Cyclewear: Get into the right gear

By Catherine Smith

Pippa Coom from Frocks on Bikes is organising Cycle Style, showcasing the latest in bicycles and cycling fashion and accessories. Photo / Babiche Martens
Pippa Coom from Frocks on Bikes is organising Cycle Style, showcasing the latest in bicycles and cycling fashion and accessories. Photo / Babiche Martens

There used to be a time when culture and cycling were not words you'd expect to use together (way back around the same time coffee was just a hot drink). But, what was once a mode of transport (or an obscure sport for skinny guys with shaved legs) has become a hot culture, with tribes and sub-tribes.

Naturally, each has its own wardrobe. And some even subscribe to a manifesto.

Pippa Coom is the high priestess (she prefers to call herself co-ordinator) of one of the prettier sub-cultures of cycling - Frocks on Bikes - and with a bunch of other style-conscious women is reclaiming the roads for people who prefer not to go public in Lycra.

This cycling chic movement has branches worldwide (in New Zealand it's happening in Wellington, Christchurch, New Plymouth and the Hawkes Bay) and it has a manifesto which springs from Copenhagen, that city of civilised roads and uber-cool eco living.

Now, it's hard to argue with such high-minded goals as choosing style over speed, eschewing hard-line bicycle activism in order to merely add a more aesthetically pleasing urban landscape and not indulging in bike one-upmanship.

Policies include statements such as "I will regard my bicycle as transport and as a mere supplement to my own personal style".

"Allowing my bike to upstage me is unacceptable."

And "I will endeavour to ensure that the total value of my clothes always exceeds that of my bicycle".

After a spontaneous kick-off to support last October's 350 Climate Action when over 350 Frockers pedalled for change, momentum built over the summer with events for Bike Wise Week.

Indeed, to prove that bicycles are a year-round transport mode, the Frockers are now geeing up would-be riders for the winter.

Tomorrow will see an evening of Cycle Style at, fittingly enough, former New Zealand Fashion Week venue Shed One.

The event is inspired by similar get-togethers held in Santa Barbara, California and Dublin, Ireland.

"We held an impromptu Try My Bike event for Bike Wise Week on the North Shore in March and had over 80 women who hadn't ridden bikes before. It was a great evening, people loved trying [the bikes] out, [and] we gave practical skills lessons for beginners," says Coom.

"It [attracted] women of all ages and sizes. Some of them have since gone on and bought a bike."

Tomorrow's bigger, better show will display the most beautiful bikes a girl could desire, accessories, safety gear, and, most importantly a fashion parade of real fashion biking gear (no Lycra here - well, none visible, anyway).

Cycling divas (and some handsome dudes) will be on hand to let visitors try bikes, give out prizes for best winter cycling looks, and handy tips.

"Because my bike is so good-looking I have to look good on my bike," says Coom.

"I don't think about what I can wear on it because [most of] my clothes I can wear on my bike. I'm not much of a stiletto girl, but there are not many shoes I can't wear on my bike - apart from jandals."

In fact, Coom - and more scientific researchers - have observed that drivers will slow down and take care not to hit cyclists who are well-dressed.

Coom and the other Frockers, including Barbara Cuthbert from Cycle Action Auckland, have rounded up a cool mix of cycling stylistas.

Only one of them, men's retro brand Derny (from Solo Clothing) is truly cycling gear, the others are just designers who understand that in order to get people riding everyday, they need to have everyday clothes they can ride in.

Coom's favourite local Grey Lynn store, Dalston, will be showing a mix of their vintage-style cool skirts, jackets and dresses at Cycle Style. Co-designer and owner Julie Clark lived in London for 15 years, returning four years ago and opening Dalston with Monique Jarvis two years ago.

The pair worked at Chlorophile in its Ponsonby heyday, then Jarvis did a stint at Zambesi, while Clark sold her Jclark label at Spitalfields and Portobello Markets and Southbank in London - which goes some way to explain their charming London edgy it-girl-meets-Miss-Marple aesthetic.

