The Null Device
Posts matching tags 'bicyclism'
A new study has looked at why fewer women cycle in the United States than in the Netherlands, and found that it has less to do with an often stated Anglophone culture of cycling-as-macho-extreme-sport, and more to do with women in the US being too busy with domestic chores for the luxury of cycling:
In short, despite years of progress, American women’s lives are still disproportionately filled with driving children around, getting groceries, and doing other household chores – housework that doesn’t lend itself easily to two-wheeled transportation. It turns out that women may be more likely to bike in the Netherlands because Dutch culture is giving them more time to do so.Of course, the fact that in the Netherlands it is possible to carry anything from a toddler to a bag of groceries on a bakfiets is one factor, as is the fact that Dutch children are more likely to go to school by themselves (often on their own bicycles) than be dropped off in Mom's SUV; a lot of it, though, comes down to more traditional gender-based divisions of labour in the US and that hyperefficient Anglocapitalist labour market leaving those who get stuck doing the chores (i.e., usually the women) with less time for the luxury of cycling:
Dutch women can use bikes to get around because they are less pressed for time than American women, in three fundamental ways. First, thanks to family-friendly labour policies like flexitime and paternity leave, Dutch families divide childcare responsibilities much more evenly than American families. Second, work weeks in the Netherlands are shorter. One in three Dutch men and most Dutch women work part-time, and workers of either gender work fewer hours than Americans.Of course, this is a piece in the Grauniad; were it in, say, the Financial Times or the Economist, it may well say that large numbers of female cyclists is a symptom of an inefficient economy, one which fails to extract the maximum amount of productivity from its labour force; indeed, one can imagine a report from a neoliberal think tank claiming that women on bicycles are a drag on productivity.
There's a piece in BBC News' Magazine section about the bizarre upside-down world of the Netherlands, where the bicycle is king and cars are grudgingly tolerated; where bike lanes and bike parking are ubiquitous, cycling safety is a compulsory school subject, cyclists have priority at roundabouts and roads are labelled “fietsstraat: auto te gaast” (“bike street: cars are guests”). Consequently, near everybody cycles, and nobody wears a helmet or lycra like some kind of extreme-sports nut whilst doing so:
Cycling is so common that I have been rebuked for asking people whether they are cyclists or not. "We aren't cyclists, we're just Dutch," comes the response.Meanwhile, on the other side of the world (both geographically and culturally), there is gradual movement in Australia towards the acceptance of cycling as a normal activity, with infrastructure being slowly provided for cyclists. However, not all are happy with this; after the Melbourne City Council opened a bike lane on the Princes Bridge, right-wing shock jocks and the Murdoch press have launched a campaign against bike lanes, arguing that they take away the motoring majority's roads to pander for a tiny fringe of (radical/politically correct/trendy) inner-city hipsters in lycra.
Indeed, the limits of how bike-friendly Australia can become may be fairly low, as long as motoring is the default (and, in most places, the only practical) means of transport (one could, indeed, reverse the Dutch formula to “we aren't motorists, we're just Aussies”), and elections are decided by car-dependant marginal seats. They don't want large numbers of cyclists getting in their way and slowing them down when they drive to the supermarket, and certainly don't want some politically-correct latte-sipper lecturing them that they should leave the 4WD at home and cycle to the shopping centre, and they decide elections, so policy is designed partly around the goal of suppressing the rise of cycling as a non-fringe phenomenon. Take, for example, Australia's near-universal and strictly enforced mandatory bike helmet laws, which serve the purpose of raising the economic and psychological barrier to entry from cycling, marking it out as a moderately dangerous extreme sport that requires special safety equipment, and is only for the hardcore.
There's a piece in the Guardian's Bike Blog on the subculture of cyclists affecting the style of a bygone aristocracy (minus the unpalatable bits, of course):
Browsing some of the increasingly popular retro bike designs recently, I came across the Old Bicycle Showroom ("Purveyors of Fine bicycles to Nobility & Gentry"); and I met Pashley's owners' club of "jolly chaps", who look more Friedrich Nietzsche than Fausto Coppi. Then there is the Tweed Run, issuing its dress code like a public school prefect: "Now look here, proper attire is expected"; and Rapha, with its series of Gentlemen's Races, and clothing for gentlemen.The irony that the article points to is that the golden age of aristocratic cycling is only slightly less fantastic than steampunk, with cycling having been a largely proletarian phenomenon, at least until the age of high-tech materials and the (distinctly modern) bike snob (not to mention of ubiquitous car ownership):
Seventy early cycling clubs were named after the campaigning socialist paper The Clarion (founded 1891), with its ideal of fellowship. The brief aristocratic fad for cycling petered out when the bike became too popular to be posh. It has, as Tim Hilton's memoir One More Kilometre and We're in the Showers relates, "belonged to a lower social class" ever since. Until, that is, the recent popularity of cycling among wealthy men persuaded some marketing departments to rewrite the history of cycling. But does this retelling make any sense?Or, to quote from one of the commenters: "Mummy, why is daddy dressed as a racist?"
