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Canadian Urbanism Uncovered

Toronto gets Cycle Chic

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As cities all over the world try to catch-up with Copenhagen’s bike culture, the two-wheeled lifestyle is becoming ever more chic. Toronto is flaunting its cycle chic with 416cyclestyle, a blog based on the popular copenhagencyclechic, showcasing images by velotographers Xander N’ Dante of trendy, hipsters as they pedal around the city.

The global phenomenon of cycle chic, coined in Copenhagen of course, has helped change the way we look at cycling as a form of everyday transportation. One need no longer choose function over fashion, as individuality reigns. This applies not only to clothing, but also to how cyclists are accessorizing their bikes, from silk flowers to milk crates. Even retailers are seeing the opportunities in bike fashion, such as Top Shops Bike Club, which kicked off the opening of Top Shop NYC this summer, a week long event with cycle-friendly styling tips and free bike rentals.

Celebrities are also singing praise for the bicycle. With Bicycle Diaries, David Byrne, Talking Heads lead singer, describes his world from the height of a bicycle seat, as stated on his website, it “became his panoramic window on urban life, a magical way of opening one’s eyes to the inner workings and rhythms of a city’s geography and population.” He recently collaborated with the New York City Department of Transportation on a series of nine unique bike racks in are located in a number of neighbourhoods in Manhattan and Brooklyn (sadly, only for 364 days).

With organizations such as the Toronto Cyclists Union and the Bike Storage Station, at Union Station, cyclists are gaining a more cohesive voice and presence in the city, which can be seen by the number of websites and blogs dedicated to Toronto bike culture.

However, I am slightly concerned with the overall lack of helmets in many of these cycle chic photos, so if anyone can invent a helmet that is hipster approved, you’d be on to a winner.

Photo by Xander N’ Dante



  1. The people who are really pushing biking in this city are the ones who demand their right to be on the road with cars. I saw a squad of at least 20 bikes going down bayview across all the lanes going south.

    There needs to be so many, that the city has to give us designated and protected lanes. Next time you’re riding and see someone else on the road. Catch up, say hi and ride in solidarity.

  2. Hey we have sweet bike racks in Parkdale! I dont know how unique they are but I’ve never seen 2 the same.

  3. good thing the woman pictured is riding on the sidewalk. this will give her outfit extra attention.

  4. A while back I helped out at an event where people were giving out stickers that said ‘I wear a helmet so you can drive like an asshole’. These cyclists are doing the exact opposite – they’re saying that there’s a real, normal person here, and that yes, they’re fragile, and please take care. It’s not an extreme sport, there’s no cause for fear or anything more than proper care and concern. Who else wears helmets? Bobsledders, motorcyclists, ice climbers, mountain bikers, construction workers. All hardcore stuff. Not people out for a fashionable stroll along their local high street, or down to the corner pub. Kudos to these folks for insisting that cycling is normal.

  5. D,

    That’s ridiculous logic. Yes cycling is normal, but wearing a helmet is normal too. Driving a car is normal, it isn’t extreme, but we wear seatbelts. Eating is normal, but we make sure food is prepared to certain standards of safety. Plugging in a light is normal, but we make sure the plug is safe and CSA approved. Etc ad infinitum.

  6. i wouldn’t mind seeing some fashionable bike helmets, in contrast to the currently-available “sporty” and “bargain” styles.

    i’m also not a big fan of all the synthetic materials involved in dressing for cold-weather, sunlight-free cycling. i’m speaking of synthetic fleeces, goretex jackets with reflective tape, polyester gloves, and a styrofoam helmet with rigid plastic coating.

    to my knowledge, nobody makes clothing that is properly cut for cycling in natural fabrics — for example, my regular cotton and wool jackets have insufficient room between the shoulder blades and constrict at the top of the sleeve when bike-riding. closures for regular jackets are an issue too when cycling.

    biking clothes in natural fibres or fashionable-but-practical styles would be a trend that i could seriously get behind. i’m guessing a lot of others would agree with me on that one, if only to cut down on the strange looks when arriving at work in the current range of synthetic-heavy cycling gear.

  7. Cycling culture is a clever form of privatisation/responsibilisation of public transport.

    “Get out and pedal yourself, citizen!”

  8. mkm

    There are clothing manufacturers who make cycling-wear in something other than spandex and polyester.

    On the high-end you will find brands like Rapha and Outlier. Also, Sugio makes a line of wool clothes cut for cycling, though I mostly just see the base layers at shops in Toronto. There are options, they just aren’t in every shop.

    As for the lady in the photo, she’s in the crosswalk, not on the sidewalk. She may also be “coming in for a landing” at a ring and post in front of the Starbucks located at this corner. Oh, how quick we are to point out other people’s supposed “faults.”

    Xander N’Dante are archiving an aspect of our street lives. You may not agree with the choices made by their subjects, oh well.

  9. mkm

    Urbane has just stocked a bunch of cycle specific clothing made from natural fibres. Sheila Moon (based in San Fran) makes great clothing from cotton and wool. Urbane has a load of it in right now. I was in there trying it on the other day…. it’s great!

  10. Why do pictures of cyclists have to turn into a helmet vs no helmet debate? Especially in the cycling community, all this does is allow drivers to claim that cyclists who chose to not wear a helmet are somehow irresponsible. The debate does nothing to advance our concerns. It’s a red herring when we should be more focused on how to get more people on bikes – which is exactly what blogs which focus on how cycling is cool are doing. Let’s celebrate that and leave the helment agenda aside.

