On Friday night, I attended the Bicycle Film Festival in Milan. An international festival, it may be coming soon to a city near you. Occhio! If you like bicycles and bike culture, you will find it right up your alley. I heartily enjoyed the black hoodie sweatshirt and rolled pant scene, guys with scraggily beards and thick frame glasses, girls with beautiful fixed gear bikes and small-brim bike caps. Good movies, too. This was a crowd favorite: a group of Oakland kids waxing ridiculous about their tricked out “scraper bikes.”
Wendell Berry, one of my favorites, writes beautifully, thoughtfully, and passionately how we can improve the health of our families, communities, and the natural world all around us. Those who have read his essay “Why I Am Not Going To Buy A Computer” will agree that the bicycle fits many of the criteria he uses for technological innovation:
1. The new tool should be cheaper than the one it replaces.
2. It should be at least as small in scale as the one it replaces.
3. It should do work that is clearly and demonstrably better than the one it replaces.
4. It should use less energy than the one it replaces.
5. If possible, it should use some form of solar energy, such as that of the body.
6. It should be repairable by a person of ordinary intelligence, provided that he or she has the necessary tools.
7. It should be purchasable and repairable as near to home as possible.
8. It should come from a small, privately owned shop or store that will take it back for maintenance and repair.
9. It should not replace or disrupt anything good that already exists, and this includes family and community relationships.
I love bicycles. I love riding them, looking at and photographing them, reading, writing, and talking about them, extolling their numerous virtues. I am more and more convinced that the bicycle is one of the best technological advances we have made (the knife, the bowl, the pencil, the printing press, the camera, the surfboard, the ski, and musical instruments are also excellent, among others). As I've mentioned before, Italy, while not on par with Denmark or the Netherlands in bike culture, is definitely more bike-friendly than the United States. I am frequently impressed by the feats of balance (two people on the same bike is a common site), style, and function that Italians manage a bici. Riding in the rain? No problem. Here are some other photos I have taken over the past few months of le biciclete italiane.
For an interesting examination of the power and efficiency of bicycles, I recommend these excerpts from Ivan Illich, published in 1978 and even more salient today.
If you are looking for some inspiration on world traveling, or if you would like to read about an amazing adventure from your arm chair, I can recommend checking out Heinz Stücke, “the Bike Man.”
The parting words I leave to Queen.