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Don’t Judge Canada: Velo-City Global 2012 Vancouver 66

Mayor of Vancouver - Gregor Robertson

Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson – courtesy of Velo-City Global 2012

Dear World. When you come to Vancouver next March for Velo-City Global 2012, please don’t judge all of Canada by what you see in Vancouver. Not all of Canada requires a shower at their workplace in order to ride a bicycle. Not everyone in the Great White North wears skin-tight lycra clothing on their bicycles and requires extensive cycling gear.

I have nothing against people who wear “cycling gear”, but it just isn’t representative of a solid citizen bicycle culture when people are decked out in skin-tight bicycle gear. Cities with successful, established bicycle cultures will invariably feature regular people in regular clothes on everyday city bicycles.

Vancouver has made some great progress in various areas of sustainable development and bicycle infrastructure. But when I visit Vancouver, there seems to be a common belief that you can’t ride your bicycle to work if the office doesn’t have a shower or indoor parking.

Perhaps this belief comes from the fact that it often rains in Vancouver and people believe that extensive gear is required to ride in the rain (not true). Or perhaps it’s a side effect of the mandatory all-ages helmet law that was enacted by the Province of British Columbia in 1995 – “if we are required to wear a helmet, we might as well wear all the other gear too”.

That gear-crazed cycling culture that I have seen in Vancouver is starkly evident in the upcoming Velo-City Global 2012 Conference preview video. The spokesperson in the video is Skip Swain – Vice President of Sales from Norco Products Ltd.

Velo-City Global 2012’s first mistake was to ask someone who sells bicycle accessories to create a promo video for a Velo-City conference. Skip was dressed as if headed for an off-road mountain bike excursion while he was promoting Velo-City Global 2012 as “the premier conference on commuter cycling”.

Promoting your city as a great cycling city requires highlighting people who are using bicycles in their regular clothes. People who are considering using their bicycles for transportation want to see people they can relate to. The average office worker can’t relate to someone who wears full-on “cycle gear”.

Vancouver has failed miserably in marketing bicycles to everyday people in this Velo-City Global 2012 promo film.

Velo-City Global 2012 Vancouver

Video courtesy of Velo-City Global 2012

Skip goes on to interview various “cyclist commuters” and a “cycling enthusiast” to talk about how great Vancouver is for bicycling. The interviews seem scripted and cheesy. To spare you the torture of watching this video, I took a few snapshots of Skip’s interviewees.

Velo-City Global 2012 Vancouver

Video courtesy of Velo-City Global 2012

Velo-City Global 2012 Vancouver

Video courtesy of Velo-City Global 2012

Velo-City Global 2012 Vancouver

Video courtesy of Velo-City Global 2012

Velo-City Global 2012 Vancouver

Video courtesy of Velo-City Global 2012

Velo-City Global 2012 Vancouver

Video courtesy of Velo-City Global 2012

The first interviewee in this video wearing regular clothes didn’t come until 3:34 in the video. Thank you Peter Judd – a City of Vancouver Engineer – for representing regular everyday citizen bicyclists all over Canada:

Velo-City Global 2012 Vancouver

Video courtesy of Velo-City Global 2012

The promotional video for the 2011 Velo-City Global Conference in Seville, Spain was much different than Vancouver’s disaster of a film. It features regular everyday people on bicycles. Here are a few snapshots from that preview video:

Velo-City Global 2011 - Seville, Spain

Video courtesy of Velo-City Global 2011

Velo-City Global 2011 - Seville, Spain

Video courtesy of Velo-City Global 2011

Velo-City Global 2011 - Seville, Spain

Video courtesy of Velo-City Global 2011

Velo-City Global 2011 - Seville, Spain

Video courtesy of Velo-City Global 2011

Even better is the Copenhagen Velo-City Global 2010 preview video – or similarly, Mikael’s brilliant “City of Cyclists” music video.

The purpose of the Velo-City Global conference is to bring together the leaders who are shaping our future cities by introducing bicycles to the urban landscape, as well as to promote the progress made in the host city.

Vancouver has failed miserably at promoting bicycles as a means of transportation and at promoting Vancouver as a great place for using bicycles. Perhaps they should have sent the cameras to Toronto to film everyday people on bicycles:

Bicycle Rush hour in Toronto

Photo of Toronto rush hour by James Schwartz / The Urban Country

In Vancouver’s defense, they created the film in February, so it wasn’t exactly “prime weather” for people in regular clothes. But they still could have done much better.

Vancouver has just 11 months remaining to redeem itself before the conference arrives. I hope they put a bit more thought into the next Velo-City Global 2012 promo film.

And if there truly are no bicyclists in Vancouver wearing regular clothes, then I hope the visiting delegates that attend Velo-City Global 2012 will teach Vancouver what it takes to establish a true bicycle culture featuring everyday people in their regular clothes.

Thanks Mike from Luxembourg for asking for my thoughts on the Velo-City 2012 feature video a few weeks ago. This topic was also covered by our friend Ryan over at The City Cyclist.

James D. Schwartz is the editor of The Urban Country. You can contact James at james.schwartz@theurbancountry.com

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  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17076340455568742581 Mandy

    “And if there truly are no bicyclists in Vancouver wearing regular clothes…”

    We’re here. In not insignificant numbers. Just generally ignored by the media and under-represented in the blogosphere.

    I agree with many of your comments on this video (and am doubly disappointed in such a missed opportunity, being a Vancouverite myself). I admit to being very surprised the first time I watched it, as it sounds so earnest but doesn’t do justice to Vancouver’s actual (vibrant, varied, *shifting*) cycling culture. Yes, there’s plenty of lycra and yellow raincoats, but that’s by no means representative of everyone.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16828401001732920598 Paul Martin

    I thought exactly the same when I saw it, James.

    We have a local conference here – The Asia-Pacific Cycle Congress.

    Note how the logo for the conference is a bicycle helmet! Australia has a low way to go!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16828401001732920598 Paul Martin

    …that should have read ‘long way to go…’

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05483219429357988683 johnrawlins

    Yes, there is an interesting contrast between the Seville and Vancouver videos. The Vancouver video shows people ‘biking’, whereas the Spanish video shows lots of people getting around on bikes. Not quite the same thing.

    I live in Spain and I can confirm that if Spanish women were obliged to mess up their hair everyday by wearing a helmet then 99.9% would abandon biking forever.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13299453772790771792 Henry

    I feel like I could have shot a better video…..

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13299453772790771792 Henry

    Also, written a better website for them…..is this 2001?

  • http://cecily.myopenid.com/ cecily

    I’m glad you brought this up, but I didn’t notice it to the degree you did. They look like your average, every day Vancouver commuters, whether they travel by bike, car, or transit. Vancouver’s just a sporting gear kind of town. There’s a reason MEC is one of the top retailers, because that seems to be the Vancouver aesthetic. Folks here like to look outdoorsy even when they’re not engaging in outdoorsy activities.

    But on the other hand, when I saw this, I could see just how much an anomaly I am in this city.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16066661430057952612 Chris Keam

    It would have been more informative for the readers of this blog if the author had chosen to contact the conference organizers for some background on the video and taken a closer look at the people in the video. Like many sensible cyclists in general, and in the video, Skip dressed appropriately for a full day of cycling all over town on a winter day. Sad to see a cycling commentator falling into the same trap as the rest of society, by judging people and their lifestyle choices by their clothing.

    Chris Keam
    (Please note I am a member of the organizing committee for Velo-city 2012)

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16066661430057952612 Chris Keam

    Interesting to note that just a week ago Mr Schwartz posts an article suggesting rain pants (MEC no less if the pic is indicative!) are an appropriate response to inclement weather.

    How about we let Vancouver’s cyclists choose for themselves instead of delivering fashion sermons from Toronto?

    http://www.theurbancountry.com/2011/04/simple-tips-making-bicycling-in-rain.html

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/18235513785018726474 PaddyAnne

    As another Vancouverite, I agree with some things both Chris AND Cecily are saying… But isn’t the point, right now, just to get more people out on bikes, 7 days a week, 12 months of the year? I don’t know if time should be taken to put down another cyclists who are out riding, when we are trying to up the numbers? I see great varieties of dress everyday – there is no real rule on dress as remember, this is Vancouver!, but to me, what people wear is second (or even 3rd or 4th) down on the list from just seeing other cyclists out riding. I’m not sure we are at a point where we have the luxury to care about what people wear, lets just get people out on bikes.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04454437680686627778 James D. Schwartz

    Chris, thanks for taking the time to comment here. This article isn’t to provide fashion tips for Vancouver bike commuters, it’s more to provide marketing tips for creating a promo video on an international bicycle commuter conference.

    Vancouver cyclists have every right to dress however they feel they should dress.

    But do you want to promote bicycling as something that requires extensive gear? That’s one of the main barriers to cycling – people are overwhelmed with the perception that they need extensive gear.

