Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Bike culture, or the logic of fashion?

In yesterdays Sydney Morning Herald (via Peddler), there was a great article on Danish bike culture following the launch of the Dreams on Wheels exhibition in Sydney.
WHEN the Danish urban designer Thomas Ermacora sat down to study global bicycle culture, he began by making a world map of cycling capitals. Unfortunately, Australia didn't make the grade. "Australia doesn't really have a cycling city," he says.

According to Ermacora, whose love of bicycles began as a child, cycling cultures in cities like Copenhagen and Amsterdam are multilayered. "Even if you threw money at making cycle lanes, it wouldn't create a bike culture on its own," he says. It's a holistic approach that makes the difference, starting with encouraging children to ride, providing lanes for them when they are adults and making cycling attractive, he says.

So to have a “bike culture” we are supposed to have a multi-layered and integrated approach to cycling for all the community. More recently, I read another rather cutting definition of bike culture:
Bike Culture: A social clique organized around a certain style of bicycle and clothing. Members identify one-another through recognition of certain inside jokes and by displaying certain labels and brands on their clothing and bicycles. Periodically members of the “bike culture” organize events which only peripherally involve riding. Such events include: art installations; film screenings; and sitting on their bicycles for as long as possible without putting their feet down. Ironically, one can ride or race a bicycle every day for years without ever becoming—or even meeting—a member of the bike culture. Then one day one might stop into a bar for a drink and suddenly encounter 20 or 30 of them.
No points for guessing who wrote it. The popularity of his blog must be a testament for hitting on some truths that “bike culture” might be something of fickle fashion clique that was grafted out of an idealisation of courier culture.

And just to rub it in, here is another more recent link/post exposing a new book on bike culture:

In the wise words of the BikeSnob:
I do admit I'm sort of baffled by the "bike culture's" compulsion to preen and model and to photograph itself and its fashions and thereby emulate some of the more disappointing aspects of the larger culture, but I'm sure someone out there can tell me what I'm missing.
In Sydney, bike culture seems to be something that has evolved in the space between the larger ‘tribes’ of competitive and recreational cycling, but it also follows the global trends in the production of Bike Culture Inc. What irks me about the concept of 'bike culture', is it’s potential for in-group narcissism. We often seen this with the growth and demise of various 'youth', 'music', 'sub' or 'counter' cultures that ride in and out of style, making lots of money for trend spotting cultural producers like MTV. However, the word ‘culture’, in its most basic definition, has a lot more to do with farming than fashion. According to Raymond Williams, founder of "cultural studies" : “Culture in all its early uses was a noun of process: the tending of something, basically crops or animals”. Culture makes up the ordinary and acquired practices and habits that sustains life within a community. On this account, 'bike culture' should aim to be ubiquitous.


Anonymous said...

Bike Snob's description of the lifestyle reminded me of your comments about David Byrne... the man does indeed seem to spend most of his life (between producing pieces of music) cycling to art gallery events, and being asked to judge new "street furniture". "Not that there's anything wrong with that..."

Also, this:

Adrian said...

Yes, perhaps my dislike of bike fashion is just resentment for not being as cool as David Byrne or any of the people in this photoshoot. Still, I tend to find people who ride bikes most interesting than those who like pose next to them.

Thanks for the link.