Bicycle constructors in Bucharest
Custom bicycle constructors are able to engage others in emphasizing their cultural capital. In Bucharest they are “untold kings” of a growing online community. Under a gentrified approach on urban cycling, I argue that solid bicycle infrastructures can be achieved by converting these online communities into offline critical mass.
“The number of bicyclists in our city is under 1%. We don't have the bicycle culture in Germany, Austria or Belgium”. This statement by a representative of the Street Administration Department of Bucharest is the main reason authorities aren't investing any money in building cycle lanes. “For now, the priority in Bucharest are the drivers”, Carmen Dinca added this August. Most of the bicycle lanes in our capital (122 km) have been disbanded this year due to poor design and mis-placement on the sidewalk.
Despite statements by authorities, Bucharest is a burgeoning scene for bicycle culture. More and more people are using bicycles, not only for leisure or shopping, but also for daily commuting. I have carried out an ethnographic research in the midst of a community of custom bicycle constructors in Bucharest, that concluded with a master's thesis in anthropology. I argued that those bicycle builders are not mere trend-setters among gentrified bicyclists, but they can also muster cultural capital (Bourdieu, 1973) likely to cause changes in urban mobility policies.
Top-down initiatives to building bicycle infrastructure in Bucharest have failed for now. The municipality has spent over 10 million euros for bicycle lanes, soon after taken down for being inadequate. In contrast, several bottom-up initiatives are creating human infrastructure that compensate the physical one (Lugo, 2012): NGOs suing authorities, critical mass actions, internet platforms, community events, illegal alley cat races etc.
PortocalaMecanica.ro (The Clockwork Orange) is an internet platform I launched in March 2009 with the scope of promoting the bicycle culture. It is one of the first media to address the needs of urban cyclists in Romania and it soon was followed by others. We organize several events for the community (flea markets, repair workshops, expositions, bike lessons). Portocala Mecanica has helped bicycling becoming not only more and more visible, but also more and more part of the public agenda.
On October 27, 2012, Bucharest hosted the biggest protest in Romania in favor of bike lanes, with more than 1.000 participants taking over the main avenues in the city. Still, the number isn't be enough to beat that ominous 1%. We are certainly more that that. Portocala Mecanica's latest ambition is to create a national online census to get a fairer picture of our ever-growing community. Stay tuned with our efforts at www.catibiciclistisuntem.ro.
Cosmin Popan is a journalist based in Bucharest, Romania. He has obtained this year a master degree in anthropology at National School of Political Science and Public Administration, with the thesis “Custom made bicycle constructors in Bucharest”. In 2009, together with Sorina Iordan and Ana Maria Draghici, he launched PortocalaMecanica.ro, the first online platform dedicated to bicycle culture in Romania. Portocalamecanica.ro became the most important outlet for urban bicyclists in Bucharest, has its own radio show and is organizing several events throughout the year. Cosmin has also launched in 2009 the first urban bicycle store in Romania, BiCiclop.