Friday, June 18, 2010

My Bike is Not a Vacuum Cleaner! (or, a Little Romance Goes a Long Way)

An object is never just an object: It is a symbol for the experience it enables. It is a catalyst for a series of associations. It is a keeper and evoker of memories. An object can inspire, impress, or depress. An object can leave us cold or it can excite us. All of this depends on how we feel (or don't feel) about the experiences it symbolises.

This is why I cannot get on board with the idea that our relationship to the bicycle ought to be exclusively utilitarian, devoid of romance or sentimentality. In his discussions about developing a successful bicycle culture, the author of Copenhagenize.com likes to compare the Danish attitude towards the bicycle with that to the vacuum cleaner:
"We all have a vacuum cleaner, we've all learned how to use it and we all use it. But we don't go around thinking about our vaccum in the course of a day. Only when the bag is full do we roll our eyes and sigh. Kind of like when our tire is flat/chain is loose and we chuck our bike into the bike shop.

We don't have a 'stable' of vacuum cleaners. We don't ...wave at other 'avid' vacuum cleaning 'enthusiasts' whilst we clean. The relationship to our bicycles is the same as to our vacuum cleaners. They're both merely incredibly effective and useful tools for making our daily lives easier."
While I respect Mr. Colville-Andersen's work and agree with him on many issues, this insistence on stripping the bicycle of emotional and personal value is misguided and philosophically flawed.

Though on some level, both the bicycle and the vacuum cleaner are utilitarian objects, the type of experiences they represent could not be more different. A vacuum cleaner evokes associations with: order, work, domesticity, obligation, enclosed spaces, headache-inducing noise, and boredom. A bicycle evokes associations with: movement, freedom, independence, wind in your hair, the outdoors, and joy. It is only natural the the latter invites emotional connectedness and the former does not. An object is never just an object.

The fact that the bicycle performs the very practical function of transporting us from one place to another need not compete with the fact that it inspires romanticisation; the two things are not at odds. On the contrary: It seems to me that the very reason the bicycle is so appealing, is its potential to transform ordinary acts of everyday travel into magical experiences of beauty, fantasy, joy and freedom. My bike is not a vacuum cleaner, and I do not feel silly for loving it.

70 comments:

  1. Yes I agree with you on this on :-)
    Hope you are enjoying Vienna, can't wait to hear more about it.
    -ryan

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  2. Bicycles are so much more comparable to horses. They can be used for completely quotidian purposes, but that doesn't mean they can't also have personalities or have emotional value attached to them. Even cars-- how many people have names for the cars they drive every day?

    I think it's that day-to-day relationship that breeds a sense of closeness. You don't depend on your vacuum cleaner on a daily basis, generally speaking. If you did, I can only imagine that you would also find yourself thinking about it and imagining ways to embellish it in your spare time.

    Poor analogy, silly Dane.

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  3. Our vacuum is is a vintage Electrolux and I'm thinking of adding a Brooks saddle.

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  4. I definitely agree with you on this one. Besides, I prefer a broom anyway :)

    I also agree with margonaute, about the day-to-day use and dependence that breeds a closer relationship with the object, and also the symbiotic nature of the relationship - you need it to get around, it needs you to push it.

    Also, bicycles tend to be beautiful, elegant machines in a way that vacuum cleaners never really are.

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  5. portlandize - I prefer to sweep as well; can't stand the vacuum noise.

    Jefe - I recommend the Flyer in honey, but then you'd need some elkhide grips to go with that.

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  6. I'd have to agree -- and I think what Mikel C-A misses is the different sort of relationship we seem to have with objects that move us -- in the transportation sense.

    This is true of bicycles, cars, trains, planes, and even the odd bus (especially if it's a red two-decker). But not vacuums or other purely utilitarian objects.

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  7. The same applies to cameras. My Konica Hexar allowed me the stealth and spontaneity to capture moments. I loved it in ways no digital camera has yet to move me.

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  8. I may be biased, since I am from Copenhagen - just like mr. Copenhagenize himself, so my views probably reflect this.

