03 March 2015

The Depressing Rise of Squiggletecture - and how to design a bicycle/ped bridge

Architectural competitions are great. A flurry of designs emerge from Photoshopland that allow you to gauge the current mood, trends and ideas. If you're lucky, there are a few ooh and ahh moments. We were sitting here at the office looking at the many entries for the open competition for the Nine Elms to Pimlico Bridge in London. A pedestrian and bicycle bridge across the storied Thames. The NEP Bridge competition, on their website, declares they are looking for:

"...exceptional, inspiring designs for a new bridge at the centre of the world’s greatest city. The successful entry will have to win the hearts of Londoners who are tremendously proud of their river and its rich architectural heritage.

There are considerable challenges and engineering feats to overcome. The design must work alongside the cutting edge architecture emerging on the south bank as well as the elegant frontages on the north. The landing points on both sides must integrate sensitively with their surroundings and provide a smooth and safe experience for the pedestrian and cyclists who use it.

This bridge is also a badly needed and valuable piece of infrastructure for London. It has a very strong transport case, will support the city’s growth and has significant funding commitments already in place. Developing an inspiring, beautiful design will allow us to take the project to the next stage and ensure this project comes off the page into reality in a much shorter timeframe."
Ravi Govindia, Leader of Wandsworth Council and co-chair of the Nine Elms Vauxhall Partnership

Architecture and design is a question of taste. What I like might not be what you like. I'm not going to bother talking about which designs appeal to me. Here at the office we started looking at the bridge from the mobility perspective and, as is our lot, from the perspective of citizen cyclists who want to get around their city. Basing our focus on the many bicycle bridges in the Netherlands and Denmark. In particular, Copenhagen has seven new bicycle bridges either just openend or on the way. Leaving the personal taste up to the individual, we looked at pure mobility.

Like Ravi Govindia says, above, it's a badly needed and valuable piece of infrastructure with a strong transport case that will support the city's growth. It has to provide a smooth and safe experience for pedestrians and cyclists.

In the competition brief it says that:
- "...it must be inspiring, elegant and functional in its design and perfect in its execution."
- "Provide a safe and attractive link for pedestrians and cyclists crossign the river, encouraging movement between the two banks."

I'm not really a big fan of architects dabbling in urban planning. So few have the knack for it. So, with that in mind, what is the State of the Architectural Bridge Nation?

Welcome to the Weird World of Squiggletecture
What is up with these squiggles?! It's perfectly fine to think out of the box. Not much gets accomplished if you don't. But there is a clear, and perhaps, disturbing trend which I have hereby dubbed Squiggletecture. There is an alarming number of renderings that have discarded straight lines.

What is a bridge? Isn't it just a vital mobility link from one side of a body of water to another? Isn't that really the baseline for every decent bridge in history? Look at a map of Paris or any other city with bridges. They are straight. From one shore to the other. Providing no-nonsense A to B for the people using it. Only then do differences in design and aesthetics come into play.

Look at the selection of designs, above. A2Bism had a cement block chained to its feet and it was thrown into the river. It's sleeping with the fishes.

You wonder who thinks stuff like this up. Are they all former interns at Foster + Partners? Wherever they cut their teeth on Photoshop, it is clear that these are people who do not ride bicycles in a city - or who didn't even bother trying before they started doodling a bicycle and pedestrian bridge. Let alone people who walk very much on their urban landscape. These are all designs for meandering tourists licking ice cream on a Sunday afternoon. People with nowhere to go and nowhere to be. These aren't designs for a city in constant motion and citizens moving purposely about.

The ramps. Seriously. Look at all those squiggletecture ramps. Round and round we go, slowly descending to the river bank like a flower petal on a summer breeze. Not exactly what any human in a city wants, now is it? Then look at some of those sharp turns on the bicycle ramps. Best Practice for grade and curves on bicycle infrastructure has been around for almost a century. Would it have hurt to spend a little while on Google? Or on a bicycle? Unbelievable.

One of the designs has a fancy waterfall - bringing inspiration to London from.... 1980s Edmonton, Canada. But really, the water is a visual shield to disguise the Danteesque inferno in the middle that forces cyclists to descend to several levels of mobility hell.

Here's a thought. Is this pornographic obsession with ramps a subliminal product of decades of car-centric planning? Is there a little voice embedded in the minds of designers and architects that says, "hey... if you have get up or down from an elevation, use a winding ramp. That's what they do in car parking garages and on motorways..." Has car infrastructure dominated so thoroughly that it's hard to plan for other forms of transport?

Whatever. These designs would be great for a Bridge Over the River Why. London certainly doesn't need anymore of this.

It is apparently easy to draw a (curved) line between Illustrator's improvement of their Draw a Curve function and design renderings. There are only 30,000 hits on this how-to film, but I bet 10,000 are from people responsible for the all the photos about this point.

I can lament the fact that there is so little anthropology at play in architecture but assuming that anybody who walks or cycles in a city is a meanderthal shows a lack of understanding of human nature. Stop with these curves, already. It's Magpie Architecture, nothing more. Bling your badass bridge all you want, just don't force people to alter their urban trajectory because you learned a new trick in Illustrator.

There will always be exceptions to this. The new Circle Bridge in Copenhagen by Olafur Eliasson is one. It is not at a location, however, that is - or will be - a vital mobility link. It's just a modest connector bridge across a canal for cyclists and pedestrians. Any bridge that is expected to get a decent share of cyclists wouldn't be designed like this.

Ah, you might say. What about the Bicycle Snake/Cykelslangen in Copenhagen? Isn't that curvy and all that? It is, indeed.



Firstly, it has to navigate a 90 degree turn around the corner of a building. But you don't force cyclists to do 90 degree turns, so they swept it elegantly around the corner for comfort and safetly. The bridge slopes down to the harbour bridge and, with an expected 16,000 A to B cyclists a day, the graceful curvature nudges people ever so slightly to keep their speed in check on the descent.

The designs for the NEP Bridge, above, just curve for no particular reason. With no regard for getting people where they want to go. Instead, there seems to be a distinct focus on increasing travel times by creating a mobility obstacle course.

Speaking of obstacles, it was surprising to see that designs were actually sent in that just discarded the idea of ramps altogether and rolled their dice on... stairs. Big, fancy, modern bridge across the river of a major world city and you have to navigate stairs to get there. Although some designs feature elevators to further slow you down and one chucked in escalators for bikes.


One of the designs has a small box in the corner showing the Everest slope and upselling it by declaring the intention to implement "Place making across the bridge and its landing position". Just look at the place they imagine making. Ooh. Sticky.

If you want to create a bicycle and pedestrian bridge in 2015, can we agree that stairs and elevators should not be your point of departure?
A lot of the renderings only provide conceptual ideas and it's sometimes hard to see details. Nevertheless, it wasn't all squiggletecture, curve balls and epic climbing expeditions. There are designs that make sense. There seem to be some common denominators. One of them is that the designer/architect has probably actually tried to ride a bicycle in a city. Another is a clear separation between the two user groups.

The design at top left does so rather elegantly, with a cycle track down the middle. As does the design at bottom left. At bottom right is a design similar to what you see over the Brooklyn Bridge. Doesn't make it a good thing, but at least the designer was thinking about A2B and dividing space between cyclists and pedestrians.

