Last weekend witnessed the ever cool ‘Hand Built Bike Show’ known as Bespoked moved to the even more audaciously cool and now iconic London Velodrome. The move came about as the result of the events huge popularity and thus significant growth. The venue was filled with stand after stand of unbelievably cool bikes, accessories and apparel all surrounded by folks with enough cycling knowledge to scare most of us.
You know the type of people I mean. You’ll be having a casual conversation which begins with you commenting on the aesthetic beauty of a particular bike and before you know where you are your conversation partners are outlining the kind of detailed observations which leave you wondering whether or not you are still sharing the same language. In your attempt to claw back some level of self respect and legitimate participation within the conversation you throw a curve ball mentioning another cycling event, ride or gathering you recently attended and hopefully dragging you back into the shallows. Bad move! You are now drawn into a conversation in which all other party’s are listing names you have never heard of, their visits to places you can only dream of and their technical review of materials you are unsure of the actual existence of! These folks are way too cool for school. You gaze across the arena and find yourself marveling at the sheer volume of facial hair on show, more beards than your average Movember works do. Discreetly you squeezeyour way past the busy crowds (the squeeze is necessary because unlike them you carry a few additional pounds) and towards a sharp exit and a little light
If you have no idea what I’m talking about, change a few key words, alter the context and the examples to a world you are more or less famliar with and you should soon catch the drift of my observation. Being in the presence of very cool people can be a daunting thing.
So here’s the irony! Shift any of the Bespoked crowd (and for the record can I just be clear that these are great, great people) two miles down the road to the nearest Premiere League football stadium and they suddenly appear not as 'cool' but as 'nerdy and eccentric' . Take the Premiere league crowd and place them in the local art house cinema and the same sense of colliding realities is experienced once again. Definitions of coolness shift beneath our feet.
The truth is that one women’s cool is another women’s nerd and that ‘cool’ itself is an intangible description of very little in particular, at least very little of any substance.
When we use the word ‘cool’ we often simply mean that something is ‘other’ than we are, that we admire it but that we feel strangely distant from it. All of which is completely unproblematic until something becomes ‘too cool’.
I love the fact that even the Velominati guys recognise Rule 3 to be “Guide the uninitiated”, not exclude, not dominate, not absorb, just guide.
Several years ago we worked on a project which aimed to encourage cycling amongst some of Birmingham’s many ethnic minority groups. As part of our research we showed propsective users photographs we’d taken from inside a number of large mainstream bike shops. We asked people for their reflections and what we got in response was a mass of bewilderment, amazement, incomprehension and alienation. The people we spoke with didn’t negatively describe anything they observed they simply noted their distance from it. After weeks of training, our users would have built sufficient skills and confidence to experience the thrills of the open road. Nothing would make my heart sink more than to encounter a group of cycling enthusiasts and for our group of noices to be completely ignored. Few things encouraged me more than the day we took a break on a country lane only to find Will, a 54 year old true cycling enthusiast and former road race professional taking a break in the exact same spot. While I was keen for us to leave Will in peace, Will took real interest in our group of cycling novices sending us on our way with encouragement and inspiration ringing in their ears.
Cycling is not cool it is far more important than that.