Archive Post from June 9th, 2020
A 30 year old artist, Rene Magritte, created quite a stir by challenging perceptions of images with the above pictured painting of a Pipe, captioned in French below “This is not a pipe.” He explained, “it's just a representation, is it not? So, if I had written on my picture 'This is a pipe', I'd have been lying!" The painting is a metacommunication. It communicates a subtext of how the viewer interprets, specifically in this case, an image of a pipe. However, the concept applies to other symbols or representations, visual or otherwise, which we encounter in our daily lives.
Living in the San Francisco Bay Area one can get the impression that “Meta” was created here. Seemingly as the nutrient rich after-birth of every Silicon Valley product launch and Instagram meme. The term has become modernly ubiquitous through corporate and pop-culture conscription into commercial use. It has become “monetized” and devalued through overuse.
That is why I am encouraged when I encounter a Meta concept that is incorporated to give value back to our lives, even if it is delivered in a commercial context. Witness: Public Bike.
Artist: Rob Forbes
Model: i7 (7 speed internally geared hub)
Is your bike made by someone who’s given a TED Talk? I hope so.
Rob Forbes: Former ceramicist (he may be one but he was one, too); Internet furniture salesman (creator of Design Within Reach); Bicycle Salesman (creator of PUBLIC Bikes); TED Talk speaker.
“I started PUBLIC Bikes at a time in the world (2009) when we consume 15% more goods than we produce (or need). I asked myself: What could you sell that if you sold more, it would improve the quality of our lives? Bicycles are one solution. Getting people to reduce their dependency on private automobiles would do a lot for our environment and to improve connections with our communities.”
Ok, Forbes wants to make some money selling bikes. How and why he does it is a little bit different. He doesn’t come to the industry as a sporting enthusiast but as a designer. This may be the Digital Age but we live in the Analog World. “We are alerted to things physically” Forbes notes in his TED Talk. It is certainly no stretch of the imagination to say, how we experience something through our five senses affect us. Either as the direct user or as observers. The way something looks and functions communicates to us and affects us, even if we don’t necessarily know how or why. If done well, it can bring a secret smile to our faces.
The Grand Tours are still impressive feats of athleticism and the bikes and clothing are beautiful in fulfilling their purpose to the racers. But, think of how popular The Eroica events, randonneuring or Tweed Rides and their ilk have become. Why? They recall an aesthetic, an idea of how things were made, the materials with which they were made, the way people looked when using them. It is not simply nostalgia. They are distinctly different riding experiences that are all valid and enjoyable, or torturing, in their own way. Forbes gets this “design matters, the right chair can put a smile on anyone’s face”. He knows an Eames chair hits entirely different from an Aeron. Forbes applies that sensibility to bicycle design.
Public Bikes take their design cue from the bikes of Amsterdam. Simple clean lines make the bikes look as if they could have been made decades ago. Modern metallurgy improved the properties of the steel used so they are still sturdy but lighter, so portage up a flight of stairs or two isn’t out of the question. Gears can be had because life has hills. Rubber topped flat pedals are as suitable to Vans as they are Wandlers or the occasional bare foot. Dual pivot brakes stop you. Fenders help you navigate, literally or otherwise, that occasional rainy day. Our bike has a seductively curvy rack that invites you to bring stuff along. One of my favorite design aspects of a PUBLIC bike is the restraint in the use of logos, “urban spam”, the visual noise is muted. The riding position is heads up, “Hello”, I see you, I hope you say hi back.
PUBLICs are not race bikes. They are bikes to be ridden by anyone, to work, the store or a friend’s house. PUBLIC’s blog says they, (I assume the bikes and the company) “celebrate community, accessibility and inclusion…optimism”. I can’t help but agree. But that is the intrinsic quality of a bicycle.
Anywhere there are bikes being ridden, people feel better. There is less separation and more connection between people.
What we ride, how we ride, heck the mere fact that we ride, matters. To us and those around us. A bike may be a means to convey us from one place to another but, it can also be a flag that declares our tribe, our accessibility, our intent. During this trying time of our history, there is one clear fact we must make manifest, Black Lives Matter! There are many ways to achieve this. Many people are mobilized. Many are frozen by the enormity of the task. I don’t claim to have the answers to solve this complex societal problem. I do hope to conduct my life with purposeful acts and encourage you to do the same so that combined our acts move us all forward. I resolve to: See Something Say Something to stop injustice or to foster kindness, that’s a start. And if something so simple as riding a bike, in some small, way helps my community be a more welcoming place, I will do more of that, too.
How we move through this world conveys a message that may contain subtext. Right about now, Celebrating community, accessibility, inclusion and optimism sounds pretty good to me.