Thursday, May 27, 2010

Bespoke Spoiler: The Handbuilt Bicycle Show

Bike Love graffiti on the Manhattan Bridge

Last Saturday was K's birthday, so I decided: "What better way to celebrate it then by going to see an exhibit that I'd been wanting to see! Yay! Happy Birthday K!"

We started our adventure by going to Milk Bar, this cute place on Vanderbilt that I love to go to in the summer because all the open doors and windows make the place feel breezy. Also, they serve coffee that looks like this:

K is officially 24, which she says makes her feel old and puts me somewhere in the dinosaur category. I overheard some woman talking on the train the other day about getting her first gray hair. I wanted to be like, "Girl, I've had gray hairs since I was 14." Some of us are... old souls (a.k.a neurotic Irish Catholics). K had expressed interest in going to an outdoor dance festival in Tompkins Square Park, but I convinced her to take the long ride up up the West Side Highway on a busy Saturday afternoon. We debated over taking the Brooklyn or Manhattan Bridge - I prefer the Brooklyn Bridge even though it is jam-packed with tourists that are incapable of interpreting pedestrian/bicyclists symbols, it's pleasant and of course, cooler. K said she hates all the planks that make her rickety bike rattle non-stop. So, we took the Manhattan Bridge and I dealt with the racing zealots that pumped and passed me on my left. After all, it was her birthday.

Admittedly, every bicycle sojourn is an opportunity to add to this blog, and I forced K to stop and take some action shots. This is what we look like on our bicycles:

me (Q.)


The West Side Highway bicycle path was a blast, but also very crowded on a Saturday afternoon. I cringed as K rode her $20 wonder bike head-on in the other direction as she passed leisurely cyclists. Nevertheless, riding on the path is a lot more relaxing than having to stop every five minutes at a red light. The crowd thinned out once we got to 34th street and we took the path all the way to W 60th, where we were forced to climb a short, steep hill full of potholes. This climb reinforced the fact that NYC is, in fact, hilly.

We got Columbus Circle and parked our bikes outside. I made K take pictures of me posing/blocking the Bespoke sign:

The ponytail is a new-old look for me. K says it makes me look like Gaston. For everyone that doesn't know (and for all you Disney enthusiasts that DO know, that's kind of weird), Gaston is the French dude from Beauty and the Beast that wears a low ponytail. I'm unclear about his exact role in the film but I think he wanted to get with Belle. Here he is:

Alas, I digress. The Bespoke Exhibit. Although a modest exhibit, this made me happy for a variety of reasons. First of all, I know A.N.T. Bike Mike, who was interviewed for this blog, was going to have some bikes on display, and I've never seen his bikes in person. Secondly, I'm glad that bicycles are being acknowledged as beautiful and museum-worthy pieces of design. While some may balk at the idea of fifteen (or so) bicycles adorning the inside of the Museum of Art and Design, it confirms the importance of practical, well-made and stylish designs that we can use in our everyday life.

A perfect example of these well-built, stylish bicycles were the Vanilla Bicycles on display. I had heard of Vanilla Bicycles and visited their website before, but I had never seen one up close. I loved the clean blue design of the Track 2006 model, and I was impressed by the attention to detail and precision of the bike as a whole. My favorite, however was the Radonneur, which they had on display in a lavender color, with matching fenders. It seemed well-built and sturdy but thin and light at the same time - it looked like you could pick up a good amount of speed on that road bike.

Track 2006


Then, of course, the question becomes: if I had a few thousand dollars to spare, would I commission Sacha White to build me a sexy Vanilla bicycle? Probably not. It would be a shame to add scratches to something so expensive. However, there is something appealing about having a custom bicycle made for you and knowing that your exact measurements were kept in mind while it was built.

A.N.T. Bike Mike's bicycles were sleek and sophisticated, exactly as I had imagined. K was partial to the thick white tires on his Truss Bicycle (2010), but I loved the simple black paint and rusty A.N.T. emblem. I also enjoyed the playing card chainring that he put on that bike - another subtle addition that complements the bike's simple style.

A.N.T. Truss Bike (2010)

He also had a sort of pizza delivery bicycle that I liked. I'm not sure how much one would use this carting stuff around Brooklyn (unless you are in a band?!) but it has that "no frills" style for which Mike is known.

A.N.T. Basket Bike (2010)

As for the other bike builders, I wasn't into Richard Sach's bikes as much as his bad ass persona, complete with red Ray Bans that he used instead of protective goggles when welding. I also liked his collection of New Yorker magazine covers showing dating back to the '50s. J.P. Weigle had an impressive set of bikes that reminded me of Vanilla Bicycles, although more classic. One of them was a pretty blue that made me second guess my preoccupation with Bianchi gang green.

