Naysayers Gonna Naysay

 

The Tweed Ride: hipster nonsense, or the best thing that ever happened in the history of ever? I feel like I should run some kind of disclaimer here — I love this kind of thing in my very bones. I can’t possibly give credence to a negative view of something so delightful. If you were hoping for someone to finally come out and say what you’ve been thinking — that curly mustaches and old timey outfits are stupid — I have to apologize that your life is so sad.

If, however, you’re like me; if you feel nostalgia for an era that came and went long before the days when our grandparents were twinkles in our great grandparents’ eyes, if you love the rich woolen texture of tweed, and the warmth of comradery between people sharing a moment of whimsy and a nip from their hip flask, the Chico Tweed Ride is fan-damn-tastic.

For the uninitiated, it’s a pretty simple set-up. People wear tweed, and they ride. If they’re really into it, they wear tweed that reflects the era of early cycling — loosely spanning from the turn of the century through the 1920s — and ride vintage bicycles. OK, technically speaking, cycling was a thing well before 1900. The first bicycles originated as early as 1817, going through many iterations and waves of popularity. However, the fashionable wearing of tweed while riding bicycles is a strictly Edwardian invention. Yay, learning!

The origins of this event — the local version of which just celebrated its second year — stretch all the way across space and time to Jolly Old England in the 1990s. As a card carrying Anglophile (with extra tweed-cred as the daughter of a British immigrant), I feel comfortable nominating myself as the spokesperson for all things Limey. You see, in England there’s this thing called a cycling club. People tour the verdant countryside in packs, terrorizing sheep and bullying the Welsh.

There was a certain such cycling club, organized by a fellow named Jack Thurston, who decided the vintage tweed look would strike deeper fear into the hearts of the livestock. They were so powerful and successful that they were able to cleverly erase all record of their doings from the first page of Google results. For some reason or another the club disbanded (or became so nefarious that anyone who sees them is killed before they can talk).

The banner of tweed-riding was taken up again in 2009 when an online cycling forum called London Fixed Gear and Single Speed (LFGSS), organized a parade-like run through London. The event exploded in popularity, and had to be limited to 500 registered users to keep it under control.

It’s easy to see why this particular fashion holds so much appeal. It harkens back to a day when leisure time itself was relatively new, and a thing to be relished; a time when the simple things in life were pretty much the only things, and breezing along through the open air on a clever piece of kit was enough to spread a grin across anyone’s face. Appreciation itself is the single most valuable ingredient in happiness, and it’s lovely to be reminded of the accessibility of that.

Besides that, it just looks cool. Trim suits, plus-fours and knickerbockers, smart ties and caps and waistcoats…It’s sort of ridiculous how lame t-shirts and saggy-ass pants are in comparison.

Enthusiasts in cities all over the world have glommed onto the idea, including here in our little burg. Enter Craig Almaguer, Dax Downey, and George Knox. In 2012 they founded the Chico Tweed Ride. Despite last year’s damp weather, the event was immensely successful. So much so, they were able to play off the idea this past Spring with a Seersucker Ride, and recruit hundreds of people to the worthy causes of dressing jauntily and fixing up old bikes. It’s been a boon to local businesses, and I daresay the local culture.

Let me tell you what it was like taking part in the glory that was Tweed Ride 2013. Starting off from home in our decidedly fabulous outfits, we wound through the familiar streets past the familiar faces of our neighbors. The first noticeable difference between this day and any other, was that every one of those faces beamed back at us with great big smiles and the occasional wave. I can’t overstate how nice that is, and how connected it makes you feel to your community.

As we neared downtown, we encountered many other riders trickling in from the various side streets (and, as we would later learn, travelling from places as far away as Ashland, OR, and East Biggs). By the 11am startup time, the crowd of cyclists in the central plaza had swelled to several hundred.

I feel I should mention that this event isn’t run by a bunch of costume-snobs. There was a wide spectrum of tweedy attire — everything from ladies in actual Edwardian costumes with the big puffy sleeves, to a guy who threw on a tweed jacket with board shorts (coughBrianFoxcough) — but there were also plenty of folks who just came as they were. This is about fun, so if the next ride rolls around and you still haven’t put together a fancy outfit, don’t think for a second that you shouldn’t go lest people look down on you. It might not be quite as full of an experience, but you’ll still have a good time and be a part of something memorable.

Anyway, back to the ride. After a bit of milling about, snapping pictures and chatting, the founders gave a nice little speech thanking the people who helped make it happen (in particular, Jake Early for designing the posters, and Steve O’Bryan of Pullins Cyclery who built a great coffee-service bike for the event, with coffee provided by The Naked Lounge). Strangers became friends, photographers became models, dogs and cats were living together…mass hysteria.

From there we were off — a tremendous horde of twill, check, and herringbone — laughing our way through downtown, ducking under the bridge at Annie’s Glen, and emerging into the gorgeous autumn landscape of Bidwell Park. I love that place; sometimes I forget how much. It’s like stepping into an Alphonse Mucha painting, with the oddly harmonious new growth and decaying old, winding together with graceful vining curves, the enormous staid oaks and sycamores looming overhead, quietly waiting for our eyes to drink it all in.

The ride “ended” at Five Mile, where people threw down picnic blankets, listened to old timey music on portable players, and generally basked in the splendid afternoon. While that was the official finishing point, most of the participants of the ride actually continued on to Sierra Nevada Taproom (where I had a delicious batch of fish & chips with a good dark stout), followed by an evening downtown enjoying Christmas Preview.

In conclusion: bikes + tweed + Chico = happiness. Do this next time; it’s wonderful.

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Managing Editor for Synthesis Weekly. Amy likes to make clothes, plant flowers, and chase butterflies.

Comments

  1. George Smith says:

    This event sounded so cool! How can we be alerted when stuff like this is happening?

    1. Amy Olson says:

      Hi George,
      For tweed-specific updates, I encourage you to like their page on facebook- https://www.facebook.com/pages/Chico-Tweed-Ride/288584901246790

      Another option is to keep an eye on our print calendar; we do our best to curate the most comprehensive and accurate event calendar in town