sweat and tears. Same time next Sunday? You bet!
The image: Clean cut and always coordinated.
Bike: Aspires to Colnago, Pinarello and DeRosa but probably rides a Trek or a Specialized.
Fashion: Colour coordinated lycra, peakless helmet and prescription shades.
Media: Cycling Weekly and cyclingnews.com.
[part title="The Time Trialler"]
Never has time come at such a high price, physically and financially. Racing the clock, time triallers spend their lives, not mention half their earnings, trying to ride set distances (usually ten, 25, 50 or 100 miles) fractions of a second faster than ever before.
And nothing is left to chance. Comfort and fashion are out of the window first to beat the clock. Then there’s body fat, that’s got to go. In their place are teardrop helmets, all in one skins suits, and bikes that are, at best, endured rather than enjoyed.
The image: The world’s fastest mammals. Detail obsessed, their sworn enemy is time itself.
Bike: High end road bike heavily modified with deep section or disc wheels.
Fashion: Fashion is a liberal term for those in their skin suits and teardrop helmets.
Media: Cycling Weekly, cyclingnews.com and The Daily Mail.
[part title="The Retro Stylist"]
Strange the way things you haven’t seen for a very long time start to look classy. Like curvy black retro bike frames with baskets and rod brakes and big fat saddles filled full of copper rivets.
So they weigh a tonne, were never all that good in the first place and are too busy posing for the camera to get anywhere very fast, but they look great. And one of the ways they look great is their refusal to get involved in anything too athletic, sweaty and hard work.
So easy to ride, you just jump on and pootle down to the tennis club, on the pavement mostly. And the people you meet don’t yell at you to ride in the road. No, they ask you to a charity luncheon in aid of distressed red squirrels. It’s true you arrive at the club quite breathless, but that’s from chatting; you haven’t ridden more than ten yards without meeting someone you know.
The image: Graceful, polite, quite fit actually.
Bike: Dawes Diploma, Electra Amsterdam, Pashley Guv’nor.
Fashion: Pedal pushers and gingham blouse, tweed shorts with matching flat cap, plus two’s with golf shoes…
Media: The Lady, The Week, Fiesta magazine
[part title="Boris and the Brompton"]
The Brompton has become synonymous with city slickers across the globe. And nobody loves the Brompton more than politicians. Buzzing around the city streets helps them to feel closer to J0-Soap and of course does no harm for the support of environmental policies and cycle schemes which they of course hope will boost their popularity.
You'll generally see them tooling along city streets, ringing their bike from time to time with their trousers tucked into their socks. They never miss an opportunity to wave at a fellow Brompton owner.
Of course this type of commuter would never dream of using a pannier rack or a bog-standard backpack, they'll always have their briefcase style bag attached firmly to their handlebars instead.
Another interesting fact about this tribe is that they can fold their bikes in approximately ten seconds, which let's face it, is actually quite impressive!
The image: Jolly, dressed in a suit and ALWAYS abiding by the rules of the road.
Bike: It is the Brompton or nothing.
Fashion: A suit with a dash of colour in the form of 'novelty socks'
Media: The Economist and The Telegraph
[part title="The XC Mountain Biker"]
For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. The action – in the case of cross country mountain bikers, riding unsupported across miles of open moorland – requires great physical strength and stamina. The aforementioned reaction manifests itself sitting in country pubs reliving the events of the day, recharging batteries ready for the bike ride tomorrow. XC mountain biking is often a lifelong passion. As likely to be 50 years old as 15, you just need a love of the outdoors and some serious mental/physical stamina. Technology plays its part too.
Many cross country bikers have deep pockets which they’ll happily reach into for exotic materials, full suspension or new disc brakes. In the hope, of course, that this’ll make them faster over ground. Getting rid of the beer belly would be more effective, but that’s not the point.
The image: Rugged, outdoorsy with deep pockets.
Bike: It’ll be a titanium hardtail eventually (Merlin, Litespeed or Cotic).
Fashion: Lycra bib (to go round the beer belly), Gore Pac Lite jacket, peaked helmet.
Media: Ordnance survey map and a good beer guide.
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