Mid-Life Cycling

Mid-Life Cycling

29 September 2016

Drawing Bicycles From Memory

In Bob Dylan's "Highlands", the narrator (presumably Dylan himself) wanders into a restaurant in Boston.  He is the only customer; the only other person there is the waitress.  

She says, "I know you're an artist, draw a picture of me."  

He responds:  "I would if I could, but I don't do sketches from memory."

Then she chides him, "I'm right here in front of you," but he continues to hedge.

Some would argue that all drawing (and writing and other creative and re-creative work) is done from memory.  After all, any thought, feeling or other experience becomes past--i.e., memory--the moment it happens.

I, too, have been asked to draw from memory and "in the moment".  I, too, find ways to hem, haw, hedge and politely decline.  Long ago, I realized that I am not that sort of artist:  When I displayed my sketches and paintings, I got a ticket for littering.

OK, so I made up that last story.  But, even with the meager talent I have for such things, I might have continued to paint and draw--from memory--had I known what has been confirmed in many studies:  Most people don't do any better than I did.  In fact, most do worse.

That point was illustrated (pardon the pun) once again when, a few years ago, an Italian designer Gianluca Gemini asked people to draw men's (diamond-frame) bikes from memory.  Most of their renditions bore, at best, only a passing (pun alert!) resemblance to anything anybody rode down the strada or through the piazza.  Recently, he decided to render some of those drawings into lifelike 3D pictures.

The participants in Gemini's study ranged in age from three to 88 and lived in seven different countries.  Across those generational and cultural divides, Gemini found some patterns, especially among genders.  For example, men tended to overcomplicate the frame when they realize they are not drawing it properly.

I want to meet the dude who came up with that.  What I find ironic is that for all of its sharp geometric lines--as if it were designed by Mondrian on crack cocaine--it actually looks good with "moustache" bars.  Also, the brown leather seat and handlebar tape lend it a certain elegance.

Speaking of elegant, here is a bike that reflects a female pattern

Interestingly, most of the front wheel-drive bikes (the ones with the chains and gears attached the front wheel) were drawn by women.  Gemini can't (or doesn't) offer an explanation.  

I very much like that bike--at least, its looks.  Had I more space and money, I'd have it made and use it for a wall hanging.  Heck, I might even ride it.  Put a Brooks brown saddle on it, and very few bikes would be lovelier.

Here's another bike from Gemini's study that caught my eye:

I mean, how can you not love a bike with track gearing, two fork assemblies, a wheelbase longer than the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge--and that yellow flag!

All right, I'll admit:  I really like the color:  a sort of periwinkle/lavender blue.  If you've been reading this blog, surely, you're not surprised.

Gemini's participants also came from a wide variety of occupations, including students and retirees.  Professional or employment status--or lack thereof--seemed to have little or no bearing on how realistic or whimisical participants' drawings came out.  The most "unintelligible" drawing, according to Gemini, was made by a doctor.  I wonder whether he or she is a surgeon!

28 September 2016

Mommy Dearest Rides A Bike

Last year, I wrote about someone who was a BMX rider before there was BMX--or, at least, before anyone coined the term "bicycle motocross".

The moves of this rider could put those of even some of the most accomplished BMXers, never mind hipsters on fixies, to shame.  And said rider made those spins, twirls and climbs with a grace unmatched by just about anyone else--decades before David Mirra or Ryan Nyquist were even born.

This rider's unique style was partly a result of her training.  All right, I let it slip that the rider was a woman.  Moreover, she was at least twice the age of most BMX riders when she made those moves.

Lily Yokoi's best-known (at least to mainstream American audiences) performances were on episodes of The Ed Sullivan Show and another variety show called The Hollywood PalaceThe latter, which aired on 9 October 1965, was hosted by none other than Joan Crawford.

It's easy to assume that show was as close as Ms. Crawford came to a bicycle--unless you've seen this:

Of course, it's easy to dismiss that photo as staged or retouched.  For one thing, it doesn't have a very natural look. (Then again, "natural" wasn't considered a virtue when that image was made.)  For another, the image appeared among other photos of major Hollywood stars on or with bicycles. Those luminaries include Bing Crosby (and his sons in their letter sweaters), Bob Hope, Ronald Reagan and Jane Wyman (they were married then), Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall. 

I am talking about the 1946 Schwinn catalogue.  Why was there such an emphasis on glamor ?  My guess is that in the first post-war year, people wanted to be dazzled after the austerity that resulted from the war and the Great Depression that preceded it.  The "lightweight" bikes of that year, such as the Continental, seemed to emphasis their "European-ness", which was equated with elegance and sophistication.  In contrast, the wide, swooping curves, wide tires, lush chrome and flashy paint of Schwinn's (and other American bike makers') 1950s cruisers seemed baroque.

But I digress.  Turns out, "Mommie Dearest" wasn't just posing for a one-off photo.  While there are no accounts of her doing audaxes or races, she apparently got around on her bike.  Whatever her riding style, hardly anybody looked better!

As I understand, she was not the only Hollywood actor or performer who was riding in those days.  Some rode just because they liked it; others pedaled off the stresses and frustrations of working, as Jimmy Stewart would after spending hours in a wheelchair, with a fake cast on his leg, for Alfred Hitchcock's thriller Rear Window.


27 September 2016

Grass On Top, Bicycles At Base: From The Vision Of Oculus

Here in New York, we (those of us who aren't architecture critics, anyway) learned of him from this:

Oculus lifts its wings just north of Liberty Tower, where the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center once stood.  It rises, like a cross between a ghost and a phoenix, above the transportation center that brings seven New York City subway lines, as well as the PATH system, together.

It lifts and spreads our vision over and across a plaza surrounded by tall glass and steel towers.  In a way, it's almost an inverse image of I.M. Pei's Pyramid in the Louvre courtyard, which directs our vision from a focal point above the ground and, like Oculus, spreads it, though toward the ground, in a milieu of cream-gray Oise stone walls.

Although I like Oculus, I think it's fair to criticize it for housing what is essentially a high-end shopping mall on the site of one of the worst tragedies in this country's history.  (Ironically, it sits in the same concrete bathtub as the 9/11 Memorial Museum, which is as muted and somber as the Oculus is light and airy.)  But I also feel that beauty, in any form, is a fitting way to honor victims of a horrific event.

Oculus' designer created another iconic transit hub twenty-six years ago.  In fact, it is now one of the busiest rail terminals in Europe.  But, in an ironic twist, this terminal, designed to facilitate the movement of people to, from and through a major city, has been plagued with congestion.  Now the architect who created the train station is going to add something to it that might help to alleviate that overcrowding, at least somewhat.

Santiago Calatrava, who hails from Spain but is now based in New York, has unveiled plans a grass-topped office block on the plaza of his Stadelhofen Station in Zurich, Switzerland.  His glass "twenty first century office building" will feature bulging walls with slanted angles at the corners that--to my eye, anyway--are somewhat evocative of the ribs that comprise Oculus.  There will be a triangle of grass on the roof.

But one of the most intriguing aspects of this planned building (and the reason why I'm writing about it on this blog!) is that the plan includes public parking for 1000 bicycles on the ground level.

With his plan, Calatrava becomes the latest in a growing number of architects to integrate cycling infrastructure into an otherwise commercial project.  If successful, it will have the benefit of making both cycling (particularly for transportation) and mass transit more convenient--or, to some, simply more palatable. Whatever you think of his designs, he ought to be commended for that.