My new bike is arriving this week: a dried-blood-red Dawes. A bike enthusiast named Hans who lives on a small island off the coast of Essex is delivering it. In the meantime, in celebration of the freedom and trampoliney-feeling that a new bike brings, this post is made up of bicycle artwork and some photos of famous folk riding bikes.
The Epileptic Bicycle by Edward Gorey (1983), via Animalarium
I still imagine that one day my stolen bike will mysteriously turn up. As below, it will roll into view, untenanted.
from The Epileptic Bicycle, via Animalarium
Each year in London there’s an event called the Naked Bike Ride (why is it not called the Big Naked Bike Ride? Seems a no-brainer to me) where dozens of nude cyclists roam the streets campaigning for bicycle safety. Something paradoxical about that, yes, but the message is that on a bike on city roads, you’re so vulnerable, you’re as good as naked.
Joop Moesman, The Rumour (1941), via Gunther Stephan
Who hasn’t dreamt of cycling naked? I know I have. But, frankly, I’d rather keep it a dream. That’s a thing about London: so many things you’ve dreamed of doing are now possible. You want to meet Anthony Browne in the flesh? Get a cheap ticket to Croatia? Go to a poetry reading by Carol Ann Duffy? The potential for disillusionment is endless. How you withstand the reality of something you’ve dreamt about is always a good test of character, or something.
Elvis Presley’s commute is interrupted, via US Library of Congress
Haven’t met anyone famous yet, much less anyone famous on a bike. I hold on to hope.
Alfred Hitchcock riding and signalling, Cannes (1972), via Rides a Bike
Note Hitchcock’s assertive signalling arm. When I was growing up, signalling was deeply uncool. Sticking out your arm was only an indication of your non-daredevilishness. But nowadays I enjoy giving a bold, almost confrontational signal. Too many London cyclists throw out these feeble signals, like they’re waving at someone they sort of know but don’t really want to talk to.
Alfred Kubin, Untitled (1902), via Gunther Stephan
Unfortunately there aren’t many hills in London to fly down in this manner. In Wellington, the best hills for flying down at top speed are Owhiro Road, into Happy Valley (see Jenny Bornholdt’s poem How to Get Ahead of Yourself While the Light Still Shines) or Manchester Street past the zoo (see lions and giraffes occasionally).
William Roberts, Bicycle Boys (1939), via Gunther Stephan
I love the joyous chaos of this painting. No enraged throwing of bicycles onto the road here! This is how a bicycle commute should be. The cyclists are clearly visible in their bright attire. They’re taking assertive positions on the road. They’re acknowledging their fellow commuters. They’re dressed for the elements. The bicycles are fulfilling various purposes – transport, exercise, resting post, malarkey. And best of all, the cyclists are a mixture of ages and sizes and abilities, illustrating that the bicycle can contain multitudes.
Frog and Toad Together by Arnold Lobel (1972), via Animalarium
The tandem bicycle is the perfect metaphor for Frog and Toad’s friendship. It is both ridiculous and perfectly logical. At times it is awkward and and infuriating, at other times perfectly harmonious. It’s appropriate that Frog has taken the front seat here. But it’s likely that he would’ve had to fight the recalcitrant Toad for it.
from The Epileptic Bicycle, via Animalarium
Another one by Edward Gorey. It’s one of those images that is seemingly playful and amusing but instead strikes me as sinister. These insects are the equivalent of the cyclists you sometimes see clad in dark colours with wraparound sunglasses and facemasks on, whipping past you like Zorro. Terrifying. Although, the difference here is that the insects are quite celebratory. They seem to have won some kind of race.
Lamberto Maggiorani hefts a bike (Enzo Staiola watches) in Bicycle Thieves (1948), via Rides a Bike
To me, there’s something hypnotic about a man hefting and/or fixing a bicycle. A man fixing a car or a motorcycle doesn’t appeal in the same way. The raw physicality of the bicycle – its gears and cogs and sprockets and wheels – accentuates the physicality of the man. It helps if the man is Lamberto Maggiorani. But still, I defy any man to heft a bicycle and not look at least ten percent more handsome.
Nosferatu ditches the ship by Graham Annable
This gleeful image of a vampire riding a shark is a timely reminder that it’s OK to look a bit silly on your vehicle of choice. There’s unfortunately a lot of bicycle snobbery around – people judging one another by the make and/or value of their bicycle – but let’s embrace the many species of bicycle! Yes, even the misunderstood recumbent with its little wing-mirrors and flags. If it goes and you enjoy riding it, then you should ride it and grin.