Will This Tattoo Turn Me Into a Hipster?

I’ve been contemplating getting a new tattoo. And, as a life long cyclist and advocate for bicycling in general, I’d like the tattoo to have a bike theme. It is at this junction that I stumbled upon this image:
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Now it just so happens that I have a truly awesome cat. When I got him I never even imagined I could like an animal so much. He’s got personality, pazazz and charm. So it started to make more than a little sense that I should get a tattoo of my cat riding a Penny Farthing.

One problem: That tattoo would give me instant Hipster Cred. Now the bicycle in the tattoo would be a Penny Farthing and not a Fixie (the preferred bike of choice of the New Age Urban Bohemian) but I’m not keen on the idea of the label being given to me. The key to the problem is the idea that the tattoo would be perceived as “hipter-ish.” Why? The whole problem with hipsters is that here’s group of people trying to be unique to stay ahead of the cool/fashion/culture curve yet they all end up following trends and looking ironically alike despite carrying an attitude that suggests otherwise. A cat riding a Penny Farthing has the perception that I’m trying to be different when really it’s not that far from a tattoo of a dolphin smoking out of bong:
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One of the components of the hipster culture is the bicycle, Fixie or otherwise. What kind you get, how you choose to use it and any accoutrements you want to add to go with it (cat + Penny Farthing tattoo) remain unique to the individual even if that individual is being affected by the culture they are surrounded by. So, to hell with it, I don’t care what people think of that tattoo, I love it and maybe I’ll get it inked on as a Christmas present to myself. But I will say one last thing: the difference between me and a true hipster is that I know this tattoo will not make me cool or be in and of itself unique. It will just be a permanent image that reminds me of two of my favorite things.

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The bike week in review

Last week’s bike stories from Denver and beyond.

The Denver Bicycle Café is two years old! And they had a rocking party to celebrate last weekend!

SF Streetsblog has a good feature on the gentrification paradox, the phenomenon of residents opposing city improvement projects (like installing bike lanes, good sidewalks, and public transportation) out of fear that the rent in their neighborhoods will increase as a result. What do you think? Do Denver’s new bike lanes  pose a gentrification paradox?

Denver School of the Arts kids know that it’s important to keep your brain safe – they all wore helmets to school last week to support a classmate who suffered a head injury after a skateboard accident.

In Portland, every day is walk and bike to school day: Streetfilms reports that rates of kids walking to school in the Oregon city are up 25 percent since 2006.

Bike Rumor has an interview with a founder of the Fort Collins-based Boo Bikes, on his team’s approach to building bamboo bikes.

Tina Fey roasts angry NYC cyclists at the Natural History Museum gala:

Hey, bike people, what are you so angry about? Nobody made you ride a bike! Also, where are you going in such a hurry, that you’re going there on a bike? If you’re an emergency heart surgeon going to an emergency on your bike, don’t curse at me. Just yell, like, ‘Heart surgeon!’ and I’ll move.

The New York Times reports on the sixth cycling fatality in London in two weeks, and a proposal to ban large trucks during peak traffic times.

The Bike as a Symbol of Freedom – A short movie review

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The Saudi based movie Wadjda stars a spirited young Saudi girl, Wadjda, whose dream is to one day own a bicycle. The only problem is that she lives in Saudi Arabia where women’s freedoms are severely limited. Frustrated by this and the lack of support from her female role models, she devises a plan to get the money to buy the bike.

This is the first movie both written and directed by a Saudi female and was the Saudis pick as their entry for the Best Foreign Language Film for the Academy Awards even though it was not widely shown in Saudi Arabia. But it’s easy to see why; the story is simple but universal, has a terrific arc and the lead actress plays her part with confidence, humor, grace and stunning maturity. But all that aside, lets focus on the bike.

Almost all kids all over the world would love to own and ride a bike. This is particularly true for Wadjda because in her country culture dictates a woman’s ability to move around freely and, more matter-of-factly, to move herself long distances via bike or car is practically impossible. And so, for Wadjda, who sees herself in her society as more of an “equal” to men, the bicycle is a symbol of gaining that equality.

But, truly and simply, Wadjda wants a bike so she can race her best friend, a neighborhood boy. It looks fun to her. She wants to keep up with the boys. In a very telling scene, Wadjda, after having her best friend temporarily steal her shaw, watches as he joins a group of his bicycle riding male friends who pedal away to their next adventure. There is a longing in that look she gives and it’s an understanding that a bicycle not only can take you places but it can inspire you with an almost endless supply of choices, i.e. the medium is the message, the bicycle is freedom, the bicycle is how Wadjda can empower herself and gain control over her life.

Debate Time! Are electric bikes the solution to city commuting?

Response 1: Yes, they most certainly are!

Electric bikes are on the Internet’s Mind this week — everyone from tech bloggers to the Huffington Post is nerding out about a new-ish prototype from FlyKly, a company that launched a Kickstarter in October for an electric rear wheel which could make it easier and cheaper to Get Places Fast on your bicycle.

The best thing about this invention is that it could democratize cycling in cities like Denver, where commuters travel further distances to get to work than they might in tightly packed megalopoles  like New York and San Francisco.

