This article first appeared in our Spring 2010 issue. You can order back issues here.
Kevin Cyr paints and constructs RV-bike hybrids
Story by Leah Sandals
Many avid cyclists already feel like they live on their bikes but few have taken the idea as far as Brooklyn artist Kevin Cyr, who created a head-turning RV-bike hybrid in April 2008. Here, Cyr talks about China, Maine mill towns, Cormac McCarthy and other influences.
Where did the idea for your Camper Bike come from?
I was working for an artist who started doing a project in China, so I went over for work in 2006, 2007 and 2008. Right away, I was fascinated by China’s amazing bike culture. I used to be a bike messenger so I’ve been interested in bikes for a long time. What interested me in particular are Chinese bikes that have three wheels and a kind of flatbed. Working-class people make a living by carrying stuff on them: everything from refrigerators to televisions. I loved those bikes and their utilitarian aspects. Then, one day, I was eating breakfast outside a market, and it reminded me of camping as a kid. So I said, jokingly, “Hey, wouldn’t it be great to have a house on the back of that bike?” And I started doing sketches. How did your sketches turn into the actual bike? It evolved over a few trips. I’m primarily a painter, so I first thought of this as a drawing or painting project. But it seemed really hard to paint from concept and I thought, “I should just build this thing.”
How did people react when you tried your creation out in public?
The reaction was mixed. Some people didn’t notice, because there’s a lot of odd vehicles in China. But some people did make us stop for photographs. The camper was actually the most interesting part to a lot of people, because it was the least familiar. There’s not that much camping in China.
You’ve also made some lovely paintings of old delivery trucks and vans, a fact that some cycling activists might find surprising. What’s your response?
Those paintings of vans and trucks actually come from when I was a bike messenger in Boston. At that time, I started photographing old run-down cars and delivery vehicles I encountered on my routes. The common link was they were all really old working-class vehicles. I guess that’s my overall interest in some ways. I come from a small mill town in northern Maine.
More recently, you made a camper out of a shopping cart. Why?
The inspiration came partly from the Camper Bike and partly from The Road by Cormac McCarthy. In that book, they were pushing a shopping cart, another kind of very utilitarian vehicle. And because they were constantly looking for shelter, I thought I could make a Camper Kart. Again, I think it connects to my past, and to camping as a kid.
You also ended up making some nice paintings of the Camper Bike. Why was that important?
Well, the nice thing with the paintings was I was able to place the bike in a mountainous landscape. In Beijing there’s only city scenes, so the paintings and drawings allow me to put the camper-bike in different scenarios.
So what’s next for you and the Camper Bike?
Well, the bike is in China in storage right now. I hope to exhibit it in a gallery at some point. I’d also like to document travelling with the bike some more – I’d like to do a little mockumentary about travelling through China documenting people’s reactions.