Guest Art Curators: Lonely Joe Parker – Bike Art

(Originally posted on

October 15, 2010 – Edited by Will Slater

Yes, we said yesterday’s piece was the last of the guest art contributions for this month, but it turns out that Lonely Joe Parker sent us one that got lost! So here is the actual final article from A Badge of Friendship:

I wanted to write about Weimar-era George Grosz, the scabrous illustrator and cartoonist whose utterly irreverent attitude and DIY aesthetic predated punk rock by a good decade or five. Unfortunately some staffer in a Sunday supplement went and dedicated a centerfold to him the other week, so instead I’ll have to ramble uninformedly about bikes instead.

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I’ve loved bikes since I was small – I don’t know when I got my first one, but a yellowing picture my gran has shows her pushing me and smiling while I try to reach the magical speed of eighty-eight miles per hour on a sky-blue minimountain bike with stabilizers. In wellies. As it’s got a basket and streamers I think it’s probably a girl’s bike, and secondhand, but it had me hooked. Now whenever I see a toddler tottering along, legs flailing, I think of that sunny afternoon in the eighties on a small bike with a big golden flower in the background.

Bikes have a direct, visual appeal – from quaint sit-up-and-beg bikes that suggest their penny farthing ancestors; to purebred 70s racers sinewy like their riders, gleaming like an Arabian stallion in the sun; to sleek, space-age recliners, more like rocketships than pedal-powered commuter bikes. Then there’s the workbikes (gutterpunk couriers on their squat bastardized MTB / fixie hybrids; delivery trikes; and the ambulance riders on their cute mini lifesaver-mobiles with their dinky lights and sirens).

And the art inspired by bikes – notably a slew of Art Deco Tour de France posters and their imitators, but also cinematic depictions – fascinates me, as well as art made *by* bikes, such as city-painting, where teams of riders fan out dribbling paint (sometimes unwittingly) to create citywide tracery of wobbling lines that only the pigeons (and a few heliborne execs) can fully appreciate.

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For me bikes’ real beauty lies in movement, and it’s in zipping around the city that they come to life in a balletic dance that is half human, half mechanised. I think you can read some of riders’ characters and lives in their style, and so watching other bikes is a bit like a soap opera, or a succession of interpretive performances – and my own riding tells my story, too.

There are the couriers, the new ones flying along panting on piecework as they bash through the traffic, the older, crustier ones seemingly seeping effortlessly through, plotting their path miles ahead down the road. The long-distance commuters and triathletes, hurtling along red-faced and steaming in their own personal Tour. The hipsters, gliding along obliviously like swans on a lake, and of course the beginners, easily picked out on their Boris Bikes these days, wobbling along nervously like ice-skaters.

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‘Old Faithful’ was built at home by Graeme O’Bree using parts from a washing machine – he broke the world Hour Record on it in 1993

As a kid in a shit suburb in England I loved riding out round the houses looking for enemies to gun down, whether that was Maggie Thatcher, the Soviets, Messerschmidts or maybe Kevin from the other class at school.

The bikes in style at the time were mountain bikes with about 65 gears and for a while I only had a shitty old BMX frame. Then just as I got a normal mountain frame, everyone started getting spinner disc wheels like Gold Medalist Chris Boardman. Only they weren’t carbon-fibre aero-discs; just bits of heavy plastic that covered the spokes – what a gyp. You could put cool patterns and stuff on them though; WWF was pretty popular I think. I tried to make one from a bin lid and it nearly killed me when it stuck through the forks.

But, the freedom… I wore through a succession of shitty old mountain / really old town bikes until but I learned to fix bikes pretty well though.

One night after scouts my mate Chris Baker let me have a go on his racer. It looked like a heap of geek-junk from the Seventies – everything was all spindly and rusty – but, even on the shingly beach outside the hut in Hythe, it went like a train. I *needed* one of these speed machines. off I went. But racers were *definitely* the least cool kids on the block at the time, as no-one had invented fixies or skinny jeans.

Then – all at the same time – I outgrew all my MTB bikes (puberty hit) and BMX came back into vogue. So I got a shonky old Raleigh from some relative of my step dad, and I discovered that I could ride all the way into Southampton in only about an hour. So I decided fashion was just a way to sell you crap you didn’t need, discovered The Clash and started ignoring people who talked rubbish.

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