    In your rejection of the bicycle-as-a-vacuum-cleaner idea you seem to put aside that you of all people have a very peculiar and abnormal relationship with your bicycles.
    You are exactly the exception from the norm, the person identifying yourself as a cyclist, waving at other enthusiastic "cylists on romantic bicycles" with your stable of named oldtimers and other exotic gear worth several thousand dollars. (Nothing wrong with that - I have large sums of money "invested" in bicycles myself).
    My point is just that you may not be able to see what kind of relationship the vast majority of cyclists have with their bicycle.

    Most of the people I know ride their bicycle on a regular if not daily basis, however I know very few people who do not look at their bicycles as merely a means of transportation. In fact I am almost positive that less than half of the cyclists in my surroundings know the model name of their bicycle. And I have never heard that they think warm thoughts about freedom when they look at their bicycle. It's just a tool, something that makes their life easier, and they would gladly throw it away in a second in exchange for a better, newer, faster, more comfortable model.

    The comparison with horses? Puh-lease Margo... The bike is an object, no matter how hard you try to blow life into it. Do your floorboards or your armchair also have personalities? Or the footballers' shoes, or the carpenters' hammer?

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  9. Kenny - I see your point, I really do. I am just not certain I agree.

    I am not suggesting that more people romanticise the bicycle than those who don't. What I am suggesting, is that the bicycle is a popular choice of an object-to-be-romanticised.

    To put it another way, let's say that while .0001% of vacuumers develop a sentimental relationship with their vacuums and .0059% of kitchen table owners develop a sentimental relationship with their kitchen table, a staggering 10% of cyclists develop a sentimental relationship with their bicycle.

    And while I am in the 10% of those who do, rather than in the 90% of those who do not, I am by no means as freakish as I would be if I were a vacuum-fancier.

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  10. Why do we need to determine whether your (or my) special variety of love for bicycles is unique or not? You are what you are and your readers love you for it.

    To some, I probably spend too much time thinking about all machines, bicycles and otherwise. I see in each the thought and effort expended by so many people in designing, producing, assembling, delivering and caring for most every machine I come across. The ones I use often bring up memories for me. Even my old vacuum cleaner.

    That some folks take their machines for granted is to me a little sad. Machines that are taken for granted are too often neglected and their life spans diminished. When they stop working, they might be placed at the curb and sent to the landfill. When I see a machine on the curb, I think of all the people and resources that went into bringing the machine into being and hope they don't see where their labors have ended up.

    Love your machines. Sing their praises. Write them letters when you are away. Have fun in every way you can.

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  11. Kenny: I stand by the horse analogy! :) Maybe it's more of an American thing? Since the country is just so big, travel/means of travel has always been a big feature of American life, and one that has been widely romanticized. Think of the Pony Express, or the cowboy singing to his horse at night, or motorcycle clubs, or the idea of the road trip with just you and your car. People *do* name their cars and spend their weekends lovingly washing them in the driveway. So while the idea of developing emotional bonds with a bicycle might sound strange elsewhere, I think it makes perfect sense in the US. Then add in the fact that bicycles are so much rarer here, harder to buy and harder to ride, and it would almost seem more unbelievable if you didn't begin to feel emotionally attached! Of course, there are different degrees of attachment, and obviously plenty of people who toss their bikes in the garage without a second thought to their "personalities" or aesthetics. But I'm just saying. I don't think it's **that** irrational!

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  12. I think you made a good point and you must be right. The fact that there's no Copenhagen Vacuum Chic and instead the Cycle Chic Blog proves that, as tools, those two object classes are not comparable.

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  13. Someone recently wrote that bicycle owners are always adding to their bikes to make them their own. People don't do that with their vacuum cleaner. Also, if my vacuum cleaner was lost or stolen, I certainly wouldn't feel the loss like if my bike was stolen.

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  14. I think comparing bicycle use in Copenhagen to "bicycle culture" elsewhere is really comparing apples to oranges.

    - For sake of example, let's say 90% of Copenhageners ride there bikes every day in a utilitarian fashion. I frankly doubt they *all* relate to them as they do their vacuums, certainly there are some people in that city who love bicycles in a a more "enthusiast" manner. Over here, it is mostly the enthusiasts who are riding, but if 90% of our population rode their bikes in a utilitarian fashion everyday, I'm sure quite a few of them would relate to their bikes as they related to their vacuums. I don't think this is a good argument for enthusiasts to change their perspective.

