Giant Wheels: The Cartoonification of Cycling

If you're a cyclist, chances are you have emotional reactions to certain bicycles. In my case, some bikes such as lavishly-appointed and colorway-coordinated fixed-gears tend to make me angry. Others, such as tandems, make me cheerful. Still others, such as recumbents, make me feel frightened and confused. And I felt considerable confusion and not a little fear yesterday evening when I spied what was either a giant bicycle or a tiny rider making its way over the Manhattan Bridge:



At first, I thought I was finally having one of those acid flashbacks they used to to warn you about in grade school, and I worried that I might not have enough time to procure psychedelic essentials such as glow sticks and Magic Eye posters before my face started melting and I was no longer able to find my way home. So I put the metaphorical hammer down and headed over the bridge. However, as I approached the strange bicycle, I realized that I was not hallucinating and the bicycle was in fact some weird old-timey looking thing with 36 inch wheels. It was even stranger up close, and the rider looked like a cartoon character getting caught between two big rollers--I kept expecting her to get sucked through completely and pop out the other end like a sheet of newsprint. I quizzed the rider about her bike and she gamely answered my questions even though she was regarding me with the nonplussitude to which I am accustomed. Anyway, it turns out it's a Bologna, and you can see it here:



At this point, my confusion yielded to cheerfulness and I decided I liked this absurd contraption, even though it's missing a front fender. Sometimes it's fun when the world around you suddenly turns cartoony--not the sort of anime cartoony that fixed-gears evoke; rather, more like "Scooby Doo."

But different people get angry about different things, and the same people can get angry about different things in different circumstances. I'm sure under different conditions this pointless steampunk 36er might have enraged me instead of delighted me. Ultimately, this is why anger is sometimes comical. And when it comes to comical anger, nobody does it better than the fixed-gear scene. Ever since fixed-gear culture closed itself to new members, they've been a touchy bunch indeed, and the latest thing they're irritated by is this fixed-gear themed Dell computer:


If you read the comments to the post, you'll find that many fixed-gear enthusiasts are angry that Dell appears to have appropriated their "culture." Of course, this is ridiculous, since fixed-gear bicycles have been around much longer than the people who now claim them as their own. For that matter, so have Dell, who in my opinion are positively rife with street cred:


Remember that "Dell Dude?" Well, way back in augt three, when the fixed-gear fad was just a lime green glint in a few hipsters' eyes, the Dell Dude was already running afoul of the law:


Getting busted for buying the Wednesday weed on the Lower East Side is vastly more street-credulous than blowing a few lights on your IRO while wearing some sneakers that match your hat. So if Dell want to use fixed-gears to sell their laptops, I say they're entitled--between fixed-gear fashionistas and Dell the latter is certainly the "OG" in this scenario. Plus, when a scene places such importance on candy-colored bicycles that look like they should be hanging above baby cribs, how can you expect the larger "culture" not to pick up on the imagery? Like it or not, these goofy bikes are now just another meaningless element in the pop culture mobile that dangles above the drooling heads of the masses.

I only wish the Dell computer were actually a fixed-gear computer. I'm not sure what that would entail, but it would probably involve its not having a space bar or a delete key.

But while the fixed-gear scene doesn't like Dell crashing their party, they don't seem to have a problem with cultural plundering in general--just as long as it's cool. On the very same blog which jeered at the Dell computer was this post celebrating streetwear monger Mike Giant:


According to the Trackosaurus post, Mike Giant is somehow using his hand to "better the cycling community." I'm not sure how he's doing that, though from what I can tell it involves drawing the sorts of graphics Pushead drew better 20 years ago, putting them on clothing, and selling them under the brand name Rebel8. Personally, I'd be embarrassed to get a Major Taylor tattoo. People get tattoos of things because they identify with them and feel as though something is part of them, though the implication that a white graffiti artist born in 1971 can make what Major Taylor experienced part of him by sitting through a two-hour tattoo session is sort of like saying you understand the perils of deep sea fishing because you saw "The Perfect Storm." Sometimes getting a tattoo is less like making something part of you and more like dry-humping its leg.

In addition to dry-humping (or, if you prefer, pie-biting) Major Taylor's legacy in particular and cycling in general, Mike Giant also dry-humps Latino gang style:



Learning these fonts wasn’t something a white kid could do. “I remember being really jealous of the Mexican kids in my class that would get cholo fonts written out for them by older kids. They kept them hidden from me, mostly because I showed interest, and I was a pinche huero (fuckin’ whiteboy).”

...


His body keeps this link to his past alive as well, fully tattooed by some of the most formidable practitioners of the craft. “I can see now that I covered my arms with cholo-style tattoos to look intimidating to the kids that used to pick on me.”


This is like a gentile moving to a Jewish neighborhood in New York City, thinking Hebrew letters look cool, and getting a bunch of Yiddish phrases tattooed on himself. "Yo, can I sit in on your Talmud study group? I think the Mishnah would make some sick ink." I guess the goal of "artists" like Mike Giant and "streetwear" enthusiasts in general is to skim the visually pleasing surface of every subculture and either apply it to yourself or sell it to others if you've got the ability to reproduce it. That way you can reach the ultimate "hipster" goal, which is to be a living reference to every fad, fashion, trend, lifestyle, religion, subculture, and phenomenon that ever was or will be:



Of course, this is not to discredit people like Mike Giant. These "├╝ber hipsters" have a legitimate skill, which is to identify dangerous yet visually appealing subcultures, make forays into them, gather material, and then smooth and devenomize it for mass consumption. It's a skill that's in high demand--if we're going to have a constant flow of new trends, we need cultural snake handlers. It worked for tattoos: 20 years ago, a tattoo might keep you from getting a job; now, it might even help you. It's also working for bikes: all you need to do is roll around slowly and trackstand.

The only danger is that it can go too far. When you take away all the rough edges and over-polish something in the name of "art," you can eventually wind up with porn. And porn is ugly in its own way:



The above image was forwarded to me by a reader, and has been duly sepia-toned and censored. I was appalled by the turtle mistreatment, but you've got to admit it looks a lot like Larry King.

At any rate, for better or for worse (and probably for worse) between people like Mike Giant and companies like Dell a new generation of riders is coming of age who are obsessed with documenting themselves and their exploits, as you can see in this video, also forwarded by a reader:

Albion in the Gloaming from Albion in the Gloaming on Vimeo.



These riders call what they are doing "documentary bike-packing," which as far as I can tell is some form of hipster randonneuring in which you film yourself riding impractical bikes over long distances. It also involves pretending to fly:

This trip may very well be to cyclo-touring what hockey stops are to braking. Yes, it's an ugly scenario, and unfortunately cycling is the turtle.
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