When I first started to ride a bike in Toronto, I didn’t wear a helmet. I went from dropping off my first and last month’s rent for my first ever Toronto apartment and popped into a cute vintage shop on Queen West that also sold second-hand bikes. I bought one, hopped on it, and didn’t think twice about protecting my head from the super crazy drivers on Queen West. For over a year and a half, I rode without a bike helmet. The major reason, I’m embarrassed to admit, is because I didn’t want to ruin my hair. At that point, my hair was pretty short and I was still straightening it every day; wearing a bike helmet would clearly screw up all of the work that my beloved flat iron did. Plus how was I going to wear a cute hat? It wasn’t until a boyfriend of mine (now an ex) said: what does it matter what your hair looks like if you get hit by a car? Point taken.
I went to a bike shop in Kensington Market, found a “cute” helmet (pictured below) and never looked back. Now, 6 years later, I can’t imagine riding my bike without my helmet. Every summer I embrace the sweat and helmet hair that comes with wearing my pink noggin protector (which says “I Love My Brain” on the back — TRUE STORY).
I recently read Margaret Wente’s article in the Globe and Mail, “Where all are the female cyclists?” and was really pissed off. The answer that Wente gives for the lack of female cyclists in Toronto is: women don’t like to sweat or have “helmet head.” Wente – rather uncritically – tells her readers how Citi Bike in NYC is trying to up the enthusiasm factor for women by putting bikes in display windows at Bloomingdales – because, you know, the only way to really appeal to women is through fashion. Wente ends her article by suggesting that if we want more female bikers, we should “try out pink streamers.” Now I love pink and streamers as much as the next person, but really?!?!
Dandyhorse Magazine responded to Wente’s article with all of the frustration and anger that I felt after reading it. Claire McFarland asks: “Does she really believe that women are so vain they would choose not to use one of the most efficient forms of transportation in the city just because it might mess up their make-up? It makes me cringe that Wente implies women should be wearing make-up in the first place and that they must always be ‘fresh-smelling and well-groomed.’”
McFarland suggests that maybe the reason women don’t bike as much as men is exactly because of the kinds of body policing that Wente promotes in her article: if you sweat and people see that you are sweating, your lady-factor drops dramatically.
As angry as I was with Wente’s rather unfeminist article, in which she tells us how she stopped riding 30 years ago because of the “sweat problem,” I realized that it was exactly that logic that made me not wear a helmet for a year and a half. But here’s the difference: instead of stopping biking, I just came to terms with the fact that humans sweat. And women are humans, so we sweat too. My hair doesn’t need to look perfect. Instead of conforming to the perfectly smelling, perfectly put together image of a Wente-woman, I realized that part of biking in the city meant that I wasn’t always going to look picture perfect.
Biking and looking cute aren’t antithetical. Just look at the Toronto bike gang “The Deadly Nightshades.” Or, you can just look at my lady pals who bike in Toronto on the regular. I asked some of my friends if they wouldn’t mind posing with their bikes and bike helmets and answer some of my questions about how they find a balance between their love of biking and their love of fashion. As it turns out, I’m not the only one who has embraced helmet hair and sweat. I really enjoyed reading their responses. I hope you do too!
Question: How long have you been riding a bike for? And were there gaps in between?
Natalie: I didn’t learn to really ride a bike until I was 10. I remember being a bit embarrassed that I was so “old” by the time I was learning to ride. I rode lots around my neighbourhood until I entered high school when long-range biking seemed like a non-option. I walked 40 minutes every day to school, listening to Dashboard Confessional when I could have been biking! Guh! I didn’t start biking again until I moved to Toronto, around age 23. I have been biking consistently ever since.
Kash: I rode my bike when I was a kid, but stopped from when I was about 13 or so—I got my learner’s license at 14 and I started driving at 16, so from 14-20 it was all about playing tegan & sara on repeat in cars and having ~*~many feelings~*~. I started biking again when I was 20 or so because of a boy I was dating who used bikes as his primary method of transportation and at the time I was all about going on dreamy bike ride dates with him… but I ended up really loving it and stuck with it even after the love for that boy ended.
