A vision for the future?

I recently received a membership solicitation from the Boston Cyclists’ Union — the new kid on the block in Boston Area bicycling advocacy. The image of a family happily enjoying travel by bicycle is printed on the envelope:

Here’s the image. How, uh — sweet.

Boston cyclist Union picture of happy family.

Boston cyclist Union picture of happy family.

The child is in a front-mounted child carrier, which I find distressing in itself. it can impair pedaling and steering, and if the bicycle has a head-on collision or something stops the front wheel, the kid can vault over the wheel and go down headfirst. I know that this kind of child seat sees some use in Europe, but on the other hand, the more modern and safer approach is to use a cargo bicycle or tricycle (“bakfiets”) with the child in a low compartment ahead of the adult rider — or a bicycle trailer. Even a rear-mounted child seat is less risky, despite the instability it causes.

Well, yes, they are all wearing helmets — though both Mom’s and Dad’s are tilted back on their heads like sunbonnets.

But also, Mom is riding on the bicycle’s rear rack. Consider the effect on stability, or her getting a foot into the spokes of the rear wheel. For good reason, it’s illegal to ride on the rear rack. This is from Massachusetts General Laws, Chapter 11, Section 11B, the bicycle section, and is typical of law all around the USA:

(2)(i) The operator shall ride only upon or astride a permanent and regular seat attached to the bicycle; a passenger shall ride only upon or astride a permanent and regular seat attached to the bicycle or to a trailer towed by the bicycle.

Why doesn’t Mom for crying out loud have her own bicycle? Or maybe they could get a tandem?

Why does Boston Cyclists’ Union try to recruit members by showing anything so stupid, hazardous, and illegal?

I could comment on the quality of the artwork as well, but I’ll demur on that.

This letter is one for the circular file.

27 responses to “A vision for the future?

  1. Pingback: Street Smarts » Blog Archive » I got a letter in the mail…

  2. My question would be “who is the Boston Cyclist’s Union” and who is on their leadership team. My sense is that it is not a Serious Cycling Organization of Grumpy Old White Men (the organization to which I belong) but perhaps one of these “cycling for the mainstream masses from 8 to 80” groups.

  3. The father looks like he is wearing boots which impede proper cycling, mom has her purse out and can be easily grabbed by a purse snatcher, it looks like they all have their eyes closed which just isn’t safe, the wheels appear to not have spokes, the front wheel looks very unstable and has a bulge ready to pop, dad appears to be riding with only one hand on the handlebar, the drive chain looks way too small for a bike this size, the weight capacity of the rear carrier looks like it’s being exceeded significantly, dad looks like he’s wearing cords while mom is in a short skirt – makes no sense, and the little boy is shoe-less, and they’re all wearing 1990 spring colors which is so gauche! Even worse mom’s bangs are irregular and she should have put her hair in a pony tail. A little concerned with the boy’s skin tone and what may appear to be a vitamin deficiency indicating improper nutrition. Terrible, just terrible.

  4. Lighten up. It’s just an illustration on an envelope. This super negative attitude is why you can’t get anything done in Boston.

    • As the saying goes, put your best foot forward. First impressions count. I’d also say, avoid putting it in your mouth. As with this picture. What should I be getting done? (Repeat usual lies about Allen preventing Boston from getting anything done).

      • I’d say you’ve made a pretty terrible 1st impression on me. But good luck with your critiquing of children’s artwork!

  5. Oh, well, yes: the right crank is about 15 inches long (but it won’t hit the ground because the bottom bracket is about 15 inches off the ground). Also, the left pedal will slam into Mom’s legs as soon as Dad starts pedaling.

  6. What Joe said. This is really trivial. Why not blog about something significant, like the fact that Felix Arroyo – a cycling ally – is running for mayor?

  7. I never realized how terrible my drawings were…
    I am currently working on a piece for BCU right now involving alligators and unicorns on bikes (advertising a children’s group bike ride).

    I hadn’t considered all it’s varying inadequacies. I’ll definitely keep it in mind going forward. I should probably nix the drawing I am working on now for this kid’s ride; I wouldn’t want anyone to get confused.

    I sincerely hope my drawings didn’t lead anyway to ride irresponsibly!

  8. You might want to follow your own advice. You’ve planted your foot firmly in your mouth. If you had looked past the illustration. (Which is cute, and eye catching, and not meant as a technical diagram. It’s called artistic license… Look it up….) and actually opened the envelope, you would realize you are the one missing out on not being a member of the cyclist union. Aside from being the most visible and active cycling advocacy group in town (you can thank them for bike lanes and legislation for cyclists) they throw great parties with free beer, and regularly hand out free breakfast for people biking to work. Get hip. And choose your battles more wisely.

  9. Perhaps all the criticism is why ALL of those pictured have their eyes shut!

  10. Truly entertaining, John. Thank you for the chuckle. You should write for The Onion! And a nod of the head to this comment thread, too!

  11. The roll of an illustration is to communicate an idea > that idea here is that a family is collectively biking rather that other forms of transportation. The artist is using a stylized approach that is intentionally niave. I doubt that she is advocating that three people all ride a single wonky bike with a child on the front. You people are bananas.

  12. Oh John, your level of crankiness has reached a new level. I’ve followed your writing over the last 25+ years, and it just continues the downward spiral. And apparently the art community disagrees with your critique of the Artist, Ms. Sarah Gay, as her most recent piece in the MassArt auction received the Makers Mark distinction. She is also an avid cyclist and part of the vibrant Boston cycling community, something of which you are hopelessly unaware.