I was going to start commenting on which design(s) I like, but then I remembered I said I wouldn't that at the beginning of the article. So nevermind.

What is going to work, regardless of design, is a bridge that provides an intelligent A2B without irritations or detours at either end. A bridge that understands pedestrians and their needs and expectations, absolutely, but also one that does the same for cyclists. Again, that's bascially almost every city bridge ever built prior to the dawn of automobile culture.

There is one sentence in the competition brief, mentioned above, that would benefit from being rearranged like this:

"...it must be functional in its design, perfect in its execution and also inspiring and elegant."

It's a modern lifeline across a river in a world city, not a coffee cup.

Functional design first or don't bother.

25 February 2015

World's First Automated Underground Bike Parking

Amsterdam Bike Parking - Automated
The very best thing about my work is the people I meet. While working on a project in Amstedam's dystopian Zuidas area earlier this month, I met Arjan. That's him on the right, with his Dad on the left. He showed me some of the bicycle-related products that their company, LoMinck, make. Then he surprised me.

"We made the world's first automated, underground bicycle parking system."

"What about the Japanese?", I said, having seen the many films on YouTube about robotic underground silos for bike parking.

He just smiled. "We were first. Ten years ago."

I had to see it and we met the next day at the spot where the free ferries from Amsterdam Central Station arrive at Amsterdam Noord. I knew the non-descript little building where Arjan and his dad were waiting. I had no idea that it was, in effect, an important spot in bicycle history.

Amsterdam Bike Parking - Automated Amsterdam Bike Parking - Automated
Down into the bowels of the beast we went. Which was a short ladder trip, basically. This bike parking facility isn't a silo but rather a horizontal room underground. If you look at the photo on the left, it extends from the building to the pole on the right.

We were in a simple room with 50 bikes hanging on hooks. It all looked so simple. Like good design should look. Up top, his Dad put an OV Fiets bike into the system and we watched as the machine gripped the front wheel and it descended, placed on a hook like a drycleaned suit. Then up again it went.

This modest facility was opened by the Dutch Minister of Transport in 2005. Subscribers pay €9 per month and LoMinck takes care of the remote monitoring, maintenance, customer service, breakdown service and subscription management. The city of Amsterdam pays an annual fee for this service.

It doesn't have to be underground. It can also be implemented above ground or into buildings. The minimum required width is 3,5m, the minimum required height is 2,75m. The length is variable and determines the capacity of the system; every additional meter creates 4 additional bike positions.



Amsterdam Bike Parking - Automated

I asked Arjan and his Dad what they thought about the Japanese systems. Arjan translated the question for his Dad who just smiled and replied, "Overcomplicated".

Velo
But hey. There's more. Check this out. This is everything I believe in, in design. Simplicity and functionality. Stairs can be tricky with bikes. Most stairs in Denmark and the Netherlands have gutters to let you roll the bike up and down. How to improve the ease of use? Start with a broom.

Tasked by the City of Amsterdam to solve the issue of a particularly steep set of stairs that cyclists were avoiding, the Minck family went through some designs and then found a broom in the kitchen. They cut it in half. Stuck the bristles together. Presto.



Going up the stairs? How about a mini conveyor belt? Be still my designer heart.

Don't even get me started on the VelowUp bike racks.

Simple, functional design solutions. More of that, please.

Check out their stuff on the LoMinck website.

Top Ten Ways to Hate on Pedestrians


So there you stand. The Gatekeeper. Tasked with defending the great bastion of Motordom and upholding a last-century codex about city planning and engineering. In your mind's eye you think you resemble THIS gatekeeper, but sorry... the fact is, you're more of the Keymaster type when you look in the mirror. But hey. Your job is important. Keeping the streets clear of irritating, squishy obstacles so that Motordom's armada can continue flowing freely. Don't worry about Ignoring the Bull. You ARE the bull and don't you forget it.

What tools are at your disposal? What are the most effective ways to reverse 7000 years of city life and keep pedestrians out of the way, under control, under your greasy thumb, Gatekeeper? We've compiled a list for you.

Adopt one or more of the following ideas in your city and declare proudly to the world that you are:
A: Completely unwilling to take traffic safety seriously
B: Ignorant of the existing Best Practice regarding traffic calming and lowering speed limits
C: A slave to an archaeic, last century mentality
D. Immune to the death and injury of millions
E: Incompetent

1. Pedestrian Buttons
Winnipeg Pedestrian Bullying

It's important that pedestrians don't think they own the place. Nevermind the fact that for 7000 years, they actually did. With a simple installation, you can force these rogues of the urban landscape to apply for permission to cross a street. You can control them. Make them feel insignificant. Have fun with it, too. Install a speaker with a scolding, authoratative voice that speaks to them like they are children. Configure the system to rotate randomly through waiting times. On two-stage crossings, have a field day. Make them wait as long as you like in the middle, boxed in like animals.

2. Jaywalking
Anything else is un-American. Those Eurotrash types didn't get THIS memo and look at where THEY'RE at. Jaywalking is as American as apple pie, shooting beer cans in the desert and super-sized meals. It was a gift to America from the automobile industry, so you know it must be good.

Enforce it. A 7000 year old habit in cities CAN be eradicated if you really want it bad enough. Your cops will feel empowered and get valuable training for dealing with terrorists later. Back in the day, we used Boy Scouts to chastise jaywalkers. Now we get to do it with heavily-armed law enforcement officers. Don't be shy about a little collateral damage. It's for the common good.

The day we let pedestrians walk wherever they want is the day the terrorists have won.

3. Pedestrian Flags


"Because we pride ourselves in being a walkable and bikeable community, we need our citizens to feel safe on our roads and sidewalks, and pedestrian safety is of utmost importance.” Thus sayeth Mayor John Woods of Davidson, North Carolina. Print out a photo of him and others like him and make an altar in your engineering department. He understands. That's not him the photo. The lady on the left is Mayor of some other visionary town.

Install pedestrian flags at crosswalks - or Pedestrian Control Zones, as we like to call them - and force pedestrians to wave one high above their head in the hope that the fine, motoring citzens might notice. Send a clear message to them about their parasitical status in the transport hierarchy by making them feel so completely helpless and stupid all at once. Added value: It's hilarious to drive past a flag-waving pedestrian.

Do NOT refer to the Eurotrash-esque Berkeley types when they conclude "The use of the flags did not seem to have a significant effect on driver behavior.". Pedestrianism is socialism sneaking in the back door. Refer instead to other visionary communities who share your views.

4. Criminalize Walking
With simple legislation your community, too, can clamp down on humans moving unaided by fossil fuels through your paradisical motorised world. Follow the lead of this New Jersey town and ban texting while walking and reduce exponentially the irritating dents caused by human bones striking the smooth, elegant paint jobs of your citizens' cars. If only we had thought of this back when people walked around reading newspapers in cities. Damn.

At the same time, you can go all Spanish on your population's asses and ban Drunk Walking. Laugh in the face of those who suggest restricting cars or lowering speed limits in densely-populated nightlife districts and keep your police force fresh and battle-ready by enforcing this sensible law.

5. Tell 'Em What to Wear
These pedestrian types obviously need a lot of help so dictating their clothing is a no-brainer. Start condescending campaigns to ridicule them for not wearing brightly-coloured clothing and reflective vests, et al. Whatever you do, don't get any smart-ass ideas about doing the same for cars. You are The GATEKEEPER, for christ's sake.

