I am a frock cyclist. If I have to get changed to use my bike, I am unlikely to bother. I am actually more likely to cycle when I am dressed up, because I can wear heels and not have to walk far to the door of my office! Also, the cool breeze created by biking helps keep me cooler and drier than the best deodorant.
Until recently, I used a dark gold-ish folding bike, with a nice low bar and a much higher seat, and decent mudguards. This meant I could wear quite long skirts and never get them stuck in the brakes. It was also quite retro and cool looking so I got lots of nice comments about my ‘nice ride’. Being a folding bike, I could ride it in then fold it up and take it home in the back of the car if my husband came in to pick me up. The main reason for a folding bike was because in Sydney, you have to buy a ticket for your bike during rush hour — but not if it folded! Also, my friend gave it to me for free. I also don’t like to spend much money on my bikes.
The main problem with my folding bike was the small wheels and is thus much slower and harder work to pedal than your average bike (this is why my friend gave it to me!). Most of the time I was using it to go to and from work and with my daughter to school, and since her bike has small wheels too, it wasn’t really a problem until recently. But then last year, I signed up for the Christchurch Women’s Triathlon, and decided my folding bike just wasn’t going to cut it for a 10 or 20 kilometre bike ride in race conditions!
Fortunately, my husband found a bike on the side of the road, in a pile of other furniture and cast-offs. The owner of the bike was moving house and said we could just take it. The brake cables were totally rusted and one of the wheels was buckled, but my hubby assured me he could fix that. It is cheapish Repco white boring bike, with a women’s frame (important for skirts!!). After he did it up for me, and changed the seat to my cushy folding bike seat (I could NOT handle the cheap seat…), the difference in speed was amazing.
And a whole new world opened up for me and transport. My middle daughter recently started preschool near my work and I was loath to start driving in just for her. So I scoured trademe and discovered a neat bike trailer for two kids, for just $82 (!). My new ride was big and strong enough to tow the two-seater trailer, and I could take the 4-year-old and the baby on the days my husband had the car.
Now I dress for work, in heels skirt and suit jacket sometimes, and load my bags and my 4-year-old into the bike trailer. My older daughter scoots or cycles and we make a pretty party on our way to school and work.
Having a bike trailer really highlights how badly our footpaths are managed in Christchurch — I would hate to be the woman in the electric wheelchair who regularly has to wheel between campuses of the University. We stick to the footpath on busy streets, but then it is so hard to find places to cross the road. Also I have found almost all the cycle paths have posts in the middle of them (presumably to dissuade hooligans in minis from using them as roads) which are placed extremely inconveniently for those of us towing trailers. I have already scraped up my bike trailer on one, and got stuck in a gate coming off the cycle path in Ilam fields!
Occasionally I have to hold up traffic on the road, where there are no cycle lanes and the footpaths are full of construction or road workers signs and equipment. Sometimes I get off and move their signs or fencing!
Despite the challenges, I think it is important to keep cycling in frocks/normal clothes, and with kids. This is because the more visible we are as normal people on cycles — people with jobs, children and vintage frocks (rather than ‘cyclists’ in Lycra, going the same speed as a car), the more likely other road users are to share the road with us. Even the term ‘cyclist’ has been shown to be rather unhelpful, and it is more useful to say ‘people riding bikes’ and ‘people driving cars’ as per this article. Creating a culture of casual cycling is one way to get away from the poisonous car culture we have let ourselves develop. And thus there is a whole movement out there in NZ called ‘Frocks on Bikes’. committed to creating a cycling culture where you can wear what you want, cycle where you want, and at whatever pace you want. I am going to check it out.