When Montrealer Eva Hartling cycles to work on a Bixi, one of those communal urban bikes now also available in Toronto, she dresses as if the street were one big catwalk and she's the star of the show.
"I just don't see why I would wear running shoes and workout gear when riding a bike. Spandex is for the weekend," the style-savvy communications expert for Birks & Mayors says. "I think skirts and dresses work just fine on a bicycle, and heels are perfectly comfortable for cycling a short distance."
Fashion goes in cycles - and now more so than ever. The increasing availability of so many funky-looking Bixi bikes - Montreal has been awash with Bixis since 2009, Toronto now has 1,000 of them and Ottawa-Gatineau is signing up for the bike-sharing program this month - is inspiring urban Canadians to take to two wheels like never before, but without dressing down in the process. Hartling, for one, has noticed the phenomenon in Montreal, where style is trumping sweatbands.
"Rush hour has become a people-watching sport, with women in their best shoes on their Bixis," she notes, citing precedent: "If Italian women can ride their Vespas in sandals and pretty dresses, there is no reason we Canadians can't do so, too."
In Toronto, cyclist Christina Walters, a publicity co-ordinator with rock-it promotions, points out that wearing heels on a bike solves the problem of chronic pinched feet. "Personally, I think wearing high heels on a bike is perfect, because I don't actually have to walk in them, a much more difficult task than pedalling in them," she says, only partly tongue-in-cheek. "Other than wearing little shorts under my dresses so I am not flashing my goods, my outfits don't change because I'm riding a bike. The only real style dilemma I have with biking is helmet hair, but I think it's a fair compromise."
What isn't a compromise is the new array of cycling-friendly fashion and accessories that sacrifice nothing to comfort. In New York, American designer Kate Spade recently teamed up with Manhattan bike store Adeline Adeline to launch a limited-edition Italian-made bike in her signature apple green. As Adeline Adeline's website says, "a comfortable, relaxed riding position and fully enclosed chainguard make it easy to ride in that flirty dress and heels." A pair of super-cute bike bags, available to Canadians through www.adelineadeline.com, round out the collaboration.
In Chicago, meanwhile, Bike Chic: Commuter Fashion Hits the Runway, an outdoor spectacle sponsored by Bike Chicago and featuring local designers and retailers offering fashions geared toward the urban cyclist, took place last month, grabbing headlines there. And in San Francisco, online clothier Betabrand (which ships to Canada) has created a new line of cotton-twill Bike to Work Pants featuring reflective cuffs and rear pockets that both male and female cyclists can deploy to remind motorists they're sharing the road.
Canada is no laggard when it comes to the cycling life. Across the country, week-long Bike to Work events are presently being planned in a number of cities, including Vancouver, Victoria, Toronto, Hamilton, Oshawa and Halifax. In Winnipeg, this year's Bike to Work Day is June 24, a date being closely watched by local sportswear manufacturer Mondetta Performance Gear, which landed on the cover of Women's Wear Daily this year because of its stylish bikewear.
"Our fashion-forward styling enables cyclists to look their best while cruising around town," company spokesman Anand Modha says, adding that all of Modetta's "specially constructed fabrications" are also "moisture-wicking, breathable and quick-drying."
Among the company's top-selling cycling pieces, which are available through fitness studios across North America as well as MPGSport.com, are Avert (full-length tights that elongate the silhouette) and Stance (a Capri-style pant that would look equally as good in spin class or sidewalk cafe).
And despite being made of high-performance spandex-polyester, this is the kind of newly transitional workout wear that even Hartling says she would wear on a workday: "If it lets me move and look great at the same time, that's my kind of fashion."