Don't worry, you have "walking experts" on your side, pilgrim. "Be safe - be seen. It's only your life that depends on it. Night walking means taking extra care that cars can see you. For the best safety, your entire outline should be reflective and you should carry a light or wear a flasher."
Not to mention the Center for Disease Control. They have awesome parking facilities, by the way.

6. Lull Them With Distraction

Orwell, Shmorwell. Aldous Huxley understood our Brave New World. Want to control and distract people? Give them mindless entertainment distration. Distrantrainment. Enterstraction. Oh, whatever. Just control them. Big Auto will thank you. Your city engineers won't have to waste time worrying about safety and have more time to do important work.
Gameify it. Let these bums play Pong while they wait. Whatever keeps them out of the way of cars is a GOOD thing.

Make it even simpler. These people are morons, anyway. Just have a funny - like haha funny - dancing green man on the pedestrian signal. It's seriously that easy. The good people at Smart Car get it. They get it real good.

7. Instill Fear


Fear is your surest, sharpest weapon, Gatekeeper. Those pinko Berliners have their cutesy man in a hat, but protecting the bastion of Motordom requires vision and dedication. Get those pedestrians out of your way by scaring them.

Doisneau Traffic
Make them run. For their lives.
Ignoring the Bull - Frederiksberg
"Watch out"!, it reads in Danish. Yeah. You could trip on the sticker. That'll teach them. Sheesh, even the DANES get this.

8. Ridicule
It works so well. Good old fashioned ridicule. The City of Cologne knows this. The automobile industry knew this and that is how we got to where we are today, thank goodness. Put goofy mimes or clowns out there and guide pedestrians like the sheep they are.

9. Exploit Children
Ignoring the Bull
Kids are great. They are, after all, future motorists. We can plant all sorts of stuff in their head. We used them to ridicule jaywalkers back in the day, but we're not finished with them. Dress them up like clowns and throw them into the street to stop traffic.

10. Fake Your Concern
Sao Paulo Streets 018

Okay. Fine. Once in awhile you actually have to pretend you care. Pay some people a bit of money to stand at crosswalks with flags equipped with a magical force field that will stop 2000 kg of steel and metal. Pretend you are "helping" and "doing something". It works in Sao Paulo.

24 February 2015

Watching Copenhagen Bike Share Die


Photo by Dennis Steinsiek from Dutch-it.eu

The news today out of Copenhagen is about the imminent failure of the city's new bike share system. Copenhageners are ignorning the bikes, few trips are being taken on them and they have become a tourist gimmick, not the commuter dream they hoped for.

It's a rare event that a bike share system fails. Only a very few systems around the world have folded. Melbourne was the poster child for failure thanks to their helmet laws, helmet promotion, lack of infrastructure and anti-cyclist laws. Now it looks like Copenhagen will step into the failure spotlight.

I am in two minds.

I have never been a fan of the bikes or the system and have done little to conceal that fact. I said it was doomed to failure back in 2013. I have wondered why Danish State Railways didn't just copy the decade-old OV-Fiets system from Dutch Railways instead of being seduced by useless, overcomplicated technology. You can read all about why I think the system was a massive fail from the beginning in this article.

While it is always great to be proven right, it is also sad when a project that puts more bikes in a city is on the cusp of failure. Especially sad when my tax money was used on it.

The Copenhagen bike share system was launched a year ago. Here are some relevant numbers.

The Cost
The average cost for a bike share bike in cities like London, Paris, etc is about $800. An OV Fiets bike costs about $400.

The Copenhagen bikes cost $3000 each. $10,000 each in total for purchase and maintenance over eight years. You read that right.

The Copenhagen Go-bikes aren't even free, like in most of the 650 cities around the world with bike share programmes.

It costs 25 kroner ($5.00) per hour to ride one. You can get a subscription for 70 kroner if you want, and that knocks the price down when you use it.

You can rent a bike for the entire day at Baisikeli for 60 kroner.

The City of Copenhagen has invested 40 million kroner ($7.5 million) in the project.

The Users
The biggest mistake in Copenhagen is a complete misunderstanding of how people think and of civic pride. The successful bike share systems in Barcelona and Seville, for example, are for locals only. You can't use them if you don't live there. They are something for the locals, not the tourists. An important distinction. Locals rarely want to resemble tourists in any city. The Copenhagen GoBikes are just like the Bycykler that Copenhagen launched in 1995 - they are already labelled as a touristy thing.

The goal for the new bikes was that each bike would be used 3 times a day by local commuters.
Since the launch they have been used 0.8 times a day - by tourists.

The Usage
800 people signed up for a subscription in the summer of 2014.
That number has now fallen to 256.

In the first half of December 2014, only 530 trips were registered.

The Fleet
The plan is that 1860 new bikes should be on the streets in Copenhagen. There are only 426.
There should be 105 docking stations. There are only 27.

One problem is that the German supplier, MIFA (Mitteldeutsche Fahrradwerke), went into recievership last autumn. Which doesn't say much for this product.

The Lame Excuses
The damage control spin coming out of City Hall from, among others, Mayor for the Technical and Environmental Administration Morten Kabell as well as people like Nikolaj Bøgh, head of the By- og Pendlercykel Fund is much the same. It's all "oh, but you see... we haven't even marketed the system yet!

Seriously? A product that is well-designed, intuitive and that actually serves a practical need will market itself. Failed design won't.

Viral? Not.
The Copenhagen bike share system was meant - in the mind of the Danish State Railways - to be so groovy that it would spread to other Danish cities. Turns out that ain't gonna happen. The second largest city in Denmark, Aarhus, just launched new bikes recently.

Exit Strategy
We can't keep pumping money into a system that isn't working. Who will get us out of this mess?
If we got out now, we'd still have money to implement a Dutch style OV-Fiets system that would work from the first ride.

More on the subject:
- The Bike Share System Copenhagen ALMOST Had
- The E-Bike Sceptic
- Bye-bye Bycyklen
- The Future of City Bikes or a Waste of Money?

23 February 2015

Early Data Victory and other Vintage Goodness from Copenhagen

Cycle Track - Copenhagen 1911
We have covered the historical aspects of Danish bicycle infrastructure before here on our blog, including the first cycle track in the world in 1892 on Esplanaden in Copenhagen. There is always space for more lessons from history.

Above is a photo from Copenhagen in 1911. The streets along The Lakes in Copenhagen were the busiest for bicycles in the entire nation around the turn of the last century. The conditions for cyclists, however, left much to be desired.

The swarms of cyclists only had a narrow edge of a riding path to use. The Danish Cyclists' Federation, founded in 1905, demanded a cycle track on the route. The city's horse riders refused to relinquish space.

In an early example of the power of data related to traffic, a traffic count was done in 1909. It turned out that 9000 cyclists were counted each day, but only 18 horse riders. That changed the conversation. A three metre wide cycle track was put into place in 1911.

Cykelsti Nørre Søgade
It was bi-directional, as you can see on the above two photos, but we hadn't yet figured out that bi-directional was a bad idea on streets. At the time, it was good. Now we know better.
Copenhagen Cycle Tracks - Strandvej 1915-2015
I found the above photo in the City's archives a few years back. 1915 was scribbled on the back. I have been waiting for this calendar year to cycle out to the Østerbro neighbourhood to photograph the same spot. I did so last Sunday, on a quiet afternoon. Same spot as in 1915. This stretch features 20,000+ cyclists a day today.

