Archive | June, 2011

Biking Babe Barbara

26 Jun

Barbara Smit is the producer of a Dutch television travel show for kids. She lives and works in Nicaragua and she travels by bike; on the very same Dutch bicycle she used in the streets of Amsterdam.

Barbara has been working in Nicaragua for over two years. Together with director Stef Biemans, she first worked on a series for children called ‘Letters from Nicaragua’. That series showed what it’s like to live in a foreign culture and raise a child (Stef’s wife is from Nicaragua, and their son Camilo was born there).

In their current production, Barbara and Stef travel the world to meet special kids in special places (preview of the new show below). So far, Stef has met a fisherman’s son from Ghana who wants to become a famous boxer, a snake charmer child from India, and a young priest in Rome who has fallen madly in love. As producer, Barbara was responsible for locating each one of those characters.


Barbara lives in Nicaragua’s capital: Managua. Managua’s infrastructure is designed exclusively for motorists, so even a seasoned cyclist like Barbara doesn’t cycle there. But, on a brighter note, a small group of local cyclists recently did protest against the poor cycling infrastructure. For an hour, they rode their bikes in countless rounds on the same roundabout; stopping all traffic in an attempt to get interest for their cycling cause. Barbara was in India at the time, otherwise she would have joined in.

Barbara works in Masaya, where – unlike in Managua – cycling is part of everyday life. Masayan parents will have children sitting on their bike’s crossbar or steering wheel, while their pannier bags will be packed with papaya’s, chicken or cassava. It is here, amongst the Nicaraguan city bikes, bike taxi’s and donkey carts, that Barbara keeps her Dutch bike stalled. She uses it for getting to meetings, for shopping, or for teaching colleagues how to cycle.

Occasionally, she will take her Dutch bike and cycle to the petrol station on the town’s border – the only place selling decent chocolate. On the way back to the office, Barbara will hardly notice the looks local men give her. The speed of her bike takes her past them before they can make a comment.

Besides, Barbara is too absorbed in her chocolate anyway.

Barcelona’s Bike Babe

20 Jun

Txell and Steven

Txell Hernandez Gill is a Barcelona born bike babe. In her spare time, she runs Barcelona’s Cycle Chic chapter, which she set up two years ago. In the daytime, she works for BACC (a Catalonian cycling organisation). But the two jobs aren’t enough to satisfy her cycling appetite. Txell’s Belgian born boyfriend Steven is also heavily into cycling. He moved to Barcelona 10 years ago for a 6 month internship, but ended up staying to set up a bike courier company: Pedal. Now he and his colleagues cycle the city in black clothes on Bullit cargo bikes, darting past traffic to get deliveries there faster*.

Txell was also responsible for the program of the Cycle Chic Blogger Conference we’ve been blogging about this weekend. We have already written about the Cycle Chic Breakfast and conference venue with bikes in the bathtub. The last item we want to share: our guided cycling tour through San Joan Despi, a small town located 20 minutes by train from Barcelona.

St Joan Despi is worth a visit for three reasons. First, it is the home of Jujol (Gaudi’s most famous disciple). Second, it’s where FC Barcelona (a football club that recently won a trophy) has its training camp. And finally: the people of San Joan Despi are increasingly into cycling – which is why their mayor organised a private cycling tour through his town for us.

The mayor also arranged for a private police escort. As we moved from modernist cultural heritage to the pitch of FC Barcelona’s training site, the Catalonian police officers whizzed by on electric bikes – halting at junctions, blowing their whistles, stopping all traffic. When we parked our bikes to go into a modernist building and hear our guide elaborate on the architect’s religious background (one of Jujol’s buildings is wholly dedicated to Virgin Mary), the officers would stay outside to guard them. At the closing reception in the local library – with tortilla, bocaditos con Jamon, and a musical quartet playing guitarra music – the police even helped us carry our bikes into the patio.

