Category: Bikes (Page 2 of 2)

Behold: the ultimate tool for transforming our cities, the humble camera

For all the work that goes into making streets safer and more welcoming for cyclists, consider perhaps the greatest and most under-appreciated tool of this transition: The ubiquitous camera.

Street photography is nothing new, of course. From Henri Cartier-Bresson to Robert Frank, impromptu moments from city life have always been at the forefront of photographic art.

Henri Cartier-Bresson’s famous Hyères, shot in 1932.

You could even argue the first photograph ever taken of people was street photography.

“Boulevard du Temple,” a daguerreotype made by Louis Daguerre in 1838, one of the world’s first photographs to include people.

 

That influence has only grown in recent years, from blogging (the Sartorialist) and then social media (Humans of New York, everything on Instagram that isn’t food). And thanks to that little computer in your purse that happens to have a camera lens attached to it, sdtreet photography these days transcends even its own medium and helps define the esthetic of cities.

That’s why it’s evolved into such a powerful tool for urban cycling. Consider Mikael Colville-Andersen’s Copenhagen Cycle Chic, which spawned imitators all over the world.

 

Green Light Go - The Birth of Cycle Chic

The original Copenhagen Cycle Chic photo by Mikael Colville-Andersen.

Cool photos, right? But because these photos involve bicycles, and everything about bicycles these days is political, this type of photography is inherently political.

In Toronto, during 2011 and 2012, photographer Lincoln Clarkes captured dozens of images that became Cyclists, a book of photography of people on two wheels, most of them looking sexily non-plussed despite the hostile environment surrounding them at the time. While not overtly so, the politics of these photographs is obvious considering Clarkes shot them at the height of late mayor Rob Ford’s anti-bike backlash, when the ever-thoughtful mayor compared riding a bike in Toronto to swimming with sharks.

A shot from Lincoln Clarkes’s Cyclists.

In the book’s forward, Clarkes is quoted saying the photographs serve as “sexed-up, environmentalistic, fashionesque portraiture, which is a subtle protest against the petro-chemical and automobile industries.”

Here in Calgary,  a bike-loving man named Peter Oliver has started a formal project to harness the political power of bicycle street photography. He’s part of a group that rallied support for the adoption of a pilot project of downtown bike lanes last year, and now he’s hoping to solidify that support by giving people a glimpse into exactly what those bike lanes have wrought: People on bikes.

#YYC #yycbike Photo by @brycemeyer

A post shared by People on Bikes YYC (@peopleonbikesyyc) on

Oliver hopes showcasing photographs of everyday cyclists in Instagram will help dispel the notion that all cyclists are latte-sipping hipsters or angry Lyca-clad suburban commuters blowing through red lights (or sometimes both).

“I really want to get down to people on the street, and show the diversity of people who ride bikes,” Oliver told me over a beer recently. “I want to break down the stereotypes about who cyclists are, and show that’s it’s just ordinary people doing what they do. It’s just part of their life.”

Bryce Meyer, a top editorial photographer, jumped at the chance to be the first contributor to People On Bikes YYC. Meyer, a former competitive road cyclist who ended his itinerant career in his early 20s after being robbed at gunpoint while training in Arizona, says the project is less about the politics or fashion for him, and more of a passion project. He loves everything to do with cycling, and he thought this was a way to give back to a cause he cares about while indulging himself (the fact that he’s managed to learn how to shoot photos while riding his own bike certainly helps — “Forget the viewfinder,” he advises. “Trust the shutter.”)

“It doesn’t matter if you’re wearing cutoffs with socks up to your knees or whatever,” he says. “It’s all about the riding.” 

It’s a simple concept that has proven political punch. Think about the defining images of Amsterdam, and you’ll probably think about a bike. In Paris, those cafes will elegant French women fingering cigarettes often have bicycles as a backdrop. Even in Montreal, photographs of hirsute young artists riding a Bixi bikes are becoming a de facto brand.

All of which shows that bikes can be a seamless part of any city.

 

If it ain’t broke: Why is everyone trying to fix cycling with gimmicks?

There’s something about the simplicity of the bicycle that seems to make everybody want to improve it.

Kickstarter is filled with bike ideas, from bizarre bike lights to bizarre bike carriers to bizarre bike blankets (yes, that’s a thing). There’s nothing inherently wrong with this — most industries would kill for this spirit of innovation. But something about bikes also seems to breed ideas that contravene the old adage of innovation: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

Case in point: This so-cute-that-it-crosses-over-into-ridiculous bike that looks like a car. Called the PodRide by its inventor, a Swedish dude named Mikael Kjellman who has already raised tens of thousands of dollars on Indiegogo, this contraption is basically a recumbent bicycle covered with fabric.

 

Mikael Kjellman and his PodCar.

Kjellman, by all accounts a clever and well-meaning guy, says he invented the PodRide to help beat the Swedish winters (there’s a heater inside) and to take advantage of “the environmental benefits these vehicles could have if they were made more popular.” The invention has been making the Facebook rounds these days, mostly, I would argue, because the thing is so damn adorable.

But as a practical idea? The world has already figured out how to keep riding year round: By building safe bike infrastructure, maintaining it for the winter, and dressing for the weather (in fact, somebody, ahem, wrote a book about winter cycling). It’s not rocket science

In fact, I’d argue the PodCar may actually set back the cause Kjellman is purporting to further. Not only does this thing perpetuate the notion that riding in winter is something abnormal that requires special gear, it also creates the impression that bicycles would be a more practical transportation option if they were just a little bit more like cars.

