Cyclists’ unbalanced perspectives


From Left: Reyner Banham, architectural critic or crazy cyclist?; Lincoln Cathedral; your average bicycle shed.

Oh we cyclists are such a prickly bunch, aren’t we! The architectural critic and theorist Reyner Banham rode his bike everywhere, right the way across Arizona, if we are to believe the photo above. So when the architectural historian Nicolas Pevsner wrote—meaning no harm—that Lincoln Cathedral is "architecture", but a bicycle shed isn’t (and really, Pevsner was merely illustrating a point), Reyner Banham went frickin’ ape shit my loves:

This was not only a piece of academic snobbery that can only offend a committed cyclist like myself, but also revolves a supposition about sheds that is so sweeping as to be almost racist. How can he know that any particular bicycle shed, or even the whole typology of "bicycle shed" in general, was conceived without aesthetic intention?
                 — Reyner Banham, page 204 of this online book.

Reyner, I think we can know. Bicycles sheds, in your day at least, were absolute shite.

But can you see how this sacred cow of ours, cycling, can turn an otherwise incisive architectural critic, into an outraged defender of anything at all to do with his faith? Had Pevsner compared Lincoln Cathedral to chook sheds, or hay sheds, or anything other than bicycles sheds, we can be sure Banham would have let the remark go through to the keeper.

But we are like this, we cyclists. A funny ad by a motoring group, sees us putting the NRMA in league with dealers and pimps (just read the vitriol here). An embarrassing combination of adrenalin, fear, endorphins, sanctimony, testosterone, and moral indignation runs in our veins, dulling our judgement, as happened to poor Reyner Banham. The opportunity these days to twit, blog and you-tube, turns us into a mob, all competing to squawk louder than the rest in the twit feed. We’re like Banham unedited, less educated, and far far less relevant. And I’m not sure what we can do.

5 Comments

  1. Anonymous says:

    The Dutch would brush such ads off with a laugh – not just because they’re patently ridiculous in a country where the separate infrastructure makes slower cargo-riding convenient, safe and comfortable, but also because virtually every Dutch citizen is also a bike rider.

    You rarely hear of a touchy Dutch cyclist, because the mainstream everyday-ness of cycling in the Netherlands means they don’t even self-identify as “cyclists”. Much as a public transport user doesn’t self-identify as a train-rider.

    In Australia, the US or the UK – where bike riders are a minority treated as subordinate to cars at every turn, and where each rider could share countless anecdotes of aggression and recklessness from the cars they’re forced to share the road with – they do little but rub salt into a wound.

    • Steven says:

      thank your for that Dr. Beardfear, I have a week in Holland in May, then a week in Denmark in June, seeing each country by bike, and taking photos of bicycle buildings for my keenly anticipated book on the subject (never too early to plug). My only fear is I might not want to come home 🙁 And then what? Spend my life leading cycling tours, where no leaders are needed?
      If I may prevail upon you though, for one moment longer: can you offer any hope to the rest of us? I mean, 8 billion people would love to have the nonchalance of the Dutch, Germans, Japanese and the Danes, but we live in countries where cars have been given access to all of the road. And please, no more salt in our wounds 🙂

    • Anonymous says:

      Far be it from me to suggest that the sort of casual mundanity of separated space on Amsterdam’s main streets is more appealing for everyday urban cycling than the thrilling experience of being tailgated by a semi on Parramatta Road.

      For the small cluster that prefer the latter (and more power to them), the ubiquitous high-quality car network is all the infrastructure they’d ever need.

      Surely once our citizenry at large recognises the appeal of our current cycling environment – where one can ride on (nearly) any road than a car can – the mode share of cycling in NSW will explode beyond its long-stagnating <1% and the NSW Government will meet its very reasonable target of 5% of all trips by 2016!

      Anyway, while it’s nice sometimes to step outside the sit-up-cycling blog echo chamber for some fresh air, sadly I still haven’t found this world of rationality and balanced perspectives from other road users. Even more disappointed was I to discover that the angry motorists calling in to the Alan Jones Breakfast Show (and writing in to the Daily Telegraph’s letters section) didn’t even offer the oddly-poetic architect’s voice or the art movement critiques of our friend Banham.

    • Steven says:

      Sir, that was so wonderfully put/said/written… I’ve come over tongue tied in your shadow. I’m so glad I never heard the Alan Jones show. I would be terrified to know what goes through the minds of my tailgaters.
      Honesty time: I have, myself, forsaken the good fight. I do almost all of my riding on separated bike space, and carefully selected quiet/wide roads. I tell myself I’m snubbing cars and their roads.

    • Anonymous says:

      Thank you my dear. Luckily if you change your mind – perhaps you’ll find yourself stuck behind those newly-empowered novices clogging up the lanes – even nanny-state Holland and Clover’s Sydney haven’t yet robbed you of your “Right to the Road”.

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