    I covered this in my article about Bicycling in the winter: http://www.theurbancountry.com/2010/11/bicycling-in-winter.html

    I’m also glad that you pointed out my recent article on riding in the rain. I ride my bicycle year-round, and I always wear the same clothes that I would have worn if I was walking outside. However, there are a couple simple items that can make riding in the rain more comfortable.

    The photo in that article is a photo of me in my regular work clothes after riding home in the rain (complemented by a couple small pieces of gear to make the ride more comfortable). My minimalist approach is hardly intimidating to a prospective commuter bicyclist – especially compared to the Velo-City Global 2012 film.

    Nowhere in that article did I instruct anyone to buy every piece of cycling gear that MEC sells.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04454437680686627778 James D. Schwartz

    PaddyAnne, you make a great point. We should care more about getting more people out on bikes. And that’s exactly why I’m pointing out the flaws in this video from a marketing perspective.

    You want to market bicycling as something easy to do. Something that doesn’t require you to go out and spend $500 a MEC just to fit in. You should be able to hop on a bike in the exact same clothes you would be wearing if you were walking, taking transit, or perhaps even driving.

    That’s where this video has gone wrong. It is reinforcing the perception that you *need* all of this equipment just to ride a bicycle to work.

    I’m not criticizing these people’s decision to wear what they wear. I’m criticizing the way Vancouver is *selling* bicycling to the thousands of people who are so close to crossing over from driving a car or taking transit, to using a bicycle. I’m saying that this video will not do a single thing to encourage that person to start riding a bike.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04295732298288350821 Dave Krentz

    James, I’m a keen follower of your blog and share your devotion to cycling. I’m also a strong believer in lycra, clipless pedals and helmets and use my bikes as often as I can, year-round: for utility, for off-road and for on-road.

    When I’m waiting in line at the grocery store or cafe, I find that my “Tour de France escapee” look makes people open up and chat about cycling. When I’m out riding I help with broken down bikes; I cheerfully yield to peds; I stop and buy lemonade at roadside stands (kids think I’m Lance). As a green transportation researcher in Mississauga this lets me encourage people to drive less and bike, walk or bus more. They met a spandex warrior and he didn’t bite! In fact, he’s friendly, self-deprecating and plays nicely with others.

    So, even dressed like Rob Ford’s nightmare, I find that I’m lowering barriers, not erecting them. And if Canada ends up with another Ryder Hesjedal or Alison Sydor, maybe my Pearl jersey or Sidi bike shoes had something to do with it!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16066661430057952612 Chris Keam

    James:

    The primary audience for Velo-city Global 2012 are already cyclists. The biggest share of the attendees are the politicians and planners who make decisions regarding cycling infrastructure. That’s why those aspects of Vancouver’s cycling environment were given prominence in the video. As I mentioned in my earlier post, it would have been great if you had been in touch with the organizing committee before publishing the article, as I think you’ve viewed the video with an incorrect assumption regarding the audience and the intended message. It would have been great to address your comments and concerns in the more traditional journalistic tradition where the group being criticized has a chance to respond to concerns and dispel any misconceptions before publishing.

    You are of course entitled to your opinion and it’s your blog to present however you see fit, but when I watch the video I see people of both genders wearing a wide variety of clothes, including the mayor in business attire, women and men in regular clothes, and of course people in the rainwear of their choice… on a rainy day. In short, what you are seeing is a cross-section of typical Vancouver cyclists, rather than an attempt to promote one style of cycling attire over any other. I think trying to compartmentalize cyclists into fashion boxes is counter-productive in the long run. As an example, while I often cycle in my regular clothes now, when I had to pull a trailer across town to drop off a toddler at daycare before hustling my butt to get to work on time a few years back, riding in my office clothes would have been far more uncomfortable and done little to make it enjoyable, whereas doing so in ‘biking’ gear made complete sense.

    Having been a cyclist on the West Coast for over 40 years, from delivering papers in soaking wet poly-cotton jeans as a youth, to a daily 20km commute in typical biking rain gear, I would suggest that year-round cyclists here are quite capable of deciding for themselves what is the best choice for their circumstances. What you see in the video is a reflection of those personal choices.

    Unfortunately, viewing the video as an attempt to get more people cycling fashionably, rather than discerning its real purpose (to encourage potential delegates that attending the conference will deliver real-world solutions to the biggest issues that they face in designing safer cycling cities)is a bit like complaining that Newsworld isn’t Fashion Television, to use a Canadian media analogy.

    cheers,

    Chris K.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04454437680686627778 James D. Schwartz

    Dave, thanks for the kind words. We do have a lot in common, we just have our own approaches to achieving the same goal. Living in the city, it’s admittedly easier for me to promote bicycling in regular clothes than it would be in Mississauga.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04454437680686627778 James D. Schwartz

    Chris,

    Regardless of the audience of the conference, my goal would still be to inspire others to pick up a bicycle with minimal effort/gear and inspire them to occupy the great new bicycle paths and bike lanes that Vancouver has installed. But this was certainly an opinion piece and I’m expressing my opinion about how I feel bicycling should be marketed.

    The less barriers there are, the easier it is for the average person to start using a bicycle. As an example, I encourage people to use bicycles with chain covers and internal components simply because a rusty chain can be a barrier to using your bicycle for transportation because it’s a pain to maintain – especially in the winter.

    I only have to oil my chain once a year. It’s quite liberating.

    A long time ago I was just like most of the people in the film. I thought I needed all sorts of gear to ride, but I have learned over the years that I was just overcomplicating it due to all the pressure that I was exposed to. And overcomplicating it made it less likely that I would take my bike for short trips.

    Also, I can assure you that I’m the farthest from someone who promotes fashion. I encourage people to dress for their destination – whatever those clothes might be. I wear business casual clothing to my clients, and I wear jeans + button shirt to my office.

    Regarding your analogy, what if I told you that the best way to improve bicycling would be to get more regular people in regular clothes on bicycles? What if that were the single most effective solution to improving conditions for bicyclists? More effective than anything that any delegate at your conference would be capable of? If your video can directly influence that, would it then be worthwhile to use a different angle next time around?

    That’s where I’m coming from, but of course you don’t have to agree with it.

    Cheers,
    James

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16066661430057952612 Chris Keam

    James:

    This video isn’t about how to market cycling. It’s about how to market the conference. Vancouver’s infrastructure solutions is what we are hearing the potential delegates want to learn about.

    What gets more people riding is a sense of safety and well-designed cycling facilities. This is a well-established conclusion based upon well-researched work done by numerous academics and organizations. That will be a key component of the conference proceedings, in response to our potential delegates’ wishes, along with a huge variety of other topics, such as cycling chic and other trends.

    Again, taking issue with this video because it doesn’t market cycling to non-cyclists is to overlook both the audience it’s targeted towards, and their expectations regarding what they hope to get out of the conference.

    cheers,

    CK

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04454437680686627778 James D. Schwartz

    Chris, clearly we have different views on how best to market the conference – which is fine – I love hearing different perspectives and I’m very open-minded.

    However, all other arguments aside, I will say that I was very inspired by Copenhagen’s Velo-City 2010 video, and Seville’s Velo-City 2011 video. I wish I could say the same about Vancouver’s, but I can’t. I think that’s the simplest way to describe my disappointment with the film.

  • Bil Smolick

    > This video isn’t about how to market cycling. It’s
    > about how to market the conference

    I’m not sure there’s a difference there, Chris.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/15589492356827998591 Ryan

    Thanks a lot for the link James!
    Like always a well written piece!

    I do believe it is the marketing aspect that’s the issue.

    If I were starting out now with the different marketing videos, I’d be more hesitant to hop on a bike.
    Believing I need to wear special clothes or a helmet would make me think twice.
    Even when I thought of moving to BC in the past I started to question if I would continue to ride a bike.

    As with most, ultimately I don’t care what people wear. It’s how it’s marketed.

