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Cycle Style vs. Cycle Chic

Two books explore the aesthetics of bike-riding

by Fiona Killackey in Style on 26 April 2012

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The North Atlantic Ocean may take hours to cross by plane but when it comes to the infiltration of bicycle culture—and specifically, the urban cycling aesthetic—the distance ceases to exist. Case in point: as we were busy attending the launch of the new book "Cycle Style" at London's Look Mum, No Hands, a copy of "Cycle Chic" landed at CH HQ in New York. As we talked across the pond, we soon learned that the common celebration of riding style had been documented from two distinct vantage points.

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The weightier hardcover "Cycle Chic" outnumbers the softcover "Cycle Style" by nearly 100 pages, and the narratives inside each continues to diverge. Shot by acclaimed photographer Horst Friedrichs, "Cycle Style" showcases the 15-year London resident's love affair with his adopted city from the first page. He dedicates the book to the city and its stylishly eclectic cyclists who reside and ride around it, capturing the essence of their character—from the hip Shoreditch crowd to the perfectly manicured Saville Row riders and everyone in between.

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Friedrichs forgoes action shots for the most part, presenting posed subjects, each of whom is in some way connected to the London cycle scene, from Quoc Pham, who designs cycle shoes, to Sir Paul Smith, who has made the bicycle an integral part of his eponymous fashion brand. The images are left to speak for themselves, some spanning two pages to highlight both the rider's personal style and their bike's outstanding details, like vintage leather seats and customized handlebars. Because Friedrichs has left text off the pages, the book includes a complete index listing the name of each individual along with the type of bike they ride, as well as a full directory of cycle-friendly clothing and accessory brands.

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By contrast, "Cycle Chic" has been compiled by Mikael Colville-Andersen, filmmaker, street photographer, urban mobility expert and the man behind popular cycle blogs Copenhagen Cycle Chic and Slow Bicycle Movement. Rather than limiting himself to just one city, Colville-Andersen has created a showcase of snaps from across the globe including Tokyo, London, Copenhagen, Vancouver, Paris and New York.

While Colville-Andersen claims that the photographs are not meant to be viewed solely for the style of their subjects, he focuses primarily on subjects' fashion in the text throughout the book and begins by say that "...at every opportunity, I will choose style over speed". The style of his subjects seems less inspired than those captured in "Cycle Styles", with more of a common, everyday look. As a text devoted to how people utilize their bicycles and the commonalities between cyclists in different nations, it really works, but as a study of aesthetics, "Cycle Chic" focuses more on the broader idea of bike style throughout the world than individual style mavens stopped on two wheels.

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Subjects are mostly shot riding, grouped together by different themes from the color of their outfits and bikes, to the style of their front basket, to their choice of riding companion, whether it be baby or dog. Colville-Andersen takes a heavier-handed approach to introducing themes for each chapter, and keeps a running commentary alongside each photograph that might be better left for readers to deduce themselves. Some of the book's groupings seem like a bit of a stretch, like winter riders in scarves and women wearing heels while on their bikes, but indicate a close study an impassioned observer.

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Both texts will excite cycle enthusiasts, and both deliver insight into this ever-increasing pastime, but if you have to just buy one, we suggest learning a little more about our London neighbors with "Cycle Style".

Both "Cycle Style" and "Cycle Chic" are available for purchase on Amazon.

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