Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Riding High: Putting the "App" in "Appropriation"

(Paired spoke technology is the new pie plate.)

Recently, I received an email from a concerned reader informing me that the New York City Department of Transportation is planning to remove a whopping ("whopping" is an Old English world meaning "fourteen") fourteen (sorry for the redundancy) blocks of sweet, delicious bike lane from our streets. Furthermore, much of this bike laneage lies along Bedford Avenue in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. If you're unfamiliar with Williamsburg, it is the throbbing, cigarette-smoking, flannel-clad heart of the Great Hipster Silk Route, and Bedford Avenue is its aorta, or at least its superior vena cava, or whichever one is more likely to be lined with places to drink alcoholic beverages and buy overpriced furniture.

While I suppose I should be indignant, the truth is I feel conflicted. On one hand, as a cyclist I hate to see any bike lanes disappear. Even if they mostly just serve as places for delivery people and police to double-park, their presence is still reassuring, and losing one feels a bit like defeat. On the other hand, a big city like New York is constantly evolving, so it's reasonable to expect that the DOT is going to need to shuffle these things around from time to time. In this sense, losing a bike lane is like breaking a hundred dollar bill; you hate to do it, and you keep it in your wallet as long as possible, but sometimes you've just got to spend it, and in the end you at least get a bunch of smaller bills. Most importantly, the absence of a bike lane from Bedford Avenue doesn't mean you can't still ride your bike there, and as long as fixed-gears are in fashion there will be a steady procession of them on Bedford regardless of whether or not there's a picture of a bicycle painted on it.

I suppose I'd be more concerned if I hadn't recently encountered a new bike lane that nearly knocked me off my saddle. It just so happens that yesterday I found myself traveling the Great Hipster Silk Route when I came to a portion which is usually very treacherous. (If you're sojourned in Brooklyn for any length of time, you may know it as the section bookended by the entrance to the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway and that spot in which a flock of Hasidim seem to wait eternally for the bus.) On many occasions I have wished fervently for a bi-directional, protected bike lane here. (Also, on one occasion I wished fervently for a shower when I slipped on and crashed in a patch of garbage water along this corridor.) Well, you can imagine my delight when I passed the flock of Hasidim, rounded the corner, and slotted right into my own little sheltered thoroughfare:

I'm not often moved by municipal matters, but I have to admit this new bike lane touched me in a way that only small animals, certain pieces of music, and, once, a rental tuxedo fitter who insisted it was an accident, have ever touched me before. It was like returning to your hotel room to find that they've not only made it up but also left your favorite meal on a tray and your favorite movie playing on the TV. (In my case those are Reese's Peanut Butter Cup omelettes and "Another Stakeout," respectively.) Even though it was December 1st, for one brief moment it felt like the first day of spring, and the city seemed like it was practically flowering with convenience.

If you're growing concerned at this point, rest assured that my bout of sentimentality was short-lived, and within moments my delight evaporated and I found myself suddenly and inexplicably enraged over the popularity of Stanley Tucci. (My waking hours consist mostly of stream-of-consciousness irritability.) Still, I think it's only natural to be affected emotionally by change. For example, I remember a time when "Bike Culture" was "Not 4 Sale," and using tall bikes in a store window display meant it would be vandalized:

(Photo by the inestimable "Sucka Pants")

Now, "bike culture" in the form of freak bikes is very much for sale. A number of readers inform me you will soon be able to download it onto your iPhone in the form of this tall bike jousting "app:"

The truth is that everything winds up for sale eventually--it's a law of physics. Also, as I've said before, "culture" now simply means "stuff you can buy," so it makes sense that "the international underground subculture of freak bicycle clubs" is becoming a video game. (Actually, I'm not sure if you'll actually have to pay for the "app," but even if it's free it exists to promote something salable.) None of this bothers me, and people should feel free to design whatever freak bike "apps" they want, but I do have a feeling that this guy would demand an explanation. Here's what Ryan Doyle, the creator of the "app," had to say to an "urban bike culture" blog:

