Sunday, August 23, 2009

Leaving Copenhagen

Copenhagen was a wonderful place to be for 6 weeks. I met a small herd of fantastic people that love bicycles, and I actually learned a few new phrases to describe the kinds of bike people I met.

First, you have the Dane. They are simply Danish, which means that if they live in Copenhagen they ride a bike (This is a self-description from average Danes that I fully agree with). There is nothing extraordinary about their cycling ability or fitness level, and their is nothing especially interesting to them about the bicycle itself. Rather, the bicycle is an easy, fast and safe way to travel in Copenhagen. So they ride. They aren't cyclists, per se, just Danes getting around.

(These are your typical Danes. This was a random shot, but notice there are nothing bot women here commuting by bicycle. That is a sure way to measure how common bicycling is: how many women cycle each day)

Then, there are the bike nerds. The bike nerds are somewhat lusty in their pursuit of cycling goods that have a distinct character or quality. For the nerd, having a set of old Shimano 600 downtube shifters with emblazoned designs and a vintage look is a mark of distinction. They love old bike parts, they love new, colorful bike parts, and they are very interested in obscure frame manufacturers (especially Italian lugged steel). For the bike nerd, the bicycle is more than a tool; it is a gateway into an entire world of innovation, design, joy, and nerdery. The bicycle is for the nerd a part of their own cult desire, the thing by which they gain identity and through which they define themselves. For the bike nerds, the bicycle is a point of distinction between other nerds and those who are not.
(This is a scene from a hub for bicycle nerdery. Old Steel frames create the aesthetic for this specialized shop where you can customize your bicycle to include a chain, grips, hubs, a frame, rims and saddle which are all coordinated by color)

Finally, you have the bicycle freaks. I have to credit my friend Mikele with using this term so frequently that it stuck to the inner walls of my brain. The bicycle freaks eat, sleep, and breathe bicycles. They see possiblities for the bike where the typical Dane sees merely a tool. Where the bike nerd might see an old Boticelli bicycle frame and think, "Wow, I'd be the envy of all my friends!," the bicycle freak thinks "Wow, that would be a perfect frame for touring because the steel has been broken in over time. I bet that is a comfortable ride." While there is a fine line between bicycle nerds and bicycle freaks, the bike freak thinks about the experience that can emerge from using the bicycle rather than the image portrayed.
(Johan's destroyer machine made from bicycle parts and scrap metal. This was the runner up in the bike wars.)

The bike freak also uses the bicycle to make simple machines, whether the machine is a destroyer used for the bicycle wars (a demolition derby style bicycle bashing event that only ends when all but one machine stops rolling), or a tall bike used for bicycle jousting. The bike freak can see beyond two wheels and a frame.
(Mikele's tall bike at an intersection in the inner city)

This means they also see the potential for the bicycle to impact society in profound ways. The bicycle freaks have a vision for the bicycle that has less to do with the hardware and material of the bicycle and more to do with the ways in which experiences emerge and communities are formed around the bicycle. They share a similar trait with the Danes in that the freaks aren't always thinking about forming community while working with or around bikes. Their love for the bike is simply contagious and inspiring, lighting up and inspiring the people around them.
(a city bike on display at the Copenhagen tourist office. Pedal Power, indeed)

The City of Copenhagen and the people I met there is not a city of bicycle freaks. It is, in a very basic way, a lively city full of Danes. The municipality was instrumental in creating a place where bicycling became a normal, and thus accepted and safe, form of transportation. As a result, they ended up with a place that moves by bicycle--at night, during the day, in the morning and through the weekend. But as with any culture, the sub-cultures that bloom are often innovative and exceptional. And while riding a bicycle in Copenhagen is not an exceptional thing to do, the strength of the sub-cultural sects of bicycle nerds and bicycle freaks is phenomenal. The mainstream culture feeds the sub-cultures, according to Marie Kastrup from the City of Copenhagen, and as a result the entire city of cyclists grows stronger.

1 comment:

  1. anthony: thanks for being the eyes of the world. that's beautiful.