    - Continuing on the enthusiast theme, all sorts of enthusiasts wave at other. Maybe we are just more friendly over here :-) Motorcyclists tend to wave at other, and sometimes people driving the same type of car wave too. We got all sorts of waves when we started driving a VW New Beetle.

    - Many enthusiasts are also aesthetes, at least in their field of enthusiasm, so they are more likely to gush over something well made, fun to use, etc, and are more likely to own more examples of what they like.

    - Also, as Steve mentioned, Americans love things that give us more mobility. Partly this is the freedom to further on your own than you would/could on foot, but to some degree we do tend to fetishize the objects. Mikael repeated misses this point on trips to the US (quite possibly he does so deliberately, in friendly joshing way), when he claims that "going for a ride" is something done in emerging bike cultures. Nope, Americans just like to move, we go for walks, bike rides, motorcycle rides, horseback rides, car rides, etc.

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    1. I agree. There is a weird mass missing of the point here. I think something like 1% of Americans ride bicycles. If it were a common everyday activity for the majority as it is in Denmark and the Netherlands, cycle enthusiasts would still be the same tiny minority they are today.

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  15. I've thought for quite a while that being around people who think and act differently than ourselves is one of the beauties of this life and world. I think that is why I especially enjoy this blog and all the comments. Keep us thinking people. It is good for us.

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  16. I've decided about my bikes that they're almost family members. True, they all serve a purpose - kinda like good knives - but each one has a personality, fit, and quirks all its own. When something goes wrong, I don't roll my eyes, I think of it like a kid who just whipped a piece of spaghetti at me. Frustrating, but I still love the thing.

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  17. i think a better comparison to bikes as romantic object is the automobile-- think of all the people for whom the car embodies many of the same concepts as a bike: personal freedom, the open road, adventure, vacations, etc. yet, while there's certainly a faction of people who romanticize cars, the majority of people i know see them as yet another disposable object, like a vacuum cleaner.

    i think what it comes down to, is that some people have a greater predisposition to want to identify certain feelings with objects. for many, objects embody meaning; for others objects are just clutter. i think it's fascinating to try to understand why some people *choose* a particular object or range of objects with which to identify a particular feeling. for example, i know someone who loves to collect unusual and rare furniture, and for her i'm sure there is meaning in that. but this same person sees a bike as nothing more than appliance.

    and for the record, , i LOVE my miele vacuum cleaner! it brings back fond memories of california, where i was living when i first bought it. i'll be sad the day it dies...

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  18. somervillain: I'll admit, I also kind of fetishize Miele vacuum cleaners. Someday one will be mine! Also, roombas. And Hoover Constellations (the hovercraft of the vacuum cleaner world: http://www.adclassix.com/a3/55hoovervacuum.htm)

    I... just kind of like things.

    Velouria: Thanks for starting the discussion! Super interesting to hear people's takes on this.

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  19. Kenny is missing a lot!!!!

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  20. Velouria and I have trained our cats to vaccuum the apartment every day. They also polish the hardwoord and clean the china. Such nice cats. They deserve their own little wooden bikes.

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  21. Kenny: I don't think your categorization quite fits either, as my wife and I currently own two bicycles we purchased for $350 (one each), we ride them for utilitarian purposes almost exclusively, and while I do feel the need to clean it periodically (especially in months when we triple the average rainfall halfway through the month), I have never given it a careful detailing, and other than purchasing a rear rack, panniers and a basket (practical improvements to make them practical vehicles), we haven't really put extra money into them except when it was functionally necessary.

    In your defense though, and to corroborate somervillain's comments, my wife and I do tend to be the types of people who see personality in objects more than most.

    I do think you have a point that not everyone is this way, but I also think there are a significantly more people who are this way about bikes than about other utilitarian objects, as Velouria said.

    Of course, I do also see your point that in most places in the U.S., the majority of the bike-riding population are more or less "enthusiasts" (or at least, would be considered so in many other places). That's changing a lot here, but they still make up a sizable percentage.

    So yeah, it's a tossup :)

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  22. I'm thinking the thrust of Mr. Coleville-Andersen's comments here may stem from an overarching marketing view of one who is intent on seeing bicycling fully integrated as an evolved transport system. I get the sense that he's merely saying that the bicycle transport system in Copenhagen system is a maturing one that is free of the dominance of subgroups and thus accepted by all citizens as part of the transport system. In marketing terms, it's a success because it's seen as merely transport. I'm not certain he would deny bicycle's romance. I looked at his discussion, "Behavioral Challenges for Urban Cycling" at: http://www.copenhagenize.com/2009/11/behaviour-is-tricky-subject-and-getting.html , as background for my comments. Thank you Velouria for this interesting post and the great job you do to awaken us to the beauty in bicycling around us.

