“Get on Your Bike and Do What You Like”

« Bicycles are pieces of art. You get that combination of kinetic engineering, but then, besides the welds, the paint jobs, the kind of the sculpture of it all is quite beautiful. Bikes have such great lines, and all different styles. » — Robin Williams

I’ve been cycling a lot more of late. I’d been using my bike less frequently in recent years, unnerved by the increasingly frantic (and distracted, not a good combo) vehicular traffic of the city. But with my wife taking an interest in the activity, I found myself with a reason to get back in the saddle. This spring, we found a newly opened bike shop, earthy, grimy and unpretentious, where we got our bikes expertly tuned up.

I’ve always loathed those cliquish hipster joints that, in addition to selling overpriced junk, also seem responsible for the ubiquity of those middle-aged, over-equipped, spandex-clad Sunday cyclists, who feel it their sacred duty to pass you, whatever the pace, weather or road conditions, looking for all the world like overstuffed sausages in their lycra casings. The sporting analogue, if you will, of the rich kid who ‘needs’ the most expensive guitar in the shop… never mind that he can’t play a note.

You hopefully will indulge me in this little exercise in nostalgia. I miss the days when our bikes got us around, granted us greater autonomy and kept us in shape. This lifestyle took a backseat in the 1980s, when the BMX craze began to overstate the extreme and the competitive facets of the sport. Now, it’s all ultimate sport this and boot-camp fitness that. Ah, whatever happened to plain old utilitarian fun?

Judging from this ad (circa July, 1951), bicycle makers were trying to make their steeds mimic the clunky look of the era’s motorcycles. Aesthetics would soon improve.
Here’s a fairly typical ad, circa 1961. Free catalogue, not to mention a healthy dollop of American jingoism, like it or lump it. Speaking of Schwinn, check out their well-produced promo comics Bicycle Book, from 1949.
Ah, yes, the U.S. Royal twins, Roy and Al. In the tradition of the accidentally named Smith Brothers, “Trade” and “Mark”.
Unsurprisingly, scouting magazine Boys’ Life was an ideal market for bike-themed ads. This one appeared in the May, 1966 issue. Artist unknown… anyone?
You can tell how important the bicycle scene was: not only were manufacturers hawking bicycles, but there was also the ‘aftermarket’ trade of gizmos and doodads. I’ve long supposed ‘speedometer’ to be a dumbed-down term for a tachometer. Even after consulting this ‘helpful’ chart, I’m still not convinced it isn’t. To quote sometime Beach Boys lyricist, DJ and racing enthusiast Roger Christian: “Tach it up, tach it up / Buddy, gonna shut you down.

Through much of the 1960s, Bendix (the corporation, not Bill!) commissioned a long-running series of custom ads featuring the Riverdale Gang, illustrated by resident Archie artist Harry Lucey.

This one’s from April, 1965.
Archie, the voice of reason? Only in ads and public service announcements. This one’s from October, 1966.
This one’s from July, 1968.
Ah, that’s more like the Archie Andrews we’re accustomed to. This one’s from August, 1968. I daresay we’ve all encountered too many such ‘cyclists’.
An apt reminder that the rich kids always did boast the best, most up-to-date equipment, whatever the sport. Also, I can’t help but think that the cape and tiger tail are just kind of… reckless. Clearly, corporate shill Tigerboy is failing to heed the lessons of Isadora Duncan’s tragic death. Thanks to the ever-thrilling Jack Davis artwork, this is the unsurpassed classic among bicycle ads. It appeared in select DC and Archie titles cover-dated November, 1968.
While banana seats may be considered in most quarters as retro kitsch, I earnestly hold that they were bold and cool. Aesthetic and structural experimentation had arrived at the forefront of the cycling industry. This ad appeared in comics cover-dated February, 1969.
And here’s a look at a (flawlessly) surviving model. Man, the elegance of those lines!

As the 1960s drew to a close, another series of custom comics ads appeared — just under the wire. They spotlight the creations of the famous ‘King of the Kustomizers’, George “Barris” Salapatas (1925-2015), very much in demand thanks to his recent triumph with the Batman tv show’s Batmobile.

