How Brits brought tweed back to New York City
By Mike Vidafar
Ted Young-Ing was just an ordinary British cyclist in 2009, when he became the new owner of a pair of plus fours (pants that extend four inches beyond the knee). He had no idea that by the end of that year, he would have changed the landscape of “period cycling” faster than he managed to change into his new threads.
The recipe, Young-Ing discovered, was that he found a way to merge his two loves: turn-of-the-century British garments and bicycles. His brainchild is called Tweed Run, and the enthusiasm surrounding it is hard to deny. To onlookers, it’s the equivalent of a social time capsule, each event expelling a generation hardened (or lost) to two world wars onto a modern landscape for an afternoon reprieve.
While it does stand as tribute to England’s past, Tweed Run’s success is also a product of the personal atmosphere event organizer Jacqui Shannon has instituted in the three years since that inaugural circuit.
With a 500-person limit (any more would make tea-time impractical), Tweed Run maintains a measure of exclusivity traditionally reserved for a turn-of-the-century golf clubhouse. Events have the feel of a members-only gathering, with like-minded cyclists chosen at random via lottery. There’s also an understood adherence to the now-famous line first addressed to the original 2009 participants:
“Now look here: proper attire is expected, bowties, cravats, vintage race jerseys and plus fours!”
Supplementing their fashionable joyrides, Tweed Runners are catered to with afternoon tea and a soiree at the end of the circuit. Adding to the festivities are good-humored awards and enthusiastic onlookers.
As for their adventures across the pond, on Oct. 15, 2011, Young-Ing and Shannon gave New Yorkers their first opportunity to take a trip back in time. The tweedsters, who regularly garnish their passports and take to riding abroad, were met by hundreds of participants eager to take a refined ride through Lower Manhattan, with afternoon tea to be served in Foley Square. However, the inaugural NYC event (sponsored by Rugby Ralph Lauren) was forced to amend its cycling circuit, as circumstance had its way.
“It was a very unfortunate coincidence that the protests on Wall Street [Occupy Wall Street] were occurring and that the city had given us Foley Square for the tea stop. We really wanted to do the full ride, but with everything going on, we were advised not to,” said Shannon. “We ended up doing a shorter version…but we’d like the chance to come back and show New Yorkers how London does Tweed Run.”
With authentic British resolve, New Yorkers didn’t let the circumstantial abbreviation put a damper on their day. Instead, Tweed Run transformed into a day-long outdoor festival in the area surrounding the Ralph Lauren Rugby Store at 99 University Place in Noho. With featured events and prizes, (including awards for Best Dressed and Best Moustache) Young-Ing and Shannon managed to hold a strikingly memorable first go in the Big Apple.
“New York City has a strong bike scene and I’m lucky enough to know Brendt Barbur, the founder of The Bicycle Film Festival. [Barbur] and his team were super helpful at every step of our planning for New York,” said Shannon. Looking ahead, Young-Ing has revealed plans for another New York City Tweed Run, tentatively scheduled for spring 2013. As usual, they hope to rally nearly 500 participants to take to the streets, decked in tweed—just in time for the Big Apple’s annual ripening.
For now, Young-Ing and Shannon have returned to London. Their impending cruise, scheduled for May 6, 2012, continues to draw the attention of a wide cross-section; history buffs, vintage cycling enthusiasts and Britophiles all vie for a chance to ride.
And for Tweed Run, there’s no international bias—Americans are welcome to put their names in the hat in the hope of joining the tweedsters wherever they ride. Indeed, Shannon notes on Tweed Run’s website that lottery spots are chosen well in advance to give international participants ample time to plan ahead.
For the cycling community, it’s time to take notice: where there’s tea, vintage one-speeders and hundreds of cyclists who look like they’ve pedaled straight out of a Sherlock Holmes story, there cannot be any doubt as to who’s behind it. It’s Tweed Run—those dapper dames and proper gents who have perfected the art of cycling transposition.
For more information on Tweed Run, visit tweedrun.com or follow them on twitter
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