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  23. I posted about a similar things recently, having discovered a condition called "objectophilia " http://bit.ly/aRcI4u. This may be of interest to some readers. (I discovered that I did NOT have the condition... :-)

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  24. Margo--I'm with you 100%! Maybe because my learning to ride a bike coincided with my learning to ride a horse, because for years I rode my bike the 2 miles to and from my cherished riding lessons, or maybe because my early Raleighs had those equestrian names--Mountie and Colt (don't know about Space Rider...) but there were always strong parallels. Yes--a bike was just a way of getting from point A to point B but as all of us know, the bicycle you ride makes a tremendous difference! Going from my clunky, fat-tired early bike to a taller, sleeker Raleigh with hand-brakes and gears (!!!) was as marvelous a revelation as graduating from the tired, stubborn old Shetland I started on to a nimble, willing Welsh pony who actually responded to my signals and seemed to enjoy having me on his back. There may be some people out there who get the same kick out of vacuuming, but I find the horse comparison much more apt. Or cars for that matter--there are plenty of people who are happy with an Accord or an old Tercel, but that doesn't make the pleasure of driving a nice German car any less, does it? A nice bike is, for me, more attainable right now that either a horse or the vintage Mercedes of my dreams--and btw, my Eureka Mighty Mite is doing the trick just fine for now, going on year seven!

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  25. MDI--maybe your cats could organize some kind of seminar for household pets? I'd be very happy if my dogs would learn how to mop or tackle the dishes occasionally.

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  26. Hmmm, I don't know. I have a really awesome vacuum and it plays a vital role in bringing order to my world. :-)

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  27. I eagerly await the Copenhagen Vacuum Chic blog.

    It is ironic that the only two objects my two year old son fetishizes are 1. Bike ("bite") and 2. vacuum ("vwoppy").

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  28. Iron Fish

    Some people roast their own coffee beans and take the temperature of the water before brewing a pot. Most are happy with Dunkin Donuts or Starbucks. Some people collect toy steam shovels made of cast iron. Most threw them in a box or the trash long ago. Some people discuss lug profiles and tire widths endlessly, and have one or two each of the Nine Types of Bicycles.

    The thing about bicycles is they have so many ways to hook you. I'm rising early tomorrow to pick up a mint 1985(?) Schwinn Super Sport. I've been developing a hankering for a pink bicycle. At the same time, on a concurrent track, I hoisted a Columbus Tenax Peleton being overhauled at my bike shop the other day--light!--and suddenly got an urge for one a them. Imagine getting both rolled into one within a few days! Wow. I guess there are actually the Ten Types of Bicycles...

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  29. I think you missed Mikael's point on this. He's explaining how his culture sees bikes so it is quite understandable that they do not associate them with all the good things you mention. The Danish are brought up with bikes all around them and therefore, for them, they are as ordinary as any other appliance in a household be it a vacuum cleaner, a washing machine or a fridge.

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  30. Even a utilitarian relationship is a relationship. And all relationships link something to something else, whether in our minds or in the physical world. So, even thinking of something in purely utilitarian terms is, in a sense, a way of personalising it, because we create the relationship.

    Anyway...For me, bikes have always been about freedom and being with myself. They have actually helped me to survive various times in my life. So there is no way I can think about them only as objects or tools.

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  31. Herbert - I get Mikael's point, but I think even for Denmark he exaggerates, to say the least. Something can be entirely normalised in a culture, yet still have personal and emotional value. The Danish decorate their bicycles with flowers, attractive baskets, handmade dressguards, cute bells and other charming accessories. Do they do the same to vacuum cleaners? Even in Denmark, the bicycle is used to express one's identity and individuality more so than a vacuum cleaner.

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  32. Kenny, and by extension Mr. Colville-Anderson, have a point. Their point is proven by bicycle pictures from Copenhagen - Ugly Bicycles. Old, beat-up, rusty, faded utilitarian bicycles.