This one appeared in various DC titles cover-dated November, 1969. If I had to take a stab at artistic attribution, I would go with the versatile Creig Flessel (1912-2008). Something tells me that in real life, the human chain stunt the Mighty i Patrol pulls would have led to four drowned kids instead of just one — but I’m sure Woofie would have dog-paddled his way to safety.
This one appeared in DC titles cover-dated December, 1969. Read a gripping first-hand account of working on the assembly line at the Iverson bicycle factory, circa 1975!
I’m assuming that the kid with the sombrero nicked it from Bazooka Joe’s kid brother Pesty. This final adventure saw print in DC titles cover-dated January, 1970.

This, however, is the advert that really worked on me. When I got my first grown-up ten speed bike, a few years later, it was a Browning, which lasted me at least a quarter-century, until it snapped right at the load-bearing juncture of the rear fork… the one place where even welding wouldn’t help.

I switched to my backup, a hybrid bike I bought in 1987. It’s still running beautifully. In terms of value for money, a well-maintained bicycle is pretty unbeatable.

My well-thumbed copy of Adventure Cycling in Europe (1981). « Say, Uncle John, did Browning replace you with a pretty-boy model for your comic book ad? » « They sure did, but you know what’s even worse? » « I don’t know, Uncle John, what is? » « I don’t even have a nephew either! » All kidding aside, though it’s over forty years old, it’s still an insightful, entertaining and helpful book. When you go low-tech, change occurs at a slower, more forgiving pace.

I leave you with a song, whence comes the title of this article. It’s from a lesser-known but excellent Donovan album, Open Road, from 1970.


Edward Gorey: An Author Who Went for a Walk

« Painstaking drawings with an eloquent orchestration of hatchings and tickings, marvelous details of period and setting, a narrative that leapfrogs from the precise to the unexplained, a tone of vague delights in both visual and linguistic oddities. » — ‘Mr. Earbrass Jots Down a Few Visual Notes: The World of Edward Gorey’ by Karen Wilkin (1994)

So very much has already been written and said, in all media, about Edward St. John Gorey (February 22, 1925 – April 15, 2000) that there seems little of substance to add. As his work’s ultimate appeal rests in its enduring, expertly wrought sense of mystery, it should be in the Master’s spirit to show rather than tell. Consequently, here’s a gallery of favourite extracts from Gorey’s voluminous œuvre. I’ve omitted both my personal pick, The Willowdale Handcar or  The Return of the Black Doll (1962) and the too-obvious-by-half The Ghashlycrumb Tinies or After the Outing (1963), the former because I’m planning to examine it more leisurely in the future, while the latter… still manages to squeak in, after a fashion. See our bonus at the end.

The Doubtful Guest (1958).

The Hapless Child (1961).

The Wuggly Ump (1963).

The Osbick Bird (1970).

The Disrespectful Summons (1971).

The Glorious Nosebleed (1975).

The Broken Spoke (1976).

The Broken Spoke (1976).

The Loathsome Couple (1977).

The author and his creature in New York City, 1958.

Bonus bits: An entry from The Ghashlycrumb TiniesN is for Neville, who died of ennui ») turned up, of all places, in Byron Preiss‘ splendid The Beach Boys (1979), which chronicled the band’s history up to that point through reams of quotations and illustrations, matching a gazillion visuals artists with a favourite BB tune. Gorey’s entry (reprinted and détournée with the author’s consent) was the setup for a dyptich. It provides a visual for Busy Doin’ Nothing (1968) one of Brian Wilson‘s finest compositions from his years in the wilderness; well before Seinfeld, it’s a song about nothing, set to a lilting bossa beat. Hey, get the mug!

I generally have little use for Walt Simonson‘s work, which I find overly-mannered and illegible, but I give him full marks here for wit, creativity and musical discernment. His contribution to Byron Preiss’ book focused on Brian Wilson’s bucolic I Went to Sleep (also 1968), a companion to Busy Doin’ Nothing and a fascinating miniature that gives a sense of Brian’s eventual creative direction had he not been forced to stick with the tried-and-true, official Beach Boys sound to this day. Simonson does a very effective Gorey pastiche, don’t you think?

« You know, the kids had quarrelled, so they’re taken off to see a corpse, which is decayed and completely hanging. It was parody. » — Gorey, interviewed by Clifford Ross (1994)

Oh, and if you should find yourself in the vicinity of in Yarmouth, Massachusetts, do drop by the Edward Gorey House!