The concept of "cycle chic" has been controversial almost from the moment it started. Libby Maxim, "Biker Chick" of West Chester, Pennsylvania, totally missed the point and hated it. So did Kati Nolfi in Bitch Magazine.
Today, bikonomist Elly Blue added a new twist to the debate when she tweeted, "I'm more & more convinced that PR/branding campaigns to make cycling look chic & attractive do more harm than good. Watching bicycling get tangled up w/gentrification & race in PDX is what's convincing me. It shouldn't be exclusive."
Blue's point is much better than Maxim's or Nolfi's, but it'll have to wait because I want to deal with those first. The most important thing here is to get ourselves grounded again in our goals. I want to get people out of their cars, for the reasons stated above. That means that I only care about cycle chic to the extent that it gets people to choose not to drive as a habit, or to drive less, or not to buy a car (or to sell one they have), or not to fund car infrastructure (or to fund bike, transit and pedestrian infrastructure).
It's also important to point out that blogs like Copenhagen Cycle Chic and its imitators (Massapequa Cycle Chic, perhaps, someday) are not primarily sending aspirational messages. They're aimed at people who already consider themselves to be chic, and the message is, "You can be just as chic as you are ... on a bike!"
Some of the target audience may drive already. Some may be young adults who've been getting the message their whole lives that Real Grownups Drive Cars, and they're getting to the age where they may become Real Grownups. They're also constantly bombarded with ads that say, "you can be just as chic ... in this car!"
Many of them are also familiar with bike marketing and peer pressure that says that Real Cyclists wear shiny spandex and bike jerseys and those weird shoes. Maybe they think that's attractive, maybe not, but they don't identify. It's not them. If they manage to envision themselves as cyclists, it's looking uncomfortable and out of place in clothes that are tight in the wrong places.
The main content of the Cycle Chic blogs is candid shots of people on the street. Originally it was almost entirely women in skirts and high-heeled shoes, but they've branched out a bit. These people aren't dressed up to sell bicycles or cycling, they're dressed up to be attractive, and the bicycle is either an accessory or simply a way to move their attractive selves around town. They primarily send the value message: Look at these ordinary chic people. They're riding bikes, but they're clearly still getting laid. You're a chic person just like them. You can continue your chic lifestyle without a car.
BicyclesOnly has done the same thing with New Yorkers from all walks of life, including bike commuters (like this guy), families going to school, shoppers, women and people riding in the snow, with the stated goal of debunking the stereotype of cyclists as "fringe weirdo daredevils."
That's what Libby Maxim and Kati Nolfi get wrong. The people who want to dress like Katy Perry and Russell Brand are already doing that. Women who want to wear blue minidresses will do it whether they're on a bike or not, no matter how much Maxim and Nolfi scold them about the impracticality. If they don't ride a bike in their minidress, they might drive a car. Which would you rather see them doing?
My apologies to anyone who came here wanting to see pictures of women in skirts and heels or minidresses, or Russell Brand. Just follow the links.