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. 


  1. Steven says:

    Re: Best anti-chic use of a bike

    Indeed, and if someone takes it upon themselves to start Mayfield Cycle Chic, they will have no shortage of classy subjects of the precise kind you describe.

  2. Anonymous says:

    While I am not quite a card-carrying member of the Cycle Chic set, I am a fellow traveller, and am one of those regular-clothes-wearing slow cyclists from the inner piety belt. I have never been in a bike race and think that bike racing is faintly stupid, in the way that all painful-looking endurance sports are.

    But my attitude to “lycra” is not one of snobbish derision – I simply see the lycra-clad as irrelevant to the whole “cycling as regular transit by ordinary people” project. The lycra-clad have as much to do with me as those that play tennis or golf. I don’t hate tennis players or golfers (well, maybe golfers) – I simply ignore them as the irrelevancies they are.

    Perhaps that makes me ineligible as a “cyclist” in the eyes of some. Well, I ride my bike every day, and I comply with Bike Snob’s sole criteria – I own a floor pump.

    And there’s a big experience that slow cyclists frequently have that somebody with your sporty cycling background will never have had, which is that friends, family, strangers and bike shop employees will immediately assume upon hearing that you are now “a cyclist” that you have taken up a sport and will wear lycra. The slow cyclist is confronted by this totally wrong assumption a million times, and the wrongness of it becomes associated with lycra and those who wear it, because it is those people who hold it most strongly.

    And so “lycra” comes to mean “bone-headed people who don’t understand that I just want to ride my bike from wherever I am (usually called ‘A’) to wherever I want to be (usually called ‘B’) in ordinary clothes at a sedate pace”. This is derision, sure, but I think it is deserved rather than snobbish.

    • Steven says:

      I think you’re being overly sensitive. Some people commute 15-20km by bike every day, and would blast holes in their jeans if it wasn’t for bike pants. Commuting those distances is much much easier, and better for ones ankles, if done in cycling shoes with clipless pedals. Except for one or two freaks, who we hate as well, those of us who race bikes harbour no ill feelings toward other cyclists, certainly not A to B cyclists; we’re such cyclists ourselves, when we’re not actually racing or training. You get miffed by people assuming you’re sporty because you’ve taken up cycling. Well I get miffed that low-key bike riders smile at me during the week, when I’m on my commuter bike, but snarl at me on the weekend, when I’m on my way to a bike race, as though I’m suddenly a threat to some cause. It’s an attitude borne out of pride and defiance, just like its polar opposite, that of the proud vehicular cyclist. These attitudes and minor grievances are only worth airing if the aim is to put them aside and move on. They’re ultimately as vital as Holden v Ford rivalries, or Protestants not liking Catholics.

      • Anonymous says:

        Oversensitive? Moi?

        Look how you felt compelled to defend the utility of lycra when that was never atacked – of course it makes sense to wear cycling-specific clothing for longer/faster rides.

        And how you felt compelled to defend the good will of the lycra-clad towards their slow-cycling brothers/sisters, when again that was never in question, at least by me – it was cluelessness, not bad will, that I was attacking – the blindness that so many people have towards transportational cycling.

        • Steven says:

          In the interim period, I posted a lengthy defense of your position. You’ve pricked my conscience see. But in the process, I offended someone who does a lot for the cause, with a background like mine, so pulled it down. I might post it again soon, when I get time to revise it.
          Anyway, it seems those of us who have ridden for years, and have done the whole racing/training/vehicular cycling mucho type thing, set ourselves up as experts, or even worse, priests, and have trouble admitting we know nothing about more utilitarian approaches to cycling.

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