Thursday, July 23, 2009

Bikes as Fashion Accessories

Now that Urban Outfitters is selling $300, customized bikes with flip flop hubs (which means they can be fixies or single speeds), I think we can safely say bicycling has reached a sort of apex in the fashion cycle.
In my studies of fashion, art, subculture, and other fields of production, it has been clear that the aesthetic trumps the functional (unless, of course, the aesthetic is functionality!) in the end. What is built into these products is more consumable than sustainable. Is it different now that bikes are fashionable again? Can bicycling survive its embrace by fad generators such as Urban Outfitters?
Surely there's something more to riding a bike than looking cool, at least for a lot of us. The embodied experience of moving through space fast, propelled by one's own feet, wind whipping the face; it's not just a trendy thing. The look is, however, very important to a lot of riders. Many eschew helmets, despite the evidence that they protect heads pretty well, simply because they look uncool.
So what I sometimes imagine happening is that bikes will go from being a sort of underground, in-the-know device to being wildly popular among teeny boppers and Miley Cyrus and whatnot. Based on Pierre Bourdieu's explication of cultural fields, we should expect that this popularization will drive the OG bicyclists back into their cars, or onto buses, or something to escape being associated with the now overexposed bicycling trend. But isn't this case different? Bike advocates want bicycling to become popular, and not for the same reasons that an artist might want her work to get recognized, or a DIY designer might want her fanny packs to get mass produced at Target. The gain, the profit of bicycling to advocates is social. The more people we get on bikes, the better our cities and our sociality becomes. There certainly is an industry of bicycling that benefits from increased ridership, but there are also legions of bike enthusiasts who write magazines, blogs (ahem), and books about how great biking is.
Will the bike movement grow stronger as bike fashion gets more popular?