If the Downtown Denver Partnership’s 2012 Commuter Report is to be trusted, most people living and working in Denver have a 14-mile commute one-way. 28 miles is a long way to bike every day, especially if you’re not a spritely young thing (the same Downtown Denver Partnership report says that people over 30 are significantly less likely to walk or bike to work than their younger counterparts).

Which brings us back to the democratizing idea behind electric bikes. Hopefully this fancy new tool will encourage those commuters who have longer rides to swap out their prohibitively expensive, dangerous, and decidedly silly car for a new-fashioned bicycle with an electric rear wheel.

In doing so, they’ll find that they can go further and be more comfortable on a bike than ever before. And we all love the idea of getting more people on bikes – healthier habits lead to healthier citizens lead to less anomie and more cooperation leads to safer roads lead to more fun for all!!

Response 2: No, they most certainly are not!

Fixing our commuting woes is not as easy as finding a well-marketed electric wheel, idiots. To solve this one, we need look no further than the history of trying to solve social problems through fancy weirdo and/or technocratic solutions that don’t really get to the bottom of the original contradiction at stake.

Like when Brazilian modernists decided to engineer a capital city – Brasilia – in the middle of nowhere – and then it didn’t really turn out how they had planned and also no one really wanted to live there because it was a boring shithole.

The point here, which I’m getting to, is that urban cycling and commuting are plagued by social problems that go beyond the fact that many of us are quite lazy people who don’t want to get all sweaty on our 5-10 mile commute.

Anecdotal testimony from friends and family and acquaintances plus articles I read on the internet demonstrate that a lot of people are actually pretty scared of cycling in American cities. And with good reason.

Writer Daniel Duane confesses in a recent NYTimes opinion article about cycling accidents that “Everybody who knows me knows that I love cycling and that I’m also completely freaked out by it.”

And early last month, Tim Blumenthal, president of PeopleForBikes, posted a somber piece after the death of cyclocross racer Amy Dombroski, who was killed in an Oct. 2013 collision with a truck.

Blumenthal’s analysis was pragmatic: everyone is at fault for the abysmal safety conditions on American roads. Motorists are often dismissive and aggressive toward cyclists, who in turn refuse to follow basic traffic rules designed with everyone’s safety in mind.

America’s problem with bike safety isn’t going to wither away if we get more people on bikes. In fact, since electric bikes can easily bring cyclists to speeds that are harder to achieve on an old-timey non-electric bike (up to 20 mph), they could end up causing more accidents if we don’t change the way we think about commuting.

As John Whitelegg has argued in The Guardian, “Bike use goes up as a result of efforts to make streets safe and connect origins and destinations, and this involves urban design, measures to reduce the speed and volume of traffic and measures to make public transport bike-friendly.”

Let’s take the time to make biking in Denver safe, cooperative, and realistic for the mainstream before we go electric.  

Top Ten Reasons Why Biking in Denver is the Shizzle

1. Cherry Creek and South Platte Trails: Seriously, a bazillion miles of In-City biking without having to deal with car traffic is beyond rad.

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2. Sunny Old Sun: Yeah, the 300 days of sunshine a year thing is a bit of a myth, but Denver does have a mild climate and, yes, the sun always seems to be out which means clear roads, happy moods and miles to ride before we sleep.

3. You want flat, you get flat: For the uninitiated, Denver is not a mountain town, it’s a prairie land sorta place. So make like a high plains drifter and hop on your bike horse; The pedalin’ is easy and so is the livin’.

4. You want mountains, you get mountains (you sick bastard): You want to ride your bike uphill for two straight hours? Just look to the west young wo(man); there are some choice road and mountain climbs that will leave you breathless and make your legs tingly and numb.

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5. Tour de Fat: Sure it’s only once a year but how many times do you get to bike next to two guys dressed like Oompa Loompas riding a tandem, then get to walk around bare foot in the grass drinking great beer, listening to hippie indie music while watching circus performers? Yeah, this is it.

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6. Denver is the new Portland (only better): More bike lanes are coming, more people are riding, more bike shops are opening, and more 20-something poor mid-westerners are flocking here without cars itching to throw a leg over a bicycle saddle.

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7. The Start of the Bike Revolution: Denver’s bicycling heart is beginning to beat loudly and the rough and tumble early days are being replaced by the raw, exciting Movement, when eyes are being opened  and pedals are being pushed with child-like abandonment.

8. B-cyles be bitchin’: First large-scyle municipal bike sharing system in the United States. Check. Over 100,000 users since March of this year. Yeah, dig it.

9. Spice of Life: Denver doesn’t discriminate; This is the place where matching spandex clad roadies, full suspension riding mountaineers, skate park and dirt jumpin’ BMX slashers, mustachioed fixie hipsters, and suit and tie commuters all share the same road.

10. Opportunity Abounds: Volunteer at the Pro Cycling Challenge, take part in Viva Streets, join up with a bike non-profit, jump in an Alley-Cat race, ride in the Denver Century or the Triple By-Pass, take a mechanics class at the Bike Depot. Do it, do it now!