The latest city to get a bike-sharing programme is San Francisco. A scheme is being rolled out both within San Francisco and technological/research hubs like Mountain View and Palo Alto along the west side of the bay. The scheme will be fairly limited compared to London or Paris; the bikes in San Francisco will initially only be in the business centre around Market St., and won't cover areas like the Haight, Golden Gate Park or the Mission District, and there are no plans to extend the scheme to the east bay (Berkeley/Oakland and such).
I'm half surprised that Google, Facebook or some startup haven't rolled out their own bike-sharing system first, with intelligently mesh-networked, location-enhanced bikes which may or may not interact with the rider's advertising profile and/or online identity.
Some prankster has been stickering the Barclays branding on London's rental bicycles (a.k.a. the Boris Bikes), prefixing the imperative "fuck" to the sponsor's name:
Melbourne now has a bike sharing scheme. It consists of rental bikes (apparently the Canadian model used in London, not the French Vélib), which are rentable from docking stations scattered around the CBD and immediately surrounding areas. (Melbourne University and the Docklands are covered, but the programme stops short of, say, Fitzroy, Richmond and such.) In other words, it's much like the systems in Paris and London, albeit with one crucial difference: it's actually illegal to use unless you happen to be in possession of a bike helmet. These are not supplied at the docking stations, and the police aggressively target those flouting Victoria's mandatory helmet laws.
The helmet laws have had an effect on takeup of the scheme: apparently only 70 trips a day are being made on it, despite the 600 brand new bikes made available; i.e., the system is running at 0.5% capacity. The cycling lobby has been organising protests against the helmet laws; at one such protest, the police came out in force and fined everyone. The law is harsh, but it is the law.
It's not clear what the designers of the scheme were thinking; it's less than useful for tourists, who tend not to bring bike helmets with them or want to spend money on them. As for it being intended for long-term commuters, the fact that the bikes are all in the city centre makes that somewhat less than ideal. Anyway, unless the bike helmet laws are amended (and, with Australia being a car-centric society, this looks unlikely), it's likely that the scheme will be scrapped due to poor patronage. Meanwhile, those wishing to borrow a bike around the inner north may be well advised to go to the Little Creatures Dining Hall on Brunswick St. and borrow one of their fleet of Kronan fixies. They're free and come with helmets, though you'd want to get there early in the day as they tend to get snapped up quickly.
New York Magazine has an interesting piece on tensions between hipsters and hasidim in Williamsburg, which began when hipsters started moving to the staunchly Orthodox Jewish neighbourhood of Brooklyn in the 1990s and came to a head with a dispute over a bike lane which, the hasidim complained, funnelled a steady stream of immodestly-clad nonbelievers through the core of their devoutly observant community:
But after a while, says one Hasidic real-estate developer, “People started talking to the rabbis—‘Hey, something’s happening, all these young white people are moving in.’ ” When the Satmars realized that the Artisten—the Yiddish name they used for the bewildering newcomers—were there to stay, something like panic set in. Rabbis exhorted landlords not to rent to the Artisten, builders not to build for them. One flyer asked God to “please remove from upon us the plague of the artists, so that we shall not drown in evil waters, and so that they shall not come to our residence to ruin it.’’ Rabbi Zalman Leib Fulop announced that the Artisten were “a bitter decree from Heaven,” a biblical trial.While there is an element of conservative-old-timers-vs.-offensive-newcomers to the story, it is (as most things are) more complex than that. Most of the property rented out to the artisten was done so by Hasidic owners, who have mostly kept the hipsters out of the core of their community. Meanwhile, there is more interplay between the ultra-conservative community and the newcomers, with some fence-sitters putting a foot in both camps:
For South Williamsburg’s Hasids, Traif Bike Gesheft functions as a semi-secret window onto the larger world and a clubhouse of mild transgressions. Herzfeld rents bikes to Hasids at no cost, just to get them to venture beyond the neighborhood. (Among Satmars, bicycles are not specifically disallowed but are considered taboo nonetheless.) Inside the shop, otherwise righteous men let down their guard. Tongues loosen. “The men, they don’t know how to have a conversation with a woman,” Herzfeld explains, talking a mile a minute. “Whenever they come to the bike shop, the first thing they ask me to find them a prostitute. I tell them, look, you’re searching for answers. You’re not going to find them in the vagina of a woman you’re paying $200 an hour. If you want to meet somebody, you need to step outside of the community, you need to get a hobby. Come over, and I’ll teach you how to fix a bike. So the bike shop is a kind of outreach program.” A friend of Herzfeld’s also uses the shop to slip Hasids traif books like The Catcher in the Rye and The Great Gatsby.
