London Bike Show. Chronicle of a comodified ‘culture’
Bicycle shows generally tend to follow the same pattern of motor shows: a showcase of latest models and trends alongside with a conspicuous planned obsolescence discourse. The London Bike Show last week made no exception.
Back in the times when I was a bicycle store owner (2009-2011) the first bicycle show I’ve attended was the Eurobike, in Germany. In the early autumn of 2009 I visited for three days Friedrichshafen, a small town in Southern Germany that hosts the biggest bicycle industry show in Europe. The biggest bicycle producers in the world offers there every year since 1991 a glimpse into next season’s coming models. It’s primarily addressed to the industry, as shop retailers meet with their suppliers and negotiate the stock for the spring to come. I did the same in 2011, getting deals for my bike shop in Bucharest, Ciclop. Of the 4 days of show one is dedicated to the public, a predominantly male audience interested especially in the leisure and sports bicycle models. Two years later, in 2011, I could nevertheless notice some larger trends:
a growing interest in the electric bicycles
some resurgence in interest on city cycling
In many respects, the London Bicycle Show follows the same characteristics despite being a substantially reduced version of Eurobike. You have 63.000 industry representatives and visitors in Germany, while in London there were less than 40.000 participants. Plus, 3,000sqm in size for the London Bicycle Show against 85.000 for Eurobike. The show in London is open to the public for the whole 4 days, not just for one. London Bicycle Show is more a consumers’ show while Eurobike is more focused on the industry. And, as you can see below, Eurobike is also about selling what the car industry got us used to: sexualized images of women.
What would then be the consumers of the bicycle show I attended this weekend? I mostly wandered for about 5 hours from stand to stand, looking as much as I could to figure out how cycling is showcased as an urban mobility practice. This is part of my PhD project, looking at bicycle tourism and its complex relation with the utility cycling. I did it this time the other way around: not looking at the so-called ‘leisure’ and ‘sports’ cycling, but focusing instead at bicycles and their accessories marketed for the so-called ‘urban cyclists’. I took some photos with my smartphone, here they are, alongside some other pictures, with short comments. I noticed three distinctive selling approaches used by those who create these bikes. They are by no means closed categories.
1. Velo-nostalgie. Bicycles and accessories playing around notions of childhood, escape in countries such as pre-war France, local craftmanship. It’s common to see this appetite for nostalgia of distant times and places, where cycling was more common than today.
2. Safety is cool. The general fear of cycling is being addressed with bits of equipment that coalesce safety and fashion. The helmet being the most obnovious of them all.
3. Because irony. A more recent approach, perhaps in the light of the hipster movement. Cycling is not only an anti-establishment, a Critical Mass thing, but sometimes it can be auto-ironic, which I think it is less frequent in the case with drivers. Postcards, spoke cards, stickers or posters with self-irony by cyclists to cyclists.
[Safety is cool] Let’s start with the poster. Three men and a women, obviously the latter being the only urbanite in the set. She’s young, black, cool and has a colourful helmet, reminding us all the time that her safety comes first. She looks back from her hybrid bike simply to smile and to lure you into riding your bike in London as well.
[Velo-nostalgie] Brooks is renowned for creating leather saddles for bicycles that they manufacture at their local factory in Birmingham. In a world of plastic and carbon saddles, Brooks position themselves as some sort of ‘old school’ manufacturers.
[Velo-nostalgie] Ana Nichola, former professional rider and national champion, launched a line of clothes and accesories for women. A bit too cheesy for my taste, but surely different from any lycra at the show.
[Safety is cool] Hi-viz clothes are hotly debated for depicting cycling as a dangerous activity. This company called High Visibility made a word play on ‘police-polite’. The girl at the stand told me that drivers sometimes think indeed that you might be a policeman on a bike.
[Because irony] These postcards have been created by a lady that has an online shop, Love Yellow. She told me she grew up in a family where her father was a professional racer. So, there she is, making fun of the bicycle culture that she’s proudly part of.
[Safety is cool] Wearing a helmet is not something children necessary want to do. So a company thought to make them more appealing for the little ones, by designing some textile cover that function as a toy once detached from the helmet. Check their website HappyHeadBangersClub.com for more.
[Because irony] Your name is Jon but every child calls you Jon Chickens because you ‘have chickens at work’. So you hand build steel bicycle frames with that name: Chickens Frame Emporium. I sense some irony here, just have a look at the rubber chicken on the photo. Plus, Jon has beard and drinks some beer like any regular ‘Portlander’. His bikes are nevertheless awesome, always admired the craftsmanship of people buinding frames by themselves. Of course we had a long discussion on consumerism, localism and planned obsolescence.
[Because irony] Another piece of irony coming from a company, Juice Lubes, producing chain lubes and other substances to get your bike fixed. They are packed like luxury goods. I got it straight away this one!
[Velo-nostalgie] Chapeau is a brand that has a hat for a logo and is producing ‘a fine range of skin care and clothing for discerning road cyclists’. Same as the previous, plus some clothing with ‘French’ names (Burgundy, Mistral).
[Velo-nostalgie] A bicycle frame painted with some idyllic villages in pastel colours. The artwork is done by an Italian, Zullo Tiziano.
I’m interested how each of the three discourses will evolve and what will be the impact that each will have on cycling as a daily activity.
What’s your take on this?
The fat bikes in the first photo were my favorite at the show!