    Here is a picture I added to my favourites on Flickr a while ago, which IMO could be a great marketing image that includes ALL cyclists:

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/rllayman/4770615867/in/faves-ryanz4/

  • Anonymous

    Dialogue on Clothing and Helmets as a Barrier to Cycling

    Besides networking, one of the objectives of the Velo-city series of conferences is to cause debate on cycling for the purpose of significantly increasing cycling traffic. Certainly so far, the reaction to the Velo-city Global 2012 Conference video has been adding to the debate on clothing, helmet use when cycling, and legislation of helmet use. Maybe that debate will continue during the conference.
    Last night I had dinner with a cycling advocate from Victoria. The conversation drifted to his thesis for his Master’s degree on communication where he looked at bike culture in Vancouver. On his move to Victoria, he started to compare his work to the culture he found in this city. The question he hypothesized was “Does clothing use for cycling create a barrier for people to switch from driving to cycling if drivers perceive that they would need to wear spandex and Lycia gear to blend in with other cyclists?”. The same has been hypothesized by many about cycling helmet wear or being forced by legislation to wear helmets.
    So, the question really may be if conformity to some practice developed by others is a requirement for cycling such as a driver license is a requirement for driving. Should it not be a matter of personal choice or common sense in protecting oneself as much as one can within an environment where a much larger object can cause threats of personal damage or the elements can make it very uncomfortable if not some form of protection is taken? The reality is that the weather will do what it wants and the best we can do is to protect from it in any way we feel comfortable with. The reality is that when on the road and in intersections, we have drivers who do not use the level of care required by society in controlling automobiles. The 1970’s concept of “defensive driving” has been replaced by the concept of “me first and get out of my way”.
    Conformity or personal choice on what makes sense – Let us hope that the dialogue on barriers to motorists for switching from driving to cycling will be continued at the Velo-city Global 2012 Conference. So, come to the conference in Vancouver to further the dialogue.
    If the video has helped to contribute in any way to these dialogues, then the purpose of the Velo-city conferences is being well served.
    Now for some comments for the author of this blog article. It was suggested by Chris Keam that there is a responsibility for writers to verify facts. For you information, Skip was approached to be the host of the video after dialogue on who would be most effective within the restricted time period of making this video. Skip was an obvious choice recognizing his personal dynamics and style. His choice of clothing was his and not directed by the video producer. Skip did not write his dialogue nor contribute to it. It was written by someone else and handed to him to speak in the video. The thoughts and concepts within the video are from other people. Norco did not make this video and was not involved in any other way except for allowing Skip to be the host. The cyclists shown on the video were the cyclists on the streets when the video was shot. Not all were in spandex or Lycra. Actors or cyclists dressed to someone’s or some groups’ personal concept of cyclists were not used.
    Jack

  • http://bikehugger.com/ Byron

    At Bike Hugger, we were WTF we want, when we want. Why as a niche community we divide ourselves further into sub niches as if one niche is better than another only serves to keep us a niche. Show up dressed like Mario Cipollini with a Euro Mullet or with a fixed gear and u-lock or in Levi’s new jeans jacket. I’d rolled right into this conference one day in a white Assos kit and the next in manpris with sandles and definitely despite the CycleChic Manifesto in a helmet too.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16066661430057952612 Chris Keam

    Hi Bill Smolick:

    I do think there is a difference between marketing cycling to non-cyclists and marketing a cycling conference to people who already understand the issues and are looking for solutions. They are very different audiences. Further, comparing a video shot in (no helmet required) Seville during warm weather, with a Vancouver (no helmet can cost you $120) in winter is a bit of an apples and oranges situation.

    Finally, my personal opinion is that it’s very unfortunate that this article didn’t seek comment from the organizing committee before rendering judgement. A quick email to us might well have dispelled any worries regarding our position on cycling-specific clothing. Please be assured the Velo-city Global 2012 organizing committee fully supports the idea that cycling does not necessarily require specialized clothing. I would encourage everyone to take a closer look at the video. Once you look beyond the helmets (which is the biggest difference between Seville’s video and Vancouver’s) you’ll see a wide variety of sensible clothing choices appropriate for riding on a typical Vancouver February day.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08960352124263131915 M

    @ Chris Keam. What you apparently don’t understand about James Schwartz’s criticism of the Velo City 2012 organising committee’s video is that he’s not making some kind of fashion criticism. He’s taking the video to task for depicting cycling as a dangerous activity. And for implicitly for contradicting Vancouver’s stated aim of increasing cycling rates.

    Despite your statement that you see “people of both genders wearing a wide variety of clothes, including the mayor in business attire, women and men in regular clothes,” the outside layer of clothing worn by nearly everyone in this video is “special cycling clothing.” Often it’s of a anti-aesthetic, high visibility design that bespeaks an an extreme concern about visibility – ie a safety concern. I doubt these people would walk down the street wearing such outfits.

    As for the mayor, did he really have to appear wearing a garish safety vest AND a helmet in order to talk about his bicycle policy? With that getup, the mayor looked like he must be terrified to be riding a bicycle in his own city.

    The Velo City 2012 promo video suggests that, despite Vancouver’s investment in cycling infrastructure to enhance safety, cycling in your city remains a very dangerous activity, where wearing “special cycling gear” designed to minimise that danger is the norm. With a message like this, you are, no matter to whom you are addressing yourself, adding to a flow of messages that prevent people who don’t cycle from taking it up, preventing the development of true safety – in numbers.

    Separate from Schwartz’s comments, I have another range of concerns about the video – mostly from a question of style. I question the wisdom of the choice of ‘tough-guy’ vocal inflection chosen by the presenter and more or less successfully imitated by others in the video in appealing to a largely European and South American audience. I thought the pedantic explanation of basic bicycling infrastructure, combined with gushing statements such as “Isn’t that cool?,” was misplaced when aiming at an audience very familiar with such concepts. One more point: I guess people in Vancouver are very proud that the Olympics took place there, but really! It will have been two years when Velo-City happens. Do you really think these people will care?

    I read with amusement your comment that “Skip dressed appropriately for a full day of cycling all over town on a winter day.” When I go cycling in winter, I might wear long johns under my trousers, heavier gloves, a scarf and a hat covering my ears. I don’t ride wearing clothes that would look out of place walking down the street. Is that, to you, inappropriate? I really don’t see how wearing those strange shorts Skip was wearing is appropriate winter wear. I think it looked silly.

    Lastly, your repeated comment you made about how you would have preferred that Schwartz contacted the organisers is based on your mistaken assumption that a blogger acts as a traditional journalist. The video is publicly available. was shown in public and is on the internet. What Schwartz did is make public his reaction as someone interested in all aspects of cycling to the publicly available video. Furthermore, the video speaks for itself. A film reviewer doesn’t call up the producer and director before reviewing their production.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08960352124263131915 M

    @anonymous/Jack – this business about ‘spandex or lycra’ is beside the point. It’s about safety-oriented, “special cycling gear.” All but one of the people featured in the video were wearing such apparel, along with their helmets. Whether Skip was responsible for his strange way of dressing or not, it was the Velo-City producers who allowed him, dressed this way, to represent the organisation and be its messenger. I fully concur with the hypothesis that helmet legislation, along with widespread helmet use as a result of excessive safety propaganda does serve as a barrier for people to switch from driving to cycling. However, my reasoning in my comments to Chris Keam does not turn on these issues.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04454437680686627778 James D. Schwartz

    For the organizers of Velo-City Global 2012, this video of David Suzuki and his daughter in Copenhagen from 2008 is very telling (and inspiring): http://vimeo.com/3760697

    Suzuki’s daughter makes an interesting comment about Vancouver bicycle culture: “If I wore these outfits on my bike in Vancouver. Oh man. People would think I was nuts”.

    I think there is a lesson there, and I think there is a lot we can learn from Copenhagen. Just some more food for thought…

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16066661430057952612 Chris Keam

    James, I think you’ve highlighted what is one of the actual barriers to cycling that many non-cyclists feel, namely the impression they get that advocates are keen to have everyone join ‘bicycle culture’ and submit to a cult-like mentality whereby it’s OK for people who are already indoctrinated to render judgement about others, based upon appearance and willingness to act as missionaries for the cause.

    Real gains in cycling and true cycling cites come about when cycling is just another appropriate transportation choice, rather than a political statement.

    While it’s been a bit disappointing to hear criticisms of the video, put together with a minimal budget, compressed timeline, and mostly volunteer efforts, I think this debate only serves to highlight the disconnect between what ‘we’ say we want, which is for cycling to be a normal, everyday activity free from ideology, and the message being conveyed by criticizing individuals for showing up in the clothes in which they normally ride their bikes, because they fail to convey the au courant clothing philosophy of a sub-section of the cycling community which feels it’s OK to judge people and their active transportation bona fides by their clothing.

    That’s not something I would personally want to be associated with cycling advocacy, but sadly, when I talk to non-cyclists, one of the recurring themes I hear is that the self-righteous ‘do it our way’ messages that come from the cycling community are a huge turn-off. I sense that you feel you are dispelling that impression. My personal opinion is that your comments have only served to reinforce it. In the final analysis, cycling is about individual freedom. There is no ‘approved’ way to dress, as the numerous shots of cyclists in the video, wearing all manner of regular clothing, cycling-specific gear, and hodge-podge combinations of the two provide clear proof. If we had staged shots with cycling-chic approved fashions it would be a false presentation of Vancouver’s cyclists, which run the gamut of clothing choices. The reality is that most riders here don’t really care one whit what others are wearing, nor do they feel they must make a political statement every time they decide to enjoy a recreational ride or save some time and money by riding to work. Normalizing cycling doesn’t happen by making a conscious decision to compartmentalize individuals and promulgate an us and them mentality over something as inconsequential as someone’s riding attire.

    cheers,

    CK

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04454437680686627778 James D. Schwartz

    Chris, once again, I am not judging anyone for what they choose to wear, nor am I asking people to “submit to a cult-like mentality” where I somehow force people to make a fashion statement or even a political statement. Riding your bicycle is enough of a political statement, regardless of what you are wearing.

