Sunday, February 28, 2010

Lady's Bicycle? Colour vs Form

Still obsessively browsing the new NAHBS 2010 pictures, I am seeing some bicycles in pastel colour schemes that suggest they are meant for women.

[image by Geekhouse Bikes via flickr]

Here is one from Geekhouse that I must say is spectacular. Personally, I consider this colour scheme "feminine", in the sense that the colours are traditionally seen on women's clothing and accessories. However, it is a diamond frame.

[image by sleepyneko via flickr]

On the other hand, here is a mixte by Velo Orange. The frame is typically viewed as a "women's frame" (at least in the US), yet the colour scheme is traditionally "masculine": a solid, conservative blue.

In a controlled study, I wonder which bicycle would be more appealing to women. (Research grant?)

Saturday, February 27, 2010

NAHBS Goes Floral

I had been looking forward to the 2010 North American Handmade Bicycle Show (NAHBS) and now the images are finally beginning to show up on flickr and various cycling websites. Lots of beautiful bicycles, with Randonneur and Porteur aesthetics looming large. Another theme I've noticed is the prevalence of floral designs, especially in accessories. Have a look:

[image by sleepyneko via flickr]

This handmade rack with a leaf motif is from Banjo Cycles and part of a matching front and rear rack set. These must have taken a long time to make!

[image by sleepyneko via flickr]

Front rack with wooden inlays, on a Yipsan Cycles mixte.

[image by sleepyneko via flickr]

Some custom "tree" headbadges by Poka Cycle Accessories. Love the look of enamel paint on these.

[image by sleepyneko via flickr]

Also Lilly of the Valley headbadges.

[image by sleepyneko via flickr]

And check out this beautiful chainguard, also by Poka. I would love one of these!

[image by sleepyneko via flickr]

Brooks saddle, carved by Kara Ginther for Banjo Bicycles.

[image by sleepyneko via flickr]

Fleur de Lis
lug/sleeve on an A.N.T Scorcher.

[image by thebicycleescape via flickr]

Bamboo frame with floral motif. This is a Bamboosero bicycle made by Bikeys in New Zealand, the floral artwork done by a Maori artist.

[image by Velo Colour]

And these magnificent floral details are by Velocolour (check out additional details here).

Looking at the popularity of floral designs at NAHBS this year, I wonder whether it reflects a growing female customer base for bicycle builders. Or perhaps these are just as popular with men. What do you think?

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Seeing What We Want to See

To a large extent, we all shape our own experiences of reality: We see the things we want to see and block out the things that do not fit our world view.

Walking home yesterday afternoon, I was amused to notice how much I tend to do this even when it comes to bicycles.

Both Vienna and Boston are full of generic modern unremarkable bikes, yet the ones I pay attention to are the classic and vintage bikes.

And since I notice these more, in my subsequent memories they are the ones that play a starring role in the city's "velo life".

In a similar fashion, I tend to pay lots of attention to architecture I like and ignore all the "ugly" stuff right next to it. As a result, a city or a neighborhood might consist entirely of beautiful architecture in my memories.

There are countless examples of this of course, and unless we point and shoot in a random direction we cannot take a picture without revealing our subjective biases. Our pictures reflect how we want to see and remember things rather than how they actually are. For example, several readers have pointed out to me that my "street scenes" tend to be miraculously free of cars, and indeed I seem to frame photos so as to avoid them. There is just something about modern cars that is not photogenic: they detract from the feel of the city landscape.

Bicycles, on the other hand, seem to enrich it - especially when the bicycles are nice and the cyclists are well dressed. Yes, that is a Hassidic Jew cycling through Vienna - who clearly has no problem cycling in a suit.

And here is a couple, cycling into the sunset idyllically. While of course I did not stage these scenes, you could say that I chose to notice them out of the many alternative scenes I could have noticed instead.

So, what is my point? Only that life can be filled with golden sunsets and lovely bicycles if we want it to - even on those days when it's not.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Experts in Skincare

I saw this life-size display in a Marionnaud storefront a couple of days ago. It is a German-language Clarins advert and the text reads: "your experts in skincare".

You can't quite see this here, but the model's underpants are semi-transparent. And the poster is sized and positioned in such a way, so that the viewer's gaze is directed at the space above the bicycle saddle. Right.

In terms of the psychology of advertising, I think this poster is very Austrian: freikörperkultur, health as the path to sexiness, sun worship, golden hair, long legs, lean muscles, and a symbol of an active lifestyle - in this case a sporty bicycle. Whoever came up with the ad was clearly trying to evoke stereotypical cultural ideals. I don't suppose too many people notice that the saddle is set too low...

Monday, February 22, 2010

Three Ladies, One Bicycle

I came across this scene in my favourite park in Vienna, the Augarten. Did not really know what to make of it, but it looked so iconic that I just could not resist a clandestine snap:

The three young women were resting against the wall - eyes closed, smiling, faces turned up towards the sun. The bicycle seemed to be "with them" rather than belonging to one of them, almost like a fourth person. Intriguing...

