Hilary Duff (blog/Twitter) is a recent Carleton journalism grad who loves cycling, food blogging and baking. She has recently moved to northern Ontario to work as a reporter for CBC Sudbury, but is continuing to foster her passionate love for Ottawa from afar.
I would like to introduce you to the ladies behind one of my new favourite blogs: Ottawa Velo Vogue.
Meet Zara Ansar and Michelle President.
These ladies are two examples of what I love about this city. Like many of the incredible people I have met in the Capital, they’re government workers by day, and spend their off hours documenting fashionable city cyclists through a blog that I can only describe as The Satorialist with bikes (and smiling).
I first discovered the blog over Twitter, and photos of planking peddlers and silly cyclers quickly caught my eye. As someone who spends far too much time considering and re-considering her cycling outfit, I knew I wanted to meet the masterminds behind the site.
And meet we did, on a rainy evening at the end of April. We chatted over samosas and tea at the ByWard Market’s The Tea Party Café. It didn’t take long for the gloom of the day to evaporate as Zara and Michelle, both 30, shared stories of their high school student council campaigns and cycling-filled pasts.
Then we talked blogging. The concept for Ottawa Velo Vogue was thought up at a trampoline class (yes, that’s a thing) the two took, and got off the ground last July.
When it started, the blog featured pictures of mostly people Zara and Michelle knew – friends, landlords, etc. Nowadays, the two get regular emails where people recommend themselves or a friend for a shoot.
Looking at Ottawa Velo Vogue, it’s the candidness of photos that appeals to me the most. People are silly, confident and fun loving – everything that I believe cyclists should be. My favourite profiles feature Jenn, a pregnant woman with a beautiful, unique bicycle, and Rob, whose bike emerges from the shrubs like a monster in the night.
Zara takes all the photos with her Canon 7D. In fact, every picture that you see in this blog post was taken by her. She has also been a freelance cycling photographer (ask her about the time she rode backwards on a motorcycle in a skirt).
The two first met in grade 12 at Gloucester High School, and more than a decade later decided to start Ottawa Velo Vogue to showcase local, fashion-forward bikers and get their take on what the city should be doing to become more cyclist-friendly.
For Zara and Michelle, those improvements would come in the form of an expansion of the city’s public bike system, Capital Bixi, and creating more segregated bike lanes around town.
“It’s very scary to be next to people who don’t know what to do with a biker,” Michelle says.
Meanwhile, the Ottawa bike scene continues to evolve.
“I had this idea that if I biked, I had to be decked out and sporty,” Michelle says. “Then I started to realize that I’m not the only one that has the mentality of not going so fast.”
More and more people are starting to have this revelation – the idea that a two-wheeled commute can be not only relaxing, but also done with a sense of personal style.
And Zara and Michelle are at the forefront of that movement.
The first stop is Capital Vélo Fest, where Ottawa Velo Vogue will be running a fashion show to display clothing and accessories that allow cyclists to be both pretty and practical.
“The culture of biking in this city is changing,” Zara says. “There’s more of a market for bike-friendly items.”
Post-fashion show, it’s this niche area of function and fashion that Zara and Michelle want to continue to explore.
“We want to launch another website with more of a magazine feel,” Michelle says. “We plan on incorporating some of the pictures from our site now, but we’re also looking at doing reviews and interviews. We really want to become a brand.”
But for now, Ottawa Velo Vogue remains an on-the-side project for Zara and Michelle, a light-hearted escape from their everyday public service jobs.
“It’s all about finding something you enjoy doing,” Zara says. “Something that we love and that’s fun.”
As part of Ottawa Velo Vogue’s profiles, Zara and Michelle ask each cyclist a series of questions on cycling in the city. I posed a few of those to them.
NAME: Zara Ansar
FAVOURITE SPOT TO BIKE: Behind Parliament Hill and along the Ottawa River Pathway
WHY DO YOU RIDE: It’s good for staying in shape and I like being outside. It’s great for getting around so you don’t have to drive downtown.
FAVOURITE SPOT TO STOP AFTER A RIDE: Oz Kafé
NAME: Michelle President
FAVOURITE SPOT TO BIKE: Home from work (from downtown to New Edinburgh)
WHY DO YOU RIDE: As a commuter, it’s fun to be able to pass everyone stuck in traffic. You’re a lot more connected to nature and you can stop and appreciate things.
FAVOURITE SPOT TO STOP AFTER A RIDE: Fraser Café
Do you love biking as much as we do? Got a favourite route or cycling outfit? Let us know!