  13. I agree with the comments about how the cyclists in the image are riding their bike. However, as someone who has actually made some money as an artist, I am a little frustrated with the snide remarks concerning the artwork itself. Naïve art is now a fully recognized art genre, represented in galleries worldwide. There are even academies of naïve art. I realize that such work is often ridiculed as being childish, but it is not meant to be realistic: rather it is a style meant to evoke certain feelings. Many of the people who produce such art, like Edvard Munch, have received formal training, though in the past, most, like Vincent van Gogh, L.S. Lowry or Alfred Wallis, did not. Often untrained naive artists were/are working class people unable to afford to be trained, so they express themselves without training in perspective, geometry, scale or distance.

    These days, artists who hope to make any money from their work are taking a risk if they choose to produce naïve art, as, although it may reflect the artist’s vision and sensibilities, it is by no means popular. It is far easier and more commercial to produce art in a more realistic populist style. I learned very quickly that, to make money as an artist, kitsch is what sells. It’s similar, in some ways, to cycling advocacy – we have a choice: we can either hold to our principles and support road cycling, or we can give in to mass demand and support specialized bike facilities. The former is hard and unpopular, the latter is easy and popular – all one has to do in the latter case is sell one’s soul.

    Naïve artists have always been ridiculed by the majority as an ‘outgroup’. Cyclists – and especially vehicular cyclists – should be well able to identify with that.

  14. I see from the BCU web page that my inference about their mission was pretty close to spot on. As a form of political art, therefore, the painting works.

    Like John, I would be skeptical of throwing my hat in their ring as their emphasis on cycletracks and other segregated facilities as a way to “Copenhagenize” or “Amsterdamize” the USA (or in this case, Boston) is something I am skeptical of wholeheartedly supporting unless I see some designs and policies on paper. John, given he lives there, is in a better place to do that and I respect his judgement on such things even if we disagree with the philosophy of artwork. Given that I am about as artistically inclined as an ornery mule, I’ll defer passing judgement on other people’s art.

    Good start of a discussion about the BCU’s mission, though. That’s definitely fair game.

  15. I imagine someone like Dr. Seuss is endlessly frustrating to you.
    Well with The Cat in a Hat, Who’s (who are terrible disproportionate), the Utterly Sputter machine, etc, etc… Perhaps you’ve written posts about him further down in your blog. Unfortunately, I am too busy to take the time to look.

    For the record Mr. Allen, I can draw realistically, quite beautifully in fact. I choose to exaggerate my drawings because they’re lively and inventive. They are down-right delightful! I am told time and time again, especially by people with children, how much joy my art brings; because it’s creative and engaging. I can see that it’s worked here on your blog as well- it has engaged with all these people here ; even if it propelled them to share their knowledge of bicycle laws/ gravity/ geometry/ hair styles/ types of trousers…etc. I imagine if this envelope arrived crisp and white, no one would be having this conversation- where’s the fun in that? Especially if you’re a cycling advocate. Conversation is how things get done.

    Also I’ll end with this:

    “Art should comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable.”

    Mr. Allen, if my art disturbs you, I imagine you’re too comfortable and have too much time on your hands.

    • SGay, I apologize. The sweetness and humanity of your vision show in it. I’ve got flak about my art criticism from people who agree with me about bicycling issues. as well as others who disagree. It would have been up to BCU, not you, to ask for an illustration showing safe bicycling practices.

      I’m not too comfortable, thank you! Many of my positions about bicycling make my relationships with others in the bicycling community uncomfortable! And I have much more I would like to do in my life than I have time for!

      I wrote about the drawing because I would be — uncomfortable — with anyone’s taking it as an example when bicycling, and that sent me off beyond my area of expertise, into the art criticism. As the saying goes, there is no accounting for taste. Actually, I love Dr. Seuss’s work.

  16. From: http://bostoncyclistsunion.org/resources/bike_lanes_the_reasoning/
    “…For decades, AASHTO recommended against bike lanes, which stymied all manner of bike projects nationwide. …”

    Is that correct? I can’t find early AASHTO guides, but my understanding is they have been part of the MUTCD for decades; presumably MUTCD would not butt heads with AASHTO on this. Are we confusing bike lanes with road-parallel bike paths?

  17. Why are people assigning genders to these people? Why is the person steering automatically a “father” and the one riding on the rack a “mother”? Given the level of detail in the image, I wouldn’t assume much. The person on the back does seem to have purposely-drawn breast & hip bulges, so I’ll play along with that one.

    Why couldn’t it be a grandmother steering, daughter on the back, and granddaughter on the front?

    • Well, at least now we are deconstructing the picture rather than merely criticizing the art form.

      • Sure, grandmothers can steer bicycles, but the person steering this one has a moustache. Probably not a grandmother. Now you are the one criticizing the artist 🙂

    • ” Barbie dolls cannot ride a bike.” is in small print on a poster that Jay Leno showed on TV tonight. Turns out many young girls have been brought to tears to find out that a Barbie doll with fully articulated legs and a pink Beech Cruiser bike for $60.00 don’t actually ride well.

      Is it right that the poster singles out Barbie and implies Ken can ride?
      ( Even if Ken can ride fast, he cheats by duct tape-ing his feet to the pedals and his hands to the bars)

      This is an actual Amazon review:
      By J. Shelton on September 7, 2009
      There is absolutely no way that you can get the Barbie to stay on the bike for any length of time. The pedals fall of, Barbie falls off, her hands won’t stay on the handlebars. All it did was frustrate my daughter. At least some of the other Barbie sets come with a normal Barbie doll that you can play with if the accessories don’t work out. Not this one. The legs are made to be super floppy and flexible for riding the bike. She can’t even sit right. No fun… no fun at all.

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