In New York City, many are understandably afraid of riding two-wheelers through streets jammed with four-wheelers. But those who do brave New York biking often become cultishly devoted to it. It frees them from subway and taxi fares, lets them sneak nimbly through traffic jams, is eco-friendly, and a killer workout. And, as we see in New York Bike Style, a new book by Brooklyn-based photographer Sam Polcer, it also looks really cool.
Polcer, who works as the communications manager for Bike New York, trolled the streets of the city for particularly chic cyclists and snapped their portraits next to their wheels. Nearly 200 of those portraits are featured in his new book, reminding us that bikes are not just modes of transportation, but creative expressions of self.
In one image, Talking Heads frontman David Byrne, a notorious cycling fanatic (he wrote The Bicycle Diaries and modeled for a bike calendar), sits on his Jamis Commuter in spiffy white saddle shoes that match his shock of hair. Byrne is interviewed here about his love affair with biking. “It‘s baffling that it’s not more popular,” Byrne says.
Byrne says cycling makes him more creative. “It’s kind of like peeling potatoes or doing the dishes, where you’re doing something routine that occupies a certain part of your mind,” he says. “Sometimes, if I’m trying to come up with lyrics for a song, I’ll put one of those little recorders in my pocket and I’ll grab it with one hand while I’m riding.”
The book also shows that biking culture is as diverse as the city itself. There are the members of Brooklyn’s Puerto Rico Schwinn club, in customized leather patch vests, celebrating their heritage with vintage bikes. Then there are the 40K racers, rocking neon spandex and sleek helmets; BMX kids practicing bar spins at skate parks; and businessmen cruising to work on CitiBikes. And, of course, there are the requisite tattooed Williamsburg bikers with wicker baskets, flowing capes, and babydoll dresses, who make their fixed-gears fashion statements. And Polcer’s closeups of the bikes themselves–chains, handlebars, seats–reveal their sculptural beauty.
“When I see an adult on a bicycle, I do not despair for the human race,” H. G. Wells once said. We can see why, H.G. This photographic ode to the two-wheeler makes us never want to take the subway again.
New York Bike Style is available from Prestel here.