January 8th, 2011

What "lycra" really means in Cycle Chic parlance.

Let me explain the Cycle Chic movement's espoused hatred of lycra, by first telling you something of the socioeconomic makeup of the road racing fraternity. Despite the conspicuous cost of some riders' bikes, it seems surprisingly even to me. Bike racers come from all walks of life. I've seen kids with fat toothless dads (hillbillies, darling) and I've seen drunks who live upstairs from pubs, who wheel out 40 year old race bikes each Saturday and who kick their down-tube shifters with their knees to change up during sprints. Oh and heartland suburbia is very well represented. In my observation, a road racing cyclist would be no more likely to vote green than red or blue, would as likely be educated as of base thought, well traveled as not, urban as suburban or semi rural, well spoken as vile, choleric, melancholic, phlegmatic or sanguine.

By contrast, riders of bikes like my Velorbis, are invariably town snobs. Oh believe me, I am all too well qualified to speak to the issue, living as I do in the catchment area of a school with 63% of its children being drawn from the upper most quarter, "socio-educationally" speaking. (Please, let me not gloat. You may be left feeling sad that your own child is not of my seed.) I am also something of a town-snob myself.

Exhibit A: the final point of the Cycle Chic manifesto (click to enlarge). Guilty! Your Honour, they're guilty!

I had wondered why Cycle Chic types were so hostile to "cycle wear", especially lycra. I think now I know. For the Dutch bike aficionado, cycling is part of a broader campaign, completely unrelated to bicycle transport per se. Their foremost concern is to carve out some place for themselves within chic urban circles. Each is but a poor retched yeoman, hoping to cut it in waters over his or her head. But of course it would be awfully poor form to come out at a terrace courtyard gathering of educated inner urban green voters, and baldly state one's disdain for the plebeians out there in the burbs, especially as we have it within our own power to fix their bad taste; we could ride our bikes to the burbs and run taste education campaigns, but we don't. Yet there is a way of sniggering to your smug urban friends, about the unwashed, without being so obvious. Poo pooing lycra, indirectly targets a group of no particular "socio-educational" type. Hey, that means most live in the burbs! Hey, and they have to wear lycra because they have so far to ride into town, to enjoy our cafes. And if on the off chance one of your inner city green voting friends happens to race bikes as well, you the "citizen cyclist" can say, "well, you know what I mean," and even the town snob road racer will say, "hmm, yes, indeed." Lycra is code for suburbanite.
This is why inner urban bike racers have been wearing a little merino, racing with Brooks Titan saddles, and drooling over custom lugged frames, to distinguish themselves, class wise, from their suburban fellow club cyclists. I've not yet done any of those things myself, but if you look back to this post, you will see I have given it thought.