Combining form and function: bike racks as art
A big reason I love bicycling is because it brings more beauty and creativity to my life. When I explore on my bike, I get to see beautiful sights like wildflowers popping above treeline and lilacs blooming in secret backyard nooks. When I ride, my mind expands and I can think creatively about problems that seemed to have no easy solution back at my desk.
Whether it’s what bicycling lets you see, how it makes you feel, or the physical experience of bicycling itself—it has more beauty and creativity than any other mode of transport I use. You can’t easily find a car with the craftsmanship and eye-popping colors of a handbuilt bicycle. And that adorable and fashionable outfit you pulled together? Invisible inside your car, yet on display when you ride your bike. Bicycling brings more beauty to the world, superficial or deep.
One great example of how bicycling can take something ordinary and add beauty and creativity is parking. Yes, parking. Bicycle racks built by artists are the hottest addition to sidewalks nationwide. I just found out that in my hometown of Erie, Pennsylvania, the local art museum held a competition where artists submitted designs for 40 bike racks to be installed throughout the community.
Today, the first racks were unveiled. Designed and constructed by artist/blacksmith Greg Gehner, Transition isn’t just a place to park your bike—it’s public art. The green and blue forms remind me of leaves in a garden or the sailboats out on Erie’s bay. They also look like they’d perform well as racks; they’re sturdy with no sharp parts to scratch your frame and plenty of room for locking up. After growing up with public art like fish and frogs, it's so encouraging to see bicycle racks as Erie's newest public art series. Despite its cold winters, Erie is primed to be a great community for bicycling, with its flat terrain and development bounded on one side by water.
Other cities are installing artistic bike racks too. In New York City, musician David Byrne designed and installed nine funky racks in the forms of objects like high heels and coffee cups. Omaha, Nebraska has a series of bike rack sculptures, some built out of old bicycle wheels. This slideshow of 25 “awesome and unusual” bike racks has some crazy examples from across the U.S.: a horse, a moose, even a giant squid.
I love how these racks bring beauty to something otherwise unimpressive, the boring steel U of your typical bike rack. I bet they benefit the businesses they neighbor too, especially if they reference the goods sold inside like this coffee shop or this doctor’s office.
When we’re talking about the advantages of bicycling, the health, environmental, and economical benefits take a lot of the credit. But let’s not forget about the less tangible ways bicycling improves our lives. It’s simply a beautiful way of moving.
Photos of the Erie bike racks courtesy of Justin Smith, BicycleErie.org.
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