Tuesday, April 28, 2009

On Bike Love

I mean the dirty kind. I don't know if I have much to say on this, other than to pose the question: why do we eroticize the bicycle? From the concept of particularly juicy bicycle photography, referred to now as "bike porn," to the juxtaposition of bikes and nudes, bikes and love, bikes and romance, etc., we seem to have a particular desire to combine human sexuality with the inanimate and inorganic mechanisms of the bicycle.

Do we actually love bicycles so much we wish we could make love to them? Or is this just another facet of the human tendency to assign human characteristics (sexuality, in this case) to the objects, environment, and other creatures we interact with?

SOURCE: San Diego State University Special Collections & University Archives

Monday, April 20, 2009

Travel Abroad

Heavens! I must be riding in China.

SOURCE: Chicago Tribune, 9 September 1906

Friday, April 17, 2009

On Keeping Bicycle Advocacy Positive

It has been interesting over the last several days to watch different bloggers react to this New York Times story about Dutch bikes becoming the new "it" accessory. Here are a few examples, illustrating a spectrum of reactions:

Chic Cyclist: "It's heartening to see that this topic is going mainstream, and a good read. "

Bike Snob NYC: "Obviously, the fixie backlash has been going on for a long time now, but the sheer bulk and weight of these Dutch city bikes nicely embodies just how much mass this backlash movement has gained."

Drunk & In Charge of a Bicycle: "Puke. It's a bicycle, not an accessory. "

Personally, I couldn't care less whether Dutch bikes are the next big thing in New York City, or anywhere else. Aside from liking the design and features of the bikes, I really have no opinion on the matter, and I've never ridden one.

The bikes are really beside the point, it's the reaction amongst the bike blogging community that interests me. The majority of the responses to this article have been sarcastic and dismissive, with only a few positive reactions. I'll admit to leaving a somewhat critical comment at Chic Cyclist, but it was more about a specific quote from the article than it was about the article itself. And really, sarcastic and dismissive is what most have come to expect from Bike Snob and D&ICOAB on just about any topic, so that's not really a surprise.

I think, however, that we as a community need to change our tone when talking about bicycles becoming popular, for whatever reason, because unless we welcome the positive changes to our nation's bicycle culture when they do occur, we're going to seem like guardians at the gate, judging others for how, when, where, and why they ride. It's not up to bike bloggers to tell people what is authentic bike culture and what isn't.

So somebody buys a Dutch bike because it's the latest thing. So what? Yes, ideally, that person would have bought the bike to cut out car trips, be more environmentally friendly, help make the streets more livable, etc., but those things will be accomplished anyway, so who really cares why they bought the thing in the first place? The most valid reason to object to bicycles being viewed as "accessories" is that people don't take them seriously as transportation. But just get on one for a quick errand to the corner store, and you can't help but understand that a bicycle is a vehicle.

Again, simply riding the bicycle is the solution to the problem, and as long as more people are doing that, bike bloggers who feel compelled to bash their motives just look like curmudgeons. We're supposed to be opening our arms to new riders, folks, not offering caustic wit in order to demonstrate our superiority. Bicycles were the fashion accessory in the 1890s, too, an era that many consider to be the first golden age of the bicycle. The history lesson here is pretty simple: If they're popular, people will ride them. Isn't that the point?

Saturday, April 11, 2009

On the Aesthetics of Bicycles

These are a few thoughts I’ve been toying with for a while now. I don’t know that I’ve said anything really worthwhile here, but I’m posting it anyway. Throwing a few things against the wall and seeing what sticks, you might say.

A bicycle is an inanimate – although kinetic – object. It does not have a heart, soul, or personality (although we frequently attach these attributes to them, but that’s another post). So, I am fully aware that, as they say, “a bicycle is just a bicycle,” but I would also like to suggest that a bicycle can and should be something quite beautiful. Not beautiful in an abstract sense, as in “bicycles are beautiful because of what they can help us accomplish," but actual physical beauty, and in this way, the reasons bicycles should be beautiful have little to do with bicycles themselves.