Copenhagen - Strandvejen 1955
This photo is from farther outside the city, in 1955. These cyclists in the morning rush hour are heading for the stretch in the previous photo, on the other side of the street. The need for a cycle track as obvious in 2015 as it was in 1955 and 1915.
Copenhagen Cycle Tracks 1930s-2015 Østerbrogade
While I was in the neighbourhood, I took a photo at the same spot as the photo, above. On Østerbrogade, next to The Lakes. Wider cycle track back in the 1930s, but not by much.

Cycle Track Network 1916 in Copenhagen and Frederiksberg Cycle Track Network 1935 in Copenhagen and Frederiksberg
On the left is a map from 1916 of the bicycle infrastructure in Copenhagen and Frederiksberg. On the right is a map of the same from 1935. Compare this to Helsinki, which also had a great network of cycle tracks in 1937, like so many other cities.

We know that much bicycle infrastructure was removed in the urban planning brain fart that was the 1950s and 1960s. There isn't a lot of information about how much and where. We do know that the modal share for bicycles in Copenhagen plummeted from a high of 55% in 1949 to single digits in 1969.

Cycle Track - Svanemøllen 1899
This is a photo from Svanemøllen, north of Copenhagen, in 1899. What is interesting about this is that the sign at right reads "Cykelsti" - "Bike Lane". From the first dedicated facility for bicycles in 1892, it didn't take long to get official signage in place.
Copenhagen 1933 - Amagerbrogade
Another cycle track shot from the 1930s on Amagerbrogade.

Building Bike Lanes
It was near here that the city starting putting physically separated cycle tracks back in, in the early 1980s.

Copenhagen Bicycle School
Finally, a photo of a bicycle school in Copenhagen in the late 1800s. Women learning the ropes of the freedom machine.

19 February 2015

Learning From Historical Bicycle Posters


Hey. You know what? We're on to a good thing. We have an amazing product. We have the most effective tool in our urban toolbox for rebuilding our liveable cities. It's right there in front of us. The humble bicycle is back.

After transforming society more quickly and more effectively than any other invention in human history for decades in the late 1800s and early 1900s, the bicycle is ready to do it all over again.

Nevertheless, many cities are struggling to get people to consider the bicycle as transport. As we have known for over a century, infrastructure is the key. Most certainly, too many cities are hopelessly behind in modernising themselves by creating safe cycling infrastructure. This article is about the other issue at hand, namely how to communicate cycling. Not sporty, sweaty, gear-based cycling for sport or recreation but just good old-fashioned urban cycling for the 99%.

This product we work with is produced by hundreds of manufacturers - most of them hopelessly unable to see the bigger picture of promoting cycling, instead focusing on their individual products. Then we have public bodies - be it transport or health, for example - who want to see a massive rise in the number of bicycles used for transport in cities for all the obvious, beneficial reasons to society. Likewise, they have proven ineffective at broadcasting the message in any effective way.

I have called environmentalism the greatest marketing flop in the history of homo sapiens. Just look at the past 40 odd years of focus on awareness and yet there are few people on the planet who are living the environmentalist dream. I lament that fact. It's not hard, however, to see why it happened and continues to happen. There are few humans who react positively to sanctimonious finger wagging from sub-cultural groups that look down their nose at anyone who doesn't adhere to their holy quest. Canadian writer Chris Turner describes it brilliantly in his book The Geography of Hope.

Unfortunately, so much bicycle advocacy seems to be inspired by the same messaging techniques. That whole goofy focus on "green", saving the planet, reducing emissions, blah blah blah. If this line of guilt tripping hasn't worked for the past 40+ years, it's hardly going to kick in now, is it? Look at the marketing that people are subjected to 24/7 on all media platforms. Shiny, positive, professional. The bike geeks should stay the hell away from any form of advertising. Their sub-cultural approach is a failed one.

The bicycle was one of the most successful products on the planet for DECADES - in every culture. It sold itself by just being an amazing product but you can not underestimate the massive value of the advertising that was used to sell bicycles and related products to the 99%.

Many of you will have seen examples of beautiful bicycle posters from back in the day. I've spent over four years studying them, analysing them and just enjoying them. I give keynotes about the subject. For some reason, I've never written it down in an article. So here we go.

Let's look at a long line of bicycle - and accessory - posters from the annals of history to see what worked so brilliantly back then and what we can learn about broadcasting the same message today. Time is of the essence. Urbanisation is rising rapidly. We need solutions. Wonderfully... ironically... this 19th century invention can solve 21st urban problems. If we sell it correctly and effectively.

First, let's look at sewing machines and vacuum cleaners.

The late 1800s were a pivotal age for so many reasons. Certain technology advances were seeds for so many inventions, not least the bicycle and... the sewing machine. The development of finer machinery opened the doors to so many important aspects of product design.

The first sewing machines were large and cumbersome and, generally, operated by strong men in factories. As technology progressed and made it possible to start making machinery that was finer and more delicate, the sewing machine was one of the first designs to become smaller.

Companies like Singer realised the potential early on. Family homes had a housewife who could do darning and repairs. Look at the three examples of early sewing machine adverts above. As well as the design of the early machines. All focused on mainstreaming the product by targeting the most obvious user group in that age. It was a success. Maybe not a sewing machine in every home, but certainly a monumental boom.

In the post-war era the sale of vacuum cleaners exploded, due to the development of compact, inexpensive models that were within reach of a wide swath of the population. Above, at bottom right, is an early vacuum cleaner. Not exactly something that would fit in your hall closet. Companies selling the new fangled machines targeted the obvious market at the time - the housewife.

Looking at the posters, above, we see clear similarities in tone, style and approach. It is safe to say that the vacuum cleaner is one of the most successful products in history. There is virtually one in every home.

If you compare the posters for sewing machines and vacuum cleaners and boil down the messaging used to sell the products to keywords, it looks like this:

- Liberating - it will change your life. Liberate you from whatever constrains you.
- Modern  - it's new and exciting and all the kids are doing it. Keep up with the Joneses.
- Elegant - You don't require anything else but the product. It's elegant and so are you.
- Effortless - it's so easy. Seriously.
- Social - It is sociable. Using the product will improve your sociability. More time with friends and loved ones.
- Convenient - It will improve your life with its ease-of-use by freeing up time for other activities.

All incredibly effective keywords for marketing any product.


1. Artist: Unknown. Year: c. 1878 / 2. No info / 3. No info

1869
This was an interesting year in history in many ways. Two inventions appeared that would end up in one of the most productive advertising collaborations in history, featuring a veritable army of artists and clients.

The first was colour lithography. A massive bucket of rainbow-coloured paint was splashed all over the world of both art and advertising. Before lithography, printing was primarily done by the relief process. Laboriously etching lines onto plates and inking them after which you slapped paper onto them in the hope that the carved motif would be transferred to the paper. Lithography was a chemical process that did away with... well... just about everything difficult about printing.

Lithography had been around since 1798 in a similar, but more complicated form developed by Aloys Senefelder. Colour lithography saw the light of day when Thomas Schotter Boys produced some architectural printwork in 1839, but nothing much happened after that until Jules Chéret started a printing company in Paris, in 1866. He wowed everyone with his colourful productions, using new techniques that allowed for an amazing array of shades. Some point to his poster for Bal Valentino from 1869 as the birth of the modern poster.