    There is one consistent theme that I have brought up both in the article and in the comments, and I can assure you that my intention is *not* to alienate people who choose to wear extensive bicycle clothing or gear.

    The consistent point I have been making is that I believe it is easier to “sell” bicycling and inspire people to use a bicycle in the city by not reinforcing the common belief that you need extensive gear in order to use a bicycle for transportation.

    The Velo-City committee had an opportunity to either reinforce that belief, or consciously try to reassure people that all of the specialized gear is not necessary in order to use a bicycle for transportation – especially for short trips.

    The host and interview subjects in the video did not do anything to dispel the myth that extensive bicycle gear is required in order to take on using a bicycle.

    To be clear, I am not saying that there is *anything wrong with people choosing to wear this gear*. But a couple interviews with a student, or a businessperson or a delivery worker in regular clothes on a bicycle would have made this video very effective in connecting with regular people.

    I’m not saying you should have scouted out a fashion show and only showed people wearing fashionable clothing. I’m talking about people in regular “walking clothes” who are pedalling a bicycle.

    And by all means, interview a couple people who have all the gear too. Show a wide variety of Vancouverites to give people a great perspective about the diversity of bicyclists in the city.

    I didn’t write this article to divide people who are already out there riding bicycles. I wrote this article to try to dispel the belief that extensive clothing and gear is a necessity in order to make the switch to using a bicycle. That’s it.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04454437680686627778 James D. Schwartz

    Chris, to further emphasize my point, I will present you with two videos of cycling in New York City. If you were trying to promote bicycling to New Yorkers and try to encourage them to take up cycling, which video would you choose to show them?

    (full disclosure: I compiled the second video with some video footage I took in NYC last month)

    First video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s2FcXJLUUoM

    Second video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HgM65c8EKQ4

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16066661430057952612 Chris Keam

    James:

    The purpose of the video was to introduce the delegates at the Seville conference to the key features that make the Vancouver 2012 conference a worthwhile experience for them. The feedback we’ve received from a wide range of potential attendees and active transportation experts was that Vancouver’s significant strides in infrastructure, our adoption of multi-modal transportation schemes, and the city’s reputation as a great place to visit would be the best features to highlight in that regard. Naturally, we took that advice and tailored our video to appeal to the knowledgeable people who we are inviting to come to the conference, share their expertise, and examine Vancouver’s successes in building mode share through infrastructure improvements, advocacy, and education. Will cycling chic come up as a topic of discussion during the conference? I would be surprised if it didn’t. Is it necessary to promote cycling in ‘regular’ clothing to this audience. Probably not. In fact, it would be overstating the obvious, especially to the European delegates who absorbed this reality long ago. As an organization, our goal is to promote the conference as a place to share the solutions that have the biggest impact in encouraging cycling. At this point, the global experience points to my previously mentioned factors (infrastructure, advocacy, and education) as the key pieces of that puzzle. I support your contention that cycling is generally an activity that can be done in whatever clothing one chooses to wear. It’s not necessary to make that point to the primary audience for this video however, and while you clearly don’t see it that way, that point is aptly made by the many cyclists in the video who are wearing non-cycling specific clothing. The fact that many are wearing helmets in a city where it is the law and punishable by a $100 fine (I earlier said $120 from memory, my mistake) and wearing their choice of jacket in the middle of February seems an unfair criticism if you are going to compare our video with one shot under totally different circumstances. Importantly, it’s worthwhile to note that Seville’s mode share and Vancouver’s are not that far apart, and in fact, there are neighbourhoods in our city that exceed the Seville average. Those statistics are a testament to the success Vancouver has had in giving people the impetus to try cycling. Living one block from one of our most well-used bike routes (10th Ave) I see a daily stream of cyclists wearing all kinds of clothing. Many are wearing cycling specific duds, for whatever reason they might have. I’d rather not presume to tell them what to wear, as I assume they are capable of making the best choice for their own needs. Must they consider themselves beholden to act as ambassadors for cycling culture by wearing a certain type of clothes? I don’t think so.

    We had spokespeople in every variety of clothing from business suit and hi-viz vest, to basic black from head to toe. I feel that if we had made the video you envision, we’d simply be trading one set of artificial clothing restrictions for another. I’d prefer we didn’t act as the style police and concentrated on the bigger issues that we face. I have every confidence that there are other groups and publications taking the message you’re promoting and ensuring they get to the right people.

    best wishes,

    Chris

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16066661430057952612 Chris Keam

    “But a couple interviews with a student, or a businessperson or a delivery worker in regular clothes on a bicycle would have made this video very effective in connecting with regular people.”

    I guess I need to restate this.

    Connecting with regular people was not the primary goal of the video. It was produced for a specific purpose, for a specific audience.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/07956214731551721276 Neil

    I think we’re running into a cultural gap about what qualifies as “ordinary clothes.” In my experience – aside from the mayor with the safety vest – Vancouverites (and westerners more generally) dress pretty much as shown in the video. Cyclists, pedestrians, transit users, drivers…sporty coats are common and usually considered appropriate for most circumstances. The host in particular, looked like any random person I might expect to pull of the street.

    As for the helmets, given the sad state of BC law, I don’t think that can be considered a production decision. Removing them when not riding might have improved image, but would have damaged flow in the video.

    Naturally, if you film in February, people are wearing gloves and water/windproof coats. Comfort is good, wet and cold is uncomfortable. Many non-cyclists in this part of the world have very similar clothing in their closets…maybe not the reflective striping, but bright colours are quite common. Film in the summer, and clothing choices change.

    What happens when you go taking pictures of Toronto cyclists in February?

    I’ve been finding a big snobbery amongst people who seem to think that the only “citizen cyclist” is a fashion cyclist. That’s simply not the case.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08960352124263131915 MikeG

    Chris Keam clearly does not understand what James is getting at in his blog posting and subsequent comments. Keams’ allegations in his last major post indicate that he is only interested in attacking the messenger and justifying the choices made in producing the video, not understanding the criticism.

    The posts by Neil and Cecily are real eye-openers, however. They both say that wearing this kind of sport/high-visibility/bright colours gear is actually what passes for normal, going to work streetwear in Vancouver. Really? Are you telling me that, for example, Amber (in the video) actually wears that, to me, awful coat to go to work when she’s not riding her bicycle? And Stuart? Jack? I didn’t actually see that sense of “style” in the video, but if your fellow Vancouverites don’t rise up to disagree with you, I’ll have to accept what you’re saying. We would in that case, as Neil put it, be dealing with a serious cultural gap and my previous criticisms would be to some extent moot.

    I agree with James that the point is you shouldn’t have to change into and out of special “cycling clothing” to ride a bicycle. That notion, along with the obligation to wear a helmet, does put people off cycling. If the people in the video aren’t, despite appearances, actually doing that, well, different strokes …

    Let me be explicit about where I’m coming from: I was in the main conference room when the Vancouver Velo-City 2012 video was played, and I recall being appalled and embarrassed, as a Canadian, to see my fellow delegates being shown such images of cycling in Canada. Having seen how Copenhagen and Seville teased their conferences, Vancouver’s video just looked wrong to me – why wear such clothing when you’re talking about all the cycling infrastructure you’ve put in place?. I’ve never worn any bright yellow jackets while cycling, and I would never walk down the street or ride the bus, tram or subway wearing such gear. If people do in Vancouver, then, well, you learn something every day.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/15589492356827998591 Ryan

    Neil, you ask about Toronto cyclists in February?
    Living on the other side of the lake from Toronto in what is still deemed a blue-collar automotive town, most dress quite casually while cycling…

    Here is a sample of what cyclists wear in St.Catharines during our coldest months; January & February:
    http://flic.kr/p/9jbdr7
    http://flic.kr/p/9j83F2
    http://flic.kr/p/98TNMY
    http://flic.kr/p/9aq9kg
    http://flic.kr/p/9fdey3
    http://flic.kr/p/983GXz
    http://flic.kr/p/9jbbf7
    http://flic.kr/p/9makJt
    http://flic.kr/p/9rbQu7
    http://flic.kr/p/9jbb8S

    And yes, we even have those in ‘special cycle gear’, all be it limited, and at the end of March:
    http://flic.kr/p/9un91j

    As for the snobbery? It works both ways.
    When I started cycling 7 years ago, those in special cycle gear dominated the streets.
    I constantly received comments and dirty looks simply because I was wearing ‘everyday’ clothes (and no helmet).

