Wednesday, January 27, 2016

The Gathering

Grass Routes Kalkhoff E-Bike
When I owned and drove my first car, I began to observe a funny phenomenon. Often I would park beside whatever other cars would happen to be there, only to return and find my vehicle in the company of a "cousin" - a car of the same (somewhat unusual) make and similar vintage. On a few exciting occasions it would even be a "twin" of the same colour. And on rarer occasions still, it would be an entire gathering of several "related" vehicles. It was as if, given the option, like would gravitate to like, the machines compelling their drivers to gather them into a flock. When the mood was right and my parking skills up to the task, I too would play along.

Having all but forgotten this game a decade later, I was delighted to emerge from a municipal building in Vienna one evening to find not one, but, seemingly, three exemplars of my bicycle locked up to the fence where I'd left it. The two extra bikes were deliberately "posed" in a similar manner to my own machine; the rhythm and symmetry of the three of them, casting long shadows in the setting sun against the chainlink fence, was breath-taking. As I approached from a distance, I could not even tell which was mine, and it was only when I drew closer that its broken, duct-taped headlamp mount gave it away. With a silly smile on my face I looked for a sign of the owners. Had it been a couple of friends who had arrived together? Or, more improbably still, two entirely unconnected persons who happened to own beat-up old Waffenrads similar to mine, each with the good humour to collaborate in staging this tableaux?

Later in Boston, I would play this game with vintage English 3-speeds and with mixtes, with Dutch bikes and - for the brief, glorious 2 months that I owned one - with Xtracycles. Sometimes - if a coincidence was especially uncanny - other cyclists would leave notes on my bike or I on theirs. But most of the time, it was a matter of returning to where I'd locked up my bike and discovering a lookalike, tethered meaningfully to the same pole despite the availability of other spaces. It was a silly game, but it always made me grin.

In the town of Coleraine which I sometimes visit, an old Viking mixte stands locked up beside the bank, always in the same spot. Once, I locked up my own Viking beside it. I had no idea whether the owner noticed, as when I came back for my bike the Coleraine Viking was still there. So, probably not, I thought. Some time later I did it again, with the same result. Then on a third occasion, I must have arrived on the lunch hour, because the other bicycle was absent. I locked my own bike to a different rack this time. When I returned, its Viking cousin was nestled beside it, instead of at its usual rack. I'd be lying if I did not admit that this little "victory" brought a tear or two to my eye (though of course it could have been the 30mph wind).

In the Glenveagh National Park, we once rented electric(!) bikes and rode them all over the lovely hilly trails. Then, taking a tea break, we left them in a secluded clearing (instead of the usual spot designated for bike parking), as we'd forgotten to take locks and did not want them to attract attention. Three quarters of an hour later, we returned to behold an amazing scene: The entire clearing was now teeming with rental bicycles. Having spotted ours, others must have decided that this was the place to leave one's rental bike if you did not bring a lock - and duly followed suit. After that, the more of them were gathered, the more legitimate and inviting the spot began to look until the bikes were over a dozen in number.

For some inexplicable reason, the sight of the green, shaded clearing, with a flock of bicycles gathered upon it, made me stupidly, disproportionately happy. I would have nearly left notes on them all - saying what, I don't exactly know.

30 comments:

  1. I've had that experience back in my Citroen 2CV & Dyane days. :)

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  2. A "Gathering" of bicycles, what a lovely collective noun...

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    1. I've read several blog posts (one by Bike Snob I am almost sure) where others have suggested collective nouns for bicycles. I almost think there might be an official one!

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    2. A "hub" of bicycles?
      A "lug" of bicycles?
      A "peloton" of bicycles?

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    3. nope, not any of those... trying to find the BSNYC post buy my googling skills are letting me down today.

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  3. Since I have somewhat selective taste in bikes and tend to buy rather obscure Bikes it is indeed very rare and almost impossible that I would encounter another even remotely like mine and parked in the same place as mine. That said, I did encounter a Surly Cross Check a few months back that was built in an almost identical fashion to mine sitting in the repair queue at a bike shop. Different Color (sadly one I liked better than my own) and different fenders, but almost like we were on the same wave length when we built our bikes.
    More recently I am tickled if I see a "lovely Bike"; one that I think "Oh, surely they must read the Blog", this is becoming far more common in Dallas, which is pleasantly reassuring!. It's especially thrilling if they have some parts that only someone "in the know" would have . . . Hanjo's, Hetres, 650B wheels, Brooks saddles, etc.!!! It will positively make my day if not my week! - masmojo

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  4. I've not experienced that, but I have come out of a shop to find two dogs sitting patiently waiting for their owner, their leather leashes looped neatly through my bicycle's loop frame. I would've gone loopy, but the picture struck me as rather sweet. The owner turned out to be a very nice, I mean very nice, woman who was having a traumatic day and had just done it in desperation. The dogs' colours, as I recall, entirely complemented the bicycle's livery.

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  5. The mental image of that flock of rental bikes is adorable! You've inspired me to lock up next to my new bicycle's "friends" at work instead of the first available spot. There's a few that I admire every time I walk in, both for the bicycle itself and that they also rode on a snowy 20-degree day in Boston. When I've felt that kinship before, it was when only one or two other bicycles were on the rack that day due to some combination of wind, cold, rain, and snow.

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  6. I always find your choice of photographs interesting and wonder if you begin your narrative based on these photos or if you have your narrative and then search through the archives for ones which illustrate those thoughts? Mostly, as one who looks and draws a lot, the model's pose seems less natural than the idea of bikes gathering together…It's distracting. Whenever there is a model posing with a bike it's unusually unreal...

