Finoak Blog

Cycling culture: chic and critical

Critical Mass

Nowadays, it’s far from unusual to see chicly attired cyclists atop sleek fix-gear bikes casually peddling around town.

This almost fanatical indulgence in biking, which up until just a few years ago exclusively belonged to the shared domain of bicycle couriers, professionals and eccentrics, has now entered the mainstream – and in a big way. Not only do high-street retailers stock aesthetic conceptions of how the bike should be – you can now get your Charge or Fuji 'fixie' from Evans Cycles down the road – but it is becoming easier to find bespoke bike shops that will tailor your cycle's specs to your needs. And while the province of bike knowledge and bike lore – 'fixie culture' – was once dominated by men, women are now claiming their rightful place in its burgeoning world. On my own (rusty-old-banger-of-a) bike, I now encounter seemingly as many tattooed and sharply dressed female cyclists as I do male.

The question is: where do they go to get kitted out in the latest and greatest?

Fixie Fiends
Fixie Fiends

You might be familiar with the classy (and consequently rather pricy) Brooks range of cycle bags and leather saddles. They offer luscious items, which, if chosen for the full range, will put your 21st-century vehicle through a time machine and spit it out on one of the more leisurely stretches of a divine 1930s Tour de France. Their brand is all about brown leathers and soft Eton satchels, and they are now more popular than ever.

With the traditional aesthetic of this old company capturing the modern cyclist’s imagination so well, various smaller producers have started following suit, tailoring their traditions and talents to cyclists. Ally Capellino is one such example of a company entering this particular market. Designers since the 1980's, they have a reputation for realising a paradox in cloth and thread: ‘modern yet timeless’ clothing. After collaborating with Carradice of Nelson, who have been in the bike pannier business for over 70 years, Ally Capellino now offer a small and select range of rather beautiful bicycle bags. These are not only pleasing to the eye but are also made with functionality in mind; proofed in waxed cotton with completely water-resistant linings, the bags (including panniers and rucksacks) offer silver reflective trim for night-time visibility and special compartments for laptops – a true marriage of style and substance.

Tour de France, 1930
Tour de France, 1930s

Cloud 9 Cycles, founded in 2009, is a frame and bike company which specialises in the quaint. Not only do they make their own bikes, offering bespoke brazing, lugging and welding, but they boast an open plan in-store workshop that gives customers an opportunity to see exactly how and what they are doing to their bikes.

Could bikes start to rule the roads, stealing the lead from cars? A total coup d’etat seems unlikely, but there are certainly murmurs of bike rebellion across various cities. Critical Mass takes these whispers to a-whole-nother level – it is an informal cycle event held on the last Friday of each month that has cyclists shouting their presence. It began in San Francisco in 1992, and has now spread to over 300 cities across the world. The New Yorker defined Critical Mass as "monthly political-protest rides"; however, because of its spontaneous character (there is no protest 'leader' and no planned protest route), the Mass can take a legal position to allow it to occur without advance notification of the police.

San Francisco Critical Mass
San Francisco Critical Mass

There is no doubt that Critical Mass can be antagonistic to other road traffic, often blocking off huge swathes of the city and producing a fair amount of automobile anxiety. Because of the frequently marginalised status of cyclists – particularly in cities, where it is not uncommon to feel hassled if not endangered by other road traffic – particular cyclists demonstrate strong aggression under the strength-in-numbers which gives Critical Mass its name, an aggression which is often bewildering to a non-cyclist.

A few priorities for the road clearly need to be worked out. In the meantime, let's just hope that as many people as possible can take solace in the bespoke frames and attractive leather saddles that are now tribal gear for the clan of furious and increasingly powerful cyclists...