    Now with more people riding in casual clothes and sans helmet, I do feel there is a divide between the two groups. The good is that people simply mind their own business now.
    Of course this isn’t to say we don’t “come together” on matters surrounding bike lanes, parking etc.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/15589492356827998591 Ryan

    James; I found this ad interesting for Velo-City Vancouver:
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/thelastminute/2997661735/

    Also check out this person’s Flickr account:
    Although the point of the following images were to show ‘scofflaws’ on bikes, what I see are casually dressed Vancouverites.
    This also furthers my point that the “snobbery” works both ways.

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/buzzbishop/with/2816466988/

  • http://cyclewriteblog.wordpress.com/ Jean

    Many men speaking here, based on the names here. :) As a Vancouverite, and ex-Toronto cyclist and resident there for over 10 yrs.( I knew the cycling scene there also.):

    Here was myself in Copenhagen last year for a few days, pic and my experience as a cyclist:
    http://thirdwavecyclingblog.wordpress.com/2010/09/29/losing-my-cycling-identity-in-the-world%e2%80%99s-cycling-nirvana-copenhagen/

    Yes, I was there helmet and all. I’m sorry, it’s just habit and my comfort level. I do like feeling more anonymous with a helmet on anyway. I did fall twice on black ice in Vancouver from the bike.

    There are some people, like myself who also just want to save the wear and tear of their street clothing. Besides Vancouver has hills, unlike flat Copenhagen and alot more than Toronto. :) You won’t find me in high heels, ordinary dress or suit simply because maybe I just can’t afford to replace such shoes and clothing often anymore.

    Let’s move on from the cycling clothing debate and be inclusive for all cyclists. While we talk of clothing, millions, if not billions of dollars worth of road infrastructure world-wide, are being planned and built NOW, not always with cyclists in mind.

    I cringe as we talk about merits of what is suitable video-wise for….”cycling clothing” while in the corporate meeting rooms, the mega engineering firms are hammering out their big engineering contracts.

    Go to where the big fish are to work out bigger issues. .

    Cheers.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/01731133885172296864 Mike

    @Jean. I understand your point. And I wish there were more women joining in this discussion. But please understand that just because we’re having this discussion doesn’t mean we’re ignoring the need to press collectively to have cycling safety needs included in infrastructure decisions. In fact, there are a lot of people doing this. But it is also true that North Americans have been fed a lot of propaganda about cycling, and how safe it is to ride a bicycle, which feeds into this “cycling clothing” discussion and the related helmet issue. This is what has led to the widely divergent cycling cultures between European cycling capitals and Vancouver, at least based on what we’re seeing and hearing. The fight against this propaganda is, I understand, what motivated James and others to speak on this topic.

    I personally could not imagine going about in day-glo yellow, a helmet and – ye gods! – cycling shoes in Copenhagen. But at least you understood it was your choice, not something you were “supposed to do”, and you accepted that you would be in the minority.

    I’m sorry to hear about your falls on black ice. You are obviously free to wear a helmet if you choose to put up with wearing one. I could argue that you don’t automatically hit the top half of your head when you fall off your bike and you’d have to wear a helmet for an awfully long time before it actually helped you. You might disagree.

    The line, for me, is drawn at compelling, or expecting, or encouraging others to do the same. BC’s helmet law is an abomination and it should be overturned. I am troubled by the ECF’s decision to hold the Velo-City conference in a jurisdiction that has such a law, thereby implicitly validating this policy.

    Safety comes from controlling automobiles and creating safe cycling spaces, not from forcing someone to wear a foam hat. Such a hat doesn’t, according to much research, afford much protection, but does substantially reduce cycling levels, again making cycling less safe.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16066661430057952612 Chris Keam

    MikeG:

    I’m not attacking the messenger or the message. I agree with James on many counts. I am disputing his contention that a video intended for a specific, expert audience for a specific purpose, should muddy its message by tackling a different topic and targeting the general public. An apt analogy would be to suggest one should take issue with the stock quotes section of the newspaper because it isn’t doing a photo spread on Kate Middleton’s wedding dress.

    Ryan:
    That Velo-city ad is for a museum exhibition that was held here in Vancouver a couple of years ago.
    Its premise was a history of cycling in Vancouver and it featured as diverse an array of bikes and cyclists as you are ever likely to find. It was solid proof that Vancouver is a cycling city, even if some of us dare to wear hi-viz and helmets on occasion.

    Mike:
    The ECF has a helmet policy. You probably already know about it but it can be found here: http://www.ecf.com/3500_1

    Personally, I’m glad they’re coming to Vancouver, so we can have a healthy debate about helmets. I think this is a great place to have that conversation because I think the ECF has a very sensible position on the topic and it makes perfect sense to advocate against mandatory helmet laws in a jurisdiction where they are in place, rather than push for solutions in cities where there isn’t a problem.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05563742219407047006 Taiwoon

    Riding should be for everyone… and although the video is not perfect… from me in Singapore.. we are so envious of the progress in Vancouver. Right now, cycling is slowly becoming more socially accepted… but cycling as commuting is still quite a strange and alien concept….we got lots to learn from u!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16066661430057952612 Chris Keam

    “Safety comes from controlling automobiles and creating safe cycling spaces, not from forcing someone to wear a foam hat.”

    Couldn’t agree more. Our promotional message repeatedly stated the first two points. In the limited time frame available we focused on Vancouver’s successes to highlight the solutions we can share. I hope the helmet debate gets lots of attention during Velo-city 2012. I imagine it will be a worthwhile discussion. I hope many of you will come and bring your perspectives on the wide variety of cycling issues with you.

    cheers,

    CK

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16066661430057952612 Chris Keam

    I’d like to tackle one other criticism of my comments and then I’ll step back and let others express their viewpoints:

    “Furthermore, the video speaks for itself. A film reviewer doesn’t call up the producer and director before reviewing their production.”

    Sure. That’t true. But if a film reviewer criticized a science documentary because it lacked the elements of a Hollywood romantic comedy I think it’s fair to ask why there wasn’t some communication and clarification before rendering judgement. In my opinion James has mis-identified the purpose of the video and the audience for which it was produced. Little wonder he found it lacking.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04454437680686627778 James D. Schwartz

    Jean, thanks for the perspective. It’s much appreciated.

    On this website, I have long been addressing all of the “big fish” items that you have identified relating to infrastructure, and I don’t plan on discontinuing that.

    However, a very important way to get more people out on bicycles is to show them that it’s not as dangerous as they perceive it to be. That’s why I think marketing bicycles is just as important as anything else to getting more people out on bicycles. The more people out there, the easier it will be to get better and more infrastructure.

    For every million hours of travel in North America, there are 0.41 fatalities on a bicycle. In a car, there are 0.46 fatalities. It’s a similar statistic for being admitted into the hospital for a head injury.

    But we don’t show videos of people in cars wearing helmets and specialized safety gear. Driving is marketed as a pleasant experience – something that you can do in your regular clothes without a helmet.

    There’s a lesson for us who are creating content promoting bicycling.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04454437680686627778 James D. Schwartz

    Chris, I don’t think I was unfair in my criticism – despite the audience the video was intended for.

    When a video is put on YouTube and as far as I can see, it is the only video publicly available that promotes your upcoming conference, then the audience of that video is the world.

    That is the sole video that I can find that promotes the upcoming conference – so anybody in the world who is interesting in learning more about the conference will inevitably end up finding that video.

    If the video was only previewed at the Seville conference, and not available publicly on YouTube, then it would be a different story.

    Since the intention of the conference is to promote bicycling, to promote Vancouver, and to create a dialogue from industry professionals on how to improve bicycling in our cities, the video is then an extension of the conference, and as such I think I am justified in my criticism.

    Also, it’s just my opinion that the video had the opportunity to do much more to promote bicycling and to promote Vancouver – no matter who the audience is. But as you can see from the comments, there’s a wide range of opinions here :)

    As you said in our email correspondence, “our common ground is vaster than our differences”. I’ve let you know my opinion about the video, but it’s time to move forward and talk about how we can both do a better job of promoting bicycling to people who are considering making the switch.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16066661430057952612 Chris Keam

    “If the video was only previewed at the Seville conference, and not available publicly on YouTube, then it would be a different story.”

    That’s a weak rationalization. Lots of things are on Youtube that don’t cover every single aspect of a topic and are repurposed from their original intent. As we move forward in our promotions, there will undoubtedly be images of cyclists more to your liking. Describing this small part of our promotions as a ‘disaster of a film’ is overstating the case.

