© Photo Lincoln Clarkes

The Beauty of Cycling

Cyclists are beautiful people according to Lincoln Clarkes. In his new book Cyclists the Canadian photographer spices up the bicycle with glamour and sexiness. His snapshots of cyclists in downtown Toronto are reminiscent of paparazzi pics and fashion photography, making the bicycle the ultimate vehicle for urban self-expression.

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Bicycles Are Getting Sexy

Windblown hair, parted lips, wafting dresses and toned bodies: The subjects in Lincoln Clarkes’ photo series Cyclists are looking good. Young, trim, stylish. Only rarely does a bike helmet – an omnipresence on Canadian roads – interfere with the carefully assembled outfits and if it does, be assured it matches the bicycle and clothing. Think skateboarder, not Tour de France.

The photos in Cyclists are not staged. Clarkes uses a candid camera, capturing the cyclists unawares, absorbed in their thoughts. But his choice of models and pictures sexually charges the act of cycling. Lots of skin, beautiful people, the nose of a bicycle seat peeks through naked thighs.

The book’s introduction underlines its voyeuristic tendencies: “Amidst the buzz of the traffic, you can drink in the minute details of their appearance, the shapely thigh or toned triceps, the razor-sharp cheekbone, the parted lips or dreamy expression, the carefully assembled outfit, tattoos and even the battle scars. With each turn of the page you can almost hear the rhythmic click of the bicycle wheels going round and feel the tantalizing breeze on your skin as the cyclists‘ seemingly effortless personification of youth and beauty passes you by, and they are gone…“

Beautiful people on vehicles have been staple fare in car advertising. But now that the auto industry seems to focus more on the curves of their cars‘ bodies, their green credentials and a digital media approach the good old bike is gaining in sex appeal. Bicycles have become status symbols and fashion accessories, representing style, youthfulness and social group. “Bicycle style is as plentiful and varied as shoe and hair style. It makes a statement of who we are, as in fashion“, Judith Tansley writes in Cyclists.

Merja Spott of the ADFC, a German bike advocacy group, agrees.“Every social group rides the bicycle that matches their lifestyle and represents affiliation with certain subcultures“, Spott has observed. “There are the serious athletes who ride upscale road or trekking bikes, the mountain bikers and BMXers who go in for great bike performance and equipment. Then you have the retro stylers who ride classic dutch bikes, vintage road bikes or pastel-colored city bikes with front baskets. For them, the bicycle tends to be more fashion statement than sports equipment. Cargo bikes are a favorite with young families and are increasingly used for festivals. Commuters appreciate folding bikes that they can take on the train. And finally there is the fixie trend [fixed-gear, single-speed bicycles, ed.], that urban cyclists adopted from American bike messengers.“ Spott, who describes herself as “more of a functional cyclist“ rides a black no name trekking bike with panniers.

Modern Means of Transport

“These bicycle trends are mainly a phenomenon of the big cities. But they tend to be the trendsetters, after all.“ Spott believes that rising gas prices, traffic jams and limited parking ultimately convince many urbanites to use bicycles instead of cars. “Plus, owning a car is losing in importance, while gadgets like computers and iPhones now increasingly represent style and status.“ (Recently, Inga Nandzik presented a similar argument in the 3SAT show “Nano“, as reported by Debut.)

So may the bicycle be the one vehicle that best suits the demands and aspirations of modern society? Cycling gives us the adrenalin rush we need in the morning when that right-turning car cuts us off. Inbetween, we can unwind, relax, brainstorm, try to catch that flash of genius. Cyclists move through the city faster, leaving behind rush-hour traffic and late busses. Their cheeks are rosier, their thighs firmer, their immune systems stronger that that of drivers and sardine-like transit passengers. Cyclists are independent. Every day they rediscover their city and take in the little details that others miss. That is how the cyclists portrayed in the Copenhagen blog Cycle Chic see it. “I don’t use other kinds of transport“, says Jesper whose stylish brown vintag leather bag perfectly matches his bike seat. “I feel free when I use my bike… I don’t like to wait for the bus.“ Or how Judith Tansley puts it in Cyclists: “…whether they seem relaxed and thoughtful or focused and full of purpose, these are all contenders, people who seem to be going places.“

Cycling as a way of life seems to be more popular than ever. The two photographers behind We Are Traffic are also in the process of publishing a book on cyclists – made possible by successful crowdfunding. The Hamburg-based photo blog’s concept is similar to Lincoln Clarkes. Here, too, the cyclists are “personalities“, but the spotlight is on the vehicle that the photographers like to shoot on improbable locations like train tracks or canal ladders. Close-ups of bells, wheels and pedals revel in bicycle aesthetics.

The pioneers of bicycle style were the Copenhageners, of course. Their blog Cycle Chic, celebrated by the British Guardian as “the Sartorialist on two wheels“, has been featuring the city’s classiest cyclists since 2006. Today more than 100 Cycle Chic blogs are online spanning the world of urban cycling from Budapest to Tokio. A Cycle Chic book was published last year, the online store offers trendy bags, bells and other accessories for the modern cyclist.

Velo – 2nd Gear is the second book on bicycle style by Berlin-based publishing house Gestalten Verlag. Published in January of this year, it showcases the different urban bicycle scenes. “It… explains how each bike-related scene cultivates its own distinct codes through the choice of certain frames, jerseys, caps, or bags or by visiting specific events or key establishments.“

But the rise of the bicycle seems to be more than a fad. Lincoln Clarkes views his series of photographs as “a subtle protest against the petro-chemical and automobile industries. An overdose of advertising has been glamorizing cars for decades, convincing us of their must-have status, but this attitude feels tiresome and outdated in the light of the environmental situation that engulfs our planet today… By contrast, there is a new wave of cycling that is of tsunami proportions, not just for leisure and pleasure, but for the need to be able to travel in a civilized and sensible way in the modern world.“