Chéret focused on the illustration. The artwork. He relegated text to mere supplementary information. He launched upon the world a brave new medium.

Artists scrambled to be a part of it. Everyone wanted a piece of the creative action. In 1869, something came along that would set the world alight. Two Englishmen, Reynolds & Mays, patented the Phantom prototype that replaced wooden spokes with thin, metal ones. Three years later, Smith & Starley produced the Ariel bicycle. It was not yet the classic diamond frame that Starley developed in 1885, with the production of the Safety Bicycle, but this "Ordinary" or "Penny Farthing" model sent shockwaves reverberating around the world. Welcome to the birth of a revolution.

What an extraordinary machine the bicycle was to the general population of the planet. In a flash, one's mobility radius was greatly expanded. Speeds previously unattainable by humans under their own steam were achieved.

Selling Cycling
Bicycles started out in a similar way to sewing machines and vacuum cleaners. The early versions were large, cumbersome and only appealed to a narrow demographic. Early sewing machines and vaccums were complicated machinery operated by men.

Early bicycles like the Ariel and all those variations that followed became popular very quickly, absolutely. A kind of pre-boom boom. They were, however, the exclusive domain of rich boys. Bicycles were very expensive to manufacture in, for example, 1880.  They cost between $300-$500. In 2014 dollars, that translates to $7,700 - $11,600 (according to the inflation calculator... I love the internet)

The market was small and, as a result, few posters for bicycles were produced between 1872-1890. Also due in no small part to French bicycle production stalling during the collapse of the Second Empire and the defeat in the Franco-Prussian war between 1871-1880.

Most marketing was done through elaborately designed catalogues that appealed to the wealthly, well-read customers, as well as advertisments in selected publications read by said customers. It was pointless to advertise to the masses since they didn't have a chance in hell of acquiring the products.

The artwork at the top of this section show that lithography was eagerly used but it was restricted to a tiny portion of the population.


1. Artist: Henri Thiriet. Year: c. 1895 / 2. Artist: PAL (Pseudonym for Jean de Paléologue. 1855-?) Year: c. 1900 / 3. Artist: Jules Chéret (1836-1933) Year: 1891 / 4. Magazine cover. Artist: Unknown. Year: 1896 / 


I can't possibly hope to show every amazing, historical bicycle poster. There are thousands and thousands of them. Many have also been lost forever (who saves billboards when they're taken down nowadays?). I've done my best to present some of the best of them in various, relevant themes, in order to hammer out a game plan that will apply to today.

Artists flocked to colour lithography. With the invention of the Safety Bicycle - the frame we still know today - the bicycle exploded onto society at large around the world. It was the hottest mainstream product on any market. The hottest media was colour lithography. It would prove to be a fruitful affair if those two hooked up, which they luckily did. 

The bicycle captured the imagination of anyone exposed to it. It was the future, progress, modernity. It was everything. The artists who started cranking out posters for the growing army of bicycle brands merely reflected their amazement at the product. The freedom provided by the bicycle was a major factor in advertising for decades to come. This is where it started.

Let's remember the keywords at the beginning of the article and have a look at liberation. 

The posters at the top of this section do not mess around. Look at the imagery and the message they are sending. Powerful images of liberation featuring strong characters. The third poster from the left is also the work of Jules Chéret. Like many of the leading artists of the age, he got into the bicycle game and with flair. It's a poster for a French bicycle brand whose name translates as French Banner. Patriotism was also a heady theme at the time. 

Chéret was also called the "father of the women's liberation" during his lifetime because of his works - and not just bicycle posters. (When you live in Scandinavia - in a region with excellent levels of gender equality - you don't bat an eyelash at the idea of women's lib having a father). Much has been written about the bicycle's role in women's liberation (although never enough has been written) and there are many inspiring quotes about it. 

What Chéret did was portray women in a new, refreshing and - for some (men) - radical way. What contemporary society in Paris saw upon viewing the posters was women who were happy, care-free, stylish and lively. It heralded an age in Paris where women could openly participate in activities like wearing low-cut dresses and smoking. The female caricatures even became known as Cherettes. It all went hand in hand with the liberating effect that bicycles were having on all aspects of society.

1. Artist: Unknown. Year: c. 1900 / 2. Cover of New York magazine "Truth". Artist: Unknown. Year: 22 August 1896 / 3. No info / 4. No info

All the metaphors and symbolism of the age were put to full use in the arsenal of the artists. Training as an artist required learning the classics, including historical and cultural symbolism. This transferred subliminally and naturally over to the genre of bicycle posters. Not least because this was a visual language familiar to potential customers.

The bicycle was often lifted aloft in reverence to and respect for it's power and transformational effect on society. The second artwork from the left, above, is not actually a poster but the cover of a magazine out of New York called Truth from 22 August 1896. The bicycle triumphant, lighting the way to a bright, new future. No text about content in this issue. Just the woman on her bicycle.

There was no limit to the possibilities of the bicycle and everyone knew it. Citizens in cities could travel quicker than ever across the urban landscape. In the countryside, people could extend their transport reach into a previously unheard of radius. We know now that the bicycle improved the gene pool. Nothing less. In the public records in towns, for example, in the UK surnames that had been pegged to towns or districts for centuries were suddenly appearing much farther afield. People started moving around like never before for work and for love.

It wouldn't be a stretch to suggest that people were having more sex after the invention of the bicycle. Or at least sex with new people. The inherent thrill about this welcome development may certainly be drawn between the lines in these posters.


1. Artist: Frederick Winthorp Ramsdell. Year: 1899 / 2. Artist: Henri Thiriet. Year: 1898 / 3. Artist: J. Cardona. Year: 1901 / 4. Artist: E. Célos. Year: 1901 /
Another theme I've noticed is fantastic hair, symbolizing youth and a care-free attitude. There are countless posters featuring flowers or various, symbolic branches.

I have always loved the overwhelming metaphorical gameplay in the second poster for Griffiths. So simple and yet so completely in your face. Young woman in white cycling with free-flowing hair from left to right (to the future) and casually tossing flowers as she goes. Roadside sits an old woman in a bed of flowerless thorns, staring right to left (towards the past). She isn't even looking at the cycling girl, as though resigned to the future passing her by.

At far right is a Canadian brand looking to make inroads into the French market. National markets were huge and incredibly competitive. The rise of the bicycle poster, however, heralded a truly international age. A poster could easily be created by a Romanian artist trained in England (like Jean de Paleologu who has two posters in this article) for a French printer selling Canadian bicycles for a local agent. As ever, art knew no borders.


1. Artist: Unknown. Year: c. 1900 / 2. Artist: PAL (Pseudonym for Jean de Paléologue. 1855-?) Year: c. 1895 / 3. Artist: Jean Carlu. Year: 1922 / 4. Artist: Unknown. Year: c. 1892 / 5. No info.

The most iconic posters of the day that are remembered most clearly even over a century later feature female protagonists. Many of the posters were famous in their own time, as well. In a modern optic it may appear that women were being gratuitously used in the artwork in order to sell bicycles. Nothing is farther from the truth. What Chéret started snowballed into a movement. A sea change in society. The freedom afforded by the bicycle carried with it women's liberation and liberation of the working classes into a bold, new future.

