Where to next for bike blogging?

I can’t help but see the urban cycling renaissance as fundamentally a product of social media, like the revolutions in Syria and Egypt. While authors of papers like this one and this one have given policy makers the empirical evidence to justify investment in segregated cycle tracks, it has been social media wizards like Mikael Colville-Andersen and Eben Weiss whetting our appetites for European infrastructure (in the case of the former) or for looking and feeling as though we’re au fait with every detail of cycling since PK Rippers, as Weiss makes us feel when we laugh with him at newbies. Just looking at cycle chic, it was such a conspicuous example of the power of facebook, twitter and blogging, that IBM used it as a case study.

cycle chic IBM

cycle chic IBM

At least 5 years has passed since Mr. Cycle Chic and Bike Snob were furiously blogging to establish their fame. Bike Snob is no longer updating daily. Perhaps he’ll return to his day job, rejecting bad books for a literary agency. While Mikael still blogs and keeps cycle chic primed with fresh photos of fresh Danish lassies on Omafietsen, we sense his main focus is his growing consultancy. You might think now would be the time for someone like me, who rode on each of their coat tails, to make a charge for either Mikael’s or Bike Snob’s position as a leading bike blogger.

I would, but the party is already over. I would be like Ukraine, who thinks Eurovision is still a song contest. All the great bike blogs of a few years ago are now just in maintenance mode. Their authors have brainstormed all the key concepts, settled on  all the best terms and are now becoming establishment figures, with no time to provide cheap entertainment to readers. In hindsight I could say that I too used blogging to win myself a career change, marrying my professional skills to my love of cycling. One irony is that now cycling is central to my day job and work interests, I can no longer write blog posts with quite the same irreverence that, for a while there, could bring my blog five or six hundred hits every day. The traffic has halved for me, and I’m sure it has for the better known bloggers as well.

Looking to the horizon, are there any shots in the arm that might keep the internet’s bicycle transport crowd blogging and tweeting? Will anything keep us enthused, when it will be increasingly easy to feel as David Hembrow must have felt when he wrote this?

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One thing to look forward to are changes in the medium (the internet) via which we have been communicating. We’ve been struggling like missionaries who don’t speak the language to explain to each other the dilemmas of bike infrastructure in our particular countries. All we have had to play with though, has been text and video. Within 5 years I hope a few of us will own VR machines such as this, and headsets like this. Then we will be able to fully immerse each other in real and imagined environments. One of my projects is an architectural simulation application of this technology. It is a waste just using bicycle VR for racing training. (Of course the only reason I know about cycling VR, is that I am a race nerd myself.)

Out of the pocket to pick an intermediate sprint win at yesterdays club races!

Out of the pocket to pick an intermediate sprint win at yesterdays club races!

Something else I believe we’ll be talking about when dutch bikes and bike share are tired, are bike friendly accreditation schemes, of various kinds. To be awarded platinum accreditation from BizCycle, and that way attract the best staff, Seattle businesses not only have to provide bike parking on their premises and be located near bike infrastructure, but must also become demonstrably active in bicycle advocacy. While I personally feel BizCycle overstates the importance of showers, and fails to differentiate between high and low quality bike infrastructure, they nevertheless are so close to perfecting their model that I would love to see it rolled out or copied. The only problem is, unlike some certification rackets, BizCycle does not make a profit. Still, there is an opportunity there for someone who can strike the right balance.

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While we wait for VR (or ignore VR) there will be a resurgence I think in good old face to face bicycle advocacy. One dividend of the social media revolution is it has improved the vocabularies of local bike advocates who 5 years ago would not have known names like John Forrester, or terms such as “barrier protected cycle track”. Most accepted the world as presented to them in their own little towns. The information revolution has equipped us all with constructs to speak to each other and city officials with a degree of intelligence.

But let’s not get too carried away with the lingo. I’m sure professional traffic engineers must cringe when I use jargon like “shared space” or “capacity”, not really knowing either term’s complete history or nuances. I laugh myself when bicycle advocates become overnight experts in “place making”, “urban design”, “permeability” and other core notions within my field of expertise. Outside our fields, we are still dilettantes.