    Suggesting “Promoting your city as a great cycling city requires highlighting people who are using bicycles in their regular clothes.” is pure speculation. Great cycling cities work first to create safe cycling spaces. The Fashion Police can come later. :-)

    Your video of New York features all kinds of people in all kinds of clothing, some helmeted, some without. This is a video where you’ve cherry-picked the shots you want to use. Our video has various cyclists in the background as our spokesperson explains Vancouver’s cycling infrastructure, but there’s really not much difference in attire in either video. The only difference is that we had comments by some of the key decision-makers who support cycling in Vancouver. We didn’t tell them what to wear. They are capable of dressing themselves in whatever clothes they feel comfortable cycling. So, let’s return to New York and see what their key decision-maker wears when it times to portray their cycling style. This is an image of Janette Sadik-Khan, a woman who many regard as instrumental in New York’s bike-friendly progress. The source is one of your fellow Toronto bloggers. Note the helmet and bright orange jacket. Note the weather conditions.

    http://bikingtoronto.com/duncan/why-you-should-know-who-janette-sadik-khan-is/

    Clearly there’s plenty of ways to dress when riding. Expecting one and all to promote your aesthetic is just as arbitrary as demanding everybody buy a maillot jaune and bib knickers so they can look like ‘real’ cyclists.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12056080802746709323 Green Idea Factory

    First of all, for those of you on Facebook I would like to invite you to join “No Mandatory Bike Helmets at Velo-city Global 2012 in Vancouver”.

    What caused concern for me was more the choice of people talked to, rather than cyclists in the background. It felt like these are the people the organizers know and can get to show up quickly (almost all men, all Caucasian, all over-40, and sure the mayor is included but in addition to the hi-viz worn like a rag his helmet seemed rather poorly adjusted… why is this?)… so it would seem logical that these are the local people who will most strongly influence the conference production, themes and aesthetics. A large number of people in Vancouver do not wear helmets and the enforcement of the law is spotty, but after watching the video it would be unlikely for viewers to figure this out (my main personal reason for starting that Facebook Page was so that visitors to Vancouver for the conference would not be used by local and provincial media to show, e.g. how visitors to the city wear helmets and are happy with the helmet law.)

    The international politicians and their staff that see the video have a lot of work just in the mobility area and it cannot be assumed they know about Cycle Chic or what I call normal, boring cycling in normal clothing. A picture and those thousand words…

    I should also admit I have a personal bias as several months ago one of the organizers – Jack Becker, who appears in the video – invited feedback regarding the organization of the conference. With input from several others I presented what I that was a well-considered proposal but have not heard back despite several requests. I am happy that the organizers are involved in the discussion in this blog.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08960352124263131915 MikeG

    @Chris Keam

    You continue to take a position where you try to deflect James’ criticism (and that of those who agree with him) by almost obtusely misunderstanding or misconstruing it. You do so with some really questionable statements. I’ll go through some of them.

    Chris Keam in quote marks

    “That’s a weak rationalisation.”

    That’s pretty strong language. In your own tone, then – that’s a pretty lame defence. Bottom line is this: the video was available, and we have expressed our points of view on it. We have a perfect right to do so no matter how it was made, why it was made, or whom it was made for. You still think the video is defensible as a video depicting cycling in Vancouver. I don’t like it, for myself, but am willing to accept it if people actually dress that way when they’re off their bicycles in Vancouver. If they’re wearing those clothes only because they are going cycling, then including only such people in the video perpetuates a negative message about cycling – to wit, “cycling is dangerous and you have to wear high-visibility, messenger style gear to survive.”

    “This is a video where you’ve cherry-picked the shots you want to use.”

    I’m sorry, but isn’t that exactly what all video producers do? How is this a valid criticism? Why would you want to criticise James’ video just to defend your own?

    “we had comments by some of the key decision-makers who support cycling in Vancouver. . We didn’t tell them what to wear.”

    Well, I’ll accept that the mayor’s public affairs people are responsible for how he appeared on camera. Jack Becker fits your criterion. Peter Judd does, but he along eschewed safety-wear. The rest: Skip, Stepan, Stuart, Amber, Bob Paddon (who didn’t actually say much of interest on camera) – those you cherry-picked for inclusion. Not as much of a difference as you pretend.

    “if a film reviewer criticized a science documentary because it lacked the elements of a Hollywood romantic comedy”
    “one should take issue with the stock quotes section of the newspaper because it isn’t doing a photo spread on Kate Middleton’s wedding dress.”

    Your comment would work if your analogies did. They don’t. In this case, let me posit instead that your hypothetical science documentary is giving credence to creationism – like “cycling is dangerous” another mistaken belief. I don’t think in that case there would need to be communication and clarification before rendering judgment. Nothing you’ve written has changed my mind about this video. However, what Neil and Cecily said actually gave me pause. If they’re right, then the criticism would revert to suggesting that the video might have explained that Vancouver has a different aesthetic.

    “I am disputing his contention that a video intended for a specific, expert audience for a specific purpose, should muddy its message by tackling a different topic and targeting the general public”

    I don’t see how including images of people who don’t cycle in “cycling clothes” would have muddied your message. Does Peter Judd muddy the video’s message? How about a shot of him cycling as he was dressed? How about using someone in regular clothes as one of the video’s “Cycling Enthusiasts? No one was asking the video to tackle a different message or address a different audience. I still criticise the style of delivery to camera – it bring to mind that idiot with the zany suits on Hockey Night in Canada. I also thought the video could have reined in the goofy enthusiasm – “isn’t that cool?” “You got that right!”. Why didn’t the video just have them come out and say how “neat” it all was?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08960352124263131915 MikeG

    Again, @Chris Keam:

    More on your arguments:

    “Promoting your city as a great cycling city requires highlighting people who are using bicycles in their regular clothes.” is pure speculation. Great cycling cities work first to create safe cycling spaces. The Fashion Police can come later. :-)
    “Will cycling chic come up as a topic of discussion during the conference?”
    ” If we had staged shots with cycling-chic approved fashions “
    “viewing the video as an attempt to get more people cycling fashionably”
    “Must they consider themselves beholden to act as ambassadors for cycling culture by wearing a certain type of clothes? “

    Simply repeating a falsehood often enough until it becomes accepted may work for strong political forces, but it doesn’t for you. If you’ve read the cycle chic blogs, you’ll see that they don’t focus on people wear regular clothes. They go for women wearing bright red dresses and stiletto heels (in the cities where such a thing ever happens.) You’re trying to dismiss James’s criticism (and mine) as being somehow fundamentally an attempt to impose a certain way of dressing while cycling, when in fact what we’re saying is that showing images of people in safety-cycling-wear enforces the notion that that is what one should wear while cycling. Only if such garish gear is actually worn when not cycling would I accept that it’s not “safety-cycling-wear.” Otherwise, its depiction in your video comes close to being propaganda for the “cycling is dangerous so you should wear a foam hat’ crowd.

    “one of your fellow Toronto bloggers”
    “How about we let Vancouver’s cyclists choose for themselves instead of delivering fashion sermons from Toronto?”

    Seriously, what is this provincialism? Do you realise there are people from around the world reading this? Why do you make such a big deal about Toronto, which, after all, is just another city in the global scheme of things. Do you have an issue with Toronto or people from that city?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16066661430057952612 Chris Keam

    MikeG:
    “”This is a video where you’ve cherry-picked the shots you want to use.”

    I’m sorry, but isn’t that exactly what all video producers do? How is this a valid criticism? Why would you want to criticise James’ video just to defend your own?”

    My point is that James chose the people he wanted to highlight in his choice of clips. We didn’t choose the people in the background of our spokesperson’s clips. There’s a difference in process, although, as I’ve pointed out, not much difference in actual apparel. James chose to use his video to highlight New York cyclists. I didn’t see much difference in their clothes from the Vancouver riders in our video.

    As for provincialism, now we’re getting beyond discussing the issues and moving towards shooting the messenger. James is suggesting Toronto has a different fashion sense when riding. That’s cool. I’m suggesting we’re pretty capable of dressing appropriately for Vancouver conditions out here on the Wet Coast.

    The bottom line is that I personally feel that James criticisms are misplaced. When I look at the video I see many cyclists in regular clothes. Do we dress differently in Vancouver than Toronto. Maybe. Who cares? We ride. Toronot rides. People make a choice to wear high viz or not. These are individual decisions.

    I have no issue with people disliking the video if it doesn’t suit their tastes. I do feel that some of the assumptions made about it are bewildering. There are people wearing everyday clothes riding bikes, including some of our interviewees. We chose to highlight infrastructure, which is the key issues facing our potential delegates. We didn’t touch on helmets, clothing, and a host of other issues that advocates deal with, from driver hostility and cycling scofflaws, to end of trip facilities and cycling education. I expect all those topics would make for great videos, but we made the video that met our purpose, our budget, and our time frame. We’re satisfied with the result and welcome both criticisms and the opportunity to respond to those observations. I thank James for the opportunity to have a spirited discussion on the topic.

    best wishes,

    Chris

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04295732298288350821 Dave Krentz

    Wow, 48 comments. Let’s all just close the laptop and go riding!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17604058173018485877 Dave Lewis

    Wow, there sure is a lot of concern about clothes! I have to tell you, that clothes are the least of most people’s worries when they think about cycling. They are terrified for their lives. Yes, its not really that bad, but this is the way non-cyclists think. I think its a luxury to worry about clothes and image – it means that you already have an excellent set of cycling facilities that enable bike use. Different cities and terrain can dictate different clothing choices. If I’m going on a 10+ mile commute (one way) I am likely to dress differently than if I’m only riding a mile or so. If a city is hilly vs. flat, hot vs. cold, etc, etc.

