02 March 2011

Bicycle Anthropology

Paris Cycle Chic - Giving Directions
I've always loved this shot I took in Paris a few years back. Depending on where you're from, you'll form a conclusion as to what's happening when you look at it. An aggressive motorist/cyclist confrontation, many will assume. I was riding behind this lady on the shared bus lane/bike path when the passenger in the car said something. I was too far away to hear what. The lady hopped over the hump and stopped. I was now approaching and took the photo. I slowed as I passed, in order to hear what was being said.

The lady was gesticulating and saying "I don't know! I don't have a car and I'm from the 5th!" Laughter from both parties followed. The "5th" means the 5th arrondissement (district), which is south of the river from where this shot was taken. She was just being asked for directions. It was all very friendly.
Summer Traffic
That's Lulu-Sophia in the cargo bay and while we were waiting for the red light here in Copenhagen last summer the passenger in the car on the left caught her eye. He said "hi!" to her and she, being two, fixed him with a stare and replied with a muted "hi". Wherefter the conversation ended. But it was lovely all the same and as we rolled away she said, "Daddy... that man said hi to me...". Again. Lovely.

In my travels with this bicycle lark I've been stopped for directions a few times. Always whilst waiting at a red light. In Budapest the motorist was unlucky picking me. I A. don't speak Hungarian and B. had only been in the city for a day. Nevertheless, we smiled and shrugged and mimed. In Barcelona it was English tourists looking for a hotel. I sent them - vaguely - in the right direction. Many other cities as well throughout my life.

Here in Copenhagen I've been asked for directions many, many times. You don't go around engaging motorists in conversation in some dreamy world of coexistence, but when you're at the red light it's easier to roll down the window and pick a bicycle user on the cycle track next door than trying to get the attention of a pedestrian. And certainly easier than trying to talk to the "cyclist" in your rear-view mirror pretending he's a car while sucking on your exhaust fumes.

In one of my talks I go on about Bicycle Anthropology - about how bicycle users are merely pedestrians who go a bit faster and how the bicycle is the most human form of transport - after, obviously, pedestrians.
snow bikes 01 snow bikes 02
If you take away the bicycles from the bicycle users on the cycle track they resemble, by and large, pedestrians.
Standing Room Only - Kopie Standing Room Only 02
Take away this girl's upright bicycle (the most anthropologically-correct bicycle) and she is just a girl running for the bus.

Indeed, the name "vélocipède" orginates from the Latin blend of "swift" and "foot", which applies perfectly to the way that Citizen Cyclists use the bicycle to this day in our cities.

One of the greatest moments I've experienced since travelling with Copenhagenize and Cycle Chic was in New York. Not direct interaction as such, but still memorable. I had just come off a bridge from Brooklyn and was heading uptown. Waiting at the red light like normal people do. I was on a black Bullitt and wearing normal clothes and with a camera slung round my back. I was sitting up and waiting for the light. I looked around and, to my right, I met the eye of an older woman of Latina persuasion in a big-ass SUV. She was staring at me. I looked back. Then she just nodded. Once. A nod that said "respect." or "cool". I smiled back at her. The light changed and we parted ways. I doubt that she's on a bicycle today in the city, but maybe I was her first Citizen Cyclist spotting, waiting at the red light and on a cool bicycle. I'll never forget that moment.

It's an episode you see anywhere that Citizen Cyclists are given gardens in which to thrive and grow. A motorist or car passenger doesn't see some strange sub-culture, they merely see a fellow citizen on a different form of transport. One that is accessible and easy to engage in conversation. A fellow human being on their own protected lane or track but still anthropologically an integral part of the city.


Lim Soo 林蘇 said...

Cyclist taking away bicycle. Good work.

dothebart said...

want your cycle ghetto where they knock you off the bike on the right turn after you told them which one to take?
They can ask me for their way when I pass them on my way to queue up in front of them (and they did successfully several times so far). That way they get their direction, I got a nice (non smelly) place and I'm long gone when they take their right turn.
In the end there is always their noise and their smell as long as you take the same way as they do, no matter whether you're in your safety ghetto to the right or forcing them to share the road.
- The who prefers to arive alive.

ZA said...

I find myself giving directions to motorists all the time when I'm on my bike. At least once a month.

On two occassions I've had to politely-as-I-could decline the 'advice' from motorists who were in fact incorrect about their vehicular dominance of a turning lane.

Where US drivers do recognize a bicycle lane, they don't recognize the (unmarked or mixed) turning lane as one in which a cyclist should wait in at a red light when they aren't turning.

ATX Bikette said...

It is harder I think to be mean on a bike. Your face and body are exposed, and you can't hide behind your windshield.
I also think a little courtesy goes a long way when you are dealing with traffic. There is no need for name calling or derision.
I like the idea of the curb between the shared lane and the rest of the traffic. Not everyone wants to be a speed demon and have to compete with cars. Sometimes, I'm just a little too tired for it.

Ryan said...

I find people asking for directions on a regular basis and are always quite friendly about it.
Sometimes at red lights people will strike up a conversation for no apparent reason (mostly during the warmer weather when their windows are down).

I'm surprised at how often motorists will give a little "thank-you" wave to me when I signal my turn.

Tad Salyards said...

Being one of the few Bakfiets riders around Minneapolis I frequently get asked for directions. I'm always happy to oblige. I think a bareheaded, plain clothed rider is far more approachable than your typical American fringe cyclist.

When I have my 3 year old with me we get stopped constantly. People are very curious about the bike. Once I was riding home with my son and a large amount of cargo spilling over the edges of the bike and heard a car trailing me for about a block. The woman rolled down her window and asked if she could take our picture. We stopped, smiled and she took her shot. I wonder what ever became of that picture :)

portlandize.com said...

Most of Portland's streets, though shared with motor vehicles, are quite small, and with little traffic off of the main arterial streets, so I also get stopped and asked for directions all the time (as it's easy to just stop and interact at a close distance).

I think besides being easier, people maybe feel like a person on a bike will have a better overall picture of the area than a person on foot.

I had a guy the other day pull up beside me at a red light in a small pickup truck, roll down his window, and say "wow, that's a great Raleigh!" I said, "yeah, it's a 1953, I love riding it!" He said, "man, it's great that that's still around." The light changed, and we exchanged "have a nice day!" and went on our way.

It is good being a regular citizen on a bike.

shuichi said...

I had ridden a motorcycle, Honda CB400 ever before. In fact the motorcycle was a cool and I loved it. It brought me to Hokkaido, the largest and most favorable land in Japan. It was fun.

Nowadays, I always ride my mama bicycle or my mountain bike. Especially I appreciate my mama bicycle because I can seat my lovely little daughters on it.

I like bicycle because I can enjoy conversation with my daughters. And we can see more things simply because of its slow speed than the motorcycle.

To tell the truth, I am a jogger and jogging is best for seeing everything.^^

Anonymous said...

Have conversations with motorists all the time and anybody else on the road or pavement. I'm always surprised by the conversations and good contact I have with other people just because I'm on a bike. Just last night I had a laugh with a yummy mummy and her kids in her SUV. If we are all polite to each other and there was more promotion of sharing the road then it would be better all around

Velouria said...

In Boston I get asked for directions by drivers all the time. It's funny, because they assume I must be from the neighbourhood since I am on a bike, though I am usually not in my own neighbourhood when these interactions happen and can't help them. Still, it's very friendly.