Premieres and the best bike films of recent years. In this section, we share a passion for cycling. Eight stories and two wheels.
BICYCLE MANIA IMPROVES THE WORLD
I jumped on a bike to ride around a bit, and to think of what I should write.
I thought, I would write about flying. Because when I ride, I feel like I am flying. And I am not the only one. Luise J. Halle, the author of “Spring in Washington,” the cult book in America, wrote, “When we ride a bike, we resemble the birds.” The creators of a breathtaking film “Life Cycles,” (showcased at Transatlantyk) probably think the same. Although they really do fly on their bikes. During the opening of the film they quote William Saroyan, “A bike is the most noble invention of mankind.” I fully agree. No other invention in such a simple and magical way brings us closer to nature. Two wheels powered by our muscles. And then we are flying.
Hope on a bike
Maybe a bicycle is not an invention but rather a work of art? Some say that it came to life in the XV century in Leonardo da Vinci’s atelier. Apparently, this is where the first draft - two wheels on a frame with a seat - came from. We know for sure that the first widely available bicycle was called “Rover”. It’s construction was not much different than the way today’s bikes are built and it was manufactured in 1895 by an English man named John Kemp Starley. Today, there are a bilion bicycles riding in the world, two times more than there are cars. We bike enthusiasts would love to have even more bicycles and fewer cars. Ivan Illich, an Austrian catholic priest and philosopher, who is also an insightful critic of the modern culture, wrote that a civilization based on car transportation not only condemns us to an ecological destruction, but also is antisocial and reinforces economic divisions. In our world, the space is designed for the cars and not for the people. A farmer in a Brazilian jungle, who now has a freeway built right before his nose, will not use it to get to work in the city, because he cannot afford a car. This argument may seem absurd but only to those with the Western perspective, where a car or more likely - cars are owned by every single family. But vast majority of people still mainly travel by foot. Illich saw in bicycles a chance for a real peaceful revolution. He wrote, “Participatory democracy needs a low-energy technology and we should use a bicycle to travel a distance to valuable interpersonal relations.”
The fact, that the world can be improved with bikes is best seen in the poorest countries. At the end of the 20th century, bicycle import duty in Kenya has been lifted and cheap equipment from China and India has flooded the country. In Kisumu I saw how big of an impact it had. In the last few years I traveled there several times. During the peak period, in this city of 350 thousand people, there were almost 20 thousand bicycle taxis. Kenyan people call them boda boda after “border, border.” The first taxi riders used to shout that at their customers while riding on a border between Kenya and Uganda. Boda boda is an ordinary bicycle with a soft pillow on the trunk and a railing under the seat for a passenger to hold on to. A standard ride within the city limits costs 20 shillings which is not even one zloty. Bikes have changed Kisumu and given jobs to thousands of young boys. Bicycles gave the residents of slums and villages on the outskirts of the city a means of transportation to work, to hospitals and to schools. Up until now they had no access to these facilities.
With My Own Two Wheels, another film that is a part of the bike film review at Transatlantyk, talks about how bicycles pull people out of poverty. The ONZ estimates that by providing a poor family in the countries of the South with a bike, we increase this family’s annual income by 35 percent. Organizations such as Bikes not Bombs, World Bicycle Relief, or Bamboo Bike Project successfully use bicycles as a motor for social change in the poorest regions of the world.
Bicycle boom is also happening in richer countries. It is driven by the ecology. The Green people calculated that CO2 emission, during the process of manufacturing food that a biker needs to ride a distance of 1 kilometer, is ten times lower than the energy needed for the most economical car. Residents of dozens of cities of the world have understood it already and they introduce bicycles as an integral part of public transportation. There are systems of nearly free bike rentals in Europe. They already exist in cities like Paris, Milan and Barcelona. World’s biggest operation of this kind, involving almost 10 thousand bicycles, is just starting in New York. For years, German and Dutch cities have been organizing street traffic in a way to make it friendly mostly for pedestrians and bicyclists and not for cars. H. G. Wells said, “When I see a grownup man on a bike, I stop worrying about the future of mankind.” Maybe, we are not that bad after all?
God on a bicycle
A bike also brings us pleasure. This is what all the films of the review have in common. They talk about the joy of pedaling. They talk about “flying.” We, biking enthusiasts, love our bicycles and cannot live without them. For example Ian Hibell, a legendary British cyclist, used to sleep with his bike. In 40 years of pedaling throughout the world he covered a distance of a quarter of a million kilometers. Every night, he would carry his “lover,” that was all covered in mud, to a hotel room and would put the bike right by his bed. In his book he was referring to his bike as his dearest friend. When he was flying on it down the perfectly smooth road, he felt “the unity with everything, the way God feels”.
Tom Simpson was the most famous cyclist of the sixties of the 20th century, 3-time winner of the classic race Paris-Nice and in 1964 the World Champion. He fell deadly in love with bicycles. Literally. In 1967, during the 13th stage of the Tour de France, he died of a heart attack while climbing a murderous hill. His last words, that he spilled out in pain, were “Put me back on my bike.”
In the years 1931-1936, our own Kazimierz Nowak, a Posnanian, pedaled through the entire Africa, back and forth. 40 thousand kilometers. The soldiers stopped him in Libia. They could not comprehend, why someone would ride a bike across the dessert, alone and with no camels. They put him in their car and took him to the interrogation. When they finally believed that he was a Polish reporter, Nowak asked them to take him back where they had found him. He did not want to cover a single kilometer of his journey by car.
I got my bicycle from my dad after high-school graduation. The bike used to be a silver metallic Wagant from Romet factory in Bydgoszcz. Today it is a navy blue Peugeot. The Romet frame lasted 13 years of riding in Poznan and Warsaw on the streets that are full of holes. Then, it broke. I did not want a new bike. I preferred to look for a used frame and dress it with the old equipment. I found this navy blue naked Peugot hanging on the wall in a small shop in Targowek, Warsaw. The owner, a wiry fellow around sixty years old in an old fashion cyclist hat, sold me the frame for one hundred zlotys. I transferred the wheels, the pedals and everything else from my Wagant to the Peugeot. It was like a transplantation. I saved my Old man’s life. I greased it thoroughly and we took off to fly around town.
Director: Daniel Vérten, Hungary / Spain 2011, 55'
dir. Anatol "Lolo" Mszyca, Poland, 2012, 61'
August 20th, 2012, 5:00 PM