Wednesday, June 24, 2009

a bike cultural revolution

Bike messenger culture in North America has morphed into a bunch of weird sub-genres ranging from urban fixed-gear hipsters, who take all of the impractical elements of bicycle messengering and eschew any of the practical ones, to cargo hauling cyclists, who take all of the practical elements of human-powered transport with nary a care in the world about any of the stylish elements.

However, this view lacks a global perspective. My brother sent me these pictures from Shanghai of Chinese bike messenger culture.

This is one of the few pictures of a cyclist I received, but I'll make the reasonable assumption that this guy is completely representative of all Shanghai bike culture. If you're following component color schemes, white is out. Dingy, rusty gray is in. Also, apparently, white socks are out and for that matter, shoes of any color. Hats and helmets are out, as are bibshors, but pant retention is still critical as evident by suspenders. And while a lot of people in "the west" discuss how comfortable a bike is to ride, we have totally overlooked how comfortable our bike is to lounge in. Horizontally compliant? You bet.

Comfort bikes are only one part of Shanghai bike culture. There is also anti-comfort:

Bench seat technology has been a staple for pickup trucks, crummy American sedans, church pews, and...well, benches, but it has never crossed over to bicycles--until now. There's a lot going on with this U-Haul of bicycles. But if riding on a wooden plank doesn't sound anti-comfortable enough for you, also note the head-clearance on the U-Haul style "Mom's Attic". (I wonder if this bike has U-Haul's "rub rails". See link for details. Also, today's blog: sponsored by U-Haul.) Tall riders beware; this is an ideal rig for hunchbacks who need to transport all of their hunchback stuff around town. It should also be noted that this bike has transcended the no-brakes movement all the way into the no-cranks zone.

But the modest storage capacity of the previous bike is no match for a bike I like to call the Iceberg:

To hell with the xtracycle, which only gives you a modest increase in your hauling capacity. Eric only sent me a picture of the front of this one, but I'm willing to bet that it is over 100 meters long and it has a BOB trailer behind it. The Iceberg is the Titanic of bikes. (Iceberg. Titanic. I'll bet it's safe, too.) Plus, it's got a basket for that little something extra. I'm not sure what's in all of those styrofoam boxes, but my guess is some sort of savory oysters that the shipping company couldn't be bothered to ship in a fast, air-conditioned van, but rather, decided to keep it real by sending them by bike courier. In any event, once these bikes hit the streets of America's major cities, you can be assured that the styrofoam coolers will be brimming full of ice cold PBR. I've already ordered one.

And finally, what's cooler than cool? Ice cold? No. On fire! Just because bikes don't need petrochemicals to fuel their travels doesn't mean that Shanghai's cyclists aren't extreme enough to take that danger with them.

I'm not a big fan of riding with panniers, but the propane bike is a concept I think I could really get behind. And by "get behind" I mean "never even consider riding behind, but marvel at from afar". This would be a nice ride to discourage wheelsuckers, fuel shortages, and certain people (ahem, Geoff) from smoking cigarettes during training rides, while encouraging bar-b-cues, wheelies, and spontaneous combustion.

Thanks to Eric for the pictures.


hollywood said...

Totally rad-tastic. Perhaps the Chinese are using the propane bike as a concept for a new rocket bike?

Questions still remain....Will rickshaws soon replace minivans in suburban America as hipsters begin to age?

DukePirate said...

There's some serious utility in them there bikes. I can get on board with a lot of them -- I am, of course, a fan of the horizontally compliant model -- but as much as I like the under-seat storage options on the bench, er, 'saddle,' I dunno if I'm willing to go quite that far in the name of function over comfort.

Great pics!

felonious said...

Pff, Shanghai. What about the utility recumbants? That's utility with style.

Professor, we're you supposed to palp the propane over to the BCC bbq? Now you're backing out of that?!

co2cycle said...

BCC BBQ? smAli, you don't even eat meat...or use contractions correctly ("we're" vs were?!?). Where are the English professors?

miniweesh said...

you might notice that the "mom's attic" green bike is actually a Shanhgai peloton neutral support vehicle (blue compressor hose and spare tubes). Its proprietor was in the process of fixing a flat so I could neither confirm nor deny hunchback status. You may also notice the use of a wheel chock, which may partially explain the lack of pedals on this bike.
in terms of function over comfort, this product takes the cake:
The ad copy practically writes itself...

felonious said...

English professors indeed!