The pair will be showing tweed skirts and boiled wool jackets (the Princess nips in the waist for a very flattering around-town silhouette), and the best stretch denim skirt that allows you to hop on and off a bike with ease.

They resolutely put in colour and even have a soft spot for Liberty prints. The underlying theme is that each piece is designed so the wearer can move easily from bike to office to cafe with the addition of only a helmet.

Also on show will be pieces from Christchurch's Chalkydigits (which is also sold in Dalston). The 10-year-old "adventure" brand started by Liz Collins was born from the snowboarder and rock climber's search for stylish active wear.

She put on her graphic designer's hat to create a website, a brand (inspired by the chalk climbers use to keep their grip), and slept in her car when she went to Christchurch to work with cutters and manufactures to create the range.

The brand today is about "a range for everything in your day that you want to do," says one of the six Chalkydigits crew, Teresa Scott.

"We've gone a bit more fashion as our customers demanded. Some of us are mountain bikers, but four of the six of us commute on bikes, the rest are weekend riders."

Chalkydigits plans to show woollen skirts with movement, crisp jackets and knee-length shorts. The range is in determinedly muted charcoals - there's no fluro in sight here.

The third brand in the show, Rose McLeod's Upcycle, could not be further from active and outdoorsy. McLeod's has spent 25 years as a quilter and fibre artist (she trained in New York), but four years ago she began creating large scale installations in fibre and clay for her Master of Fine Arts at the University of Otago.

In the two years since she's moved back to Waiheke, she's been working with recycled materials, deconstructing and re-designing them into one-off pieces of clothing.

"I discovered beautiful tailoring when I was deconstructing a man out of my life. I found deconstructed jackets with their inner processing, the labels and workmanship. Deconstructing began as an art practice, but I needed to make a living. I reconstructed and redesigned clothes to sell - a cross between clothing as streetwear and wearable art."

McLeod now sells her clothing through a group at the Waiheke Art Centre (others in Upcycle are making rugs and pillows out of coffee bags, and woven rugs out of rags).

Her bespoke garments are often made from favourite pieces clients have kept for years because they love the fabric, but have never worn.

"One of my collections is of over-the-top large florals, another is a collection of tartans and plaids. I love that look which is a cross between Oxford University and the French Resistance."

McLeod is regretful that her cocker spaniel is not a bike basket-sized pet, so doesn't ride herself, but borrows Cuthbert's lei-strewn bike for propping up her bike-friendly designs.

Meanwhile, for the guys there is the menswear brand Derny - the dressed-up child of Paul Mason's 5-year-old Solo Clothing.

Here you will find slick items such as the trench jacket and cunningly-cut shirts designed for guys who want to wear the same gear on the bike and then out afterwards.

Derny clothing has all the details designed specifically not to annoy riders (right down to models who are genuine cyclists) but look good when you're not on your bike.

Coom's not-so-secret source is London's Bobbin Bicycles (billed as "the most beautiful bicycle shop in Great Britain").

Bobbin stocks extremely beautiful Copenhagen-style bikes which vie with stylish rain ponchos, tweed coats woven from high-visibility fibres, trenches with hidden (until you need to be seen) reflective qualities, and helmets that look like deer stalker caps or summer bucket hats (from Danish brand, Yakkay).

"Every sub-culture has its own fashion. I love to get dressed up and take my bike out - it doesn't limit me at all," says Coom.

ON YOUR BIKE

* Cycle Style, Shed One, 101 Halsey St, Viaduct Harbour from 6pm, Thursday July 1, 2010

* chalkydigits.co.nz

* dalston.co.nz

* dernyclothing.com

* Upcycle, courtyard of Waiheke Arts Centre, Oneroa

* The blog of Jenny Marshall aka Unity Finesmith is at aucklandcyclechic.blogspot.com

* See cyclingauckland.co.nz for trends

* Visit bobbinbicycles.co.uk

* For the world's most cynical commentator on bike "culture" check out bikesnobnyc.blogspot.com (who is systematically and mercilessly disassembling, flushing, greasing, and re-packing the cycling culture)

- NZ Herald

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