April 24th, 2011

The technoascetic velomobilist, iPhone equipped

Help me here gentlemen, I have an opportunity to speak with the team behind the Copenhagen Wheel when I go to Boston next month, but I'm not sure I'm convinced of the Copenhagen Wheel's merits. The cyclist in me says, "no way am I going to use an iPhone to control my speed, or choose routes with clean air, or any such nonsense." And I can't see regenerative braking working for cyclists, unless they're heading down mountains. But the architect dreamer in me, wants to explore the potential.

You see, the city has become an article of faith among architects, the way the body was in the Renaissance, or the primitive hut was to Laugier. So for decades architects have been seeing buildings as microcosmic versions of their urban contexts. The prospect of using augmented reality (AR), and these prostheses, bicycles, to invert that equation and turn the city into a building of sorts, is electric my friends.

I want to ride in a toga, like Caine on Kung Fu, with no worldly possessions spare my fixie and an iPhone mounted on the handlebars, where lesser mortals might mount their brakes. I want to make the whole city my office. I'll check into hotels when I'm ready for bed. We'll all live this way. We'll just drift from city to city. We'll wander the globe.

Many cyclists reading will be lost about now. Architects though, will see where I'm coming from. But dreamers don't understand cycling, and cyclists don't understand dreamers. Perhaps the world needs a new Steven Roberts, the guy who crisscrossed the US on a 125kg recumbent equipped so he could type computer reviews as he rode, using four keys beneath each of his hand grips. Well today he could achieve as much in his work day on a 6kg fixie, with a voice recognition app on his iPhone. Better still, he (or myself... because he might be over it) could crisscross countries in a three wheel canoe. I figure if I vent my insanity here, I won't need to act out. 

This week on the cool hunting blogs

There was a time when I too, thought about squandering my vast inherited wealth on a New York address, so I could call myself a "New York based" architectural firm. I would have employed my classmates at Columbia, New School, Cooper Union or Pratt, to produce images of things that looked like real commissions, in the hope someone somewhere someday might come along with some money to hire me. As a business strategy, investing daddy's to become an artist darlinsk, has been shown again and again to be doomed. But never mind. Let us lend a brief nod to this image of a bike parking thingy, doing the rounds this week on the blogs. It is the bike hanger, by these crazy cats.

Why not call them and ask for a price! Say you don't want it for bike parking though, but as a carnival ride for an all-bike themed amusement park you are building. I'm so sorry for seeming so catty. It is just, I have had a little to do with these so-called New York based architectural firms in the past. If someone can tell me these guys have real jobs to pay their rent, and are Manifesto Architecture after hours, I'll issue a public apology.

The Future

Mind if I share my glum mood? We drove to the in-laws' for Easter lunch. An unnatural distance. It should be a day's walk, but thousands commute that way every morning. I give them 5 years before oil prices triple—you go for it China!—and they're all defaulting on loans. The pattern for the next hundred years will be fuel prices rising, commuters defaulting on home loans, economies crashing, fuel prices rising, commuters... around and around. Everything you thought you knew about property prices and stocks doubling each decade, forget it: the world will be in decline. Bicycles aren't part of some utopia dream. They'll be about as chic soon as eating cockroaches, or whatever else we're reduced to, as fossil fuels and uranium all come to an end, and whatever solar plants we're building now have gone rusty. 
Left: Dr Behooving looks into his crystal ball, and sees the next generation. Right: bicycles trailers at the end of the world.

Alright, I'm crystal ball gazing, which is as idiotic as these photos Za Bear and me took at his Nanny's place after lunch. And it isn't quite time to start stockpiling water and tinned food, or reading Cormac McCarthy for instructions on what to do next. But there is a grim backdrop to my interest in cycling. We can paint it as eco, or healthy, fun or whatever, but the reality is that it will soon not be a matter of choice but necessity, for growing sectors of our society. It is the people living farthest from where they work, who will be forced onto their bikes sooner than those of us living in town. And they will be cycling 40, 50, 60km per day. As I look into my crystal ball, I see hard times ahead for Za Bear, but moreover, for me, as all those cycling commuters join bike racing clubs, and make me look slow.