Where’s the Wheels?
I only attended Handmade Shows in San Jose and Portland; and then the first Manifest in Portland. So, like most of you, I’m experiencing subsequent Handmades through blogs and journalists. After reading reviews of the latest event in Richmond, some thoughts come to mind.
Designers and artists know about white space. The absence of color is just as important to the outcome as the marks you make. Some traditions, like Chinese landscape painting, are built around the careful management of emptiness. It takes enormous confidence to make best use of white space. Understatement, another form of white space, is a more demanding expression than over embellishment. The Handmade Show’s bicycles seem, for the most part, to be over decorated.
Intricacy is mesmerizing: ivory carving, Russian egg decoration, miniature jewelry… captivating. But for my taste, details can be over applied to a bicycle frame. Worst case, it’s an excuse for lack of confidence. Pile on the features and a frame’s value grows. Is there a limit, a reasonable balance of function, decoration, and simplicity? Builders like Masi and Colnago built their early careers on super simplified frame design. They certainly wouldn’t rate attention in today’s Handmade scene.
In light of the volume of frame embellishment, I’d like to see more wheel creativity. Where are the wheels? Those visible in show reports are too predictable. Congrats to the few wheel companies showing, but did they bring anything one-off for the Show? As for the framebuilders, what wheels equip their masterpieces? For the most part, we see:
(1) Shallow, virtually identical aluminum rims, either black or silver,
(2) Deep V rims in pastel colors, or
(3) Deep carbon rims, indistinguishable except for lettering.
Serotta Goes Native
Some eccentrics at Serotta painted a carbon frame to look like wood. For a pre-Show photo shoot they fitted a set of Ghisallo wood rims.
For the Show, however, wood was swapped out for a set of deep carbon rims. And Serotta wasn’t alone. ALL the wood frame makers displayed generic wheels. I not too sure about their grasp of this material.
And where were decorated spokes? Artistic lacing patterns? Colored nipples? Pin striped rims? One-off hubs? Wood rims? Nada. Yet wheel creativity is easy and accessible. Hubs are the simplest components to make and wheels easy to personalize. And don’t tell me a generator hub makes an artistic wheel. Clever, sure; but not artistic.
Nice Wheels on Display
Last weekend (Mar 13-14) provided a refreshing alternative: Seattle’s Bike Expo. Perhaps the nation’s largest consumer show, the 2010 edition featured a wonderful classic display dedicated to Jack Taylor bicycles. Ken Taylor was in attendance. There were 38 Taylor bicycles alone. What a vast and beautiful tradition those brothers created. Snappy, original features and graphics; thoroughly individual styling; decidedly non garish. There were also large numbers of other classics, from the early 19th century to the 1980’s. Thanks to Bob Freeman (Elliot Bay Cycles), Jeff Groman (Classic Cycles), and other local collectors.
Particularly striking for me were the wheels. Clever bicycles AND clever wheels. Elegant, narrow tubular rims; subtle pin stripes, wood, aluminum clad wood; dramatic high flange track hubs, painted hubs, Maxi-car, FB, Racelite, and early Phil hubs; a feast for wheel lovers. And the wheel representation was entirely unplanned. Wheels have always been a rich tradition, which has gone missing only in recent years.
Let’s hope more bike builders widen their aesthetics, adding wheel originality to their flair with fenders, racks, and saddles. I’d enjoy seeing more attention paid to the functional and aesthetic possibilities of bicycle wheels. How about you?