For a bicycle to be beautiful, it needn’t be new or expensive, custom-made or hand-built. Certainly, bicycles built by hand and featuring the finest and most expensive parts are frequently beautiful, but these things are not prerequisites for beauty. The beauty of a bicycle is not determined by its cost, the status it confers on its owner, or even how quickly or comfortably it moves its rider through space. What then, makes a bicycle beautiful?

The answer, of course, is something subjective, but I would like to suggest not wholly so. I don’t believe I am over-generalizing when I say that for a bicycle to be beautiful, it should exhibit some amount of grace, elegance, and style. I don’t mean “fashion” when I say style, and I don’t mean “fancy” when I say elegance. What I mean is a perhaps-indefinable quality that causes us to pause for a moment, register the beauty of the thing we are observing, and come away somehow enriched. It’s not the same as admiring costly components or flashy gadgets for their own sake – it should be something much deeper, and it is in this sense that it matters very little whether a beautiful bicycle is really a bicycle at all.

The quality, or combination of qualities, that causes us to pause over a beautiful bicycle will be different for me than for you, but it should be the same indefinable something that causes us to linger over a beautiful work of art.  At base, our common attraction to beauty – whether it be a bicycle or a painting – is one of those hopeful features of humankind. The subjectivity of “taste” is less important than a common appreciation for things beautiful, rendering pointless the arguments over the comparative aesthetics of the over-engineered road racing bicycle, the sleek urban fixed-gear, or the slouchy beach cruiser.

The value of a beautiful bicycle, regardless of why we find it beautiful, is equal in significance to the value we might more commonly seek in a gallery or a museum, and all the more so because we can see it every day. Beauty enriches, calms, and sustains us. For there to be more beautiful things in the world, I believe, is of the utmost importance. If it serves no other purpose for you, make this your reason for finding and riding a bicycle that is, to you, beautiful. 

Friday, April 10, 2009

But the pig jumped

A panel from a newspaper comic from the 1890s. The punchline has something to do with a "scorcher" (a fast or reckless rider in the parlance of the times) trying to make a pig jump, and as you might imagine, the pig jumps the wrong way. Not exactly complex humor, but I do enjoy this particular panel. I've been looking at early cycling cartoons, trying to work up a thesis about how the advent of the automobile affected popular perceptions of bicycling. Very interesting, I should have something to share on the subject before long. Until then, I've got a few more of these in the queue, just for fun.

SOURCE: Chicago Tribune, 24 August 1895

Sunday, April 5, 2009

You're doing another blog why?

Wellsir, this blog is a sort of sibling endeavor to my Old Bike Blog, which, god-bless-it, is all about old bikes, and I just won't have it cluttered up with a lot of unrelated stuff. I do post there sometimes about non-old-bike things, but I try to keep those to a minimum. Here I hope to have a more congenial space to wax pointless about everything from helmets to hand brakes, from cargo to car-free. I don't expect I'll be posting here very frequently, but I've got a few ideas a-brewin', and I'll keep it updated more-or-less regularly.

Fair warning: this is going to be a wordy blog, full of complete sentences, respectable syntax, decent grammar, and even a fair vocabulary. I'll try to throw in a photo or an image every so often, but by-gar, this isn't a blog for people afraid to commit more than 30 seconds to a post. Remember reading? It's what people did -- sometimes -- before the Internet. You know, during commercial breaks. 

You won't be seeing ads, endorsements, reviews, or any other such distractions. Google keeps wanting me to "Monetize" my blogs, and I just can't think of an uglier way to say it. But that's just me. What you will find here, simply, are my reflections on bicycles, which in my considered opinion, remain among the most revolutionary, beautiful, and effective devices at our disposal, even after more than one hundred years. Seeing bicycles through my eyes, I hope, will encourage and inspire others to make them a bigger part of their lives.

Enjoy it please, and visit as often as you like.