Over two years ago I put up a short post poo-pooing the Tweed Cycling Club in London and what appeared to be a group focused more on making a fashion statement than actually riding bicycles. I haven’t really changed my mind on that, but I feel the need to add a few asterisks since it appears that a lot of people end up reading that post whilst searching for “Tweed Cycling.” (Note the very tweedish word: whilst).
The first asterisk is that my bone to pick over this whole thing is with the idea of having an organization dedicated exclusively to wearing tweed while riding bicycles. Asterisk number two is that I’m less inclined to thumb my nose at the idea of Tweed Rides as special cycling events. I’ve read the write-ups and seen the Flickr sets, and it looks like people are enjoying these events and riding bicycles, which is what cycling should be about – enjoyment. It obviously has become a form of encouragement for potential cyclists, as well as a form of advocacy by raising both awareness and the visibility of the cycling public.
But sub-asterisk for asterisk two raises concerns as to whether or not the whole tweed persona – the English Aristocracy thing – might be as big a turnoff for many as it is a turn-on for others. There is a natural exclusivity with these events, even if it is play acting. Its implying that one must dress up as someone better just to ride a bike, and act differently than who we actually are. This is a confusing message, because the goal is to show that anyone, regardless of their social stature and mode of dress, can ride a bike.
I’m über sensitive to this because I went through it with rowing. In the previous century, I was a competitive athlete who trained and competed with other elite rowers. I had a national ranking, I was welcomed at “clubs” throughout the country based purely on name recognition, and I was part of the “inner sanctum” of the sport where I could approach and be approached at ease by Olympians. The point being that I was still just a public school educated hick from central Pennsylvania. My status wasn’t based on my pedigree, but rather on my accomplishments, and I was not alone.
Still, rowing, probably more than any sport, suffered/s from the elitist and exclusive perceptions. There is a lot being done to bring crew into the mainstream, and it’s really bearing fruit in the south and southwest where it is growing by leaps and bounds. It’s being done with Learn to Row programs, as an answer to Title 9 in colleges, and with Adaptive Rowing programs. It’s not being done with Tweed Rows or wearing your crested blazer down to the dock.
So I really, really think that Tweed Ride organizers need to be careful in how they market these events. While Americans envy success and social status, they only worship the real thing, and not play actors. Don’t portray bike riding as something reserved for leisurely jaunts through the park by the genteel. It’s for everyone.