What Is It With Bicycles?

I’m putting this question to myself because I often take a photo with a bicycle in it. Quite unintentionally I’m beginning to build a collection of images themed around the bicycle, although I don’t yet have enough for an exhibition.

I hasten to add: I’m not obsessed with pedal bikes. In fact, I’m not sure I entirely approve of them, especially when trying to cross the road in London.

Several times, a guy on a bike has come round the corner at breakneck speed, missed me narrowly, then shouted a string of abuse as he disappeared into the distance. Cyclists in London have killed pedestrians in this way, so it pays to be alert to the danger.

Previous Form
I’ve already written about using bicycles as a subject for street photography in an article called “The Charm of Pedal Power” (February 18, 2018).

Since then I’ve come across several more scenes in which a bicycle plays an important role, so I guess it’s time to revisit the subject. Consider this to be “The Charm of Pedal Power, Part II,” so please read the previous article to see my four original variations on the theme.

small girl riding behind her Dad, playing shadow puppets

A Personal Note
I suppose, like all photographers, I’m influenced by memories and feelings when I choose a subject for a picture. I think, maybe, I often take the bicycle as a subject because I have such happy memories of riding around the Suffolk countryside as a boy.

On my earliest trips I would be accompanied by my mother riding alongside. I was reminded of these trips when I took the shot (above) of a little girl in Bangkok playing shadow puppets on her dad’s back while riding pillion.

However, as I grew older, cycling became more of a chore than a pleasure. I was obliged to ride four miles to school every day, quite an arduous journey in bad weather, or when late. To speed up the trip I’d sometimes travel part-way by holding on to the shoulder of a friend who rode to school on a motorbike. My parents found out, so when I turned sixteen they allowed me to buy a motorbike of my own, considering it to be the less dangerous option. I ditched the pedal bike and haven’t ridden one since!

Ambivalent Feelings
As you’ll gather from what I’ve written above, my feelings towards bicycles are ambivalent, as in “love them/hate them.” Now, here is the crux of the matter: this is precisely the kind of attitude you need for creative work!

By taking pictures which feature bicycles I’m trying subconsciously to resolve my ambivalent feelings, sometimes making the subject look good whilst at other times allowing it show its ugliness.

The Ugly Side
Have you seen those reports of bicycle dumps in China? It’s really difficult to regard pedal bikes in exactly the same way after viewing them en masse, especially when they’ve been discarded. Suddenly they’re not fighting pollution. They ARE pollution!

I haven’t been to see the Chinese dumps, but most towns in England have a bicycle park near the railway station. These are repositories, not for discarded bikes but for working ones, and they still look pretty (as in “to a moderately high degree”) ugly. Here’s the one in Chelmsford:

The Charming Side
For me, bicycles are at their most charming when ridden by attractive women in shorts. However, having already illustrated that subject in Part I, I’ll close with an alternative.

With a little ingenuity you can turn a bicycle into an art gallery. I doubt if the example in my picture (below) belongs to any of the ladies sitting on the bench, but at least they’re being entertained by a bikeful of celebrity caricatures while eating lunch.

Becoming an art gallery seems to be an excellent application for a discarded bicycle. Now we need to think up a few more uses for all those bikes in China.

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