As city streets and highways are transformed by wave after wave of multi-coloured lycra and spinning wheels, the Integrated Design Commission SA invited Matt Stucky and Peter Drew to bring their own perspectives on Adelaide’s culture of cycling.
Cycling is a very tactile activity. A cyclist is much more exposed to but also much more aware of and part of their environment. The joy of coasting along a tree lined avenue on a temperate day makes up for the soggy pants of winter and the nostril frying heat of summer. Riding through the hills a cyclist smells the eucalypts, is acutely aware of changes in incline and feels the shudders of the rough asphalt transferred through their bicycle frame. Anyone who rides frequently in the city develops a mental map of optimal routes, utilising gritty alleys and narrow pathways to avoid traffic as best they can.
I wonder if this inherent tangibility has transferred into the social culture of cycling. Far removed from the affluent world of middle aged men taking their $30,000 bikes for their weekly spin to the nearest cafe is a subculture of predominantly urban riders who ride daily; to commute, for a job, for sport, for community, because they love it. These riders get by wearing cut off denim shorts, sundresses, tweed, whatever they want. Their bikes are customised of steel, leather and rubber, recycled and new. Individuality and functionality are more important than a price tag. These guys and girls get greasy shoes and helmet hair. It is a very tactile and very analog culture.
These analog cyclists don’t belong to formal associations, yet a sense of community exists. The closest thing to a clubroom is the Exeter Hotel on Rundle St. There is of course some social media activity, but with these cyclists spending more time on their bike than on their computer, actually being social in the tangible sense is more important. If you want to know when there might be a race or a meet, drop into Treadly Bike Shop where Sam and Emily serve as store keepers and notice board. When I organised Bike Dorks (a bike jam / party in a near derelict warehouse) I photocopied twenty A3 posters which I gave to friends and that was the entire extent of my marketing. Critical Mass‘ monthly bike rides are announced on beautiful hand screened prints produced by Jake ‘Jake One’ Holmes – founder of Tooth and Nail studio, former bike courier and cycling devotee. When Adam ‘Creaky’ Dekok wanted to enlist racers for an ‘alley cat’ race (a checkpoint style race where riders follow directions from point to point and complete torturous challenges such as eating a dry Weetbix along the way) he drew and delivered the flyers by hand.
These means of communication occupy limited physical space, not cyber space. Location becomes very important. When you get your news from a chat with a shopkeeper or your barista, a sense of neighbourhood develops. There are a disproportionate number of artists, designers, musicians and generally creative people amongst these analog cyclists – exactly the type of people who will invigorate an area – “insert Richard Florida quote here”. The presence of fixie bikes has become a clear indicator of the health of a neighbourhood, like frogs to river systems.
There is an obvious aesthetic preference in this culture for low volume, hand made, bespoke products. I hope that this preference will translate to entrepreneurialism. I would love to see a cottage industry form in Adelaide based on this creative cycling culture. I’m not talking about carbon fibre, injection moulding or mass production. I’m imagining recycled leather seats, a prettier helmet, a more functional bicycle trailer, custom paint jobs, the ultimate courier bag. If a few more of the buildings in prime positions around Adelaide were workshops and studios producing bike accessories, rather than long term vacancies, I can only see cycling and creative culture becoming stronger in this city.
When I started street art back in 2008 it was out of a desire to bring pro-bike propaganda to the people of Adelaide. I’ve always rode a bike and Adelaide is a great city for getting around on two weals. To me the benefits of riding are so obvious that I had to go about my street art campaign with a sense of light hearted fun. I started out with slogans which I stencilled onto the pavement around the city.
Early on in my research I stumbled across the image of Albert Einstein happily riding his bike on the grounds of Princeton University in the later part of his career. There was something immediately attractive about the image. It shows a genius, one of the greatest, most complex minds of the twentieth Century but he’s using a very basic form of transport. The image confronts our notions of intellectual brilliance, progress and happiness in a way that’s more direct and intuitive than any statistic or slogan. As I started pasting up Albert to walls around Adelaide, and eventually the world, I slowly realised that my interest in the image had turned into an obsession. I now feel that the image is known more to people in Adelaide than anywhere else. In an odd way it belongs to this city more than it ever belonged to me.