As the days march toward the one associated with hearts and roses, chocolate and lingerie, crowded candle-lit bistros and tearful break-ups, we at the ALLDERBLOB find ourselves pondering the meaning of bicycles.
Marie-Henri Beyle, better known as Stendhal, wrote a treatise on the subject which we frequently turn to in our mind: On Bicycle. In it he breaks down in a rational manner the various phases of bicycle love:
1. Admiration – one marvels at the qualities of the bicycle.
2. Acknowledgement – one acknowledges the pleasantness of having noticed the bicycle.
3. Hope – one envisions gaining the the bicycle.
4. Delight – one delights in overrating the beauty and merit of the bicycle whose love one hopes to win.
Does the bicycle reciprocate? It matters less, perhaps, than one imagines. After all, the bicycle is never as perfect as one’s imagined version of it. Better that the bicycle remain aloof, ultimately, that it remain slightly beyond reach. For this reason, bicycle stores, bicycle magazines, and bicycle shows were created.
Stendhal, writing in the early 19th century, could not fully appreciate the role the bicycle offers for society today. But another writer, the most-calm Ivan Illich, lived long enough to understand the bicycle as a “tool for conviviality.” Illich, of course, is famous as the inventor of the “Critical Mass” bike ride [please check for accuracy before publication –ed.], in which thousands of bicycle riders, impatient for St. Valentine’s day, gather on the last friday of the month in cities all over the world in order to ride and chat together in amiable groups. Their activity is a testament to the social nature of the bicycle and its lovers.
This social nature of love of bicycles needs examination. For unlike other, more typical models of love among humans, the bicycle lends itself most readily as a saddle for socialization. In this, cycling to work or to get the groceries, or simply cycling to the local cafe for a spot of sunshine and a fleeting “hello” with one’s confreres, the bicycle rider seeks and revels in the company of other cyclists, and therefore differs from her distant cousin the motorist. Needless to say, the motorist does not relish being near other cars or vehicles. The person in a car has hammered up a wall of steel and glass around herself, and from within it she would prefer to remain aloof and secure. Automobile manufacturers have all kinds of psychologists working on the question, and it’s not for no reason they invented and advertise the SUV, which capitalizes on this ludicrous desire to be in a “fortress”.
What would a bicycle designed along these lines look like? Perhaps the confusion and social zone of the critical mass is itself a form of “bicycle castle,” but perhaps there’s a more concrete example of the phenomenon.
The artist Eric Staller pondered this question [please verify before publication –ed.] and the result was the well known “ConferenceBike.”
This contraption, which rivals in size a small SUV, seats seven riders, all facing each other in a circle and all pedaling for the good of the community. We can imagine the streets of a carfree city filled with these human-powered vehicles, and we can imagine the happy laughter and the sound of violin music that would constantly fill the air. Or is it love that’s in the air? (click for quicktime movie of Staller’s conference bike.)