KT's Life Story, Cycle Chic and the Bike Bechdel Test

One of my most favorite discussions, women and biking, has come to the podium again. Elly Blue has written an article in which she lays out criteria for the Bike Test, modeled after the film industry's Bechdel Test. I couldn't be more pleased. Like Madonna and Lady Gaga, I'm one of those people who believe that any kind of PR is good PR: if it gets people to start talking about the subject more, then that's a good thing. Which is why, four and a half years ago, I was inspired by Cycle Chic and Mikael Colville Andersen to start this very blog about women, street fashion and the bicycle.

Quite serendipitously since Cycle Chic hit the streets and the blogosphere, many good things have taken flight: 1) more bike blogs by women (and men), 2) more women and men in North America using the bicycle for every day transportation, and 3) more types of bikes on the streets. Whether or not this can be attributed to Cycle Chic or not is highly debatable. Many MANY factors contribute to the rise of cycling as a real form of transportation (rise in gas prices, awareness of climate change and the desire to "go green"), but the Cycle Chic phenomenon cannot be overlooked as a factor. My own self included, many women were inspired and empowered by seeing other women wearing fashionable clothing while riding European style bicycles to work and play, and they decided to get their own bikes and join the movement.

Let me tell you my own story as an example. I'm going to start from the beginning. My whole life, I have always loved the bicycle. I used to have a yellow Schwinn with a banana seat when I was a kid. When I was a teenager, I graduated to a mountain bike. It was the trendy thing to do as I lived in Marin County. I used to ride everywhere - to work, to visit friends, to play, to exercise. (I never wore a helmet either.)

I brought the bike to college in San Diego and when I lived off campus, I used to ride my bike to school, until it got stolen when I left it parked overnight during finals. I inherited another mountain bike from a friend of mine, and was more careful with it. I kept that bike through grad school and beyond. It came with me when I moved to Los Angeles. I never bike-commuted to work because I worked at night and I lived too far away from my office. I did, however, ride it around my neighborhood to yoga, farmers' markets and cafés to meet friends. When I decided to move back to the Bay Area in 2006, I gave the bike to my friend who helped me move out of my Silver Lake apartment.

Back in the Bay Area, I lived in West Marin for a year and a half. Again, the job I ended up with prevented me from biking to and from work. It was a night job, or should I say THEY were night jobs. I had three of them, and all of them started at 5 pm and ended at 2 am, and some of them were over 32 miles away from home, over bridges with no bike lane. So I bought a new bike that I would enjoy during the day. I got a road bike, with clipless pedals even, and I wore a helmet, lycra shorts, butt pads and cycle jerseys when I rode this bike through redwood forests, along streams, past reservoirs and pastures, and I did this for about 2 - 3 hours every single day. On weekdays, in one of the most beautiful counties in California, I literally got high riding my bike. And on weekends, I rode this same road bike to and from San Francisco to party and stay with my friends and enjoy my singlehood. This road bike, belovedly named Beurre et Sucre, is one of my very favorites. Every time I saddle up, happiness and exhilaration ensue.

I moved from West Marin to San Francisco in 2007, and for many reasons, it was clear that the Beurre et Sucre was not an ideal everyday bike for The City. This is when Cycle Chic comes in. On New Year's Eve, my friend and co-founder of Vélo Vogue, Lilia, invited me to a Cyclecide party at the Junkyard. I didn't feel comfortable riding my road bike with clipless pedals in my New Year's outfit and high heels to the party across town. I couldn't blend fashion with my bicycle. I remember her words to me on that night to this day: "But Kristin, bicycle IS fashion." I ended up taking the bus, but I also had one of the most memorable riding double experiences on the way home on the back of a boy's bike at 4 o'clock in the morning that I will take to my grave.

Shortly after that night, in fact in February of 2008, Lilia sent me a link to Cycle Chic. I immediately related to its appeal. These gorgeous Scandinavian women rode bicycles wearing Christian Louboutins and I was sold. The next day, I took a photo of a stylish woman on a bicycle in San Francisco, and Vélo Vogue was born.

I also found a new-to-me bike on Craigslist - a Motobécane Mixte for $88 that I bought on Chinese New Year and instantly knew that it would be my new city bike. Le Rouge et Noir became my new ride, and my notion of cycling was redefined.

I am telling you my life story for the simple reason that I am not only a woman who rides a bicycle and writes a blog about it. I am also a woman who is an award-winning filmmaker. So the Bechdel Test is something that I feel very strongly about. HOWEVER, my film that currently is in festivals, Forms of Identification, might not pass the Bechdel Test. Even though it has all the ingredients of feminist quandary, from a purist's standpoint, it might fail. This is the very same reason that Vélo Vogue is independent of the Cycle Chic Republic. I do not subscribe to the Cycle Chic Manifesto. I also do not absolutely subscribe to the Bechdel Test as a filmmaker. Therefore, I cannot absolutely subscribe to the Bike Bechdel Test as a bike blogger. I support both the Test and the Manifesto wholeheartedly for their good intentions to inspire more realistic portrayals of women in film and more real women on bikes, respectively. I also think that both the Manifesto and the Test provide some people a framework within to operate. If you need these rules, then take the inspiration and ride on.

The Bike Bechdel Test, like the Cycle Chic Manifesto, both question today's norm, but in different ways. Since we still live in a democracy, we know that access to information and freedom of speech and expression are what makes it all possible. We need these different approaches to the movement to keep it healthy and diverse, so all kinds of women and all kinds of cyclists can not only find their place, but become empowered to go the extra mile and create and participate.

So, since I am a woman bike blogger and a woman filmmaker/mediamaker, here's what I vow to do with the new Bike Bechdel Test. I will subject all my posts about women and bikes to the following criteria in hopes that the content will spark dialogue that challenges the status quo and the definition of women and biking in the same way that Cycle Chic changed the game for me four years ago:

1. Are women present or represented at all?
2. Are the women presented as active subjects rather than passive objects?
3. If the gender were reversed, would the meaning stay more or less unchanged? (Or would the image become hilarious?)

My hope is that these criteria will lift the discussion to a new level on this blog and my peers' blogs, and inspire male and female bike bloggers to scrutinize their posts about women and cycling in a new light, and that this light will carry to bike manufacturers, bike shops, bike expos, bike clothing and accessory designers to rethink exactly what inspires real women to hop on a bike and what women really need to change the world.

Yes, I said it. Change The World.

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