It all started with that powerful symbolism. When women started actually buying and hopping onto bicycles, the market expanded exponentially. The overwhelming dominance of female figures was symbolic of the poetic beauty of the bicycle and it's positivity and helped convince newcomers about the ease-of-use of the product. It all soon transformed into marketing to the female and male demographic all at once.

There are posters featuring men, of course, like Hercules Bicycles at far right, above. The posters featuring female figures, when you think about selling bicycles to women, were filled with a constant messaging about simplicity, elegance, freedom - and all while retaining your womanhood. In the heading days of the bicycle this was an effective marketing tactic that worked - it must be said -incredibly well.


1. Artist: Unknown. Year: 1905 / 2. Artist: Henri Gray. Year: c. 1890s / 3. Artist: Georges Massias. Year: c. 1895

Nudity was not unusual in artwork in France back then but with the advent of the bicycle poster, liberation came in many forms. So many beautiful posters featured nude or scantily clad women as a further extension of the liberation metaphor.

France in the late 19th century was certainly not North America in the same era. Most of the nudity in bicycle poster history was French. Most women featured on posters in other countries were clothed.

It is worth mentioning that France in the late 19th century wasn't America in 2009, either. An American winemaker uses the Cycles Gladiator artwork, at right, on their bottles and said bottles were banned in Alabama.


1. Artist: Unknown. Year: c. 1900 / 2. Artist: George Moore. Year: c. 1907 / 3. Artist: Unknown - Possibly Frode Hass. Year: c. 1900 / 4. Artist: Unknown. Year: c. 1895 / 

The bicycle, for all it's wonder in the minds of the public, was still a daunting machine. Especially women had to be convinced of its ease-of-use and great effort was put into portraying this in the artwork.

One very noticeable theme in historical bicycle posters is the position of the woman. There are countless examples of the woman cycling symbolically ahead of the man. "See? It's easy. No effort required." Plus, it's incredibly sociable. It's an activity you can do together.

Vintage Bicycle Posters: Grand Manège Central

The poster, above, from 1894 advertises a bicycle lesson facility with three tracks where people could learn to ride. Often officers or policemen would act as teachers - that air of authority didn't hurt sales - and it is clear that this poster is broadcasting ease-of-use (and handsome teachers) for the female demographic. Cycling with one hand, looking at us with a casual, confident expression, wearing a splendid outfit. It all screams how damn easy it is.

The above poster reminds me of an interesting fact and something that persists to this day. It's incredibly difficult to draw bicycles. Try asking a group of adults to draw a bicycle and be amazed and amused at how wrong most of them get it.

In all the artistic enthusiasm of the day for designing bicycle posters, the bicycles are often drawn simplistically. Even when the great Toulouse-Lautrec put his hand to bicycle posters, certain details missed the final cut. Looking through many of these posters you can clearly see that wheels were the trickiest. Rims are often forgotten and spokes are just a smattering of wispy lines - if they are even there at all.


1. Artist: Brynolf Wennerberg (1866-1950). Year: c. 1898 / 2. Artist: Poul Fischer. Year: 1896 /  3. Artist: Deville. Year: 1895 / 4. Artist: Fritz Rehm (1871-1928) Year: c. 1910 / 5. Artist: Daan Hoeksema (1879-?) Year: 1907 / 6. No info

It's easy. It's easy. It's easy. This message was repeated constantly for decades. On occasion, focus was placed on technical features. The first two posters, above, are selling chainless bicycles that instead featured a shaft drive. In the middle and at bottom right you can see early weight weenie culture budding, although it was messaging the female customers and not todays MAMILS.

As time progressed there is a clear sign that the focus started to widen. People were all on bicycles by around 1905. A market had been established. In the early days the focus was general. It was just about the big picture. The modern bicycle and all the good things it could do. As people become more familiar with them, the advertising started to talk about performance, weight and speed, like in the fourth poster, above. Upright bicycle, lovely dress but still keep metaphorical pace with a running dog.

1. Artist/Year: No info / 2. Artist: No info. Year: 1932 / 3. Artist/Year: No info / 4. Artist/Year: No info / 5. Artist: No info. Year: c. 1930s

As the 20th century started to roll past, more focus was placed on speed - Raleigh was famous for this theme - but also on quality. "The All-Steel Bicycle" was a Raleigh slogan for decades. What may be strange to us today was normal rhetoric in, at least, the UK in the 1930s, with Royal Enfield Bicycles proudly declaring on all their materials that their bicycles are "made like a gun". The Swedish poster at far right also declares that its bicycles - and parts - are made with rust-free steel.

1. Artist: Carsten Ravn. Year: 1897 / 2. Artist: Edward Penfield (1866–1925). Year: 1896 / 3. Publisher: Chambrelent, Paris. Year: c. 1890s 

The "effortless" angle has many visual themes to keep hammering home ease-of-use and no risk of losing elegance. There are many, many posters featuring cyclists with their legs up. It's one of the first things you do as a kid when you learn to ride a bike and it's daunting - especially when most bicycles had coaster brakes. So let's just keep showing how easy it is.


1. Artist: Georges Gaudy (1872-?) Year: 1898 / 2. Artist: Unknown. Year: c. 1900 / 3. No info / 4. Artist: Unknown. Year: c. 1900

You don't have to actually ride the bicycle to look good and be relaxed. At left, you can also just hang out looking all badass and send evil stares to those morons coming down the road in one of those new-fangled automobile contraptions.

Poise, grace, elegance and effortlessness. It's so easy that even a monkey can do it while looking badass in his cool threads. The poster at far right is interesting for the simple detail that she is looking back over her shoulder. Looking for her friends/husband (she's so speedy that she's ahead) and maybe simultaneously signalling that it's easy to take your eyes off the road.

If you learned to ride a bicycle you know that along with riding with no hands and riding with your feet up one of the first tricky things to learn is looking backwards without veering sharply on your bicycle.

My theory is that so many tiny details that people were wary of are featured in the details in many of these posters.

1. Artist: N. Vivien. Year: c. 1900 / 2. Artist: Paolo Henri. Year: c. 1900 / 3. Artist: Georges-Alfred Bottini (1873-1906) Year: 1897 / 

Hey, who needs bikes to sell bikes when you have birds and well-dressed people hanging on a street corner? A lot of early posters didn't feature bicycles because they were hard to draw but also because it was such a massive trend that you didn't need to. Just slap your company name (presuming it has Cycles at the beginning of it) and you're off. Notice who in the crowd on the middle poster is looking right at you. A woman. She is telling you something with her eyes. She's on board the bicycle wave.

Crap at drawing bicycles? Not to worry. Just draw a vague shape and squeeze it inbetween some well-dressed women - conveniently hiding the hard-to-draw bits like ... well... everything except the wheel and handlebars - behind a bright yellow dress.

1. Artist: Unknown. Year: c. 1913 / 2. Artist: No info. Year: 1952  / 3. Artist: F. Hart-Nibbrig. Year: c. 1912 / 4. No info. Product: Carlsberg Breweries

This sociable factor was all important in the early days. Many cyclists joined clubs with whom they headed out into the countryside on the weekends. These clubs were massive. Just look at this list of clubs in Copenhagen alone in the 1890s. It was a sociable thing to do and broadcasting that message was important, especially in the late 1800s. At right is a Carlsberg beer ad. Hurrah... that inn sells it!

