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Rain City Fix, a perfect bound 60-page series of black and white photos tiled on 8.5-inch square pages, plus the promotional film, compiles the visual documents of Salo and Mastin, but the project was organized and edited by Aaron Edge, a recent convert to Seattle's loosely organized fixed-gear scene who was driven by an interest in the enveloping culture - "the simple, beautiful style of Seattle's riders and their rides" - to create the book. Edge and Salo operate from the perspective of outside insiders, coming from the art community but being involved with the fixed-gear community beforehand, and as such can allow an observational perspective in both the portraiture of the photographs and the details that give the bikes, the riders, and the scene their character. The collaboration is also highly indicative of the stylistic and image appeal of the urban cyclist, which has rapidly spread from casual rider-made products, from films to apparel, into the consumer marketplace. LAS recently caught up with Edge to talk about curating the book, the politics of cool, and the community of track bike riders in the Pacific Northwest's biggest city.
|All images Rain City Fix ©2008 Brenton Salo|
LAS: What was the common idea behind the Rain City Fix project? Who did you include, and what was the response when you began spreading the idea?
Aaron Edge: Brenton [Salo] and I do artistic projects all the time, this was no exception... it was just a bit different in that we were learning about the subject matter as we dove into it. I had only been riding a fixed-gear bike for 6 months and he hadn't started yet. It was new to us and very interesting. We included anyone in Seattle, made flyers, sent bulletins and notices online. People seemed stoked, over 60 people showed up for the shoots.
How much of the book, or the decision to make the book, was influenced by the recent mass culture interest in the "urban cyclist" lifestyle, and the popularity of video documents like MASH SF and Fast Friday?
Quite a bit, especially Fast Friday [LAS feature]. I've known about the style of riding since I lived in Philly years ago, but never took an interest until attending my first Fast Friday event last summer. That changed everything for me. Most of those people... many of which are so athletic, as racers and tricksters, were so welcoming to a new face. I made some great friends and learned a lot about riding in Seattle.
Nay-sayers will see things like the Rain City Fix t-shirt and take stabs at the authenticity of anything that exists in parameters (like a book) and cry foul, or "sell out." Why do you think cyclists are so territorial of their culture?
It's like anything else in life: everyone has interests, and we all like to stake claim to those interests and hobbies. Track bikes are just one of thousands of fads that people love and hate. If they are into something, [they] love it. If they aren't, they automatically hate it. Especially young people, and this scene is filled with young people who don't want anyone else to enjoy their fun. The fact that I'm relatively new to fixed-gear cycling, and almost twice the age of many Seattle riders, also raises flags from those into it longer or just those who think that it's a silly style of bike riding. There are some folks that are bummed that the book has a price tag associated with it. Some think we are making a bunch of money from sales, and it just isn't true. Some are just jealous that we had a vision, thought it out and made it all happen. And, there will always be people who have Nathan' better to do than point fingers.
You point out in the intro to the book that you only recently became involved in the fixed-gear culture, and it seems like a lot of the culture that is making the most popular waves is this sort of post-liberal, punk-influenced group of younger riders who have as much familiarity with the freestyle BMX boom of the 1980s and 90s as they do with the Six Day races of the 20s and 30s. How do you see the continuity of those two elements of the bike culture, and do you think not enough or too much emphasis is put on tradition?
The continuity, I hope, is that kids will keep riding a bike. A track bike might be their first introduction to cycling, hopefully they get stoked and keep riding, regardless of gear count, brakes, et cetera.
I'm the first to admit being sucked into 'bike-porn' sites like Fixedgeargallery.com and spending hours cruising the lines of a frame the same as sculpture in a gallery. What do you consider inherently attractive about the bicycle in general, and fixed-gear bikes in particular?
The simplicity, the lack of anything extra, and in my opinion unnecessary. The fact that it is such a wondrous tool to get you from point A to B. As a designer, I love that they all look different and can be customized for different personal preferences and jobs. I just acquired a 1951 Australian Malvern 5 Star track frame/fork a few weeks ago, it's been blowing my mind. The Fixedgeargallery will certainly see it soon.
Did the decision to shoot in black and white have any connection to the simplicity of the fixed gear, or were there other considerations?
Because the riders and rides were all different in style, color and gear, we needed something to tie them together; black and white photography did just that. When done, we did realize that by making that choice, we kept the price of printing lower, thus keeping the buyer's wallet a bit more fat after buying our book. We have some friends working on similar projects who are also finding out that the POD (Print-on-Demand book publishing) process is easiest, but it keeps printing costs higher than making hundreds or thousands at once. We also didn't think we'd sell many copies. I mean, how many people are into fixed-gear bikes in the first place, and how many of those care about Seattle riders, and then how many of those people will ACTUALLY pay for a book? We would have been happy selling only 50, but the response has been great and who knows how many will continue to show interest and support the project.
Is there a certain process that goes in to editing the series for the book? What is ultimately more important, the mechanics of the photograph (focus, light, et cetera) or the sense of narrative a less-flawless image might provide?
I'm still learning about that. This is my first book. Since I knew the people involved in this bike scene, I acted as project manager for Rain City Fix. The next one, which will focus on Portland's riders (Rose City Fix), will be more organized by Brenton, since he lives there. "Editing" was more about "organizing." Next book, my credit will probably just be a design credit.