In the big scheme of things, I hardly think the PodCar is a major threat. But there are other ideas out there that perpetuate the idea that cycling is in need of some kind of tech or design fix that really could set  back the cause of urban cycling around the world.

Cycling seems to lend itself to giant hare-brained architectural ideas (particularly in London), like the SkyCycle, the floating bike lane dubbed the Thames Deckway, and the bike routes running through abandoned subway tunnels. All of which sure look futuristic in the renderings, but seem to sidestep the reality that cycling isn’t just about transportation —  putting bikes on a street makes cities better for everybody because it brings a more human scale to the streets.

Even smaller projects, like this lusted-over airbag helmet or these concept bicycle designs that seem to draw eyeballs at all the bike bike-industry trade shows may seem well and good, but they aren’t exactly furthering the cause of getting more people in cities on bikes.

And despite my soft spot for Elon Musk, and his heartening talk about the urban transportation problem, his recent hint that he’s working on some kind of autonomous bus seems to be a solution for a problem that has already been fixed. If it is, as the speculation goes, some of kind of vehicle to transport people to and from transit stops, also known as the first mile/last mile problem, well, such a vehicle has already been invented. It’s called a bicycle.

Here’s the thing: We already know what works. Bikes haven’t changed much in 100 years because they work. Separated and safe bike lanes work. Want an innovation that will really disrupt the bicycle industry? Invent something to break through civic politics and bureaucracy preventing more bike lanes from being built.

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I’m not saying we shouldn’t innovate. E-bikes, cargo bikes and carbon builds have all shown massive improvements in recent years. But let’s not get distracted on frivolities.

Or at least put your innovative brain power into stuff like this or this. At least the ride will be enjoyable.

The great hope of bike-friendly cities: Ikea

If you haven’t yet seen a photograph of the new bicycle that Ikea plans to sell — hell yes, we’re calling it the Bikea — close your eyes and imagine what a bike made by Ikea would look like. Yep, you got it.

The official photo of the Ikea bike, which will be sold in Europe later this year.

The news was greeted in the bike world by a weird mix of surprise and derision. Does it come with an allen wrench? Do you have to put it together yourself? How will they get it into a flat box? It’s easy to write off the idea as a dabbler’s attempt at entering the bike market. The company isn’t exactly known for producing high quality goods, as that sagging bookshelf in your home office can attest. And there’s little doubt the bike snobs among us will be quick to ostracize Ikea bike riders as triflers who wouldn’t know a real bike if it rolled over their toes.

But I won’t be among them. I think it’s fantastic that Ikea is producing a bike. Mostly.

Here’s why: For one thing, the bike looks pretty good. I’ve long been lamenting the lack of affordable, practical bikes in North America. Such machines are still (relatively) rarely spotted on the streets of many cities, and it drives me batty to see casual cyclists still buying what seems to be the default for North Americans: mountain bikes. Mountain bikes are great for, well, mountains, but too many people buy them thinking they’ll use them off-road, but then never take them beyond the paved paths of their city, leaving them saddled with what can be uncomfortable rides loaded with too many gears, useless suspension systems and finicky parts that require too much maintenance. In a word, they aren’t very practical, and in a world where we put convenience above pretty much everything, impracticality can be a killer to people adopting a more bike-friendly life.

IMG_3491

I haven’t tried a Bikea yet, but it appears to be nothing if not practical. It looks well designed in that default Dutch mode, built for comfort and stability, with a unisex aluminum step-through frame and adjustable handlebars. It has an internal hub for gearing (although I’d prefer three or six speeds, rather than the two that are on offer) and a belt-drive, both of which should reduce maintenance requirements and improve reliability. It is built to accommodate easy add-ons, including a cargo trailer and, presumably, some kind of minimalist glassware or vase.

At $800, it’s not exactly cheap, but I think that’s a good thing. The risk is producing a poor-quality bike that won’t last. This seems like a reasonable price, as long as it’s a decent quality ride.

I know what you are saying: There’s nothing new here. Such bikes are available now, being produced by smart, quality bike makers all over the world. Your local bike shop has them for sale right at this moment. I agree, and you should go buy one. Like right now. As an added bonus, you’ll be supporting your local bike shop, not some Euro-giant furniture retailer, and you’ll get quality service from someone who actually lives in your community.

All of that is true, and that’s why I buy my bikes at such places. If you’re reading this, you’re probably doing the same. But therein lies the problem that the Bikea can address.

Unlike your local bike shop, Ikea has reach and scale, and the ability to reach those kinds of people who don’t read long shoegazers on the Internet about Ikea bikes, and have thought so little about what kind of bike they should ride they’d just go for that impractical mountain-bike-that-never-sees-a-mountain from their local Wal-Mart. If the Bikea is successful, it holds the potential to change the way average consumers think about everyday bikes, in the same way Ikea changed the way North American consumers think about home design. Like it or not, Ikea is a consumer influencer, and if the company can shift the way North Americans perceive everyday bikes, that can’t be a bad thing.

Once that idea moves, perhaps it will be the gateway bike, leading people to a Linus, or a Detroit Bike, or a Surly or Devinci,, purchased from their local bike shop, or any of the other great brands currently making our cities better. Bring it on, Ikea.

Hmm, does that Ikea bike look familiar? Something like this model from Detroit Bikes?

Now, if only the company can make a kids’ model, so we can forever destroy the department store, faux full-suspension, unserviceable pieces of shit that litter our landfills. C’mon Ikea.

Edmontonbikes.ca

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