Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Yellow Velo by Donovan - Fixed Gear and the landscape...

On your left is a pretty weak photograph of my one true love by my comrade, the hanging gardener of babylon. No, not Cornus alba 'Elegantissima'... the nimble-looking yellow velo perched on the wall of an expensive west London home (not my home, I hasten to add).

I've always enjoyed cycling but last year my flatmate introduced me to riding fixed gear. I had no idea of the broader cultural context back then- nor how "trendy" it had become (and how many people were starting to despise them!- have a look at latfh, but be warned: the funnier you find this, the more of a hipster you secretly are...).

At the end of the last academic the very same flatmate and I assembled a fixed gear bike of my own, using a Puch frame and forks acquired on ebay for a knock down price. Things haven't really been the same since.

All bikes grant the cyclist the freedom of the city: gliding through congested traffic, across an array of surfaces, on and off road, through traffic-control mechanisms... but none quite grant the same connectivity between surface-mechanism-user. The fixed gear means you never stop pedalling- every inch travelled is the result of an action on your part. This also means that you can pedal backwards (really hard).

For a landscape architect, there is an application of this mode of transport at the survey stage, particularly over a large area. The nature of locomotion on a fixed gear means the rider is even more aware of the surface material, gradient and topography than a conventional bike- especially as fixed wheels are usually thin-tyred racers with no suspension . There is no option to improve the gear ratio on a steep climbs- nor to gently freewheel downhill!

There is another note to this- most of us in the GD3FDLA3 studio are embarking on the first step towards professional recognition as landscape architects or garden designers. Though there is a broad range of ages, I would say that the we are all reasonably fit and active individuals. At the very least we are able bodied. It is hard to put oneself in the position of an old lady with a trolley, a wheel chair user or a young mother with a pram- all of whom have personal needs and requirements but similar responses mechanisms to the built environment.

Anyone who has ever had to drag a sack barrow or laden trolley over long, unnecessary distances will know how acutely aware one becomes of the ground beneath their feet- the change in texture or gradient, the challenge of kerbs. This is perhaps the best way to empathise with other site users- drag a shopping trolley around, or borrow someones pram (and baby) for the day. It's not as practical (nor as fun) as riding a bike around though, is it?

I think I'm trying to shoe-horn this most recent passion into one of my longer established ones (urban exploration and psychogeography)... but I had a bit of satori last night, hurtling over London Bridge, everything illuminated, a feeling of utter nothingness and wholeness simultaneously, the bike was part of me and I it, the road became the bike became me...

Probably had a lot to do with the 13 miles I had cycled at high speed on an empty stomach.
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