If hipster Williamsburg has a social architect, it is Schwartz. His first project, in 1999, became the mini-mall that redefined Bedford Avenue. The retail collection he developed was both a parody of the American mall and a startling improvement on it. It housed an artisanal-cheese shop, a wine store, a bookseller with Guy Debord window displays, a Tibetan tchotchke store, a vinyl-heavy indie-record emporium, a Mac-friendly computer shop, and, of course, a coffeehouse. Many of these businesses later grew to take up their own storefronts on what became the hipster side of Bedford. Schwartz followed it up with Opera House Lofts, another ambitious development targeted squarely at the Artisten. His latest and largest project—Castle Braid, a 144-unit complex so named after the factory in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn—is borderline hipster pandering. The game room has foosball and air hockey. On my arrival, the PA system in the lobby was softly playing Beck’s “Nobody’s Fault But My Own.” The building holds its own film festival (the first prize is six rent-free months) and a tenant-compiled library with Erotica and Gay-and-Lesbian sections. “It is totally kosher,” explains Schwartz, a devout Hasid. “I’ve been joking that I do this to make sure the Artisten stay on the other side!”
(via Ian W.)
In Williamsburg, tensions between hipsters and Hasidim have erupted in conflicts over bike lanes. Some Hasidim want them removed to keep fast-moving, indecently-clad cyclists out of their neighbourhood, whereas the cyclists want their direct route to Williamsburg Bridge, and are willing to repaint removed bike lanes to get it:
Many of the hipster cyclists wear too little clothing for the Hasids, who are not supposed to stare at members of the opposite sex and wanted the enticement removed.
The Independent has an article about what Copenhagen can teach the world about sustainable urban planning, in particular the promotion of cycling:
Forty years ago, London and Copenhagen had similar ratios of car to bicycle use, and both faced an exodus of workers moving out of the centre and into the suburbs. But after ' the energy crises of the 1970s, the two cities diverged. Danes were restricted in how much they could use their cars and commuters began to campaign for a better infrastructure for cyclists. Today, there are almost 200 miles of bicycle lanes in the city, and 40 per cent of its 5.5 million inhabitants cycle to work. The city has evolved cyclist-friendly policies, such as the Green Wave – a sequence of favourable traffic signals for cyclists at rush hour.
Melbourne is one of Gehl's most significant successes. From 1994 to 2004, he studied the city and, working with Professor Rob Adams at the city government, introduced major changes to the city's public spaces. Gehl recommended promoting the city's café culture, improving the waterfront area, opening up the historic laneways to pedestrians and adding more urban plazas. After a decade of work, there were 275 per cent more cafés and 71 per cent more people-oriented spaces. Wider, lighter walkways, lined with 3,000 more trees, enticed 39 per cent more daytime pedestrian traffic and 98 per cent more at night. Of course, the city expanded during this time, but more people also returned to live in the inner city (to almost 10 times more apartments). Once a classic doughnut-shaped modern city, in which the centre empties at night as workers return to the suburbs, Melbourne is now regularly rated one of the most liveable cities in the world.One point that comes up is that, while in the Anglosphere, cycling is a purer-than-thou subculture with its own uniforms and ideological machismo, in Denmark, it is completely mainstream and without pretention:
In Britain we have been conditioned to believe that cycling is something that can be done only in special places while wearing specialist safety equipment and clothing. Yet here were men, women and children cycling to work or school, looking stylish and feeling safe. It was cycling as transport, not sport.
He's no fan of the culture of hardcore cyclists that has evolved in the UK. "Once you get past the cycle subculture and make it mainstream, when you have grandmothers picking up their grandchildren from school on bikes, the aggressive riders become less noticeable. You still get people running red lights here but you just don't notice them." And he believes Critical Mass-style activism is counter-productive: "Is this selling cycling to drivers? No."