    Of course Mr. C-A's point isn't universally valid. Few places in the US offer the same sort of care-free commuting possibilities as Copenhagen. Here, one must necessarily be a little more thoughtful about the cycling environment, the bike, and other equipment (such as helmets, and don't get Mr C-A started on helmets). It's only natural then that many of us are a bit more involved, philosophically and aesthetically, with our bikes.

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  33. Although I disagree with his analogy I think the point C-A is making is very valid. Northern Europe has embraced the bicycle as means of transportation, USA has not. Bicycles in this country have been marketed as and bought as recreational vehicles. Most avid cyclists are intent on finding the "latest and greatest new thing" to show off at their weekly club rides. Very few of those people actually enjoy a ride to the office, the bank, the mall or local wine fest, nor do they have bikes suited for anything but riding fast in a group or down a mountain trail. Like autos, the bike in the USA is largely a means of social identification: a statement that" I can not only afford a Mazi, I have the leisure time to use it." Most people I know realize that I am an avid cyclist, but when they see me in street clothes at the grocery store or bank they will invariably offer a ride with a sympathetic remark like, "you don't have to do that, I can give you a ride." They can't imagine choosing to ride for anything but a recreational purpose and see it as an expression of need.
    Unlike northern Europe, the overwhelming choice here is the automobile, the ultimate form of social identification on the market.

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  34. Velouria - "The Danish decorate their bicycles with flowers, etc."
    May I suggest that they do this mainly in order to recognize their property in the sea of identical bikes? In the absence of number plates, vanity or not .... It's one of those things you just have to do in a country with more bicycles than people (Holland has 18 million bikes for 16 million people, even worse than Denmark). And vacuum cleaners stay in the house, they don't need to be personalized.

    I have a Dyson, just for the peculiar way it works :-)

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  35. I don't remember getting my first vacuum cleaner but I certainly remember my first bicycle.

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  36. Sarah & Neighbourtease: How about this: http://www.unplggd.com/unplggd/final-frame/final-frame-instinct-vacuum-cleaner-119482
    Surely deserves a name.

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  37. This is such a complicated issue that I think that someone like myself who really has never seen a bicycle as anything less than magical(I can explain "magical" if anyone feels like it's worthwhile) probably doesn't have the perspective to see it clearly... BUT, I think that even on a purly utilitarian level bikes and vacuums don't equate. If you had no vacuum there is the option to get a broom, the job still gets done(and in many cases with no greater investment in time and effort), but no bike? Thats a very different situation. What else can do the same job in the same amount of time at the same minimum investment of time, money, space, energy etc. A Segway?

    I think that on some level you can make the argument that bikes are sort of trancendant devices that truly change things. That sort of thing is going to inspire the people for whom those changes make the greatest differance. Maybe...

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  38. Frits - Yikes!

    Marc - I think what you are describing is changing. Bicycles themselves are becoming status symbols. Nobody ever asks me if I need a ride when I am out doing errands on my bicycle; it is very apparent that I am riding it intentionally. Maybe it's because I look like I am enjoying it, or maybe it's because I look like I could afford a car if I wanted to, or maybe it's because the bicycle looks cool or well-loved - who knows. But perceptions and attitudes about this stuff are beginning to change.

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  39. I'm with Kevin and with you Velouria,and with Mr C.A. Strange as it may be, Ive never lost that,(I've got a new bike feeling) when ever i get my hands on another one.Ive never had that feeling with any other object including a new car.As a result i now have a collection of bikes, my biggest problem being which one to go one. But i can see it from Mr C.A.s side of the fence. I think that if i had been brought up in a bike culture such as Copenhagen, riding a bike would probably be as much of a daily grind as driving a car is to me right now. I have to drive over an hour each way to work, I'm a carpenter so have a lot of tools to carry, and i am green with envy of all of you people who can ride every day, but may be that's what keeps the romance of cycling strong for me.

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  40. i partly agree with the spirit of his piece, basically saying that cycling is just an ordinary way to get from one place to another, not a quirky hobby (no one goes on and on about walking). i'm not that interested in learning how to fix things on my bike either (although i should, it would be a money saver). and although i don't name my bike, i can't help thinking how cute it is when i go unlock it from the bike rack.

    i don't really see why it's different from people who love their cars. some people could care less about cars, as long as it runs and gets to where they're going. but others lovingly name it, customize it, learn every component of it (and of course it still gets them where they're going).

    i do wish cycling was seen as ordinary and not as some hippie thing that's so annoying on the road. my roommate and i were watching a news piece about chicago having money for bike lanes but not for public transit and she caught herself starting to say i hate cyclists (she owns a car, i don't). ugh!

