We are declaring May “Bike Design Month” in Manhattan. Mayor Bloomberg has not signed off on this title yet, but as his office has been actively supporting progressive smart alternative transportation, he probably won’t mind our rogue designation. There are two events of note:
1) Bespoke: The Handbuilt Bicycle at the Museum of Art and Design opens on May 13th. Michael Maharam (interview below) of textile fame and master bike builder Sacha White have put together a superb exhibition of contemporary handmade bikes.
2) The launch of PUBLIC in and around the ICFF. Join a bunch of us on a festive bike ride on May 16th from Javits to SOHO for a reception at the Tretorn Store. Please RSVP online.
Interview with Michael Maharam
Bespoke: The Handbuilt Bicycle displays the designs of six internationally renowned bicycle builders at the Museum of Arts & Design. Organized by Michael Maharam and master bicycle builder Sacha White, the exhibit explores emerging trends and innovations in the design world. We caught up with Michael earlier this week.
Rob: It’s great to see this work made available in the museum context. Congrats. Is this the first show of its type in the US?
Michael: As far as I know, yes….and long overdue. This is a fine craft, like glassblowing or cabinetmaking, though with an element of daily functionality and cultural timeliness which is highly relevant and greatly underexposed.
How did the idea for the show evolve?
I had asked Sacha White to build me a bicycle, and we got into a discussion about the fact that he had been building for a decade and wanted to take a break for a year to focus on building a small number of carefully considered bicycles without client or commercial constraint. I was having lunch with Holly Hotchner, the director of MAD that week, and I proposed to organize and curate a show based on Sacha’s desire.
What would make the show success to you?
Ultimately, raising public awareness of the craft, consumer understanding and expectation of the quality of products they purchase and compelling manufacturers to do a better job with quotidian products is critical if we are to transcend the era of material gluttony.
The designers are all from the US except Dario Pegoretti. How did the US become such a force in bike design?
Though this is a craft which has had numerous “golden ages”, its present appeal is as a force of zeitgeist. Underlying elements include the rise of physical fitness, environmentalism and individualism as points of cultural aspiration and expression.
What’s the first thing you look for in a bike?
I’m an aesthete…appearance coupled with the imagination and finesse of the builder.
What is the first thing the untrained eye should look for in a bike?
Do you remember the first bike you ever rode?
Rudge three speed…black, with gold trim. I removed the fenders to make a hot rod of it, come what may on rainy days.
What kind of riding do you do personally? Ever been a racer?
I’m a fair weather rider these days…commuting a bit and weekend exercise. Riding in Manhattan is misery enough, but to do so in rain and cold is beyond the fray. My hat is off to those who do.
Ever ridden a fixed gear bike?
Often, but not the variety presently in vogue. Through my young years I’ve built stripped down bicycles with a minimalistic bent. Again, it’s largely about Manhattan riding…hardly serene.
Many see as you as uncompromising modernist. What is your personal interest in handmade bicycles? Aren’t they craft?
I view modernism as the most fitting backdrop for all that I collect…and sell, as we sell our collection of textiles, which facilitates personal collecting. If I were a fan of baroque architecture, I’d only collect minimalism I suppose. Modernism soothes.
I recall in one of our early conversations, maybe ten years ago, you rode a motorcycle. I did not know you were also a cyclist. This phenomenon is actually common, i.e. guys loving things with two wheels. What’s behind this love? Love of Speed?
A young man’s first taste of independence.
Is there a “Ray and Charles Eames” equivalent in the bike design world?
I like the Raleigh Three Speed, myself. I think it’s elegant and practical. Though classic, not modern. As for modern, the phosphorescent shaft driven urban bicycles produced by Biomega are pretty smart.
What’s the most unusual bike in your collection?
I like my all aluminum Colnago Duall…polished aluminum lugs, unpainted aluminum tubes…very sculptural, though not very rigid.
If I was one of your staff, would you allow me to keep my bike in your office if I rode it to work? You keep a pretty clean office.
Not yet, but we’re working on it.
Rob: Thanks, Michael. We’ll see you in New York.
Share your thoughts.
Join the conversation in the comments below.