Bicycles

Authored by: Zack Furness

The Routledge Handbook of Mobilities

Print publication date:  December  2013
Online publication date:  January  2014

Print ISBN: 9780415667715
eBook ISBN: 9781315857572
Adobe ISBN: 9781317934134

10.4324/9781315857572.ch30

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Abstract

On February 23, 2006, employees at each of Brooklyn Industries’ four designer clothing stores in New York City arrived at work to find a message inscribed in etching fluid across their front display windows: “BIKE CULTURE NOT 4 SALE.” The juxtaposition of the drippy phrase with the “tall bikes” featured prominently in the display cases must have seemed quite odd, if not totally confusing, to people passing by. In the weeks before the New York City alternative weekly newspaper, Village Voice, widely publicized the incident (Tucker, 2006), bike enthusiasts and critics were already immersed in online forums debating how and why the store’s display of bicycles – handmade machines welded two-frames high, hence “tall” – sparked such a strong reaction. Suspicions were immediately cast on members of New York City’s various bicycle gangs: groups known for transforming junked bicycles and scavenged parts into hand-welded mobile masterpieces known variously as “mutant bikes” or “freak bikes.” People familiar with the inner workings of bike gangs like Chunk 666 or the Black Label Bicycle Club brought some interesting perspectives to bear on the Brooklyn Industries debacle. In particular, a handful of cyclists posting on blogs touched on the issue of cultural commodification, highlighting the manner in which Brooklyn Industries essentially co-opted an icon of anti-consumerism as a cheap marketing ploy (Seelie, 2006). Some commentators disagreed entirely and condemned the response as an act of subcultural elitism and misplaced aggression. Others were clearly just trying to get an answer to the question that non-bike-riders were undoubtedly asking themselves: just what the hell is bike cultureand what does it have to do with these weird-looking machines?

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