James Wilson rides his bicycle everywhere. He’s been a bookseller (yes, the paper kind) for over 20 years. James is an active Board member of the New Orleans Metro Bicycle Coalition, (a grassroots organization dedicated to improving everyday cycling), and currently holds the position of Secretary. His views and adventures from life on the bike are chronicled through his blog www.truckbike.org.
New Orleans is a bicycle town despite itself. The roads are a potholed mess, and there’s little bicycle infrastructure. What little infrastructure we have, certainly gets used. (A recent study by Tulane University, here).
So what makes New Orleans a Bicycle town? Flat terrain (as in no hills, whatsoever), connected streets that offer alternate routes away from main thoroughfares, and a mild climate (except for a few months of blazing summer). All these make it possible to ride your bike almost year round.
New Orleans is ranked sixth in the nation for bicycle commuters? You bet! Things are looking up! The New Orleans Metro Bicycle Coalition hired it’s first Executive Director last fall. The city recently passed a pedicab ordinance, and created a sustainable transportation advisory committee, which will help focus attention on the need for cycling infrastructure in the city.
I first met Dan Harris when he approached me about putting a link to my blog on his site, www.nolabikebook.com, a book project he was working on about New Orleans riders and their bicycles. He also asked me if I’d like to be in the book. In the following interview I talked to Dan about The New Orleans Bike Book.
Commute by Bike (CbB): What made you think New Orleans was a good candidate for a book about bicyclists?
Harris: I didn’t start off looking to do a book about bicycles, but one about New Orleans from a perspective that hadn’t been done before. Once I noticed how unique the bike culture here was, the project just made sense. There is a wonderful book (New Orleans Bicycles – buy a copy, it’s good) done a few years ago that also has photos of bicycles, but no people. I decided that the photos in The New Orleans Bike Book would have a bike and the person who made/ rides it. We asked the people where they lived, or where they liked to ride in the city, so we could photograph them there. That way we managed to get almost all of the city into the book. I think we got a good representation of all the different bikes and riders here too.
CbB: Tell me about the people working on the book – I know you have more than one photographer you are working with.
Harris: There are three photographers:
- Mike Debruyn (aka insky) – Mike is one of my oldest friends. His photo’s of New York blow me away, so he was an easy choice to do part of the book. Plus, it’s nice to be able to work with friends.
- Rush Jagoe – Rush was only with us a few months, but during that time he turned in some fantastic pictures. He also came up with a few interesting people to photograph as well.
- Kyle Petrozza – Kyle hasn’t been shooting for as long as Mike or Rush, but his love of photography and talent are obvious. One look at his website, and I knew he was the right guy to finish off the book.
CbB: What is the focus of the book?
Harris: The idea is to show all facets of the bike culture, and through that, show the city of New Orleans. We have the people who ride old cruisers, handmade tall bikes, and new racers. The ones that ride for exercise, and the ones looking for cheap, ‘green’ transportation. Together they make up a great representation of what makes this such a brilliant city. Everyone who rides falls in love with their bikes. It seemed to me that the people here fall a bit harder for their bikes than in other places, and I wanted to show that.
Many of the bikes here have some little addition that the owner put on to show her or his personality. It’s not uncommon to see a bike with a basket wrapped in flowers, covered in Mardi Gras beads, and a cup holder mounted on the handlebars. That’s one of the things that I love about New Orleans. Nobody is worried about being who they are–because it’s almost impossible to be any weirder than the rest of the city.
CbB: What kind of bicyclists do you see in the city? What kind of bikes?
Here it’s a mash-up of every type of bike and cyclist that you can imagine. It kind of depends where in the city you are, as to what you’re going see. If you’re in City or Audubon Park, you’ll find families out for a ride together. The levy is where you can go for training rides, and people commute from the West Bank on the Ferry. But people ride any and all bikes throughout the city. You do see more of the tall bikes, and the chopper/ low riders in Marigny/Bywater area though.
There are tons of old bikes here, more than I’ve seen anywhere else. Uptown has a bike shop, NOBS, that specializes in rebuilding older bikes. And Plan B in the Bywater/Marigny is a community-run workshop for people who like the DIY ideal for rebuilding a bike. Throughout the city you’ll see people riding bikes that are anywhere from new to 50 years old.
CbB: What were the best things to come out of making this book?
Harris: The only thing that I came into this project with was the hope that I’d meet some cool people along the way, and it’s worked out that way. Some people didn’t want to be photographed, I’m the same way, but everyone wanted to talk about their bike. I teach scuba diving for a living and I see a similarity in riding and diving. When people talk about bikes or diving they get this amazing childlike look on their faces that’s fun to see. That’s one of the huge reasons why we ride, or dive; you feel like a kid again.
I am a people/conversation junkie. I’ll talk to anyone, about anything and love it. For me to have a reason to stop complete strangers and talk to them was absolutely brilliant. For the people we got to meet (some of the pics are just of people riding by, with others we got to spend some time) they got to talk about their bikes. Ask people about their jobs, and you may get a descent conversation out of them. Ask about their bikes, and they’ll keep going until one of you has to leave. Everyone was happy to get a chance to show off their bikes too.
CbB: How close are we to seeing this book published?
Harris: That is a really good question. My best answer is, Que? No hablo Ingles. Things took much longer than I had hoped, but all signs point towards having a publisher soon.