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Hi-Ho Silver!

I admit that I cannot resist a silver bicycle - especially one that looks slightly "steampunked" with copper and leather accessories. I saw this one at DBC City Bikes in Somerville, Mass. last week:

This bicycle was built up using a custom Gerhard Marshall frame (originally made for Velorbis), with Sogreni, Brooks and Nitto components. I take it the frame is either chromed or stainless steel, but I cannot recall which. If anyone has any info on Gerhard Marshall frames, I would love to hear it; cannot seem to find anything about them.

Here is a view that shows off the fenders and handlebars better. The fenders are Sogreni, but were altered to fit the frame and tires.

Sogreni chainguard.

Copper and leather - mmmmmm...

Braided bar tape, inverse brake levers, brass bell.

All in all, this is one of the most striking bicycles I have ever seen in a bike shop. Though I understand it has a decidedly weird geometry, the build-up is incredible. Some inspirational food for thought for those considering silver frames!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Backup Kickstand?

Winter's first casualty: the Co-Habitant's Pletscher twin-legged kickstand broke.

These things have a spring inside that regulates the folding of the legs. A few days ago the spring snapped and the legs went limp, so he removed the contraption. The working theory is that the winter wind swayed the bike upon the kickstand back and forth and stressed out the spring.

Not sure that fixing it is possible, since it may be hard to find a replacement spring. Has anybody else had this happen to a Pletscher Twin Legger?

Believe it or not, the Co-Habitamt has a backup kickstand. (How many people can say that?) It's the original fold-down stand that came with his Pashley and which he never removed. He finds these annoying, but I think it looks great - especially with the lights!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Vienna's Bike Lanes in Winter

I am back in Vienna, this time for a month. The temperature here is about the same as in Boston, and it is snowing intermittently. I am feverishly preparing a talk for a big conference tomorrow, but in the meantime I give you a tour of the bike lanes near my new place:

This is a pretty typical bike lane in Vienna. The snow is mostly cleared, but this morning there were some patches of ice. Cycling on the road is prohibited in areas where bike lanes are provided.

Intersection: bicycles wait for green and ride parallel to the pedestrian crossing.

Bike lane ends: bicycles proceed on the road along designated bike route.

Continuation of bike route on the road. 30 km/h speed limit (though to my eye cars go faster). Notice the tram tracks.

Close-up of tram tracks - yikes! They criss-cross and there is basically no way to avoid them. The thought of cycling parallel to these for several blocks on an icy day fills me with dread (see this post about railroad tracks) and I did not see any cyclists on this street today, despite it being a designated bike route.

What do you think? This is a different neighborhood from where I used to live when I had my own apartment here last year, so I am still exploring it. Overall it looks like I can cycle here, and I do have access to a bike this time around. More on that later!

Monday, February 15, 2010

Why Don't We Do It in the Road? New Adventures in Vehicular Cycling

Today we decided to cycle to Harris Cyclery in West Newton, Mass., which is an 18-mile round trip from our house. We have cycled there before, but on our road bikes, mostly on the Charles River Trail, and not in the winter. Today we went on our Pashleys, on a very windy February day, and on the road with cars. This was our longest vehicular cycling trip to date.

Getting there was the more challenging part, because large chunks of the route are uphill. We hadn't realised it before, but the Charles River Trail - though overall longer - avoids many of these hills, while the vehicular cycling route takes you right through them. No matter what anybody says, I do not recommend a heavy upright bicycle with limited gearing on hills for long distances, unless you have the stamina and leg strength of a hardened cyclist. The hills were bad enough, but the hills plus a killer headwind nearly did me in. I did make it though - soaked with sweat, bright red in the face, and without a clue how I was going to get the energy to cycle back! Oh, and Harris Cyclery was closed - we hadn't realised that their winter hours were 6 days a week only.

Thankfully, the sandwich place down the street was open, and we secured a table with a spectacular view of our bikes, partaking of their refreshments until I could muster up the strength to ride back. The return trip was considerably easier, though there were still some uphill patches.

While the hills and headwind bothered me, cycling on major roads with cars did not. Granted, there are some aspects of cycling on the road long distance that make it challenging. For one thing, it is not as easy to stop on a busy major road as it is on a trail. On the trail, if you are tired or need a drink, you can simply stop the bike. On the road this is not always an option: You need to find a good spot to pull over, signal - and only then can you stop. There is also more pressure to cycle at fast and consistent speeds. At this point I feel that I am a strong enough cyclist for this, but just barely. Especially on those winding roads with 40 mph+ speed limits and no bike lanes - one has to have a certain degree of confidence and stamina to make it all the way through: Once you are there, there is often no alternative way back other than on the same road.