J.P. Weigle's "French Blue"

J.P. Weigle's bikes are accentuated by intricate lugs, a bike part that still mystifies me. My impression is that these little pieces are a important element of the bike building process and their craftsmanship is a signifier to others that this handbuilt bicycle is rad. A Google search of "why lugs important" brought me here, which depicts the lug as a controversial but respected addition to handbuilt steel bicycles, one that serves to strengthen the joint of the bike.

J.P. Weigle lug designs

Personal additions like the detailed lugs above are what sets apart the builders featured in Bespoke from other bike builders. Whether it was A.N.T. Bike Mike's handbuilt racks and fenders, Sacha White's subtle V's, or Peter Sach's insistent use of firetruck red, all these bikes spoke to their builder's true style.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Post NYC Bike Culture Summit: A Rant

I went to the NYC Bike Culture Summit hosted by Transportation Alternatives on Thursday. On Twitter, the Summit has received some mixed reviews, mostly of the racial profiling variety. I have to admit, I was unsure what to expect and how fun and/or productive the event would be. They invited Bike Snob, so I knew it would be bearable because he would be making snarky comments all night.

Here's the deal: a room full of mostly white, self-righteous, middle-aged, progressive New Yorkers doesn't surprise me. When I first got there, I thought: these people are probably members of the Park Slope Food Coop! It kind of had that vibe like, "We work for organic groceries and you better believe we commute 15 miles by bike to work too." Taking into consideration the $15 ticket price and the Thursday evening slot, it's not shocking that the crowd wasn't more diverse. These are people who are already invested in biking, probably commuters, and they're angsty about the trials they face as cyclists. I'm okay with that - I don't think I'll survive in New York into old age, but hell, you have to give it up to the people who do. And if these middle-aged progressives want to make donations to a forward-thinking non-profit like T.A. so they can gripe, then let them gripe.

The format of the event was disorganized, but that was also to be expected. At first, I was like, "Oh wow, they actually chose a neutral moderator." But when the blond actress (still don't know her name) cut off TA's legal counselor when he was explaining the new laws about parking garages, I lost all appreciation for her. It's one thing to adhere to the 2-minute cut-off with the silly bike bell, it's another thing to disrupt an important conversation that everyone wanted to hear. Also, she wasn't neutral once she claimed she felt "raped" every time she went into a bike shop and suspected that someone was judging her rusty chain. Wow.

Despite it's shortcomings, the Summit raised a lot of significant concerns about cycling in NYC. The most important and provocative question was: are we, as cyclists, expected to obey all the rules of the road?

This is the crux of many cycling-related issues in New York. We're all too quick to condemn drivers for inching into the bike lane, but we're also the least likely to make a complete stop at a red light or a stop sign. (Or any stop for that matter). What does this mean? Well, I think the chef/messenger/dad/son/entrepreneur/cyclist said it best when he said, "This is not an issue we, as cyclists, can ignore." And he's right: this isn't an issue we can brush off. Perhaps if we institute traffic signals specifically for cyclists that work with a "wave signal" like those mentioned by Caroline Samponaro (*swoon*), the animosity between opposing means of transportation would be lessened.

But as the majority of traffic currently exists in New York, there isn't room for both bikes and cars to be happy. There is too big a dichotomy because NYC was built around cars. So, on one hand it's unfair to expect cyclists to adhere to a city plan that excludes them. On the other hand, we can't evict cars from a city that was built for them (unfortunately). This is an issue that remains unresolved, despite Biking Rules' efforts to promote positive attitudes between car drivers, cyclists, and pedestrians. We still live in NYC and everyone is trying to get everywhere as fast as possible. That is a huge part of what attracts people to NYC and I'm not sure how easily that mentality can be changed.

Another issue raised at the Summit was the unfriendliness of bike shops. I took issue with the women who said they are totally intimidated by entering bike shops. OK. I am a woman (though perhaps not the most feminine) and I have a nice bike, but either way I would not feel horribly self-conscious about entering a bicycle store. Don't get me wrong: I have been brushed off my "too cool for school" bike dudes who really don't care at all if I spent money at their shop or even if I come back (hello, R&A Cycles). My response to these women is this: if you are mistreated at a bike shop, go to a different one. To say that ALL bike shops are full of pretentious dudes is not true and I know of more than one bike shop in Brooklyn that can attest to that.

However informal this event may have been, interrupted by babies, Bike Snob, stuttering dudes, and a "neutral" moderator, I think it was an important forum for biking in New York and I would encourage T.A. to do something similar, but more organized, in the future. To promote a more diverse population, perhaps the next event should be highly publicized, on a weekend, and free or based on a sliding scale donation.