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  41. Interesting post and comments. It seems to me that Mikael certainly romantizes bicycles, given his devotion to images of bicycles and the people who ride them, where they ride, their behavior on their bikes, etc. Perhaps he is also speaking of himself. In any case, I believe that as Americans, we are conditioned to value what we perceive to be convenient, fast, and big. Once our cities and towns began catering to the needs of car over people traveling by bicycle became an oddity and something done merely out of necessity if one couldn't afford a car. It is generally assumed (at least by my father) that you, me, all of us must have a car and that if we don't something must be wrong. It is entirely different in Denmark and most of Europe. Sure many people have a car but they also choose to walk, use public transit and ride a bicycle to get to where they need to.

    I for one enjoy the sense of freedom I experience on my bike. I feel constrained and impatient in the car. We are fortunate that we have a lot of urban trails and bike lanes that make bicycling easier than in some American communities but development in Flagstaff, Arizona is still largely guided by the needs of cars. Because Flagstaff is an expensive place to live we only have one car so often my bicycle is only a tool. While I chose to bike more than half the time, often bicycling is neither as convenient or safe as it would be if I were in a car. That is largely due to deficits in our bike infrastructure. I wish more people viewed bikes as a tool rather than an object of romance, or more simply put a source of recreation. If it were viewed as a legitimate transportation alternative I think we would more likely see public investments in the type of infrastructure that would make bicycling safer and as, or more, convenient as driving.

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  42. Hmmm, I think I must be a "hoover" (that's what we call them in the UK) fetishist then! Having owned 3 Meiles, 2 Dysons and a henry. Meile - beautiful and precise and ergonomic, Dyson - iconic british design I have now gone "vintage" and got the classic 1997 dc02 off ebay! http://www.dyson.co.uk/insideDyson/article.asp?aID=dc02) and we also have a henry for DIY - classic british industrial chic - how can you not love a henry? lol! http://www.henryvacs.co.uk/

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  43. The individual will fetishize any object he or she deems worthy.

    http://galleries.statesman.com/gallery/vacuum-cleaners-collectors-convention/#88776

    http://vacuumland.org/

    Let us not judge!

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  44. Talk about fetishizing! C-A has fetishized the women riding bicycles on his blog since day one.

    Found this comment off another blog:

    "Copenhagen Cycle Chic is creepy voyeurism. And I'm sure a lot of the women who appear don't appreciate some of the things intoned or suggested by the editor of that blog."

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  45. Well said! I love my bikes and feel nothing for my vacuum cleaner. It's true that people like you and me are bike-geekier than most, but there has to be some romanticism in bikes for most people who ride. The simple act of pedaling a bike and feeling the wind conjures happy feelings. Pushing a vacuum cleaner just makes me tired and grumpy.

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  46. Is it really fair to compare the deeply emotional responses to sea ships, star ships, air ships, cars, bicycles, even trains, time machines, well, vehicles, with anything else? There will always be a special romantic place in our hearts for things that move us forward. Always.

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  47. Mr. Colville-Andersen has had the benefit of living in a city with a historically established bicycle culture.

    Good for him, he's very lucky to live where he does.

    How this makes him an expert on developing bicycle cultures in other cities, especially in cities where the automobile has been the dominate form of transportation for the last 50yrs, is beyond me. He has no on-the-job training.

    In the U.S. we need every possible 'bicycle enthusiast' regardless if they're riding carbon fiber or vintage steel to work together. If our enthusiasm for what we ride or our fellow riders doesn't agree with Mr. C.A, maybe he doesn't know how important enthusiasm is for any social movement.

    Great blog by the way! Please keep posting

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  48. MDI - That's very nicely said : )

    I also agree with the basic *spirit* of Mikael's piece, which is that when the bicycle is normalised it no longer seems like anything extraordinary. I just think he goes too far in the vac comparison. Automobiles are also normalised and *overall* don't seem like anything extraordinary. Yet there are still automobile collectors, enthusiasts, racers, etc. It basically all ties in to what MDI above, and others, have said.

