Bicycles and Creativity

double decker bikeOne of the first things I did after I got to Oakland was bicycle over to the Pedalfest with my friend Jim. (That’s Jim trying out the double-decker bicycle, which was difficult to get on, but easy to ride, according to him.)

Pedalfest is a yearly event put on by the East Bay Bicycle Coalition, an organization devoted to making — and keeping — Oakland and the rest of the East Bay bike-able.

In many ways, it was your typical urban festival — two music stages, food stands, various vendors hawking wares, various groups educating people on what they do — but it all centered on bicycles.

I’m just a basic bicyclist. I’ve used a bike as my main means of transportation in the past, but these days I mostly ride for fun. It was interesting looking at all the bikes — from the fancy to the utilitarian — but what I really enjoyed was seeing all the human creativity that has grown out of a simple contraption with pedals and a couple of wheels.

One of music stages was bicycle-powered. Rock the Bike had set up about a dozen pedal-powered generators and as long as people kept riding them — and people did — there was enough power to run the sound system for the day’s musical events.

Here’s Jim doing his part.

Rock the Bike stageI used another bike-generator: one that powered the blender so I could have a smoothie. They make ice cream makers, too. And apparently you can get a stand so that you can use your regular bicycle for this purpose. The bike systems aren’t cheap, but the electricity is free and you get bonus exercise.

The event included people doing wild things on ramps with BMX bikes — leaps and jumps and other things that would terrify me to try, but are fun to watch. Then there was a carousel ride powered by bikes. A crew of riders rode in the center, making a set of seats go round and round. The faster the bikers pedaled, the higher and more sideways the seats went. Mostly it was grownups pedaling and kids riding, and at least one little girl we talked to was dying to have another turn. She was about four.

There was a lhistoric bikesot of homemade creativity: bikes wrapped in fur, side-cars, oddly welded contraptions. I saw several versions of a bike with the front wheel not aligned with the rear one.

Then there were people developing bikes with back racks large enough to carry a couple of kids or a stack of boxes for delivery.  Some had electric assist; others relied solely on human power.

I tried out a bike that used arm power to pedal. It’s aimed at people who can’t use their legs. It was fun to use, though it was awfully low to the ground and not as maneuverable as a regular bike, so I would be nervous using it on a city street.

The U.S. Bicycling Hall of Fame had some historic bikes on display, including one of the early versions with the huge front wheel.

One thing that really fascinated me was a booth about The Crucible, an Oakland organization that bills itself as “a nonprofit collaboration of arts, industry and community.” They offer classes in metal arts, blacksmithing, glass blowing, jewelry making, and many other kinds of art drawn from industrial processes past and present. They also have studios available for people making the kind of art that requires big tools and space. They were making things out of bicycles, with a welding set-up on site.

All in all, human imagination and creativity at work. Pretty amazing for something some people dismiss as a kid’s toy.

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