Thursday, January 12, 2012

Boys bikes, girls bikes (and vacuum cleaners too)

Reading through some bicycle blogs I came up with the following conclusions:
  1. How many cycling women name their bikes? Many. How many guys do that. Close to none.
  2. Who shows a highly emotional attachment to their bikes. Mostly girls.
  3. Who treats their bicycles more as tools? Mostly guys.
0% of beauty. 100% of utility.

This all comes down to the basic difference between men and women. Guys are more rational, girls are more emotional. And you can easily see it in bicycling as well.

Usually, guys don't "love" their bicycles. They just use them. Beautiful lugwork, unique paint color or fancy styling mean less to them. Guys just need a fast and reliable bike. Girls, on the other hand, seem to pay more attention to the beauty of bicycles (Surely, there is nothing wrong with that!).
Sure, I like good looking bicycles just the same way I like good looking cars. But since my bike is mostly just a tool, I mainly need it to be reliable, comfortable, and easy to use just like my car, camera or a... vacuum cleaner.

This is exactly what Mikael from Copenhagenize blog noticed. Most of people in this world treat bicycles same way they treat their vacuum cleaners - they use them as tools. In fact, most car drivers use their cars the same way. Sure, some develop a closer bond with their vehicles and the same way there is probably a small number of people who have a similar bond with their vacuum cleaners (or any other object of desire). Still, for most of us, those are just tools without any deeper meaning.

Velouria, from the Lovely Bicycle, argued with Mikael's post on utilitarian side of bicycles. She believes that bicycles are much more than just tools and it is possible to develop a some sort of romantic relationship with your bike, but not with your vacuum cleaner.

I have to say that I sort of agree with Mikael. Maybe this is our guys' point of view. Ask people in China, the country with likely the highest number of bicycles in the world, how many of them developed a romantic relationship with their bikes. I bet you would get mostly negative answers since Chinese treat their bikes as transportation vehicles and don't spend their days contemplating beauty of their bikes.

For most of us bicycles are "vacuum cleaners". They are utilitarian objects. For some of us (minority), bicycles are something more. And others will not understand why someone would ride a vintage, lugged bike named "Polly" with a wicker basket on handlebars and a matching saddle.


  1. I think that bicycles are more like clothing than like vacuum cleaners. Clothing is first and foremost practical and utilitarian, sure, but some people care about fashion and make a hobby or an interest out of it. Others could care less and just wear whatever is available. It can be both. It can be either. It is not a big deal. The problem I have with Mikael's argument, is that he does not seem to be willing to acknowledge that a "normal" person can love their bicycle, while simultaneously thinking it perfectly logical that "normal" people can love other things, for example fashion or architecture (houses are practical, but some people love architecture nonetheless). Utility and romance are not mutually exclusive, except when it comes to really tedious objects like vacuum cleaners.

  2. Good point. I like your clothing example. I bet Mikael chose vacuum cleaner to present that for him and many others bikes are just tools. But your clothing analogy fits here better. Clothes can be (and mostly are!) just utilitarian objects, yet at the same time they can be much more than that. This is why the fashion industry exists, right?

    I am trying to find the right balance here. I bet for most people bikes are just tools. But we wouldn't write about bikes on internet if we didn't have a bit deeper appreciation for them.

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