Critical Mass and a tall tall bike…

August 4, 2009 at 1:32 pm Leave a comment

My project for July was simple: after being secretly inspired by the tall-bike jousters in Amsterdam, I had made it my mission to find myself a tall-bike, and ride it in the July Critical Mass.

old bean...

old bean...

As is sometimes the case, when you really want something to happen, the world seems to organise things in your favour, and on the day after returning from Amsterdam, my colleague in Ghent mentioned off-hand that he had a tall-bike rusting in his backyard, ready for scrap. I took it. Two bikes welded together, one on top of the other, with a third wheel popping out the back for fun – the seat was a good 2 metres from the ground – the bike was an impressive site. Much to the confusion of the train conductors and metro passengers alike, I managed to transport the rusty beast back to Brussels on public transport, and began what turned out to be a rather simple restoration project.

Replacing the broken back wheel with a reinforced one, removing the rust from an otherwise solid frame, applying a few coats of thick deep blue paint (with a spot of glitter), tightening a few spokes here and there, splattering on some oil, and embellishing with a shiny new horn, and the bike was ready within two weeks – I began my crash course in riding the thing.

I was prepared for the difficulty of riding the bike, but totally unprepared for the reactions it would elicit from people on the streets. The majority were literally amazed. People from every social stratum would stop, no matter what the time, or where I happened to be riding, and talk to me. Car drivers would slow down, some even stop in the middle of the street, and take pictures, or chat. Children would howl with laughter; the rudest of rudeboys would slow down, turn down their music and pay their respects to the tall-bike; huge SUVs would wind down their blackened windows and the people from within would smile and wave. I was as amazed as them…this was exactly what I’d been trying to do for years, and all it took was a little bit of calculated eccentricity: the tall-bike was the perfect tool, in Brussels at least, for snapping people out of their normal car-centric attitude and engaging them in dialogue about the benefits of cycling; many people asked: ‘what’s the point?’, and this was exactly my answer. In a small way it hopefully made them recognise the potential for shared streets, and by joining the Critical Mass I hope it will make drivers realise that the tall-bike is essentially just a bike, and that you can have just as much fun on a short-one…
SF

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