Ma nouvelle bicyclette

Thursday, 8 July 2010 | Tags: , , , ,

I bought a new bicycle. She's a 3-speed city bike in a delightful shade of chartreuse with a gorgeous tan leather saddle, which will eventually mold perfectly to my butt. Now I need a basket with style worthy of my summer transport (except on days when it's raining).

The purchase of a city bicycle may not seem significant, but for me it most certainly is. It’s a sign Vancouver is upping its cool quotient. Consider the most stylish cities in the world – New York, Paris, Milan – and bicycling is part of the style set.  Just look at the “fixie” bike phenomenon that has gripped the hipster crowd over the last five years.

Fixie are fixed-gear bikes without brakes and the rear cog is bolted to the hub so whenever the bike is in motion the pedals go round and round. There are no shift levers, fenders or extra sprockets. The whole point is there is no extra anything that would detract from the aesthetic of the bike or make it easier to ride.

Stopping is achieved by skidding or reversing the pedals, and perhaps some luck. Knowing how to ride one requires far more than balancing on two wheels. Ride a fixie and you’re telling the world not only are you a he-man who can make it up and down big hills in traffic without the help of gears or breaks, but you’re also a style king.

The fixie bike craze started with city messengers and is now mainstream.  The bikes are beautiful and simple and can sell for thousands more than a factory-made bike with lots of gears and bells and whistles. A 24-carat, gold-plated, Swarovski crystal-encrusted, hand-built fixie by Aurumania costs over $100,000. (Hand-delivered anywhere in the world, of course.)


I have always seen Vancouver – my adopted city – as a car place. Not at all set up for getting from here to there on two wheels. We are not Amsterdam and our culture has never supported the idea. Oh sure, we’ve always represented ourselves as being “green”, but that doesn’t make it cool.

Vancouver was not a city where one would hop on her bicyclette in a pretty summer dress and pedal off to the market for some baguette and fromage. This ain’t Paris, where nowadays the city provides bikes that you can pick up in one spot and drop off in another for a nominal fee. In short, in all my 22 years of living here, Vancouver has not had a whole lot of style. Unless you count Lululemon as style. Which, unless you’re sweating, I do not.

In Vancouver, someone beyond a certain age who says he rides a 10-speed instead of a car is thought of as a hippie or somehow having a lesser status. The assumption is that he rides a bike because he has to due to his wee bank account or environmental conscience, not because he chooses to for as much a part of being stylish as anything else.

(I am slightly embarrassed to share the story of a former boyfriend who once purposely swerved his big fat SUV to do nothing more than frighten some cyclist on the side of the road. I broke up with him later that day.)

But change is afoot in my beloved city by the mountains. Take a seat on the patio of one of the Gastown district’s amazing new restaurants and you’ll see what I mean. One after the next, beautiful bicycles glide by, ridden by people who know how to put an outfit together. The bike racks are full – and not with mountain bikes.

I rolled my eyes when Vancouver’s Mayor dedicated an entire bridge lane to bikes, anticipating my road rage as traffic would surely slow to a crawl.  But now, when I can, I join the two-wheelers on the ride to downtown. There is even some congestion in the bike lane, if you can believe it. The other day a guy actually started chatting me up while we waited for the light to change.  He said he liked my bike.

I daresay Vancouver is growing up and finding her style. Now, if only I could find a stylish helmet.




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