Veronica: I rode my bike from when I was a kid til when I moved to Toronto for undergrad. I was too terrified I would die on the city streets. Also, hurling through town in an underground tube of metal was too exciting to pass up (after living this reality, it’s like… 5/10. Delays and creepy manspreaders really bring the rocket down).
Nicole: I grew up in a village called Shanty Bay, a very small rural area north of Toronto, and together with all of the kids in the neighborhood, we called ourselves the Shanty Bay Bike Club. (We weren’t actually a club, we just rode around as a pack). I stopped riding my bike when I hit adolescence, perhaps because I thought it hindered my cool factor. Now, having lived in Toronto for just under a year, starting my PhD and living in the vicinity of downtown, my bike continues to serve as a source of independence.
Question: What is one of the biggest outfit challenges you face when biking? How often do you have to change your outfit in order to be bike appropriate? Do you have any tactics for combatting this? (Modesty shorts, tying a penny into your skirt so it doesn’t get caught?)
Veronica: I am majorly sweaty so I often worry about armpit stains! Also, I try to avoid bras at all costs, which means leaning over to ride my bike also means flashing the city at large. Their gain, imho. By the time someone registers that they’ve seen my underpants, I’m dust in the wind, baby.
Nicole: To be honest, I don’t feel like I need to be all that bike appropriate. I used to wear those restrictive denim mini-skirts on the back of my mother’s motorcycle when I was 13; I was never embarrassed, I felt rather insistent that I should wear what I wanted to wear and if someone else found it inappropriate, that was their problem.
Natalie: Long skirts are my biggest fashion challenge. So much so that I have considered throwing out all my maxi skirts all together, favouring instead only bike-friendly fashion choices. However, if I DO wear a long skirt while biking, I’ll choose a fabric that doesn’t wrinkle easily so that I can tie the skirt into a knot on one side of my body but still have it look descent when I untie the knot upon dismounting.
Evangeline: I usually bike in shorts or pants; only sometimes in a dress or skirt. I won’t pack fancier outfits to change into – if I know I have to look dolled-up I will take the ttc.
Kash: I wear little bike shorts from American Apparel or a cut-off pair of leggings under dresses and skirts when I bike! Although, honestly if I’m wearing full-bum underwear sometimes I just go for it and assume that people will deal with a little more of my legs than they might otherwise see.
Question: What is your favourite outfit to wear when biking? Is your favourite outfit also your easiest/most comfortable outfit?
Natalie: I don’t know if I have a “favorite outfit” necessarily, but I DO have a lime green jumper that matches the colour of my bike (see photo), under which I wear cotton bike shorts. I feel SUPER ADORBS in my matching jumper/bike combo, plus it’s mega comfortable.
Kash: Yes, favourite outfit and most comfortable outfit overlap! I have a pair of high waisted grey jeans that I love to wear in general, and they are great to wear while biking. I sometimes also love wearing a flowy dress or skirt—it feels really dramatic and fun to have the skirt flow behind you when you’re going REALLY FAST. It’s like a superhero cape for your butt.
Nicole: Perhaps my most favourite outfit is a pair of baggy floral shorts that I bought from the Kind Exchange this summer (see photo). You get the best of both worlds: something resembling a skirt or dress, but also suitable to the physical demands of riding a bicycle around the city.
Evangeline: I have an old pair of super light denim jeans with many rips in them. They provide lots of air-flow while biking and I don’t worry about getting bike grease on them.
Question: Do you wear a bike helmet? If yes, when did you start wearing one and how often do you wear it? Do you face any restrictions for what you do to your hair? Are there certain hairstyles that you gravitate towards when biking? Have you found any new “bike helmet friendly” dos?
Norah: Yes, I wear one. I started wearing a helmet in my 20s, but I didn’t get serious about it until I had my first accident – I got doored on Dundas, and my head hit the curb. Luckily, I was wearing a helmet that day, and I haven’t biked without one ever since. I don’t do much with my hair in general, so I don’t face any restrictions in my everyday life. A few times, I have attempted to curl my hair for formal events (I have biked to 2 weddings!) only to have the curls fall out after the long, hot bike ride.