Honestly I do not consider myself any sort of missionary of bike culture, nor do I try to lance my opinions or politics in anyone’s face. My goal is to create and cause communication, not whore out bicycle culture or sell tall bike jousting to the masses as a means of self gratification. I think riding a tall bike everyday in New York City has a greater cultural impact as it has a human to human interaction implied. I really love the responses that come from Bike Kill participants, or from Cutthroats’ Slaughterama, or Cyclecide’s Bike Rodeos, to me those are the inspirational events. I hope the bike building section and constant maintenance in the app inspire people to think about reusing materials and not contribute to our vast culture of waste. I am not looking forward to corporations eating up fringe bike culture and providing cheaply made foreign tall bikes at Walmart.

Doyle is correct to not consider himself a "missionary of bike culture"--that position belongs to David Byrne, and he promotes cycling not with tall bikes and outlandishness but by mixing it into a lukewarm, bland-tasting broth. At the same time, I also agree riding a tall bike in New York City has great cultural impact, and I think it's wonderful that having the courage to ride a bicycle that is a bit higher than normal is sufficient to qualify you as an instrument of change. Think of all the bloodshed that might have been averted if only, centuries ago, people had seized upon sitting up high as a mechanism for social transformation. Consider our own American Revolution. Instead of taking up arms, Washington and his men could simply have ridden around on horses that were standing on top of other horses. Surely the British would have relented before a single shot was fired.

What remains to be seen is if this "app" spells the end of the freak bike subculture, or if it does indeed inspire an entire generation to "not contribute to our vast culture of waste" by welding together pieces of that waste and having huge drunken parties. (While this particular subculture is apparently very conservation-minded, it's perfectly fine to waste tremendous amounts of time, the one resource which is definitely not renewable.) And even if the latter scenario does come to pass and the movement grows, it could all come crashing down when the new recruits literally come crashing down from atop their tall bikes and break their costly iPhones. This is already happening in the world of fixed-gears, as you can see from this Craigslist ad which was forwarded to me by a reader:

I fell off my Fixie and now i want to sell it... - $250 (Newport)
Date: 2009-11-30, 10:41AM PST
Reply to: [Errors when replying to ads?]

I bought a fixie about 6 months ago. I paid $440.00

I fell off it it last week and nearly killed my self.

I am done with my fixie. :)

It's in good condition because I barley rode it.

According to the guy who I bought it from, the frame is vintage and rare. I don't really know.

Here are the specs...

Weinmann DP 18
700C X 18C/23C ETRTO 622 X 13
Aluminum Alloy 6061-T6 Double Wall Safety Line

Racelite B 700 X 25C Dual Compound
Some kind of serial code... (C-1389A-2)

Black Leather San Marco

Takagi Tourney

Seat Tube Length = 52 cm
Top Tube Length - 53 cm
Forks = 100 mm

I seriously bought it for $440, and just want to get rid of it. I hope $250 is reasonable. If not, make me an offer...

You can bid by email, or by
the little google docs spreadsheet I made.

In addition to the overabundance of information regarding the rims and tires (the latter of which are made by "Bount Rager," which I believe was also the name of an old Australian "Lone Ranger" knockoff TV series), I'm also really "feeling" the spreadsheetway here:

Meanwhile, in Portland, a number of readers inform me that another fixed-gear rider is on the verge of defecting due to a lack of "valve covers:"

Need fixed gear valve covers (NoPo)
Date: 2009-12-01, 12:18PM PST
Reply to: [deleted]

I bought a fixed gear and i keep having to fill up the tires. It did not come with covers for the air valves so I need some because this is getting aggravating. I'd prefer some NJS covers but will consider anything good. Thanks

Between all the falling and air loss it seems that "alternative" cycling may be in serious trouble, and a total subcultural migration to the iPhone may be its only hope.


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