<The City >

Cycling and the City: Reflections of Commuting Practices
Phil Jones & Dan Burwood

» view interactive document with embedded GPS maps on issuu
» download pdf

Author/artist Statement

Commuter cycling tends to have certain labels attached to it. It is a performance of environmental responsibility. It enacts a healthy lifestyle agenda aimed at holding back the rising tide of the west’s obesity epidemic. It is a resistance against high gas prices. Outside more bicycle-friendly countries, urban commuter cycling is also seen as a high risk activity, engaged in by the stubborn few.

Cycling is, however, an intensely personal experience, the practice of which is poorly represented by these simplistic labels. In order to better understand the experience of being in motion through the city, 28 commuter cyclists who work at the University of Birmingham, UK, were asked to record an audio commentary while riding home. Using GPS tracks recorded in parallel to the commentaries, Phil produced a variety of maps exploring themes which emerged from the rides. A group of participants volunteered to be the subject of Dan’s documentary portraits, choosing locations and poses that reflected elements of their cycling life. Participant quotes accompanied these photographs which, alongside the maps, were exhibited as large giclée prints flyposted around the university campus.

The intention of the project was to capture a more nuanced perspective on commuter cycling as an everyday performance. The materials presented here are not a definitive portrait of commuter cycling, but intended instead to open a conversation about the nature of this practice and what it brings to its participants.

Different kinds of urban spaces are brought into being by the act of riding. The research and exhibition that this paper documents was intended to open a dialogue about the nature of urban cycle commuting, its practices and practitioners. Like the exhibition itself, exposed to wind and rain, the everyday performances of cycling are ephemeral, fleeting, contingent. The GPS records layer ghostly traces of these performances across cartographic space. In turn, the portraits remind us that these records are not mere ‘data’ within a research project, but were created by people whose lives are not reducible to lines on a map. There is no single category of ‘cyclist’. The individual cycling body is re-enacted and re-inscribed on a daily basis. Similarly, there is no city, but multiple cities, brought into being each day by individuals and their engagements with urban space. Any serious attempt to encourage greater levels of cycling participation needs to move away from discourses of safety, environmentalism and healthy lifestyles, to engage with how cycling is performed every day, by a diverse group of people with a diverse range of cycling styles.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License..