Kash: Yes! I started wearing a helmet after I was hit by a car in Halifax. I wasn’t wearing a helmet then, and it’s only by chance that I wasn’t seriously hurt. HELMETS FOREVER GUYS. My jokes are too good to risk them being weakened by a serious whack to my beautiful noggin. I have quite wavy hair that is at risk of getting squashed by bike helmets. A French braid is great as a travel hairstyle! I’ll just take it out when I get to wherever I’m going and the waves look good. I definitely embrace the “messy hair” part of my life so often I just run around a little scruffy.
Nicole: I have always worn a bike helmet. My father, also a motorcyclist like my mother, was in a very serious motorcycle accident several years ago, almost didn’t make it if it weren’t for his helmet. My bike helmet is notoriously bad for getting hot and sweaty; the sales person I spoke to specifically warned me about how classic black Bell helmets do not breathe adequately, but I wanted a plain black helmet, so I refused to relent. Nevertheless, I will sometimes find myself curling my hair and putting on my helmet afterwards to head somewhere. Sometimes when I do this, it starts off a little intense at first (my hair is shoulder length and so the curls start tight and need to adjust into more subtle waves). Having helmet hair actually helps speed up this process.
Evangeline: I always wear a helmet and for the most part I always have. I don’t like blowdrying my hair (unless it’s a fancy occasion/my hair’s gonna freeze off) so if the choice is between washing my hair and then placing helmet on wet mop or going with two-day unwashed hair, I’ll choose the latter – unless I feel the need to impress someone. If my hair is dry a helmet won’t ruin my ‘do – I have wavy hair and it always looks a bit unkempt regardless.
Natalie: I’ve gone through phases off and on with helmet-wearing, mostly due to not wanting to mess up my hair if I’m going to a particular kind of event where I want to look my best. As I get older, I think some of my youthful immortality-mindset has faded, and now I think it’s BANANAS not to wear a helmet for any reason. What I’ve embraced over the years to combat the effects of helmet hair is HAT FASHION. I often incorporate a fashionable hat into my outfit choice if I am biking to some event or meet-up where I want to look put together and not be worrying about what my hair is doing. Hats are a great and immediate way to tackle bike helmet woes!
Veronica: I wear it almost all the time. Heard too many scary stories to do otherwise! Started wearing it about a month after I started biking. Haven’t found any helmet friendly hair-dos. I just look like a sweaty boy most of the time. But like, still cute. Sweaty boy-girls can stay 🙂
Question: Do you have a name for your bike? What does this name say about you/your bike?
Nicole: Key Lime. I love key lime pie, and my bike is green… no yellow… no green. It depends on the lighting, really. And I’ve seen key lime pies that are either green or yellow, but almost always delicious.
Kash: YES. All of my bikes in my life are ladybikes and they have the names of imaginary members of my girl gang. Of which I am the leader, OBVIOUSLY. My current bike is named Lulu, but I’ve also had Annie and Betsy. I haven’t met my next bike, of course, but I feel like she will be a Carmen or a Betty. Or an Anita. We’ll see.
Natalie: I don’t have a name, but let’s make one right now: Slimer! It’s an endearingly sloppy self-painted lime green. Perfect!
Norah: My names for my bikes never really stick, but I have, in the past, called my winter bike “Frosty the Snow-Bike.” Clearly, the name is related to the bike’s purpose, but I don’t know what it shows about me! Corny sense of humour?
Question: If your bike were to perfectly express your aesthetic, what three words would you use to describe it? What three words would you use now?
Evangeline: It doesn’t. But here’s three words for now: beater, chiller, T.Dot-cruiser
Norah: Less is more. Haha!
Nicole: “Country rustic” meets “urban.”
Kash: Current bike: cheery, efficient, and practical. Perfect world! Easygoing, goofy, and (as my grandma would say) full of moxie. Aesthetically, my bike is pretty close to my style! A+++ if Lulu had just eaten her greens a tiny bit more and grown a bit taller and longer she and I would get on so well.
Veronica: Now: cheap, broken, blue. Ideal: cheap, fixed, still blue.
Natalie: DIY, SILLY, JOYFULL. I painted it myself in a colour that makes me happy to look at, and decorated it with some traditional 90’s pattern, plus one side of it says the word “Weeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!”Tags: bikes, biking, safety, sweat
This post was written by Margeaux