On a recent sunny Saturday afternoon, Vikki Eichmann was striding through the Union Square farmers’ market, one hand steering a sea-green, 1970’s Schwinn Breeze bicycle and the other tossing a curtain of silky brown hair over her bony shoulder. She was wearing a strapless plum-colored sundress and $400 Cole Haan knee-high boots. “They’re perfect because they’re sturdy and I don’t get scratches or bruises from the bike or anything,” Ms. Eichmann said, stopping to pick through a crate of peaches. “Plus they just plain look cute on a bike.”
Meet the beautiful bicycle girls of New York, a breed that bears little resemblance to the hard-charging, Spandex-short-wearing species of 20 years ago. Those women were athletes, pumping the pedals, fighting to win. Getting somewhere. Today’s girls—and one always thinks of them as girls, even if they’re well into their 40’s—are more meandering, their long legs flashing along the pot-holed alleys of SoHo and the boutique-lined bike lanes of the West Village. Eco-conscious and ethereal, they wear flowing frocks and gigantic sunglasses but never helmets. Their hair flutters in the breeze as they leave a trail of swooning male pedestrians in their perfumed wake. They’ve been known to weave up the Brooklyn Bridge, holding up traffic as they absent-mindedly chomp on almonds, steering through a stop sign while texting on their BlackBerries.
Local celebrities like the actresses Naomi Watts and Chloë Sevigny and the Brazilian supermodel Gisele Bundchen have all championed living the green life in this most public and only incidentally calorie-burning way. “I go every day to work on my bike,” Ms. Bundchen told the Daily News a couple of years ago. “It’s faster than a car, and cheaper.”
Ms. Eichmann, 25, a former part-time model currently working as a photographer, also decided to go green two years ago. She buys energy-efficient light bulbs. She uses a Kate Spade tote bag instead of plastic ones. She recycles. And she window-shops while riding her “lightly loved used bike.” Having the latest gear, as any bicycle girl will tell you, is simply beside the point.
Fashion designer Lela Rose, who will show her spring 2008 collection in Bryant Park on Thursday, Sept. 6, rides a tricycle around Tribeca, taking her 6-year-old son to school every weekday on the upholstered back seat, often accompanied by their Norwich terrier, Stitch, or cruising to run errands in the Garment District. “Or I’ve taken my mother around to the galleries in Chelsea, all on the bike,” Ms. Rose gushed in a phone interview. “I know, it sounds ridiculous, but I don’t go anywhere anymore without bringing the bike, because to me it’s like my car. At a minimum, it’s the best way to get around. It’s for the environment. It’s great for health reasons. For me it’s just a great way to get a better peace of mind. I could go on and on about the benefits of bike riding.”
Ms. Rose’s first adult trike was purchased on eBay; her second custom-built by one George Bliss, owner of the Hub Station on Morton Street, who specializes in pimping rides for the new set of beautiful bicycle girls. “Lela shows that you can carry a load on a bicycle and look glamorous,” Mr. Bliss said. “She’s really inspired me, and now I’m focusing on the tricycle child carrier as a product for upscale women in SoHo. … That’s the niche, professionals and models because, you know, if you go to a cocktail party, you’ve got to have something to talk about. ‘Green? What’s green? Oh, bicycling!’
“Women are our best customers,” Mr. Bliss continued. “They know what they want. That’s all that really matters.”
And, pray tell, what do women want?
“Vintage,” replied the craftsman. “If it’s a unique color, that’s usually attractive.”
Mr. Bliss, who is revered in the cycling community, darted around his warehouse-style shop in shorts and Croc sandals, pointing out the various contraptions that make biking beauties go giddy.
“Fenders matter to protect them in the rain,” he said. “A chain guard matters; you don’t want to get grease on your clothing. And they want a basket. They really want a basket. They’re using bicycles in a more practical way, while for men it’s more to stay in shape or it’s some other symbol of machismo—athleticism, let’s call it.”