City Beautiful: Bikes of Burden

This week’s City Beautiful is dedicated to images of people carrying improbable loads of stuff on bicycles. Our thanks to Urban Observatory for inspiring the idea, with a recent feature on French photographer Alain Delorme’s  surreal series of Shanghai cyclists balancing superhuman cargo on trikes.

As an urban biker I’ve watched in awe at what people here in New York and other cities manage to haul through traffic with two wheels, people power, a little ingenuity and a lot of balance (I think my biggest cargo was a giant roll of bubble wrap, which is comparatively weak). While exploring these images, though, what emerged was something more than just the comedy and skill of biking with awkward items. There are also powerful connections between migration, labor, and the bicycle as a livelihood necessity.


Alain Delorme’s staged photographs of migrant workers in Shanghai are serenely absurd and simply beautiful – they touch on the complex intersection of production, consumption, and the rapid expansion of Chinese cities (see the rest here):

The sculptural skyscraper of boxes above isn’t incredibly far from the truth, as in this documentary photo taken in Beijing (via Reuters):

Shifting to a little European cycling history, for over a century French onion sellers have been pedaling from Brittany to peddle their produce in the U.K. – before World War II over 1400 “Onion Johnnies” would load up strings of Brittany’s distinct onions from the French countryside and sell them door-to-door in British towns and cities. Flickr user seat2j captured this present-day Onion Johnny in London:

Photographer, writer, and epic bike trekker Gregg Bleakney spent some time a few years ago training with the Colombian national cycling team – you can see several photos from Bogota at Dutch Bike Co. Seattle. The image below is of a little repair shop that popped up along one of Bogota’s many bike lanes. Looking at the couple riding by in the background, “bike commuting” takes on a slightly different form:

Some of Bleakney’s newest work comes from two and a half months on photo assignments in India. This slideshow features some of his shots from the project “Portraits of India on Two Wheels,” inspired from observing delivery cyclists in Mumbai. It contemplates how for  300 million Indians bikes are a necessity for work, but also laments that cycling culture in the city might be lost as cheaper motorcycles are accessible to more people:

Vodpod videos no longer available.


One comment

  1. What one can accomplish with a bicycle is quite amazing – it is similar to how a post can expand as it travels and grows!
    Donovan GIllman

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