Bike tribes

People have not only discovered that bikes can help them navigate the metropolis, they can also be used as a statement to express who they are and what they're into.


Published July 8, 2007 by The Independent
By Tom Morris 

Over the past year the number of cyclists in London has increased by 83 per cent. People have not only discovered that bikes can help them navigate the metropolis, they can also be used as a statement to express who they are and what they're into.

Go to cities such as Copenhagen and Amsterdam and you'll notice that everybody rides, but most of the bikes are identical. Here, our cycle lanes and box junctions are filled up with recumbants, vintage racers and folding and fixed-wheel bikes. London's complex fashion tribes are aligning themselves to a corresponding riding style, and your choice of bike is now an extension of your wardrobe and a reflection of what's happening on the street, in politics, music, fashion and art. Our cyclists, it seems, are tribalising themselves.

Each tribe has its own idiosyncrasies. The vintage tribe, for example, is all about the detail. If you've got a 1940s bike you're unlikely to ride it wearing a tracksuit. If you've scoured the country to find original 1950s wheel hubs, chances are you'll pay similar attention to your vintage tweeds.

The group with the strictest codes is the fixed-wheel tribe. The fixed wheel is a track bike with no gears and often no brakes. Riders wear combats or rolled up jeans rather than Lycra. You'd imagine they'd never be without a helmet. On the contrary, this would be a huge faux pas: Fixies are fearless and, they reckon, too skilled to crash.

The sportive tribe also has a strict set of unspoken rules. If you're riding a £3,000 carbon racing bike and you're not wearing pro gear, you'll never be taken seriously. It's all about team jerseys, matching shorts, racing shoes and even cycling gloves. The whole idea is to make yourself look like a professional racer. Although the chances that you are one are extremely slim.

My company, Bobbin Bicycles, sells Dutch Oma bikes to the traditional tribe. Our customers wear skirts and macs and they want to coast around looking graceful. I got into riding these bikes while living in Amsterdam and my aim is to fill London's cycle lanes with flocks of happy, gliding peddlers. My big secret is that my alter ego is an ardent fixie, but don't tell anyone that. s

Traditional tribe

Name: Sîan Emmison, artist
Age: 32
Riding style: I ride a Dutch Bobbin because it's really comfortable, elegant and has loads of character. It's very upright too and being higher up makes me feel very safe. I'm going for the land girls look here, but I also ride it in frocks and macs as well.
Most frequent journey: From my home in Old Street to my studio in Clerkenwell. It's a journey of about a mile and half.

Fold-up tribe

Name: Cliff Rice, IT manager
Age: 45
Riding style: This is a Brompton M31. It folds in 15 seconds and gives me a lot of freedom. I ride it in my suit, shirt, tie, work shoes and obviously a helmet – I wouldn't be without one. My socks were a present from my son and say " best dad in the world" on them. My other bike is an Airnimal racer. I'm going to France to do La Marmotte (174kmrace). It's the daddy of all rides. Riding the fold-up keeps me trim.
Most frequent journey: From my house to Cuffley station, in Hertfordshire. Then Finsbury Park to Warren Street.

Fixed-wheel tribe

Name: Jacqui Shannon, event organiser
Age: 33
Riding style: This is a custom-built, fixed-wheel track bike by Mercian. The paint is custom mixed so no other person could have the same colour. The rims are imported from Amsterdam and the hubs from Italy. I'm wearing a Rapha jersey ( their stuff is beautiful and functional – I can wear it on my bike as well as in meetings. I love Swallow as well – it's a new cycle range by Savile Row's Jan Cicmanec.
Most frequent journey: Hackney to the City. I like to play in traffic and race messengers on the way.