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  49. I haven't read all the responses, so this may be duplicative of someone else's observations, but I must say I find Mr. Colville-Andersen's sentiments misguided on yet another level: Even a fine vacuum can inspire love. I know a handful women who hug their Dysons.
    Love, love, love your blog BTW!

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  50. Velouria, I appreciate your sentiment, and I certainly like my bikes more than i like vacuum cleaners, but I also think you know that Mikael is using rhetoric to make a point. Perhaps an analogy that would be easier for most Americans to understand is to compare a bicycle to a car. Most Americans own a car or two, and drive them regularly, and most Americans don't think a lot about cars, or how they learned to drive them, or their "romantic relationship" with their cars. Certainly there are exceptions. I'm loath to align myself with the guy with greasy knuckles, out there hot-rodding his Camaro in the driveway surrounded by metal parts, but if you saw me trying to change the tire on my Christiana (up on blocks, no less) the similarities would be hard to ignore.

    I like liking my bikes, but I'd trade all that for a national culture of cycling that made it as everyday as driving, and dull as paste. This isn't about being cool or being bummed out when the masses catch on. This is about making our cities better places to live, for people of all ages. Let bicycles be boring -- our lives will still be full and rich. And you can still fetishize as many bikes as you want. (And you'll still be unusual in this society, just in the opposite direction. Weird, huh!)

    best

    Patrick

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  51. Sorry, I have to agree with Mr. Copenhagen.

    The view that you hold is quite western and probably not shared by most of the world's bike riders.

    Living here in China, where millions of people are bike riders out of necessity, I can guarantee that none of them have the emotions associated with bikes that you mentioned.

    A bike is for getting from point A to Point B and as soon as the can afford something that will perform that task better, be it an e-bike, trike, motorcycle or car...the bike will be gone.

    Interestingly, the same bikes that they are so blaise about are the same ones you and I blog about.

    -JS

    http://www.flyingpigeonproject.org

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  52. I don´t for a secont belive in the way my fellow Scandinavians down in DK purportely feels about bikes. I belive they love their bikes in a very relaxed way, like they do most things in DK!

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  53. If it was "a vacuum cleaner" approach in Dennmark, what about Jorn Utzon, Arne Jacobsen, Paul Henningsen ...


    Petar Breskovic
    Split
    Croatia

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  54. Being passionate about bicycles may disqualify me from agreeing with copenhagenize.com, but I concur with several other commentators. Coleville-Anderson is talking about getting beyond the image of the "lycra-and-helmet" crowd that glorifies the sport nature of cycling. No machine is devoid of personality or at least intrinsic value, even vacuum cleaners. However, the less we deify them, the more likely they are to be seen as ordinary and essential.

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  55. I almost would trade one of my bikes for an Electrolux.

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  56. I agree with the comments made earlier about Americans attachment to their vehicles, be it horse, car, motorcycle or bicycle. But I also realize that, while I pamper my bikes and my beloved little car, there are other who see a car as a utilitarian device to get form point A to point B with as little inconvenience as possible, just like many Dutch cyclists.

    I value my own attachment to my vehicles as it connects me directly to it and fills me with an urge to protect and care for them -- be it car, scooter or bike. I am less likely to act recklessly or let them fall into disrepair. In our consumerist economy, I think that is a very good thing.

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  57. My favorite objects, the irreplaceable ones I would rescue from a fire after securing my family, my 40 year old Rosignol Strato skis, my string bass, my 35 year-old steel bike. With my skis I learned how to make things go right in fall-you-die slopes, that I could be right though death would be my punishment for failure. With my bass I learned patience, gradient accomplishment, perseverance and communicating an aesthetic. I dated my wife on my bike in a time when courtship *standards* demanded a car.
    In each of these, the object was my partner in a major life lesson.
    Is it possible to gain a life lesson with a vacuum cleaner? What a great assignment for a creative writing class!

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  58. I use a cane to get around. I have a rack full of canes, standing in my living room. I do not name my canes, not do I dream about them. I do however spend some time improving them from an incomplete and imperfect means of getting about to a more improved means of getting about. (Most canes do not come with a requirement of mine, a cane retention strap, so you can drop the cane, freeing up your hand to open a door, or to shake hands, or many of the other uses for hands. Do I fetishize a cane. No, don't think so.

