Riding Pretty

Would you rather die than tuck your trousers into your socks? SWYN HAF investigates cycle chic.

beehive bike cycling English Faculty helmet Homerton jodhpurs Kelly Brook reflectives style tuck vanity

Cambridge is definitely the weirdest place in the world and that’s mainly due to all the cycling. With this in mind, I made it my project to look into the recurring issue of juggling safety and comfort on the bicycle whilst looking remotely normal. I think nothing of clanking into town on an old grey boy’s mountain bike with a wonky basket, my trousers tucked into my boyfriend’s stripy socks, a bright pink flowery helmet perched on my head, college scarf wrapped around my face and leopard-print sunglasses perched on my nose.  I draw the line at a high-vis jacket though. 

I caught sight of myself in a shop window the other day and I swear I would have thought I looked totally presentable if another (really pretty city) bike hadn’t swished past, the cyclist wearing a little summer dress and one of those kirby-grip heavy beehive hairstyles you can usually spot around the English faculty or the catwalks.  Sad times for me.  But this got me thinking: am I the minority, or is she?

I swear no-one gives me any weird looks at the bike racks in the morning.  Maybe it’s a Homerton thing?  We have to cycle over the railway bridge so we don’t care what we look like, maybe?  (Ok, slightly tenuous, but this isn’t an essay.)  Besides, you can ask a given Homerton student if they wear a helmet, for example, and don’t be surprised if they don’t.  Not that we’re some hugely thrill-seeking bunch, but four of my female, cycling friends at Homerton admitted that they would be embarrassed to wear one.  My one friend who does wear a helmet admitted that she used to blank people at traffic lights or coming towards her along cycle paths in the hope that they wouldn’t recognise her (she’s given up now – she’s the girl with the silver helmet.  Sigh.) 

I will personally admit that I had to be emotionally blackmailed by my sister into wearing one.  It’s just not the right accessory for walking into a restaurant/formal/general social situation.  And it’s true what a friend of mine who doesn’t even need to cross the railway bridge (and therefore doesn’t even really need a bike, not that I’m bitter) says: a helmet ruins the hairstyle.  On balance though, falling off your bike would probably ruin your head.  For any boys who are considering making the purchase, apparently you lot get embarrassed about it too, 'unless it’s an aerodynamic one'. 

The next thing that probably detracts from my cycling image is probably the whole socks tucked into trousers thing.  It’s just practical, ok?  Besides, I’d probably look weirder rocking up to a supervision in shredded jeans.  I’m happy to inform you that almost half of my panel felt the same way.  Those that didn’t, though, were fairly vehement.  They responded with 'never, never, never,' 'never again' (why, what happened?) and the slightly bizarre 'the only trousers I own are jodhpurs' (don’t worry, that was from a girl).  Strangely enough, only one boy admitted to it (tucking trousers into socks, not owning jodhpurs). 

Furthermore, before you go making up your mind on the 'to tuck or not to tuck' issue, I feel obliged to tell you that the most vehement opposer also doesn’t wear a coat when she’s cycling.  Is perpetual flu really a reasonable price to pay for not being red and sweaty for the first five minutes (alright, maybe fifteen) of a lecture?  As another respondent pointed out, 'it’s not like you have to look at yourself looking shit'.

Moving on.  The one saving grace of my cycling style is that I don’t do reflectives. And apparently people 'would definitely be embarrassed' to do so (apart from the token exception who actually does do so).  So that little bit of vanity of mine is excusable, I think.

Even so, my research into other people’s cycling habits has brought it home to me – most people make some kind of concession towards their self-image when they cycle.  And a good few people find cycling beneficial to their self-image.  We could all do with taking a leaf out of their book, I guess.  It would be a better start to the day if I got on my bike thinking 'I love cycling and am damn proud of it!' as opposed to 'I hate cycling and hope no-one see me trying to haul myself up that massive hill (read: railway bridge).'  Besides, it’s true that 'cycling is the best and quickest way to get most places in Cambridge.' 

Still, that doesn’t change the fact that only on a bike can you cycle over your own foot (this wasn’t me, I promise).  Only on a bike can the chain come off, leaving you sprawled on the pavement whilst all your mates go gunning past (that was obviously not me either – I don’t have “mates”, I’m a girl.)  Only on a bike can the basket just leap out of its bracket, showering bits of grammar homework and essay all over the road (ok, that was me).  And only in Cambridge would we all keep doing it anyway.