What does a technosocial assemblage look like?
Well, it looks like this.
With its upright riding posture, eminently practical design and robustness of construction, the archetypal Amsterdam bike is an unremarked-upon everyday object of considerable beauty. More or less as soon as I touched down here, I conceived the idea of picking up a pair – one each for Nurri and myself – and having them shipped back to New York for us to ride there.
There’s a problem with this line of thinking, though, and it swiftly made itself obvious: there’s a profound relationship between everything that makes the bike experience here so wonderfully practical – the riding posture, the ability to ride while dressed in ordinary street clothes, the lack of a need to wear a helmet – and the entire public infrastructure of bikeways that supports this mode of use. Still more important is the extended context of social practices and agreements that enfolds rider, bicycle and path. The individual machine, separated from this culture medium, is just a fetish object (albeit an unusually comfortable one).
None of this quite means that I’ve given up on the idea of shipping some bikes home. They’re still pretty rad, and New York is flat enough for them to make sense as conveyance. But my enthusiasm is clearly for the place of the bicycle in Dutch society, every bit as much as it is for the object itself. The one, as beautiful as it is – and as infinitely easier to transplant – cannot substitute for the other.