23 October 2008

The Five Cycling Senses - Touch

Moi, en hiver
It's a touchy-feely thing, urban cycling. It's physical, organic and a feast for the senses. I figured I'd try to portray the five senses in relation to cycling in Copenhagen. Starting with Touch.

People don't talk about 'cycling' here in Copenhagen. You don't get to work and discuss the morning's commute with your colleagues. You may comment on the rain and whether or not you were caught in it but the whole act of urban cycling is so second-nature that it isn't even mentioned.

As I've mentioned before, we don't have many cyclists in Copenhagen, we only have Copenhageners who get around by bike. Sure, there are groups that hang out together. The sub-cultural bike messenger crowd and the fixies do their funky thang together. The woolen-socks in sandals/trimmed greying beard crowd join the Cyclists' Federation. The rest of us just ride around because it's easy and fast. 57% of Copenhageners say that's why they ride. 17% mention excerise and only 1% say they do it for the environment.

Since starting these blogs I've asked friends what they like about riding their bike everyday. The most common reply, it seems, is that it's nice to experience the fresh air and the weather. And then the conversation quickly moves on to something else. There's nothing really to talk about. It's a routine - an enjoyable one, sure, but just a part of daily life. We don't discuss teethbrushing techniques either.

So, the photo above falls into the Touch category. Feeling the light spring rain, snowflakes, a sudden downpour or the stabbing, painful slivers of ice during a storm on your face and hands are definately appropriate for Touch. Feeling the four seasons up close and personal is an aesthetic part of urban cycling, even if you get drenched once in a while.

Festival Mood
Holding Hands *
Touch is riding with friends or loved ones. Sure, you can hold hands while driving but it's not quite the same thing.
Family Bike *
And this kind of togetherness would be difficult in a motorised vehicle.

In the Right Place
Our sense of touch applies to all of our body but it is our hands that most used. Therefore I've included a shot of hands on handlebars. Riding with a firm grip up a hill or a loose grip through the city or even just riding with one hand. Fingers reaching for the brake and squeezing it. It's all about you touching the machine and controlling it.
One Finger Riding*
Even with one finger.
Two to Tango
And even if it's two sets of handlebars.

There are various postures people use at red lights, as we've highlighted before. Many people just rely on their toes to keep them balanced at the light. Tensed muscles supporting a body and a bike, ready to push off at a moment's notice. A brief connection with the ground before sailing off on two wheels.

Tip Toes
Magic Moment

Find the Pedal
Just after that magical moment when 'lift off' is achieved and the bike is rolling forward of its own accord and the foot that propelled it forward has lost contact with the ground, the next event involves the foot finding the pedal. Seeking it out in a combination of instinct and experience as well as touch. It's second-nature. We don't have to look for the pedal, we know where it is. But the touch of the foot on the pedal confirms it and we can start pedalling away.
Lift off.
Double Up Red Light
The cyclist on the left is seeking out the pedal with her foot. Preparing to accelerate.

Yellow Line
Seeking out the pedal is one thing, but the foot sometimes needs to find purchase on the curb. Placed just right - according to individual taste - until motion is required once again.

Anyone else have any observations about Touch in relation to cycling? Add a comment and I'll start thinking about the other senses.


Anonymous said...

Hi! Just came across this website and think it's great. Was wondering when the next 4 senses of cycling are going to come! I'm an architecture student in the UK and am doing my thesis on cycling in the city and the senses so this is really useful! Keep up the good work, Ben

Pete said...

Excellent post dude - thank you so much for an enjoyable read. I seriously hope that one day the streets of Cardiff might look like this! haha - well we can all dream!

village mama said...

Awesome post!

Unrelated, but my next request is: kid chic 'close ups of what kids wear'

jennine said...

oh whew, it scared me that it might be snowing already in cph...

but you're right... some places it's not a virtue, but second nature... and it's spreading.

i remember when i lived in london i rode b/c i hated the tube, and it was so much more expensive, being from san francisco, london's a snap on the road... cars don't go fast, no hills... but that was in 2001-03... and since then, bikes have increased by 90%... so i guess in the last 7-8 years it's still a novelty.

Anonymous said...

It it just me or am I spotting more and more "American" type bicycles on this site (the ones where the handlebars and saddle are positioned at the same height). Makes me sad to think my country's taste in bikes is perverting old Europe's sense!

melancholic optimist said...

I agree that a big part of the reason I enjoy riding is the engagement of the senses - the feeling of the cold air in the mornings, the mist in the fog, the wind in your hair and through your lungs... it's much more invigorating than riding a bus or driving. Not to mention the ability to go slowly or stop and look at things along the way, smell things around you, hear the sounds of the city. Portland has a lot of beautiful neighborhoods, and it's really enjoyable to ride through them, seeing peoples' gardens, smelling flowers and trees, smells of cooking and fires from houses, hearing birds and dogs and the crunch of things under your wheels.

I think both the physical activity and the engagement of the senses help me to feel more awake and ready to start the day by the time I get to work, and also to feel less stressed - for me it's easier to get stressed out about time if I'm in a bubble only thinking about getting somewhere.

Wallabee said...

I agree with the post above. The wind around my head and caressing my checks are really something I pay attention to. They tell me what is going on around me. If it is going to rain or will the sun keep shining. Its the little things that you pay attention to during cycling that you never would in a car.

Gladis said...

I always enojoy noticing how different types of surfaces give a different feel to the ride.

Asphalt, sidewalks, bricks, gravel, grass, wooden boardwalks, etc. :-)

Andy said...

Great set! I am always impressed. The first pic had me wondering though, how early does it start snowing in Copenhagen?

Raquel said...

Excellent post!the engagement of the senses is the best way to continue our relationship with the weather

chococat78 said...

This post further encourages me to commute by bike to work a few days a week :) Fantastic post!

Scott Banks said...

Cognitive scientists explain that when we use tools, the tools extend our sense of touch. For example, if you pick up a ballpoint pen, leave the cap on, and drag it over different textures, you can feel the different textures. The interesting thing is that you feel the textures at the tip of the pen, not in your fingers. Try it.

The same happens on a bicycle. You don't feel the road just as vibrations in your butt and palms. You feel the road in your tires.