How do the mechanics of publishing a physical book play out? I'm assuming there is a lot of digital transfer, which seems almost poignant, going from bike to computer to paper, considering the modern resurgence of such a classic, simple mechanical form.
It's a lot easier than you'd think, most people do it every day and might not realize it. You take a picture (even as simple as on a camera phone), upload it to a site, other's find it, add it to their blogs or profiles online and with a credit attached, it's published. We just took it a small step further and had it printed. Of course more work goes into it; proofing, copyediting and such. We took on this project so that other people would see that it's not impossible. We hope others might do it in their own city around the globe. Anyone can do it, we aren't special, we just got stoked and tackled our environment on our own.
I was glad to see a digital option for purchasing the book. Is that a reflection of anything in particular or just a sensible matter of practicality?
Not everyone has $20 and not everyone wants to have printed pieces (to save paper or reduce clutter). This was just an option for both, let's call it practicality and to provide a choice.
Is there something about Seattle specifically that can be seen or felt or understood in the bike scene, even if some of the more visibly active members aren't from the city initially? What makes "Rain City Fix" a unique look on something "Rose City Fix" or a similar book can't provide?
It really is only unique because of those who showed up to be part of it. This collection of images, people and bikes, is only a small look at the Northwest fixed-gear scene. There were plenty of people who didn't want to be in the book, who didn't know about it, or who weren't riding a fix at the time of the shoot. Those who showed up make the book special; they are why Brenton and I decided to do this. They make it unique.
What is it that you set out to document; bikes? people? attitude? social snapshot?
I wanted to document people, objects, style, function, simplicity, community, and I suppose it's also a time capsule. Some of the riders in our book aren't riding fixed-gears since the photo shoot, so, it could be a photo album and small piece of Seattle history. Somebody called it a "yearbook" and another a "zine." That's kinda' true, because it is very D.I.Y., relatively low in cost, and many hours spent creatively. We did have fun with it. I suppose it is more like a zine.
What do you felt you ended up documenting, because or in spite of your intentions, and how was or wasn't the finished collection a reflection of what you wanted?
It served it's purpose(s) for us: documenting a handful of Seattle's riders and their rides. We also got to meet these people and learn more about the culture that surrounds them. We are very happy with the finished project.
What's your take on the mag wheel trend?
I think all of the trends are interesting, from mags to different bars, because the people using them find them interesting. What's better than seeing someone go by on a bike that they are proud to ride? Not much. Because if people like their bikes, they like to ride. If they like to ride, they will drive a car less. Bikes are awesome, I don't care what they look like, how many gears or in what condition they are in.
What's the best part about riding in Seattle?
So many reasons: our weather, despite popular belief, is rarely miserable, the hills provide great exercise, we have some wonderful people in the bike community, lots of great bike shops, ferries and buses that are bike-friendly... I could go on. What's THE best part about riding in Seattle? I get to do it. I have two legs and lungs.
What's the best all-around set-up you can think of for a bike, both in terms of style and function?
That changes all the time, like clothing or shoe choices. There could be a different bike and gear ratio for all kinds of terrain or areas of sport cycling. I personally like riding a light, fixed-gear track frame, with drops and a front brake. That could change but that's been consistent for me over the last year. Having a used, old track frame with a ton of history behind it is important to me as well.
Beyond the riders in the book, who are some of the kindred spirits in Seattle - shops, businesses, events - that draw the bike community together?
So not to leave any out, I'll just say that almost every shop or business in this glorious city is bike friendly... be that coffee, restaurant, clothing, bar, outdoor/camping or otherwise. It's a great place to own and ride a bike. Velo Bike Shop on Capitol Hill, the staff and owner have been especially good to me.
Where to draw the line, if there even is one, and how solid it should be is one of the quandaries that comes with the backlash of a regional or niche social scene exploding into popular culture. Do you make any considerations for the old school riders versus the kids on new shop-built rides, or the bike messengers versus the dozens of non-messengers at alley cats and rides?
As long as people are on bikes, I think it's all great. I have no idea why people get wrapped up in things like non-messengers wearing messenger bags, or non-competitive Sunday riders wearing cycling caps. It's so annoying. If you ride a bike, some of the popular culture is sure to come with it. Shoulder bags, short-billed caps, tighter aerodynamic clothes that don't get caught in chains, all are quite practical when riding. Having fun riding should be the focus. We as people, ever judging and always wanting to fit in, get in the way of fun. It's quite sad.
The environmental benefits of cycling are often cited, but what are some of the other impacts, direct or existential or individually or collective, do you think bicycles can have on society?
A bike brings people together, as a networking tool and as a hub for greater things. It gets people out of the house and office to enjoy a beautiful day. It is a catalyst for a healthy lifestyle. It is art.
TRAILER: blip.tv/play/AbzURIHfJQ SEE ALSO: www.raincityfix.com
SEE ALSO: www.myspace.com/raincityfix
Eric J Herboth
Eric J. Herboth is the founder, publisher and Managing Editor of LAS magazine. He is a magazine editor, freelance writer, bike mechanic, commercial pilot, graphic designer, International Scout enthusiast and giver of the benefit of the doubt. He currently lives in rural central Germany with his two best friends, dog Awahni and cat Scout.
See other articles by Eric J Herboth.
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