The Simplex ad from the Netherlands doesn't look like much fun - the Calvinist influence at work - but they are, by god, heading out of the city for a bike ride. The first poster shows that everyone is doing it - and everyone CAN do it. Into the 1950s, the theme continues in the second poster from the UK. It's sociable and enjoyable.

1. Artist: Eugéne Ogé. Year: c. 1897 / 2. Artist: Unknown. Year: c. 1923 / 3. Artists: Behrmann & Bosshard. Year: 1938 / 4. Artist: Will H. Bradley (1868-1962). Year: 1899. 

It's quite remarkable the constant and consistent focus on how cycling is just a normal activity/transport form that would not require any effort or extra equipment. It lasted for decades. There are also examples of marketing focused specifically on sport but the examples, above, are focused on the mainstream. Although it is not really that remarkable as a marketing strategy. It was just standard advertising. Techniques that differed little from advertising every other product on the market at the time.

It was clear that cycling was cool if you look at the first poster, above. Dapper gent in spiffy threads riding a bicycle and sending a mocking look at the loser, lame-o wannabe on the sidewalk - overweight and with the red nose of a drunk. Design changes over time and we can see in the Schwalbe Bicycles ad from 1938 that a simpler style was all that was needed. A swallow. A bicycle. A text reading "It's a chic bicycle". Boom, baby.

Comparing the 1938 Schwalbe poster with the one to the right from 1899 is an interesting exercise if only to see how design had changed.

1. No info / 2. Artist: Decam. Year: 1897 / 3. Artist: C. M. Coolidge. Year: c. 1895 / 4. Producer: Dingley Brothers. Year:1918

In the ocean of bicycle posters throughout decades there is inevitably some flotsam. From the Twilight Zoney feel of the Victor Cycles poster on the left to the Pyscho Cycles poster on the far right - a poster that looks like it could advertise a bike polo event in Brooklyn last year.

The second poster is one that amuses me to no end. We know little about the artist Decam and little is known about the brand La Vélo Catémol. What we do know is that making a rock and roll sign with your fingers whilst casually sitting naked, chained to a well with a bicycle chain, was apparently a perfectly acceptable image for selling a product in 1897.

The Columbia Bicycle poster is another bizarre addition to the library of bicycle posters. Many of the same themes were in play on both sides of the Atlantic but one C. M. Coolidge was inspired - I shudder to think by what - to draw a monkey and a parrot whizzing down a hill. I don't know what that monkey is doing behind the parrot, but I'm guessing it's the monkey saying, "We are having a heavenly time" because the parrot doesn't look amused. The monkey's parrotofilia aside, his feet aren't on the pedals and they narrowly missed a rock. All very confusing and probably illegal in Alabama.

The bicycle as a powerful symbol of just about everything continued for a very long time. In the cartoon at left it was used to show how it could be a vehicle to lead America out of the Great Depression. Get out shopping on your bicycle and help kickstart the economy.

In the middle is a photo of gold-plated Cycling Girl, who has been standing astride her bicycle and surveying Copenhagen's City Hall square since 1936. She is one of two figures - the other is a gold-plated woman with an umbrella who is walking a dog. "Vejrpigerne" - The Weather Girls - rotated out onto a perch depending on the weather on the Richshuset building so passersby could see this weather prognosis, supplemented with a neon thermometer.

Designed by Einar Utzon-Frank (1888-1955), it is no surprise that the fairweather symbol was a "cykelpige" - Danish for "cycling girl". She is a veritable cultural icon and has been since the late 1800s. 

Indeed, in a thesis entitled "The Modest Democracy of Daily Life - An analysis of the bicycle as a symbol of Danishness" by Marie Kåstrup (who now works for the City of Copenhagen's Bicycle Office), the cycling girl is described as "A unique front figure for the democratic bike culture. She is, all at once, a modest, charming and everyday representation of Danishness."

Creating gold-plated statues in 1936 atop a new building on the primest of real estate was in no uncertain terms a symbol of prosperity.

The Canadian CCM Bicycles poster at right is a lesser example of using bicycles as a symbol of prosperity and borders on mocking. The cycling boy is bragging to poor Bill. He got good grades and his (presumably solvent) parents bought him a bicycle.

1. Artist: Hans Bendix (1898-1984) Year: 1938 - used on this poster in 1947. 2. Artist: No info. Year: 1947 / 3. Artist: Hans Bendix. Year: 1947 / 4. Book cover. "Boy of Denmark". Artist: No info. Year: 1947

The bicycle as a symbol of Danishness and national identity was always there, under the surface. Not as demonstrative as many early French posters but more just an accepted truth that didn't need a lot of fanfare.

In the late 1940s, a series of tourism posters were produced with a specific target group in mind. The British. They were one of two great cycling touring nations - the other being Germany, but they were busy rebuilding their bombed cities. The Brits liberated Denmark and it was hoped that this connection would encourage Brits to consider Denmark as The Country for Their Holiday. It was, after all, a Country of Smiles and Peace. Like cities? Try The Gay Spot of Europe and have a blast on a bicycle in Copenhagen. Poster 1 and 3 are by a legend in Danish poster art, Hans Bendix.

For the local market, books like The Boy of Denmark featured bicycle imagery and content for young readers.


As an aside, it would appear that there is a new Hans Bendix in town. Mads Berg is a respected graphic designer who is commissioned to do high profile posters for many clients. Not all of them feature bicycles, but here are some that do. A Copenhagen poster, a poster for the island of Bornholm and a poster for the yoghurt of a major dairy producer.

There was a noticeable post-war boom in bicycle-related imagery in many countries, not least Denmark. Once again, the bicycle was a symbol of freedom - personal and national - after the trials of a long, destructive war. It was still a metaphor for a bright promising future.

1. Danish magazine Familiejournal. Year: 1947 / 2. Advert for US Magazine Woman's Day. Year: c. 1950s

The cover of a Danish magazine Familiejournal from 1947 is quite simple in both its design and its messaging. Freedom. Joy. Future. At right, an American magazine, Woman's Day, advertised themselves with this kind of image in the 1950s. She's got to go out to get a copy and she does so - obviously - on a bicycle with her kid.

The 1950s saw urban planning changing rapidly to accommodate the automobile, which would soon replace the bicycle as the ultimate symbol of prosperity and freedom. The bicycle, after over 60 years of dominance of those keywords, was being pushed out. Not only out of our cities but also out of our advertising.

Bicycle posters in America started to disappear before they did in Europe. Here they lived on well into the 1960s, before the bicycle boom in the 1970s. Nevertheless, the bicycle was still a cool, glamourous thing and all manner of film stars were seen on them. The New Yorker has featured bicycles on many of their covers. The bicycle never really went away through the 1950s.

Even into the 1970s, bicycles were still used to symbolise freedom. When the last part of Orange County, California was developed - Mission Viejo - developers sold their 'hood with bicycles. Move to Mission Viejo and "ride your bike to Saturday night". Park the car and use bicycles in your city. How's that working out for you these days, Mission Viejo?

1. Artist: Raoul Vion. Year: c. 1925 / 2. Modern Sparta Advert. / 3. Artist: Mich. Year: c. 1920 / 

People understood what the bicycle meant to daily life and how to use it accordingly. Sanpene Bicycles, in 1925, showed how useful their product was by portraying a man shaving while cycling. It was not a crazy idea, it was just a normal portrayal of bicycles.