  11. In my opinion Dan the helmet issue says to me there is no cycling community and there is no “our concerns”. There are concerns specific to bikes moving through the city, but there is no “us.” The helmet/no-helmet issue is so fundamental that I reject the idea outright that I’m part of a “community” simply because I ride my bike everyday. Community’s have shared values, and so far, I don’t see that.

  12. Wow – you really see helmets as the touch stone for shared values amongst cyclists? That really surprises me, especially considering your immense writing catalog which consistently points out our shared communities.

    If your position on helmet use comes from a concern for safety, then there are lots of arguments which show getting more cyclists on the road increases our safety. Can you explain what shared values (or lack thereof) you see in the helmet debate?

    By the way, I’ve always appreciated your ideas, so I really do want to hear you out on this one.

  13. Bikes are a nice way to express your creativity. I see many interesting colours on bikes, wheels and even handle bars these days. It’s like Queen St.W has EXPLODED and splashed itself on to bikes. On the down side, bike’s will probably become more expensive. But obviously, a far less expensive transport option(*Now if only the suburbs were designed for this culture aswell. Darn developers and planners)

  14. Dan – I swore after the last dust-up I would remain silent, but there I went this morning and didn’t. This may be the easy way out, but I outlined my main concerns over this issue back in September in this monster thread:

    I still maintain all it takes is an acknowledgment of a helmet’s utility and general support for wearing of them (rather than personal choice) to smooth this over and make it go away (for me, personally, but also as a political landmine). I’ve thought about writing about it and putting it together more thoughtfully, but for now, would rather just keep my helmeted head down and ride alone.

  15. Right, I remember that string now Shawn.

    But I read your arguments then as more to do with political strategy, not shared values. I do think there are lots of issues everyone in the cycling community can rally around such as dedicated bike lanes and updating the driver’s manual.

    And I do wear a helmet, but definitely don’t support forcing everyone to do the same.

    But come on, your really think that if we all don’t agree and be vocal on a helmet’s utility then we have no shared values? Cause even though I don’t think we see eye to eye on this particular issue, I do see lots that we collectively value on this blog and others.

  16. I find that some bikes are just made for better fashion, especially for women. They are made not to go fast, thus less sweating. And I see more and more people riding in suits and great outfits.

    (I hope we can turn this post into a discussion on fashion and not helmets/shared values, since we have a tonne of other posts about that topic, but this may be one of only a few on bike fashion).

  17. Fair enough Matthew. I’m thrilled to see our own copenhagencyclechic – a favourite of mine for a long time. When we have people who see cycling as something practical and fashionable it’s a positive sign of a healthy biking community. Down with lycra!

  18. thanks for the tips about bike gear made in natural fabrics. i am very pleased to be corrected on that point. further to the good suggestions, i checked out one of the websites and was pretty shocked by the prices — i think the lady from san francisco had shirts or jackets in the $200 range. wow. maybe that’s why other designers rely on synthetics to make bike-specific clothes.

    anyway, i still would like to see more stylish CSA-approved helmets. just this morning i saw a very fashionable lady in an all-black helmet, which went well with her outfit of knee-high leather riding boots, brown corduroy skirt and jean jacket. so much nicer than what i was wearing.

  19. Why does a certain section of cycle culture have to be so militant? Knowing there’s a faction of “bike-or-nothing” folks at work pissing off motorists is one of the few things that makes me ashamed to be a cyclist. The other being spandex shorts.

  20. Er, mind if I throw in my two cents on the helmets vs. fashion thing? Excellent. I totally agree that the bike helmet (especially the sporty racer style helmet) seems completely out of place with street clothing and the biking-as-normal-transportation-and-simple-fun ethos, but as someone who had a slow speed (30 kmh) motorcycle accident a number of years ago and isn’t drooling today thanks only to a top notch motorcycle helmet that did it’s job and absorbed the impact between curb and skull, I’m pretty inclined to wear one when I cycle through Toronto’s somewhat dodgey traffic. But I wear a drab green Giro that doesn’t make me look like I’m trying to win the Tour de France and goes pretty darn well (if I may say so) with jeans and canvas jackets. It’s got slots that keep my head cool in the summer and with a circular bit cut from a plastic shopping bag inserted (seriously, try it), it keeps my head warm in the winter. But if you really want to make a cool fashion statement, check out They’re available in a few select Toronto stores (like Sweet Pete’s), the designs are fantastic, and they’re not expensive, either!

  21. Biking in Canada has always been seen as social anathema. Poor pedal boy can’t afford a car!

    Being a fashionable cyclist requires an output of money. There are many different mythical cycling cults… performance, hipster fixed gear, euro style commuter. Is it truly about pro-fitness, pro-environment lifestyle or just another costume contest for well paid “yupsters” to compete in? Going out in flannel, jeans and an orange toque,with a rusty old CCM, I wouldn’t be surprised if people starting tossing alms your way.

    In a sprawling hilly city with some snow cover 4 months of the year,commuter cycling isn’t practical for 90% of the population, hence mainly enthusiast participation,(of which i am one).

    Practical mass commuter cycling and fashion are practically antagonists. If you want to sustain over 30 km/hr speeds in rolling terrain your purchases will inherently look very tour de france. That speed means sweating, and helmet use. Dont be surprised if a sweat-able Pearl Izumi outfit or some other costs over $200. Buy cheap nylon and you’ll get sweat drenched.

    As for a stylish helmet, organic looking materials and fabrics is a great idea. For the hipster market… I suggest a helmet shaped like a combed bob haircut :).

  22. Here in Montreal have the Bixi. A lot of very nice dressed people rent these bikes to get around downtown. Very cool indeed