There was a good turnout at the monthly meeting on 2nd March, with, as hoped, more women than usual to hear Amy Fleuriot of Cyclodelic, producer of stylish clothes and accessories for female cyclists. She stated that she had only begun cycling in 2006. She described how, as a student at the London College of Fashion, she had found public transport so frustrating that she’d taken to walking the four miles to college, before getting her father to dig out an old family bike and teach her how to fix a puncture. There’d been no cycling role models and her peer group had thought cycling was dirty, dangerous and mad. They would all take the tube, even for what turned out to be a three-minute walk!
It didn’t take long for Amy to get fed up with waiting for public transport-users, even though night-time cycling required large amounts of ugly high-viz gear – as she demonstrated with a hilarious picture of herself, unrecognisable as she was enveloped in the stuff. One of the themes of her talk was the importance of girls’ peer groups, and indeed it wasn’t long before her flatmates and friends were getting bikes and gaining their independence. Sadly, a recent survey indicates that only 2% of women cycle every day, and 79% of women in the UK never cycle at all, although in Cambridge we have a 55/45 split between male and female cyclists. The survey also revealed reasons putting women off cycling such as helmet hair, sweatiness and not wanting to be seen coming out of the showers at work. These perceptions are strongest in the 18-34 age group, but older women share them too.
About four years ago Stella McCartney began producing sportswear, but only for jogging, tennis etc., not for cycling; the late great Alexander McQueen did a similar range for Puma, and even Karl Lagerfeld produced stylish motorcycle helmets! While Amy has nothing against lycra for long weekend rides, she feels that people are still scarred by the 1980s lycra-clad image of cyclists – however she is inspired by photos in magazines such as The Lady Cyclist (published for about ten years in the late 19th century), with adverts for Jaeger bloomers and the like.
Similarly, at the end of the 20th century cycle shops became unfriendly to women, focusing on male sports riders, unlike the end of the 19th century when bike shops even organised group lessons for women in Regents Park. She was also inspired by Evelyn Hamilton, who cycled 100 miles a day for 100 successive days in the 1930s! Nowadays the Sartorialist blog (http://thesartorialist.blogspot.com), perhaps the fifth most popular fashion blog worldwide, shows photos of normal people on the street, often with bikes. The Guardian newspaper calls another website: Copenhagen Cycling Chic (www.copenhagencycle.chic.com) ‘the Sartorialist on two wheels’.
Having begun to produce Cyclodelic accessories for female cyclists, Amy worked on the 2009 Cycle Show, and played us three video interviews she’d made with women as part of her research – they all agreed on the need for smaller, friendlier bike shops, ideally with a café. The Cycle Show traditionally featured a very laddish fashion show, with models in lycra and high heels! Amy was asked to make it more female-friendly and ended up giving it a thorough overhaul, with a different focus each day, including sporting heroines on the Saturday, such as Victoria Pendleton and BMX champion Shanaze Reade.
Amy has also worked on Fashion2Ride (with Sustrans, who were quick to catch on to the need to get girls cycling), working with schoolgirls to design and make their ideal cycling gear and also do cycle training (with the very popular Rollerpalooza, two people competing side by side on bikes on rollers); Prêt à Rouler (with Wayne Hemingway, perhaps Britain’s leading cycling fashion designer – the prize was somehow won by a boy!); the Brighton Safer Roads project, which required a lot of unstylish highviz material as Brighton is apparently poorly lit; and Wheels and Heels, with Hackney borough, which became an official London Fashion Week event. Columbia Street was closed and became a catwalk for models on bikes, with around 1,000 spectators. Cambridge’s own (temporarily) Lily Cole is of course a model cyclist, or at least a cycling model – when her bike was stolen recently, she was apparently most upset by the fact that her cute wicker basket had been torn off and thrown to the ground. Amy led a project in Colchester with a score of 13- and 14-year-old girls modelling on bikes, and again baskets were a major feature!
Cyclodelic’s big breakthrough came when they got into TopShop, having thought that one successful window display would lead to TopShop doing cycle fashion themselves but badly. Her ‘Bicycle bling for geared up girls’ had a major media impact, even including an appearance on Alan Titchmarsh’s show!
Of course, the bicycles themselves are just as important as the clothing, potentially becoming status symbols for young people who can’t aspire to a sports car – she herself has fallen in love with fixed-gear bikes, and loves her customised golden Raleigh Caprice (although she does have a more normal everyday bike with mudguards).
During questions, Jim Chisholm mentioned the girl in last month’s film about the Darlington project who said she could cycle in heels more easily than she could walk in them; Power Straps (available locally from D-Tek) and cable ties were mentioned as good ways to attach awkward shoes to pedals. When older female members of the audience asked if she was going to design for them, Amy responded enthusiastically by inviting them to tell her what they wanted.
Simon Nuttall asked if she had plans to open Cyclodelic bikeshops and indeed this is likely, starting with a couple of pop-up outlets this year; Amy recommended a friendly female-run shop/café on Hackney’s Broadway Market (Lock-7, 129 Pritchards Rd; www.lock-7.com).
All in all, this was an impressive talk by someone who’s as interested in getting girls cycling as she is in building a business. Her viewpoint is one that’s not heard often enough in cycling circles, but she may have the key to getting the missing half of the populace onto two wheels.
Tim Burford and Sally Guyer