Having said all of this, I still enjoy cycling on roads more than on trails, because I feel a greater degree of freedom. On a bike trail, I am constantly aware that a pre-determined path has been prescribed and it gets pretty boring. There is no sense of exploration or adventure, unless I have not been on that trail before. The road, on the other hand, offers limitless possibilities - which for me at least, is a major "high" in addition to cycling itself. Of course I prefer a road that is as scenic as possible, with as few cars as possible - but a road nonetheless. And I can't wait to get my Sam Hillborne built up - because I cannot imagine willingly doing this sort of ride on the Pashley again!

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Love Bike!

We stopped by DBC City Bikes (formerly the Dutch Bicycle Company) in Somerville, Mass. to see if they had some bike parts we were after. In the showroom, among many other things we saw this:

Yes, you guessed it: "Love Bike"! Clearly I had to photograph and share such a masterpiece on this magical day created for us by the greeting card industry.

This is the entire bike in its glory.

I imagine the handles next to the seats (love seats?) are for steering. The lovers are meant to share a bell. Magnificent! The Love Bike is for sale, but Dan (owner of DBC City Bikes) cautions that one should view it "as a sculpture," because as a bicycle it is not very efficient. Efficiet schmefficient! Just imagining this beauty rolling along Mass. Ave., taking the lane and being honked at by bewildered drivers, brings a smile to my face.

We saw more fun things at DBC City Bikes, but they can't possibly follow in the footsteps of the Love Bike, so I will report on them later.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Colour Me Smitten

My mixte frame has finally returned from Providence, so to speak, and we went to Royal H. Cycles last night to look at it. Now that I've seen it in person, I almost wish I didn't post those pictures earlier: it looks much better than the images. Not that the pictures aren't beautiful - it's just that the bicycle, including the colour, is even nicer in person, and for some reason it is very difficult to photograph.

This image is not representative either, but in person the frame colour is a mesmerising blend of gray, green and slate blue. It is more green than blue, and it is more gray than either. Not a flat boring gray, but a "stormy seas" sort of gray, with infinite depth of colour to it.

Looking at this snapshot of the beach in South Boston, I realise that the frame colour and the lug outlining are similar to the colours of the sea and sand in New England - which is probably what attracted me to the early René Herse aesthetic to begin with.

I will stop now before I begin composing sonnets for this frame, but as you can see, this is true love! And the bonus? The Co-Habitant, who would previously mutter that he does not need a custom frame, took one look at the finished mixte and said that he might like a matching men's touring bike. There is hope that our "his and hers" velo universe will be restored!

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Ray of Sunshine

After a night of snow that continued through the morning, I thought for sure this would be a day of working at home. Then suddenly the snow stopped and it grew warm and sunny. And just as I stepped outside to get some coffee, the Co-Habitant came home early due to a change in his schedule. Our eyes met and we knew at once what the other was thinking: Bike ride!

This was the first time we've been on a real ride together in weeks. The Pashleys were ecstatic to finally roam freely in each other's company.

It grew so unseasonably warm, that the snow was all but melted by the bright sunlight.

Only this treacherous footbridge really posed a problem, as it was covered with patches of ice and hard snow. The Co-Habitant sped through it as if it was nothing, but I was more cautious after seeing one jogger after another slip on the ice patches.

When the sun began to set, it was one of those golden sunsets and the views were just beautiful.

I especially love the sun's reflection in the ice formations on the Charles River.

Sunlit cityscape in the distance, with that massive field of cracked ice stretching towards it. So magical.

As the sun set, we rushed to complete the trail loop so as not to be caught there in the dark. The Co-Habitant rides like a maniac, even on the slow and stately Pashley. He is much too fast for me, but I am too arrogant to ask him to slow down - so I brace myself, lean forward on the handlebars (this must look quite comical), and pedal as hard as I can. This time I even passed him a couple of times, which made me realise that riding the Pashley exclusively over the winter months, if only for commuting, has had some effect on my strength. He also complimented my improved leaning technique on turns, which pleased me immensely. Leaning on turns is one of those things that didn't come naturally at all. I guess now I finally got it, because I no longer have to think about it - the lean just happens and I even hold the inner pedal up without realising that I am doing it. It must seem silly to be excited by this, but you have no idea how uncoordinated and unathletic I am. The next goal is to conquer the "steer with your hips" thing. Maybe.

Our sun-drenched afternoon gave way to a surprisingly frigid evening, and after getting off the trail we hurried to seek shelter in a cafe. Once inside, I collapsed on the armchair - realising that I was completely depleted of energy. I was revived by hot coffee and a piece of dark chocolate, but unfortunately once we got outside it was even colder than before. We rode home with incredible speed just to warm up. My legs are now mush and I am so tired I can't think straight - but the ride was a welcome surprise in what has been a decidedly low-intensity season.

Next week I am leaving for Austria again and will be there for a month. Hopefully, when I return to the US spring will be in the air and I will be able to go on long rides again as often as I like. In the meantime, today's wonderful ride will be a nice thing to remember while I am abroad. And I have reason to believe that this time I might actually have a bicycle of my own while in Vienna - the person whose place I will be renting might have a spare. Either way, Lovely Bicycle shall continue relatively uninterrupted as it goes international again.