    I don't wave at the small group of people that also use one, don't honk at them as they pass. I don't put cute flowers on them either. A CANE is a convenience, not an absolute necessity, (though I NEVER leave the house without one). Yes, I can get around without one, no, I have not developed a cane culture. (Who, ME?)

    So I find Mr Colville-Anderson spot on, and I agree with him.

    Now Vacuum Cleaners, THERES a machine...

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  59. I know these comments are getting old, but I just wanted to follow up on the horse analogy. When I was a bike messenger in WADC, we routinely referred to our bikes as horses. Of course our "careers" came with a certain Pony-Express kind of cache, but that's beside the point. When you spend that much time on your bike, and it provides your living and you maintain it in turn, it begins to take on that sort of significance for you. When something breaks you are sad. When things just aren't working right, you get mad at it and curse it like it's some kind of semi-sentient thing. In the end it becomes your friend and companion and you go everywhere together until some jerk pulls a u-turn in front of you and kills it :(.

    Obviously, not everyone ends up having this kind of relationship with their bike. And that's okay. But for some of us, it works out that way.

    I still have my messenger bike (a 1992 Bridgestone MB2 frame set up for street use) and recently have begun riding regularly again. My old friend has been waiting for me all this time and seems happy to have me back. But I also worry that he's more worn out than he seems and one day soon he'll falter. That will be a sad day. Meanwhile, we have fun together driving up the hill and flying down the back side. Hopefully that will last for a long while.

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  60. Here in Colombia, is very common to call bikes "caballitos de acero", in english it would be something as "steal horses". My bike is not a vacuum cleaner for me neither. I named her. Is a girl. And she is called Floripondia.

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  61. not to be too sensitive, new-age, but cycling is a lot like meditation, there's rhythm, a mantra of activity, a refocussing of attention and then, suddenly, a kind of eerie just being-in-the-world, which i greatly like. part of this is the way the bicycle as an object becomes a bit of a medium, to me (and, no, I haven't smoked anything), and very personal, and not all bicycles achieve this. so, it's definitely not a vacuum cleaner, if it were we'd all be on electric powabykes, for all their efficiency.

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  62. I pootle about in Cambridge on my very dignified Pashley Princess-Sovereign, or in London on my cute-as-a-button, flamingo-pink Brompton. And I for those pleasures, I have great affection for my bikes. I get the utility out of them, sure, but there is more to it than that. I get where I want to go, very efficiently, and with a richer experience than if I used a car, a but, a train or the tube.

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  63. In the US, we are a small tribe. Cyclists in most American cities are, if riding for utility, traveling longer distances through a much more hostile environment than Dutch or Danish riders are. Like fighter pilots who nickname their planes, we develop an emotional attachment to our traveling machines. A friend of mine once compared working in the bike industry to "an alternative gig, like being a musician." She could not have been more right. And, like a musician's instrument, an American cyclist's bike is more than an appliance, it's something that sees you through your best and your worst times--like the guitar of country musician Dave Alvin with which he's both written his best songs and had the finish chipped by beer bottles thrown at him by hostile audience members.

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  64. Have you been reading Baudrillard?

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    1. No. Don't know that name at all.

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  65. Performance is much more important that a thin veneer of romance.

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  66. Ooh I love this blog post so much, and completely agree. I don't need someone telling me I shouldn't be thinking about my bike all the time. Fact is, I do, and I don' have a problem with that!

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  67. I think your missing the fundamental point that MCA is making, that for the masses to use bikes daily, they need to have the functionality that enables easy, instant, comfortable use. Alluding to their construction as much as anything. He doesn't dismiss the love affair that many have with their bicycles but rather shines a light on the fact that it is the cold function of a bicycle that firstly influences a decision, with perhaps the "love affair" being a secondary factor. It is indeed the function that will enable the 1st world to fall 'in love' with the Bicycle again, mixed with a little sexy i'm sure. (MCA can put me right if i'm wrong). The analogy is fine if it works for you, but many people do find bicycles an object that represents a chore...but it is or will become the easiest way to move locally, hence the analogy, people will need function, will want function, and that an area of bicycle marketing and design that in the USA and UK for sure, is being neglected.

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