Before I discuss the final set of award winners at the North American Handmade Bicycle Show, I want to address a brewing controversy over one of the bikes that was displayed over the weekend. Abbott Cycles, which displayed at one of the new builder tables, brought a bike with an objectified female form. I’m being polite here.
That the bike didn’t win the Best New Builder award had less to do with its form than the fact that the carbon work was rough enough that it never really had a shot at winning; we didn’t even have to discuss it.
In my more generous moments I’d like to think that if the bike had been all black or white it might have been interpreted as something artful, something interpretive. But it was flesh-colored and builder Allan Abbott’s web site includes a poll regarding reactions to the bike in which two of the possible answers are, “rider her hard and often” and “keep her locked to your bed.” That should clarify why people are upset.
Cycling has enough problems with being insufficiently hospitable to women without the addition of throwback attitudes that treat women as sex objects and objectifies their form. It only serves to make many of the women we do have in the sport feel unwelcome, which is completely unacceptable. The more rich and diverse a community is, the stronger it is.
Clearly, Abbott is a creative guy and shows some promise for working with carbon fiber. It is conceivable that he could create a bicycle frame inspired by the human form that didn’t trade on prurient interest. Someone suggested that he had seen a truly disturbing detail and suggested that I double check. I was embarrassed enough just to be that close to the frame that I chickened out before doing a more thorough inspection.
The natural defense to any backlash to this bike is to suggest that this was all one big joke, that no harm was meant. That sort of defense—minimizing the feelings of others—won’t cut it.
There have been questions in social media about why the bike was allowed to be displayed at NAHBS. I can say on behalf of show organizer Don Walker that unless a builder contacts him ahead of the show to discuss the bikes he’s bringing, Walker has no prior knowledge. But this begs the question of whether he should have acted. Walker has set many rules concerning who can display and how, but he has never set any rules on what a bike’s appearance can be, nor should he.
Fellow judge Jeff Archer suggested, “If they don’t like it, don’t look at it or don’t support the builder.” It’s a painless approach, but may be too laissez faire for some people.
Our other judge, Nick Legan, pointed out the larger problem with additional rules regarding a bike’s appearance. “To restrict what is allowed to enter a handmade show is a step too far in my moderate opinion. Don’s job is to allow builders to express themselves. He must also allow them to fail in that expression. The Signorina did.”
That gets at the deeper issue. Censorship is not the answer. The role of NAHBS is to present builders a forum to show their creative vision, even if it harkens from the Dark Ages. I’m disappointed that such a work was presented and NAHBS, and I completely grok why an overwhelming number of people are offended; it’s understandable. The answer, though, is to actively support the work we respect. Policing creativity is an Orwellian step we should all rebuke.
Image courtesy NAHBS