Secure bike parking in San Joan Despi

The evening ended with a night time bike ride back to Barcelona city (film footage should be on Mikael Colville-Andersen’s ‘Copenhagen Cycle Chic’ shortly). There, in the Barcelonetta neighbourhood, we went for a drink to celebrate cycling.

At the bar, the security for stalling our bikes was again well taken care of. The bouncer couldn’t take his eyes off our folded Brompton bikes.

* Note for our Dublin readers: Pedal BCN reminded us of Velocity Couriers here in Dublin; who have the exact same cargo bike; except theirs is white. And their outfit is green.

Modernist building by San Joan Despi -- in foreground: Mikael Colville Andersen (Copenhagen), Anne Williams (Montreal), and Maria Elisa Ojeda (Barcelona)

Cycle Chic Bloggers enter FC Barcelona's training grounds

Bouncer watching Brompton bikes

Bikes in Bathtubs

18 Jun

Fixed gear bike in White Bathtub

The Cycle Chic Blogger Conference in Barcelona is not turning out to be a typical conference.

There are no keynote speakers, no coffee buffets, no powerpoint presentations. Also, there is no conference location; no cloakroom, no blue carpet with diamond shaped pattern, no tl-lighting. Instead, the conference almost completely takes place outside – on the streets of Barcelona. The one indoor conference location we did visit, was CityBici – on the Avengida Diagonal.

CityBici is the showroom and office of Jaime and Vanessa. It’s also their home. Jaime and Vanessa – a couple with their first child on its way – set up CityBici this January, after they had said goodbye to the safe lives they had before (Vanessa used to work for American Apparel, Jaime worked in packaging). With CityBici, they want to bring biking beauty to Barcelona.

One approach they are taking, is setting up unique bicycle exhibition points. The first exhibition point has recently opened in Cafe San Thelmo – an espresso boutique across their street. The Cycle Chic Bloggers were given a preview of what further exhibition points may look like. Jaime and Vanessa had placed bikes in their house like a curator would place art in the Hugh Lane Gallery. A golden Dutch bike hung next to a a group of oil on canvas squares, steering wheels  were scattered on the desk of Jaime’s office, and a fixed gear bike was placed diagonally in the bathtub.

All in all, it seems like a decent, clean approach to cycling. We loved it.

Bikes on the Wall

Bikes next to the Oil on Canvas

Cycle Chic Conference Room

Jaime Dieppa and Mikael Colville Andersen, discussing bikes

Bikes in the Bathtub -- best done diagonally

Jaime and Vanessa - Barcelona's beautiful bike pioneers

Cycle Chic Breakfast in Barcelona

17 Jun

We’re in Barcelona this weekend, to attend the Cycle Chic Blogger Conference. It also happens to be Barcelona’s bike week. As a part of that bike week, Barcelona Cycle Chic and BACC (Catalunya’s cyclist organisation) organised a ‘Cycle Chic Breakfast’ today.

At 7.00 A.M., they rolled out red carpets on various spots in the city: under the Arc de Triomf, on a square near Passeig de Gracia, and on a junction close to the Sagrada Familia. They set up a tent with food next to the red carpet, and then stopped cycling commuters with a fresh juice and a snack.  The cycling commuters could also have their pictures taken, in a contest to win a vintage bike.

We had the honour of being the photographer at the Sagrada Familia junction. It was a privilige to get close-up looks at such an amount and variety of cyclists in the Barcelona rush hour. Here are some of our favourite shots.





Filming in the Rain, with the Dublin Cycling Campaign

13 Jun

Cycling Campaigners Dublin line up for Cycling Film

Yesterday, we were shooting a film for the Dublin Cycling Campaign.  The Campaign consists of a colourful cast of characters, each of which would merit a separate full feature film.

For example: I would love to write a script for a comedy with Paddy (a film maker) and his brother Conor (a webdesigner); the duo from Limerick only communicate by cracking jokes anyway. Similarly, I could think of a classic Victorian costume drama featuring Georgia and Nicola. They design gorgeous garments that bring back the days of James Joyce, and a film would help on their mission to inject style in Dublin’s cycling culture. I could also think of an action film with Will, Damien and Colm — thoughtful and tenured Campaigners that have a James Bond like quality to them.

