City Paper is not for tourists
Gear Prudence: I don’t ride a bike, but I have a lot of friends who do. And without fail, each time I’ve visited one of their apartments, I’ve found so much bike-themed decor. Posters, pillows, coasters, calendars, refrigerator magnets—like whoa, I get it, you like bikes. I drive a Honda, but you don’t see my walls covered in pictures of vintage Civics. What’s the deal with this? What is it about riding a bike that makes people want to surround themselves with so much bike-themed crap? It seems obsessive.—Buddy, I Know! Employ Another Room Tableau
Dear BIKEART: “Bicyclist” is not a personality. But it can be a useful decorating crutch and a good way to provide some coherence to an interior space. The reasons for your friends’ adoption of bike-themed decor are multifarious, and because the same object and activity can stand for so many different things, its recurrence isn’t as surprising as you might think. Let’s unpack.
Bicycling is a sport. Many people decorate with team merchandise as a way to express their fandom, and bike decor can accomplish the same thing. Given bicycling’s long history, images of 1930s Tour de France riders or 1880s high wheelers prove compelling decorations for people who like to hang up old-timey pictures. Likewise, many people decorate their homes with objects picked up as souvenirs on their travels. If your friends biked on vacation, maybe you’re seeing visual reminders of their past feats and adventures.
The bicycle itself is, objectively, an interesting visual object. It lends itself well to representation, and that’s why you see them slapped on many objects—coasters, pillows, dish towels, snowglobes, whatever. (Etsy currently has 151 results for ‘bicycle napkins.’) Bikes are not especially difficult to render (far easier than a Civic) and this also plays a part in the proliferation. The widespread diffusion of bicycle objects combined with the great variation in bicycle designs and depictions further helps broaden the appeal of bike decor. If there was only one kind of bike and one way to depict it, you likely wouldn’t see it as much.
But ultimately, yes, there is something about riding a bike that makes people want to surround themselves with bike-themed stuff. Many bicyclists do feel that bicycling is part of their identity, and want to celebrate that. Their participation in the activity is meaningful to their concept of self. But even if it’s not about their identity, it’s an object about which they have positive feelings. (You don’t decorate your house with stuff you hate!)
Or maybe bicycling is the only distinctive thing your friends’ friends know about them, and their apparent decorating strategy is nothing more than the accumulation of years of secret santas, birthday presents from exes, and housewarming parties. Either way, it’s better than blank walls and empty shelves, so cut your friends some slack. —GP