When one considers the classic dandyish modes of conveyance, the bicycle does not at first blush top the list. Rather, one first thinks of the horse (either actually ridden or merely wagered upon), followed down through history by the yacht and the doomed first-class ocean-liner, then perhaps in the air by the Graf Zeppelin, the private plane, the China Clipper and, finally, the Concord. On the ground, the classic roadster springs to mind (as does the racing car (à la Porfirio Rubirosa), followed by the chauffer-driven Rolls and the Town Car.
But the bicycle? Not so much.
There is, however, a growing movement afoot that may change this common conception. They’re called “tweed rides” or “tweed runs” and they’re happening periodically in cities across the Occident. At these events, participants get decked out in their tweedy Sunday best and take their classic (or neo-classic) bicycles for a leisurely cruise across town to some designated pastoral spot or watering hole, where the party really begins.
This may be fair to the venerable velocipede. The first “bicycle” – that is, a two wheeled, human powered transport – was invented in 1818 by a German baron. Aptly nicknamed the “dandy horse,” this bone-shaker was simply a wooden frame over a pair of in-line metal wheels and a handlebar for steering. The rider straddled the contraption and pushed it forward like a kick scooter, setting off his tight-fitting, instep-strapped “inexpressibles” admirably to the ladies. (Talk about sacrificing comfort and practicality on the altar of style.) Later in the 19th century, bicycles more or less as we know them today were all the rage among fashionable urbanites wanting to zip around town rapidly. The bike-riding Oxford student in tweed jacket, flapping robe and mortarboard cap is among the most classic images.
Through the magic of the googling engine, we were recently apprised of an article in the Washington Post about an upcoming “Seersucker Ride” (June 9) sponsored by a D.C. outfit calling itself “Dandies and Quaintrelles.”
The article quotes a Ms. Holly Bass, identified as a “performance artist” who organizes D and Q’s cycling events. “It’s as much about an attitude as it is about a style of dress,” she told the Post. “It’s about harking back to an era when the way in which you presented yourself was viewed as a reflection of respect, courtesy and manners.”
The very same day we got an invite to a “Last Minute Tweed Ride,” organized by your correspondent’s hometown San Francisco tweed ride group, SF Tweed, the event is scheduled for Sunday, June 3. Sadly, we’ll be celebrating H.M. Queen Elizabeth’s Thames Diamond Jubilee Pageant (albeit from a different time zone) that day and won’t be in any fit condition to ride. (Note: Cycling under the influence may result in arrest.)
The tweed ride movement – if such it is – is an outgrowth of a new, practical interest in cycling to get around urban areas either without a car (read: “green”) or using public transportation (read: dirty, dull). Finding a stylish way to do this, one that sets one rider apart from another, is only natural. When the automobile hit the big time after Henry Ford released the Model-T on the world, for example, the first thing people wanted was something flashier, bigger, more elegant than the guy next door. (“You can have any color as long as it’s black,” Ford once quipped.)
The most recent (and obnoxious) trend among cyclists has been the “fixie” or “fixed-gear” bike with no brakes. Intended for the velodrome and not the street, the fixie requires the rider’s legs to revolve in constant motion with no coasting possible. (Where, we ask, is the fun in that?) This is the preferred choice among 20-nothing hipsters who seem to believe that the legal injunction to STOP at intersections applies only to the unhip.
Vintage bikes (old, refurbished Raleighs, Schwinns, Hercules, BSAs and the like) and new but vintage-inspired models (such as those from Linus) and custom bikes, meanwhile, are all the rage among the tweedsters. This is the more stately choice.
Of course, like retro-cycling itself, the terms “dandy” and “dandyism” have both undergone a resurgence in recent years, as evidenced by the existence of groups like Dandies & Quaintrelles, online retail outlets like the Fine and Dandy Shop and the popularity of formerly niche trends like Steampunk, not to mention luxury publications like Dandy Magazine and The Rake. Historical and fantasy costuming are growing businesses catering to those with the money and time to spend on them, as is custom tailoring. Whether this “dandy” resurgence is merely a social media phenomenon – a “me-to” flash-in-the-pan subcultural trend – or a genuine interest in the literature and the life remains to be seen. (There are those who read history while others just look at the pictures – because they saw some cool ones on Facebook.) What’s becoming clear is that some young people at least, even some young people in the high technology fields, are fed up with baggy jeans and spandex cycling shorts.
We’ll take that as a can of WD-40 half full.
(Top photo by Swamibu via Flickr, CC 2.0)