Together, these film stars have been doing ground breaking work for cycling in Dublin for over 15 years. Now, with cycling on the rise, they need more members. For that reason, we built a film set along the Grand Canal yesterday to shoot a promotional film.

Our film maker Paddy had found a unique camera dolly for filming: a big cargo bike. Together with his sound technician Justin, he got into the bike’s cargo load to shoot the film looking backwards, thus capturing a smiling line of Cycling Campaigners passing by. Paddy suggested Conor would be good at cycling the cargo bike, and Conor agreed. Of course, at that point Conor didn’t know the cargo bike’s battery assistance would be turned off to prevent interference with the sound.

It was also decided that the film would take place in the rain. Dublin has a poor image when it comes to the weather (when we moved here from Amsterdam, we received several umbrella’s as going away gift). To use that poor perception to our advantage, we went for an unconventional tongue in cheek approach – the actors advocating joys of cycling with smiles and dripping wet faces. For fifteen runs, they cycled behind the cargo bike, delivered their line, turned around, an queued up in the rain for the next take.

The result was great, and the film will appear on this blog shortly.

After filming, the Campaigners regrouped in a Smyths Pub on Haddington Road, where film maker Paddy thanked them for acting; saying he was very happy.

Happy about the film; and happy about staying dry himself, in the back of the cargo bike.

Cycling Film Crew Setting Up

Cycling Film Crew - in the cargo load - nice and dry

Intelligent Deliveries

Camera, Lights, Action

The Filmset: Rainy Grand Canal

The Bicycle Inventor

4 Jun

Bicycle Inventor at Work

Elian Veltman’s inspiration for building bikes came from a car.

While studying car engineering, Elian worked for Donkervoort – a sports car manufacturer in the Netherlands. In Donkervoort’s small, light filled factory in the Dutch polder, Elian noticed how Donkervoort leaves out electronic aids to simplify motoring. No ABS, no ESP, no power steering and no traction control. Instead, Donkervoort focuses on simple and functional elements: an ultra stiff chassis, simple design, low wheel suspension.

bicycle inspiration

Elian was so caught by Donkervoort’s simplicity he decided to abandon his passion for cars for something even simpler: the bike.

Elian left Donkervoort and became a bicycle inventor. Elian had worked in his uncle’s bike repair shop ever since he was a child, and he could build bikes blindfolded. But his lessons at Donkervoort gave him his true epiphany. He set up a small bicycle factory in Culemborg, and filled it with machines he bought off Dutch and Belgian factories that had gone out of business 30 years ago – unable to cope with competition from the Far East. Elian started building bike prototypes devoid of all frills, in a quest to forge a frame as austere as a Calvinistic Protestant church service.

Elian’s first bicycle became a delivery bike, called ’01-cargo’. The delivery bike weighs approximately half of what normal delivery bikes weigh; each unnecessary nut and bolt has been omitted, each excess gram of steel has been shaved off. The 01-cargo’s front load carrier looks like a horizontal hoisting crane, and gives bike an appearance as urban as a derelict Dublin construction site. With his second bicycle, the ’02-commuter’, Elian has built a dressed down version of the traditional diamond shaped bike frame – and in doing so improved the simplicity of a geometrical form that hasn’t changed since Pythagoras.

Elian doesn’t plan to stop at these first two bikes. His girlfriend currently rides an old concorde (a ladies racing bike), and Elian is working hard to get her a new bike – built by him. Soon after that, his 1 year old son will be needing a bike as well.

Asked what he would like to do 20 years from now, Elian says he secretly wants to build a plane.

As if his bikes don’t make you fly already.

Cargo bicycle by Elian Cycles

the 02-commuter

Elian working on the 02-commuter