  • ilovemyraincoat

    “I have nothing against people who wear ‘cycling gear.’”

    “I’m not criticizing these people’s decision to wear what they wear.”

    Sorry, I’m just not buying these qualifying statements. It seems clear that you’re projecting your own agenda onto other people’s clothing choices. It’s a bias that I’ve seen crop up in past articles as well. And for all your complaining about cyclists in “skin-tight lycra”, the video seems conspicuously absent of the very sort of technical gear you’re referring to. To me, it mostly just looked like some people who had the sense to wear raincoats.

    As for the PR aspect of my choice of rain gear, I consider the impact I make on coworkers and peers when I arrive at work, remove my outer layer of rain gear and emerge perfectly dry and ready to start my work day- in my very regular clothes. I think that sends a more encouraging message about biking than dragging around in soggy corduroys and grimy sneakers all day.

    And please don’t try convincing me that a nice tweed overcoat will do the job just as well because
    A) Dang, that sounds hot and musty.
    B) Also sounds wet and heavy.
    C) Tweed ain’t cheap. Certainly no cheaper than my J&G yellow raincoat that keeps me dry and comfortable through the long, long Portland, Oregon rainy season.

    Seriously, this economic stumbling block you refer to is a myth that needs debunking. The price of biking – including the bike and all the gear that I’ve deemed appropriate – doesn’t begin to approach the cost of driving or even taking public transit.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04454437680686627778 James D. Schwartz

    @Ilovemyraincoat,

    Say I was producing a commercial to promote an automobile brand (and thus promote driving), and I had two families auditioning for the commercial. The first is a family dressed up in driving helmets and full fire-proof suits. The second family is a family wearing their regular clothes (whatever those clothes might be). If I want to sell my automobile and encourage people to drive my car, I’m pretty sure I would choose the family in their regular clothes, because that’s the family that people can relate to.

    That doesn’t mean there is anything wrong with the family that chooses to wear fire suits and helmets. That’s great that they are choosing to wear these clothing items to increase their safety. But the risk of driving an automobile doesn’t warrant all of that gear, so why would I want to lead my viewers on to believe that this safety gear is necessary through my commercial?

    That’s the point that several people here seem to miss. It’s about marketing bicycling as something that is easy to pick up.

  • ilovemyraincoat

    Except it’s not a fire suit or a hazmat suit or a suit of armor- it’s a freaking rain coat. Which doesn’t seem like such an utterly craaazy thing to wear in a city where it, you know, rains a lot. I simply question your criteria (not to mention authority) in deciding what qualifies as “regular.” And I’d argue that this perception of what’s regular is, in many ways, the real stumbling block. Not to mention if Vancouver in February is anything like Portland in February, then chances are good that when they shot this video an awful lot of the “regular” types you’re talking about had left their bikes at home so as to maintain a state of relative dryness and comfort. Funny how that works. Maybe they’d have chosen to wear their rain coats and ride if not for fear of inevitable scorn from all their regularly attired peers.

  • http://flavors.me/situpvancouver James Twowheeler

    James, thanks for the great blog post and thanks to all commenters for the really engaged discussion. Lots of wonderful nuances to cover in some future FAQ.

    I was very encouraged to see Chris Keam say he hoped Velo-City might throw the spotlight on the counter-productive unscientific oddity that is the BC adult hat law.

    Henry (and anyone else: Cecily, Ryan, M, MikeG, Neil?) – get in touch about that better video. That’s the second time the idea’s come up, so we should see what skills we’ve got.

    I’d also be keen to brainstorm legal routes to hat-free cycling in this sunny summer city, specifically on the much-hoped-for bikeshare. Maybe CoV bylaw amendments, by designating boulevards, painted lanes, segregated lanes and the seawall as ‘paths or ways’? Or the religious exemption loophole.

    A good bit of planning, and a well-marketed campaign next summer, might help make cycling (heaven forbid) a normal way to move in the Greenest City!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04454437680686627778 James D. Schwartz

    @ilovemyraincoat,

    Clearly my logic is completely lost on you. This isn’t about raincoats, nor is it about scorning people for what they are wearing. I’m criticizing the film makers for spending the vast majority of the film featuring people wearing bicycle-specific gear.

    The film could have appealed to a broader audience if there were more people in their regular clothes on bicycles. I will define ‘regular clothes’ too, because this also seems to be misunderstood. Regular clothes are the clothes that someone would wear if they were walking to work instead of biking to work. And yes, that might include a raincoat too.

    Have a look at the host, Skip. Almost everything he is wearing is cycling-specific gear – including, but not limited to his shorts, shoes, lycra pants, helmet and gloves. I have nothing against Skip wearing this gear. But I think the filmmakers could have appealed to a broader audience by showing *more* people in clothes that they would wear if they were pedestrians.

    Can you honestly tell me that the Mayor of Vancouver would be wearing a high-viz vest if he was walking instead of biking? Why wouldn’t he wear a high-viz vest while walking? You’re actually more likely to get hit by a car while walking than biking.

    Now do you see where I’m coming from? By spending most of the video on people in bicycle-specific gear, we are contributing to the perception that bicycling is dangerous and requires bicycle-specific gear when in fact it is no more dangerous than driving your car or walking on the sidewalk.

    The vast majority of the people featured in this video are considered “avid cyclists”. They probably ride a long distance to work. That is really great, I’m really happy that there are people out there that ride 30km+ each way to work.

    But the median average commute in Canada is 7.6km – an easy distance that can be done in regular clothes. I think this video would have done more to promote the conference and the city had they showed some people doing short trips in the city in their walking clothes. That’s all.

  • ilovemyraincoat

    James,

    Given that I’ve read and enjoyed a great deal of your stuff, I find your tone of condescension here sort of disappointing. Taking the position that I’m somehow not advanced enough to understand what you’re saying strikes me as a handy way to simply dismiss me. But there’s another possible explanation that perhaps you’re missing. Maybe I’m not completely dull and maybe I do, in fact, see what you’re getting at. It could be that I just don’t entirely agree with you.

    It’s entirely plausible that the filmmakers might have appealed to a broader audience to start bike commuting by including more people in so-called regular clothes, but I fear many of those new adoptees would quickly fall by the wayside unless they were willing to dress themselves in some weather-appropriate clothing. For lots of people, the commitment to continue that bike commute day after day can be fostered by getting some good, basic rainwear – whether cycling-specific or not – in order to make their ride more enjoyable.

    Judging by your previously posted tips for riding in the rain, I’d say our strategies for dealing with the rain aren’t altogether different. The main difference is we live in different climates. Where I live, the weather is much more similar to Vancouver than to Toronto, and we see rain day after day for several months of the year. So not only do I carry rain gear every day, during those rainy winter months, I actually start my commute every day wearing that rain gear. Because even if it’s not raining at that moment, it very likely will have by the time I’ve reached my destination, which, by the way is considerably closer than 30km from home.

    What I mean to say is sure it’s important, from a PR standpoint, to make bikes appealing to a broad array of people, but I also think there’s a PR benefit to be gained from trying to shift public attitudes and lessen the self-consciousness and stigma that accompanies some of the more cycling-specific clothing. In other words, you say it’s not regular. I say, maybe it is. Or, if not, it could be.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04454437680686627778 James D. Schwartz

    @ilovemyraincoat,

    It’s completely fine to disagree (of course). The frustration that you can see in my tone is because I’m being accused of scorning/judging people for what they wear, when in fact my intention is to state my opinion on how I think we can market bicycling better to people who might perceive it as either dangerous, or requiring extensive gear.

    It’s perfectly fine to argue that showing/interviewing people in cycle-specific gear and high-viz vests can encourage people to hop on a bicycle. I don’t subscribe to that school of thought, but it’s a perfectly fine argument to make. But arguing that I’m judging people, or trying to force people to display a certain attire isn’t fair, because we’re talking about marketing here.

    Even though it doesn’t rain every day here in Toronto, I still carry my rain gear with me every day too. As you say, our approach isn’t all that different. But the only interview where I could see rain in that video was with Amber. I’m positive that they could have found a better balance of bicyclists to interview who were both wearing cycle-specific gear and not wearing the gear.

  • ilovemyraincoat

    James,

    I really don’t believe you’re out to heap scorn on people in yellow raincoats, but that scorn does exist and I certainly think it’s worth considering the larger effects of it. Even if you do diligently refrain from explicitly judging, there are plenty of judgmental, scornful types out there reading along and finding fuel for their self-satisfied scornfulness.

    On some level, it hearkens back to adolescence when the cool kids were openly disdainful of – I don’t know – kids who wore their backpacks with the straps on both shoulders and even used them to carry books.

