The Genteel
April 17, 2021


Source: Franz-Michael S. Mellbin and

Statement pieces are attention drawing, personality revealing and envy inducing. They can be seasonal or timeless; intricate or simple and, more often than not, there are only a few in circulation. What's special about a statement piece is that it serves as an identity stamp, often speaking volumes about the wearer. The statement piece du jour is not limited to a pair of shoes, a handbag or a piece of jewellery; bicycles are hot statements for both the rider and the city in which they are ridden.

The bicycle's purpose and its target consumer have evolved throughout history. From leisure and entertainment, to transporting troops during WWI and WWII, the bicycle has been a vehicle for enjoyment, competition and, in some instances, survival. One thing that hasn't changed is the collective enthusiasm people have for them.

A bicycle is a very public expression of a customer's aesthetics and way of interacting with the world.

The Draisine, known affectionately as the "hobbyhorse" (a bicycle without pedals created in early 19th century) left people in awe, and once pedals were incorporated, true "velocipedomania" began. Years later, tricycles dominated the market, with 350 different models available to the public with custom wheel configurations, steering, transmission and braking systems. Bicycles were for everyone - men, women, young, old, rich, poor - and cycling was an activity enjoyed by singles, couples and families.

After its introduction, many - such as Willard Sawyer, Pierre Michaux and James Starley experimented with perfecting the bicycle, with comfort and safety being their highest priorities. The design of the bicycle design not only mirrored societal needs for transportation, entertainment and sport, but was also the fundamental propeller to its success. 

Overtime, the bicycle migrated from a trend, an in-the-moment desire, to eternal style. Today, the bicycle has been incorporated into modern culture and streets-cape. Our cities are filled with the bicycle "ding" and flashing colours of the two-wheel "cool." While many developing countries still favour the bicycle out of necessity, in some of the world's liveliest cities - think Paris, Amsterdam and San Francisco - citizens are choosing to embrace and encourage a structure and lifestyle oriented around the presence of bicycles.

Rob Forbes, founder of Design Within Reach and PUBLIC bicycles, a company with a progressive platform on design and urban living, says: "We [PUBLIC] think the bicycle is a good indicator of whether a community has made its public spaces more attractive and friendly to people," adding, "The quality and usage of our public spaces is the measure of the success of our democracy." 

In order to boom in a cosmopolitan environment, the product has to be as variabled and advanced; bicycles are ridden by a variety of people and its design must reflect such diversity. Acknowledging this, Forbes notes that PUBLIC bicycles are designed for "all kinds of people"; the bicycles come in multiple speeds, various sizes and array of eye-catching colours. PUBLIC bicycles are very chic but it emphasises that the design of a bicycle goes beyond function. The bicycle's significance also lies in its beauty: "A bicycle is a very public expression of a customer's aesthetics and way of interacting with the world," declares Forbes. A bicycle's "look" communicates a person's visual identity. In other words: a bicycle can make or break an outfit.

Source: The Sartorialist.

The second annual New Amsterdam Bicycle Show held in New York City at the end of April, exhibited the industry's most beautiful rides. Interestingly, the bicycles on display and on the runway were paired with carefully curated and styled outfits. Fashion designers focusing on cyclist-friendly clothing also showed off their products. As it happens, there seems to be a handful of brands specialising in re-designing and re-purposing clothing for urban cyclists. 

We-Flashy, one of the exhibitors at the show, is a reflective clothing company for "modern times" and modern cyclists. Vega, a clothing brand designed by Canadian Angella Mackey, creates coats that "help you navigate the city." Based in Sweden, Vega coats can cost as much as 609 Euros, like the urban chic Swift design. Although these statement pieces don't need to be accessorised, helmets are highly encouraged. YAKKAY, located in Denmark, designs helmets with a cover - essentially, hats of all colours and styles that complement you and your bicycle's personality. The existence of fashion sensible bicycle wear is indicative of our culture's emphasis on visual communication, specifically to personal identity.

And, the fashion of the bicycle isn't limited to the outdoors. These statement pieces can be found inside homes for decorating purposes. Whether a framed vintage Raleigh print, a storage/bookshelf unit as popularised by Knife & Saw, or a creative vanity and sink, bicycles are increasingly being incorporated stylistically into our lives. Forbes praises the innate artistic inspiration of the bicycle: "The bike itself is such an elegant and iconic form that lends itself so well to abstraction and play. When the two [Art & Bicycle] collide magical things can happen."

While we love to indulge in the superficial novelties that make the bicycle such a playful commodity, this statement piece has a key role to play beyond our own social identity. The rise of the bicycle plays an important role in our social culture and its importance in the urban-scape is indicative of our evolving city structures. Forbes elaborates: "Our [PUBLIC's] vision is that more of our urban streets and sidewalks get reclaimed for walking and biking, and that our public spaces are developed for better human interaction and conversation." A bicycle, then, is not simply a fashion statement; it is also a statement of a city's communal success. But success still ought to be celebrated in style. 




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