The men and women at the vanguard of this great cultural shift, represent a true league of gentlemen. Take Brent Norseman here in Chicago. He heads up Norseman Architects, who ply an inimical Teutonic Venturian zinc and red brick style that at once obviates and affirms the doctrine of framing the street—ride by 2136-2150 W. North Ave. Chicago, and you will see a fine example of the kind of work to which I refer. But he is also the US distributer of Velorbis bicycles, just like my own proud steed waiting with the rest of my stable back home in Australia (guys, wait until you see the Brompton I’ve bought for you all to tease). He has this store front downstairs from his office. I’ve known about Brent for some time, what, given my habit of googling “architecture bicycle” on a regular basis.
From left: Penny babe’s house; Hypster Phil’s bike (note where the paint has been worn off the top tube); Hypster Phil.
I came to Chicago to visit and photograph the McDonald Bicycle Centre. I could not have hoped for my own personal bike tour, a day long loan of Brent’s own Velorbis, that is just like my own, and special mates rates on a Bern helmet. The tour took in the Wicker Park area, Penny Pritzker’s new house (sorry Pen honey, we’ll stay and chat next time), then the on-road bike jive back to the lake. By the time we had finished talking I really felt as though I knew something of this city’s gig. The state of play is eerily like that in my own city, only Chicago is my city tens times over, and flat. Within ten years I predict this flat city will demonstrate the true meaning of people power—pun intended.
So why does a busy architect give me half a day, the loan of a nice bike and a cheap helmet? Sure, I came a long way and emailed way in advance. Sure, I’m writing a book and will give his firm the cover shot and will make sure he gets to design the next Guggenheim bike station. But really, what is the motive? My hunch is this: any of us who like to ride, seems tireless in making riding conditions better for our kids and their kids. I know that sounds syrupy. And I don’t necessarily mean we’re all going to be involved in some kind of lobbying. For most, it will just be a matter of riding and asserting our place in the mix. But for any of us with professional skills—and I’m meeting estate agents, bike makers, shop keepers, planners, architects, web designers, film makers, and of course lots of architects—it’s hard not putting our hand to the wheel. Now that I have, I’m surprised by this new sense of purpose.
Just before you view my clip, I need to let you know that Phil, who manages The Copenhagen Cyclery in Chicago, cannot be a “hipster” despite riding an old fixie and having ironic tattoos. That is because he actually is a seasoned road and track racer, like ourselves gents. Hipsters have never done either. So sorry there Phil. You know we Aussies never quite say what we mean, mean what we say, or know what mean, or mean to be mean.