    I do think your articles show a certain bias, but I don’t mean that in a necessarily nasty or derogatory way. You simply have a strong opinion and you’re trying to advance it. It’s just that for every strong opinion there’s (not always, but) very often a perfectly reasonable flipside.

    And, yes, we are talking about marketing here, but marketing is nothing to be taken lightly. Just as it matters to you that non-yellow jacket wearers are being represented in promotional videos (and they truly could’ve done a better job), it matters to me how yellow jacket wearers are being represented in videos as well as on your blog. The thing is, there seems to be an undertone or implication that cyclists who don’t dress in non-cycling clothes are somehow blighting the cause of cycling, and I guess I think that’s kind of unfair.

  • Anonymous

    Ottawa biker here…

    Winter, -35, snowy, 8km ride (one way), -yea, I wear some specialized clothing in those conditions. Some even say “MEC”. Splash pants, gloves, and face materials to deal with the frost. Underneath these co-op brand items, I wear regular street clothes. In any conditions not resembling the arctic tundra I wear regular street clothes. Why?,B/c when I’m on and off my bike, I feel as if I’m an ambassador between the bikers and drivers. I know of many people who feel this way. If I look (and feel) like a terminator-warrior on a bike then I’m not doing my job on getting people on bikes. I just don’t think hard-core appeals to the Joe plumbers.

    I compete with slick multi-million dollar ad campaigns propagated by the likes of BMW and Merc. Step into a a new 3-series or C-class, hard to compare to the likes of my Sears Free Spirit 10sp. Where I can challenge the dominance of the car is on the level of lifestyle. I don’t think it’s “healthy” for bike culture to be singularly attached to the Marathon men among us. Sure, biking is healthy, but that fact alone isn’t going to get people away from driving to their gyms.

    Cycle chic (though I’m nowhere near the Copenhagen level of chic)appeals to the masses. Looking like you’re enjoying the activity of something goes a long way in popularizing that activity. One need not have the “Lance look” written all over them when out and about on their velo. Sure, that specialized equipment can be more comfortable, but you just cannot live day-to-day that way. I know people who can, but they don’t go around meeting clients or pitching sales.

    Biking is a political activity and those who want to progress this activity must understand this. When you bike, you take away revenues from a myriad of industries. The activity can also support certain “bike-centred” industries and breed profit motivated complexes. It’s the political economy of biking! We have to “sell” biking on different grounds. I think the readers here at the Urban Country know this. We shouldn’t be selling consumables on the same level that BMW and Merc do.

    On this note, we have to be suspect of industry spokespersons leading certain bicycle-centred discussions. Yea yea, “he was asked, he’s volunteering, he’s neutral”. Nothing in this world is depoliticized and, at the end of the day, we must complicate this. This certain individual gets a pay cheque and the hand that feeds is difficult to bite. We need critical voices and not more of the same.

    Bikers who want to progress their sacred activity must “sell” it. Simple as that. Look good and talk good about biking. This will get more people onto bikes. Maybe other methods are best, like segregated bike lanes and bubble-wrapped cars, but on the question of armour-clad cyclists versus people on bikes propagating the bike message, I think cotton wins out. This ambassadorial method works best to spread the bike orthodox. This is partly why we’re all here reading this blog isn’t it?

    Wrote way too much and did so without any structural discipline. Sorry guys! I guess I just wanted a soundboard.

  • Anonymous

    It would be interesting to see stats for bicycle commute distances.

    It makes little sense to change to cycling clothes for a 5-8 km ride with no major hills. But take a 20km ride each way with a couple of big hills, and suddenly a fast bike, specialized clothes, and a shower at each end make a lot more sense.

  • Anonymous

    Having showers at most destinations would be great, but the infrastructure costs make this a bit impractical. Cities and even towns could extend the benefits of biking by integrating mass transit with bicycles. Whether it be bike racks on buses or bike areas located in light rail vehicles, these steps will increase cycling participation for those who don’t wanna bust out a 20km run. Runs which almost always end in sweats. Urban centres should do more to accommodate the long distance rider, but I feel it would be money better spent if we got the “average” citizen to bike 8km or less, rather than accommodating the more “hard-core”. Of course, we could almost definitely do more for both groups if we took just a fraction of funding away from the autos, lament.

    I think this is why so many of us are excited about BIXI roll outs in various cities. When unleashed in significant numbers, these bike sharing programs connect the various disparate methods of mass transit. -Also, making car ownership easier for suburbans who dare to venture into the city. By integrating BIXI into our cities, perhaps the one-way 20km bike ride can, for most people, turn into the 60km weekend workout. Though, there will always be the people who want to mash their pedals everyday to work over longer distances. God bless them.

    Shorter commutes lesson the need for “moon fabrics” and maybe makes it easier and more affordable to live with bicycles as opposed to solely exercising on a bicycle.

  • Annie

    I never would have thought that Van Velo City conference organisers could be so thick and dense… to the point of not understanding basic and simple reasoning…
    Anyways, while visiting Vancouver (being a montrealer) I never felt safe biking around. I understand why now.
    We will be launching our very own Montreal Cycle Chic in a few days (I’m not involved at all). This along with the BIXI effect should hopefully soon propel us in the European bicycle league, crossing fingers.
    Vancouverites can continue biking around in full metal jackets armours for all we care… It’s just too bad they got to organise this conference, they will bring down shame and embarrassment on the whole of Canada once more which will take years to dispell.

  • Annie

    I never would have thought that Van Velo City conference organisers could be so thick and dense… to the point of not understanding basic and simple reasoning…
    Anyways, while visiting Vancouver (being a montrealer) I never felt safe biking around. I understand why now.
    We will be launching our very own Montreal Cycle Chic in a few days (I’m not involved at all). This along with the BIXI effect should hopefully soon propel us in the European bicycle league, crossing fingers.
    Vancouverites can continue biking around in full metal jackets armours for all we care… It’s just too bad they got to organise this conference, they will bring down shame and embarrassment on the whole of Canada once more which will take years to dispell.

  • Annie

    Special bicycle gear, especially visibility jackets and loads of helmets are a TRUE and SURE sign that the bicycle culture is unhealthy, and totally controlled by one of its sub-cultural bicycle tribes: the sports geeks/roadies.
    Who wants to identify to that dorky image? How does that incite anyone to step down from their car and ride a bicycle? Who wants to carry all that junk around in an additional bag and be the one who showers at work, etc. i.e. the only weirdo in the office?
    I cannot believe that Vancouver’s bike culture is only composed of white 40 year old males, WTF? And that Amber would be the typical Vancouver biking girl?
    There was not one single sit-up bike in the video!!! And do these folks wear these ridiculous yellow jackets on normal days when they are not on their bikes?
    And what is up with the stupid not-so-subtle helmet propaganda, can’t they take them of at least to speak to the camera? After Copenhagen and Sevilla are we going to look like morons to the rest of the world, oh boy, what a regression!!!
    And how are theses guys going to handle the bike share system when it comes in, huh, like Australia??? Can anyone spell F-A-I-L-U-R-E????
    I know plenty of normal folks biking in Vancouver, where are they? No seniors? Where are the hippies and their West coast flair, where are the freaking hipsters on their fixies? The messenger wannabes? No parents cargoing children around? No Asian people in Vancouver WTF?
    And do they need to recite their text like John Wayne down from his high horse?
    Anyways, pathetic…

  • Annie

    Special bicycle gear, especially visibility jackets and loads of helmets are a TRUE and SURE sign that the bicycle culture is unhealthy, and totally controlled by one of its sub-cultural bicycle tribes: the sports geeks/roadies.
    Who wants to identify to that dorky image? How does that incite anyone to step down from their car and ride a bicycle? Who wants to carry all that junk around in an additional bag and be the one who showers at work, etc. i.e. the only weirdo in the office?
    I cannot believe that Vancouver’s bike culture is only composed of white 40 year old males, WTF? And that Amber would be the typical Vancouver biking girl?
    There was not one single sit-up bike in the video!!! And do these folks wear these ridiculous yellow jackets on normal days when they are not on their bikes?
    And what is up with the stupid not-so-subtle helmet propaganda, can’t they take them of at least to speak to the camera? After Copenhagen and Sevilla are we going to look like morons to the rest of the world, oh boy, what a regression!!!
    And how are theses guys going to handle the bike share system when it comes in, huh, like Australia??? Can anyone spell F-A-I-L-U-R-E????
    I know plenty of normal folks biking in Vancouver, where are they? No seniors? Where are the hippies and their West coast flair, where are the freaking hipsters on their fixies? The messenger wannabes? No parents cargoing children around? No Asian people in Vancouver WTF?
    And do they need to recite their text like John Wayne down from his high horse?
    Anyways, pathetic…

  • http://SEO-Website-Designer.com/ Tiggerito

    The Velo-city 2012 website is no longer related to the event so it’s great you have some of their resources here.