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    1. Funny, I was not posing in that one. Not even aware I was being photographed (or else I would have sucked my gut in).

      There is no set relationship between my narrative and photo selection. One can influence the other, or vice versa. Other times still, they kind of develop simultaneously (I tend to think in images anyway, then "translate" that into words). Overall I try not to think about it too much, as that is the kind of thing that could make it take forever to publish a post.

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    2. Had you repositioned your six-pack in a more pose-erly way, the pic would not have been nearly so Lovely. That gentle arc from head to toe in profile, along with the almost wistful grace of your posture-- it makes me think that you didn't really want that day to end. Most definitely a pic that invites the viewer to project a backstory onto it.

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    3. I believe I was wearing somebody else's trousers that day. Long (back)story.

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  7. The picture you paint of the Coleraine Viking and "friend" flushed out a vivid image in my brain of retired draft horses standing side by side in a pasture. Years after their last workday under harness, and still they stand side by side as if invisibly tethered. All of which makes me wonder if we subconsciously relate in some ways to our transportation bicycles as we once did to our trusty steeds. From the windblown hair and clothing to the prep time in getting the bikes (and us) ready for travel to the care that we take unpacking our saddle bags and putting our rides away for the evening-- much of it parallels the transportation rhythms of decades past. For those of us who no longer own a car, perhaps the disconnect and detachment of being sealed inside an automobile upended what had become ingrained in us as the natural order of things over many generations. Something to reflect on over a hearty pint, anyway. Now if you'll excuse me, my commute was cold and wet today and I need to oil my saddle and pick the grit out of my teeth.

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  8. I have sometimes had patients comment to me that they never heard of a disease until they got diagnosed with it, and now they keep hearing of others with it. I tell them I call this the "blue Toyota effect." Have you noticed that if you buy a blue Toyota, all of a sudden you see lots of other blue Toyotas on the road that you never saw before? Of course, the road did not suddenly fill up with blue Toyotas, but it seems that way. I imagine psychologists have a term for this, though I don't know what it is.

    This may explain part of the flocking phenomenon, though perhaps not all. Perhaps if I see a car like mine, I tend to park near it. Might give me some sense of community, or validation, or something. Certainly if I see a bike like mine, I check it out, but with an '86 Fuji, that happens once a decade or so.

    You'll never guess what kind of car I drive. Sure are a lot of them around...

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    1. It's called the selection bias, frequency illusion, or the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon (former psychologist /neuroscientist here). Although I like the "blue Toyota effect" better.

      ...Is your car a blue Toyota?

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    2. Blue Toyota Effect, eh? I knew it was a problem when I returned to a huge parking lot in Seattle and every fourth car looked like my blue Subaru wagon. I even unlocked one and started it before realizing that it in fact belonged to someone else...unnerving.

      The last time I locked up the Raleigh Competition, I came back and there was a 70s Paramount (tutti Campi, of course) and a Bridgestone XO-1 locked next to it. Might have been any one of the conditions you described, or all of them, but it was also cool.

      I love the image of all the rental bikes frolicking in the meadow.

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    3. Wait, you can unlock a car that isn't yours with a key of the same brand/model?..

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    4. I didn't think it was possible until I did so. Not only unlock the doors, but actually start the vehicle! Boggled ma haid.

      Mind you, this is before current "smart" keys and RFID keyless entry; the car in question was made 2002-2004.



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    5. So you join one militant left-wing radical group in the 60's and suddenly you see them everywhere? Weird.

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  9. I love seeing bikes like mine, as well of bikes I like. I'm currently fixing up a 1958 Phillips step thur. I hope I'll be able to fit in my tweed sport coat by Spring. I've never intentionally parked next to a particular bike, but a have a collection of photos I take of them, which at times feels a little voyeur

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  10. Off topic, but I like the picture at the top of this post, from your ebike adventure. I'm missing green grass and trees something fierce (currently surrounded by greys/whites and ice), and that is quite the idyllic setting.




    Wolf.

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  11. Reminiscent of this:
    http://lovelybike.blogspot.co.uk/2010/10/bostonians-random-meeting-of-cousins.html
    Cousins, the world over - you, me and the rest of the crowd...

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    1. Yes! I think in Boston (and maybe places like Portland OR and San Francisco) bikey people re especially enthusiastic about this game.

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  12. I have never been aware of this as an intentional act, here bikes are found together simply because there are designated bike racks in town - so the assembly of bikes by cyclists not known to one another, is one of convenience, not design. I couldn't imagine leaving a note to a stranger or finding one on my bike - seems rather odd actually. I do however enjoy seeing a 'huddle' of bikes, as is often the case in a nearby park where a group of friends, or perhaps a family, often pile their bikes together while they have a meal or whatever at the lake side cafe. Passing by a barber's shop in town I noticed a similar huddle of bmx bikes just inside the shop against the window. Bikes grouped together just look good - at least to those of us who appreciate our bikes so much and yes, bikes together in a green space are delightful to see.

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  13. Birds of a feather flock together.

    A fine point: "exemplar" (archetype) or "example" (instance)?

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    1. I misread you the first time.
      No, I meant "exemplar"

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  14. Sorry for the slow response. I drive a blue Toyota indeed. The funny thing is I started calling this the blue Toyota effect years earlier, when I had a white Toyota or a green Oldsmobile. Maybe I was expressing a subconscious desire for a blue Toyota. Luckily I am a better bike mechanic than psychologist.

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