Getting around Copenhagen has been simplified over the past 30 years, from insurance (stolen bikes are registered by the police and cheques are sent out within a week) to gear. "There are a lot of companies selling 'cycling clothes' in the UK. Is it overcomplicating it, as the sports industry has for 40 years? I think it might be. Open your closet, it's full of cycling clothes. Anything you can walk in, you can cycle in. Let's move on."Of course, the "your closet is full of cycling clothes" line only works when you have Copenhagen-style cycle paths separated from motor traffic. In Britain, where cyclists have to contend with cars, especially in the winter when it gets dark early, high-visibility clothing is a must.
In Germany, they go in for human-powered transport in a big way. In Hamburg, for example, they have an experimental bus powered by onboard stationary bicycles:
The bus takes a maximum of 20 people, and needs at least six to power the bus. One model had a row of seats at the back for pure passengers. The driver doesn't pedal, but steers and operates the brake. It can get up to about 25mph. (Here's another design, on YouTube.)I haven't seen one of those, but I have recently been in Berlin, where I saw a bicycle-powered two-carriage fake tram being pedalled through Mitte. I spoke with the two gents pedalling it, who told me that it was a consciousness-raising exercise to campaign for an extension of Berlin's tram network to the West (where it had been torn up in the 1960s, as not to get in the way of affluent capitalist Berliners' VWs and BMWs), and to help campaign for the Greens in the election.
Momus' latest New York Times Post-Materialist blog post is about fixed-gear bicycles, the latest hipster must-have after turntables and Lomo cameras, and, like them, a translation of lo-fi into the realm of physical transport, and a refusal to capitulate to bourgeois practicality:
The fixie cult demonstrates that limitations are what give a thing flavor, and that stubborn simplicity can be a sort of charisma. People love these bikes because of what they can’t do as much as for what they can. In that sense they join analog synths, vinyl record players and Lomo cameras as lovable retro lo-fi must-have. In addition to the charm and fashion kudos these bikes deliver, there are other advantages. Not only do they run cleaner than cars, you don’t even have to park them when you reach your destination. Just hang them on the wall and call them art.Even more interesting than the article is Momus' blog entry about it, which elaborates on some of the points:
Code of honour: I often find myself defending as new forms of honour things that others dismiss as fads. What do I mean by that? I think it's already encoded in Alin's self-portrait. His accident, here, isn't just a random misfortune. He "wears his wounds with pride". Like a soldier wounded in a battle fought in the name of a just cause, he feels there's something more important in life than mere safety. In fact, you could almost see cycling, and its attendant aesthetic, as "something worth dying for". The New York Times actually removed the phrase "to die for" from my text, replacing it with "must-have". But I wasn't just making a gruesome joke about cycling being dangerous. I really meant that it was important that fixie cycling -- like skateboarding -- is both difficult and dangerous. To understand why, you really have to go to non-Western places, places where Being is more important than Having, and where people -- including scary people like suicide bombers and kamikaze -- place higher values on certain ideals, certain codes of honour, certain loyalties, certain aesthetics than on life itself. Or you have to go to the chivalric codes of the middle ages. Cycling is, after all, a mechanized form of chivalric equestrianism.
Viral ecology: There's a danger that making people ecologically-conscious can end up preachy and worthy. What you need is something viral, something viscerally compelling, something cool as fuck, which is also something green. And fixie bikes are that: viral ecology with the urban credibility of skateboarding and the rebel cool of smoking combined. No more sermons! On yer bike!
Distinction strategy: We were talking earlier this month about shifts in graphic design style as a sort of distinction strategy, a game of catch-up in which one set of designers keep throwing wobblies, keep embracing ugliness and absurdity in order not just to "make it new", but to put a comfortable distance between themselves and the client-pleasing coffeetable hacks who hobble along behind, copying and pasting. The fixie trend is also a distinction strategy. It's a way for hipsters to say "I'm not just another suburban bozo with a car". But it's also a way for the West to say to China: "Okay, you all have cars now. Well, we're onto something else: bicycles." Which is ironic, since the West used to laugh at China for wobbling around, in its billions, on bicycles.
The Make Blog links to a DIY idea for the urban anarchobicyclist: the "automatic bicycle pump", a tool for filling your bicycle wheels with "conveniently available pressurised air stored in automobiles":
Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your point of view), it probably won't work in practice, as bicycle tyre pressures are higher than those of car tyres.