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It is this realisation that is steering me back toward my field of expertise. Hopefully this explains the greater gap between blog posts these days. Moreover, I hope I have explained to myself that a halving in web traffic should not be taken to heart. Spare a thought for my Primrose who thought it would double, then double, and that we would soon be raking in advertising bucks. To fulfil that ambition she has had to start writing a blog of her own.

About Steven

I'm on a mission to put cycling on the agendas of architects, urban designers and fellow academics, who see the potential for bicycles to change cities and buildings. My PhD is in architectural history and my interdisciplinary research spans art theory, philosophy and cultural studies. I teach architectural history and theory and design studio at The University of Tasmania, Australia, and formerly worked as an architect designing large public housing projects in Singapore. My favourite bikes are a titanium racing bike I use for racing, a Velorbis retro commuter for riding to cafes and work, a single speed ultra light Brompton that I take with me when I travel on planes, a 29er hard tail mountain bike that I get lost on in remote places, an old track bike that scares me, a 1984 Colnago Super with all original campagnolo components that is plugged into a virtual realm that I train in, and a Dutch-made Bakfiets, that could easily replace half of the bikes I just mentioned.
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8 Responses to Where to next for bike blogging?

  1. Luke says:

    Being a little pessimistic and London centric, I do see a future for (probably subliminal) bike blogging.

    You see, we have a Prime Minister who cycles to work (or did before he moved in above the shop). We have a Mayor of London who still does. We have a mate of the Mayor of London who cycles and has been parachuted into Transport for London, specifically to deal with cycling. Most cycling advocates/bloggers now agree that it’s silly to tell people who aren’t particularly interested in cycling that “Cycling among lorries is fun when you get used to it.”

    What we do not have is any actual infrastructure, whether Dutch, Danish or otherwise. There is a role for someone to coax, bully, ridicule mock or maybe even ask nicely so that something actually happens.

    • Steven says:

      Thanks Luke, I think I do bullying, mockery and ridicule pretty well. I’ll keep that in mind, as something I’m able to offer. In all cases obliquely casting dispersions regarding the size of the offending man’s willy helps people see why certain leaders are defending motorised modes. Put another way, non cyclists watch porn, while cyclists are porn. I’m approaching the age Freud was when he began to see the world clearly.

  2. Luke says:

    On a lighter note, as a philosopher of cycling, you will no doubt appreciate a cycling philosopher – action packed cycling sequence starts around 1.45, but you probably do have to watch the beginning. The late great Bob Hargrave. Philosopher, sceptic, corrupter of youth (in the sense of making them awkward buggers). And unknown to me, at one point a keen cyclist (note the toe clips), and an attempted tellydon.

    • Steven says:

      Luke, I’m going to need a link to learn about Bob Hargrave. He’s like most of the world’s population to me: completely unknown.

    • Luke says:

      Not much is known about Bob Hargrave, or at least everyone who knew him had great gaps.

      He was a philosophy tutor at Oxford for the last 25 years or so (he taught me for a bit). I came across this recently quite by accident. It was apparently played at his funeral last year to the amazement of his friends who were unaware he had ever thought of doing a TV series.

      He was one of those academics who refuse to publish things. So while he was a cult figure to his students, his fame did not spread far. So sadly he probably can’t join your unofficial list of cyclists famous for something else.

      FWIW a link here http://bobhargrave.blogspot.co.uk/

      Best recollection :” Picking him up outside Balliol to find a passing tourist had dropped 50p into his lap while he sat on the kerb marking scripts. “You’d have thought she could have stretched to a quid.”

    • Steven says:

      I hope he’s not buried in Oxford. I can see what they would write on his tombstone: “Publish or Perish”.

  3. Brendan says:

    Even though it is much more low key and less self promoting, no cycling blog, including Copenhaganize, has had the worldwide effect, or will have as long term effect, as Hembrow – http://www.aviewfromthecyclepath.com His blog is only one providing the real detailed answers and extensive evidence of what is possible and how to get there.

    • Steven says:

      Actually, his blog highlights the positivistic epistemology that is holding bike transport back in any city that has invested in cars, including some Dutch ones.

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