Any bicyclist knows that their bike is a tool for and within urbanism, one which fights traffic, crowding issues, unhealthy habits, and social apathy (it’s hard to notice that Ma’n’Pa shop when you’re flying by on a lifted highway at 60MPH).
But for Melissa Balmer, founder of Pedal Love and director of Women on Bikes California, there’s something that many bicyclists are missing: if we make bicycling more emotionally engaging and visually appealing, we can get even the most staunch of anti-bike folk to perhaps ride (at least on their time off). It is for this reason that she started Stylish by Bike, an event that is slowly becoming one of the most popular staples of the Downtown Long Beach Associates (DLBA)’s annual Bike Fest.
“I’m an idealist about the bike as a tool for urban optimism, but I’m a pragmatic one,” Balmer said. I know not everyone is going to want to ride a bike, but I do know the more stylish we make our marketing outreach as bike advocates the more people will be inspired to either give it a try again, or try riding for the first time.”
This isn’t to downsize safety—“always of prime importance,” Balmer said—or infrastructure or laws but that, in terms of advocacy, we need to “get better at selling the sizzle,” as Balmer puts it. While the hardcore bicyclists could care less about dripping with sweat, taking on dangerous adventures (I myself actually enjoy riding in traffic), or challenging one’s own mile time, these types of foci are fun for precisely those kind of people: hardcore bicyclists. According to Balmer’s logic, if the biking revolution is to get more people on bikes on a daily basis, being a bike fundamentalist will get us nowhere.
“This is the second year I’ve had the privilege of coordinating ‘lifestyle’ bike events for the DLBA’s Bike Fest and yes, a big part of why I’m so thrilled to play this role is my passion for the power of fashion to influence change,” Balmer said. “Yes, for some people bikes are just tools, just as cars are just tools. But why not give them a personal stamp?”
Balmer loves historical references, often talking about the influence of fashion on everything from LGBT culture to car culture to her mother traveling to Tijuana to get wrought iron furniture to gold leaf.
“The DIY revolution means you can customize pretty much anything. We live in a free, very creative society,” Balmer said. “Let’s embrace that creative power for bicycling, not ignore or chastise it.”
While last year’s Stylish by Bike focused specifically on vintage styles, this year’s offerings are expanded to include those who like things a little more contemporary.
For those who think they can rock the outfit and bike, him and her honors will be provided to best modern and vintage bike and fashions. It is a contest, meaning there will be prizes (including that utterly badass Harrison bag from Linus) and those prizes will be determined by the judges: Paul Ku of City Grounds and vintage bike collector Richard Carmichael, as well as Joen Garnica of Garnica Interiors and Kirk Saylin of Saylin Studios.
“What will better engage most people is focusing on the fun. To do that we need to take more pages from the style mavens and Madison Ave. on how to win hearts and minds—that’s Stylish on Bikes,” Balmer said. “What’s so great is that the DLBA totally gets why bicycling is important to a vibrant and healthy urban core, but that they also understand that there are many different ways to love to ride your bike.”
For those interested in joining in on the contest, a $5 fee is required to enter per category. You can pre-register via [email protected] or you can register at the event at 2PM when Bike Fest begins on May 3rd in the East Village Arts District. At 2:30PM, all contestants will parade through a criterium course to show off their awesome bikes and apparel while winners will be announced at 6PM. For more information, click here.
Photos: Lisa Beth Anderson.