Bespoke: The Handbuilt Bicycle
By Julie Lasky (Lars Muller Publishers, 2010)
Review by Jeffrey Morseburg
This past spring, an exhibition titled “Bespoke: The Handbuilt Bicycle” opened at New York’s Museum of Art and Design. This is the ideal location for an exhibit with such a theme, because at their best, bicycles are a true marriage of form and function. Now, as much as I love motorcycles and automobiles, I haven’t felt the exhibitions of Ralph Lauren’s automobiles at the Boston Museum of Fine Art, the show Curves of Steel at the Phoenix Museum, or the 1999 exhibition of motorcycles at the Guggenheim in New York were appropriate. While cars, motorcycles and bicycles can certainly be built by artisans, they are objects that combine aesthetic qualities along with their functionality, so they really belong in a museum of design rather than an art museum.
This small exhibition developed from a dialog between Sacha White, one of today’s best young bicycle builders, and Michael Maharam, an entrepreneur and bicycle collector. Because White, as a craftsman with a great eye for design, and Maharam, as an astute collector, recognized that the small world of custom, hand-made bicycles has become something of a hothouse, they felt it was an appropriate time to recognize a few of the enormously creative personalities in the movement. They thus came up with the idea of assembling an exhibition with a number of bicycles built by a representative cross-section of contemporary frame builders, and then collaborated as curators.
White and Maharam showcased twenty different bicycles from six different craftsman, three from the east coast of the United States, two from the west coast and one from Italy. Most of the builders here use traditional methods and materials – the classic brazing torch and steel – but one of them, Jeff Jones, likes to use space-age titanium to create unusual designs. There were several of White’s classically updated designs, a pair of Jeff Jones’ wildly curvaceous bicycles in brushed titanium, several of the veteran Italian craftsman Dario Pegoretti’s unusually painted machine (which feature lightweight steel frames with the most modern hardware), some of Peter Weigle’s jewel-like cyclotouring rigs, the racing bicycles of the esteemed craftsman Richard Sachs, and then the re-imagined utilitarian bicycles of Mike Flanigan, which, as much as I liked some of the other bicycles in the show, were the designs I found most interesting.
This small-format catalog features a description of the show, then a dialog between author Julie Lasky and the curators in the first few pages, and then a short profile of the builders and a photo essay on each featured bicycle. It is best described as a small coffee-table book because its not long on text or narrative and the images are nicely shot. It’s not a bible of contemporary bike building, but an overview of a growing movement. The bicycle is the most marvelously efficient device ever designed and it is every bit as valid today as it was a hundred years ago. Not everyone can afford a Ferrari or Lamborghini, but millions of people can afford to have a craftsman who takes pride in his work make a bicycle just for them, tailored specifically to the type of riding they will do. They can have a bike that is light but strong, simple yet sophisticated and, if it comes from the right hands, breathtaking to look at, whether as an object of beauty or of design. This is truly something to celebrate.
Rating: 4 Stars