Interestingly, I found the ad in the middle a few years back. Sparta Bicycles, from the Netherlands, use very similar metaphors to sell their bikes. For the Dutch, it's a no brainer. They, like the Danes, get it. Associations are made and understood.

The poster at right for Hutchinson tires is one of many that show the utilitarian role of the bicycle in everyday life. It is from 1920, so the focus had shifted towards practical uses.



In this Dutch ad from a few years ago, there is another association that is natural for the Dutch. Buy a bicycle and get a free suit. It requires no stretch of the imagination for a mainstream bicycle culture to see themselves on a bicycle in a suit. Duh.

Interestingly, many tailors and shops offered "two-trouser suits" all over the world. Suits were made to last so you didn't buy one every year. But for cyclists, you could buy two pairs of trousers so the suit would last even longer.

Cyclists have managed fine in their regular clothes for well over a century, no matter what the people at Levis tell you with their "urban cycling trousers".


All of the poster and advertising examples I've been covering so far are focused on mainstream marketing techniques aimed at the 99%. The genre of posters and ads focused on sports and recreation is not as comprehensive and have little to do with this article.

Indeed, sports and recreation cycling still have nothing to do with urban cycling. They are two different worlds and, over the years, I have found few effective examples of sporty cycling used to inspire cycling for transport. It doesn't work. We've known this since the 1880s and it still applies today.

The keywords I presented at the beginning are key factors in any marketing approach, let alone getting people onto bicycles. They are, unfortunately, rarely present in much bicycle advocacy or in municipal campaigns. The fact is that the "avid cyclists" are doing all the talking and their inspiration is from environmentalism, whether they are aware of it or not.

Above, at left, is one of the few examples I've seen of sporty cycling used to promote normal, everyday cycling. It is from the City of Copenhagen in 1996. It features Jesper Skibby, a pro cyclist, who was a popular sports idol. He had just won some stages in the Vuelta Espana (it's a bike race) and his smiling mug was used in the context shown.

It's hard to cycle all around Spain. It's healthy to cycle all year round. Works better in Danish, but you get it. It's an interesting connection this one. Cyclesport is more culture than sport in Denmark. If the weather is good, 500,000 - 1,000,000 people will line the streets during the Tour of Denmark in August to watch the race. The Tour de France is a popular conversation topic even among people who have never sat on a racing bike. So this poster worked and served its purpose.

The fact remains that it is one of very few effective examples of combining two vastly different genres of cycling.

Still there are people who think that sport is the key to mainstream. A couple of years ago I was invited to speak to the president and top people at Amaury Sport Organisation (ASO), who organise the Tour de France, about advocacy. I told them that the more people that rode bicycles in French cities, the greater the chance France would get a new Tour winner. 

The president smiled and said that most of the riders were from the countryside. I told him that 80% of the Danish riders who have ever participated in the Tour were from cities. You should have seen his face.

Look at the photo on the right. Imagine if those people were advocates for walkable cities. That would be odd and yet we accept that the cycling version of these people are often the primary voice for promoting urban cycling. The keywords are often save the planet, green, no pollution, healthy, etc. All sanctimonious, fingerwagging crap.

We know why people cycle in Copenhagen and cities like Amsterdam. In Copenhagen, the city has asked its cycling citizens every two years since 1996 what their main reason for choosing the bicycle is. The results never vary. The vast majority ride because it's quick and convenient. It's simply the quickest way to get around, also when combining with public transport. A lesser amount say they ride for the health benefits. This isn't fitness. They just know that 30 minutes a day is said to be a good thing. There are single digit results for "it's inexpensive" and only 1% ride for environmental reasons.

Any advocacy that is focused on keywords borrowed from environmentalism is doomed to failure. In addition, advocacy is often based on the presumption that everyone is a cyclist... they just don't know it yet. How very sub-cultural. Avid cyclists drank the kool-aid and are trying to get everyone else to do it. The Danes, Dutch and Japanese - the Galapagos Islands of mainstream bicycle culture - have it figured it.

If you want to get people on to bikes, you just make the bicycle the fastest way from A to B, using Best Practice bicycle infrastructure which has been around for a century. It's really that simple. If we have to communicate, we should do it professionally and intelligently for a mainstream audience.

The automobile industry has excelled in marketing their products for a century, despite the overwhelming negative impact that cars have on cities. They learned the ropes from the early days of bicycle advertising and have spent decades perfecting the art. There are some connections with car racing, of course, but think about every car ad you have ever seen in your entire life and remember the keywords. They're all there.

People have expectations in marketing and advertising. They are bombarded with professional campaigns, just like people in 1895. Selling cycling based on these expectations is a sure-fire way to speed up the bicycle revolution.


Another parallel between the first bicycle boom over a century ago and today is the appearance of products aimed at capitalising on a trend. Back in the day there were countless examples of products aimed at these new cycling citizens. A shirt labelled suddenly as a "cyclist shirt". A basic corset branded as "bicycle wear".

Hey, it's a market economy. People can make and sell whatever they like. The products, above, disappeared quicker than they appeared. The bicycle planted itself firmly and quickly on society and people realised that all they needed was a damn bicycle. Looking at the current bicycle boom it is clear that the massive influx of "new" accessories and especially "cyclist clothes" is mirroring the failed profiteering phase of a century ago. A whole bunch of people are going to lose money.

Only a tiny handful of all the new products cluttering our internet and inboxes will survive. Those that do will serve a practical, functional purpose. Design that makes sense.

The defined challenge of messaging for a mainstream audience is still a massive one. For many years I've been highlighting an interesting difference of approach. Above is a screengrab from Raleigh's US website. Like the UK site, it is overwhelmingly testosterone-oriented. Cycling as an extreme sport. The Danish website for Raleigh bikes (it's a separate company) is rather different. The text reads, "Practical and convenient shopping experience in full comfort". Same internet. Same brand name. Different worlds.

With that said, I checked a week ago and, for the first time since I noticed this difference, both the UK and US website have now inserted a photo in their slider that is using imagery aimed at the 99%. A positive development. I just want more people to cycle. If that makes money for bike brands, great. Many big bike brands are corporate monsters and are slow to change. They're missing out on selling bikes to a huge, emerging market. Just look at the popularity of vintage bikes. It's amazing. Why is it happening? Because the bicycle industry in many countries has failed to adapt to a new market after only selling their stuff to a narrow demographic for several decades.

I have seriously heard a number of people tell me things like, "Oh, but Americans are different... they need a different approach to selling cycling and focusing on gear and sport is the best way to do it..." This would presuppose that Americans have evolved into some mutated sub-species of homo sapiens that are immune to the marketing techniques applied in the rest of the world.

I don't buy this brand of bullshit. Americans, of all people, are subject to the same positive tone in all the ads they see as the rest of us are. That should be exploited.

We know that using positive imagery is beneficial to any product. We even did a study to prove it. We know that successful marketing is based on presenting to the public an image of the product in a positive light. We've known it for a very long time. It's about time we started using it.

All of our primary keywords - liberation, effortlessness, modernity, elegance, sociable, convenience. They are all open-source. Freely available for use.

Not using them is stunting the growth of cycling as transport. Something that is detrimental to the work of all of those who are trying to make cities better and to the common good.

I'll leave you with the greatest commercial for cycling in America for forty years.