Heels on Wheels: Good Bike duo

Photos by Molly Crealock

Heels on Wheels: the duo

Good Bike Project founders, Caroline Macfarlane and Vanessa Nicholas

Ages: 26

Occupation:  Program Coordinators at the OCAD University Student Gallery, founders of The Good Bike Project

What was the purpose of The Good Bike Project?  Did it achieve everything you hoped it would?

Caroline & Vanessa: It all started when we painted an abandoned, rusted bike outside of the OCAD University Student Gallery, where we work. That simple act didn't have any larger purpose beyond beautification; however, it became politicized pretty quickly as the painted bike was soon thereafter ticketed by City officials.

The political climate in Toronto was tense last summer, thanks to mayor Ford, who launched his "war on graffiti" and made a motion to remove the newly installed Jarvis bicycle lane at nearly the same time as we decided to paint that bike. Our brightly painted bicycle was an act of graffiti that doubled as a neon beacon for cyclists; and so, naturally, the arts and cycling communities considered the yellow ticket [warning pending removal by City] that was stapled to the Raleigh’s frame as a call to arms. When we posted a placard in our window and a write-up on our blog asking people to help us save our bike, our joint email was flooded with hundreds of supportive messages from across the city and as far away as Brazil and Australia. Local and national news outlets fanned the flames and soon the City had no choice but to pay attention.

The sudden celebrity of that bike led to an invitation from the City to take our neon vision city-wide using bikes from the dump. As cyclists and arts workers, we were excited about such an opportunity; but were also perplexed. Our neon bike was one part graffiti and one part cycling, and at that moment City Council had both in its crosshairs.

At the end of the day, the City became a frenemy of sorts and the project became all about advocating for arts initiatives, cycling safety and community builders. One needn’t look further than the bikes themselves to see the rich range of our experience and the project’s ultimate success: they were tagged, re-painted, ripped apart; they were stolen and recovered; some were decorated with stickers, others with notes about loved ones; many bikes were marked with a distinctive white scrawl that read “not art”; and few were left untouched. We consider every marking, adornment and missing part as a sign of dialogue and engagement. Every email, comment, phone call, placard and flower was an exchange; and starting conversations was our aim all along.

Where is the project at these days?

C & V: Our project has dissolved and few of our Good Bikes are still on the street. A few were adopted and remain in place, like the one at 401 Richmond; but most went to a local artist working in Parkdale, and the rest went to scrap metal. We’re still selling our zine and continue to be engaged with the local cycling community; and we’re consulting on a number of satellite projects that were inspired by The Good Bike. For example, there has been a very successful offshoot of The Good Bike Project in Thessaloniki (Greece) called The Recycling Project; and we’ve also heard from project coordinators in Sackville, New Brunswick, Amsterdam, Colorado and elsewhere. Good Bike sightings have been reported from Guelph to Romania.

You’re planning a "Bike Biennale" to be held in Trinity Bellwoods on June 16. How did you come up with this idea? 

VN: My friend Amy Pettifer and I met as Stewards at the Venice Biennale in 2009. Soon thereafter she coordinated a Bicycle Biennale event in the UK, which was meant to be a community level, grassroots version of the high profile, international art event we’d been a part of. She invited makers and artists to gather together on their bikes after having transformed their bike baskets into market stalls and/or gallery spaces. The pop-up event critiqued the exclusivity and economy of the art world, and also promoted cycling. Amy is flying from London to Toronto for a visit next week, and it made sense to plan a Toronto event in her honour.

Who will be participating in the biennale? 

C & V: The event is open to whoever would like to participate. We have some confirmed participating artists, however, including Shannon Gerrard, Matt Moreland, Christopher Speck, ALSO Collective, Marta Ryczko and Marta Chudolinska. Our promotional cards were designed and hand-printed by Eunice Luk of Fantasy Camp. We’ll be selling our project zine and some tote bags.

Have you ever ridden your bike to a gala event wearing formal attire? 

CM: Yes! Last summer I rode my bike to the Palais Royale for the Fake Prom event in a full length, vintage prom dress and heels. I find riding in heels much easier than walking in them!

Can you tell us a bit about your bikes? 

C & V: We have matching Miele 3-speed bicycles. We’re such a joint unit that we’ve practically merged into the same person; so we thought: “Why not ride twin bikes?”

With our dandyhorse youth and employment issue set to launch any day now, we'd like to know what you do for a living and if it's something you see yourself doing in 10 years? 

 C & V: We work as Program Coordinators at the OCAD University Student Gallery. This means that we plan events and exhibitions for the gallery space. Our job involves liaising with students, staff, faculty and practising artists and designers. We love it.

We’ve worked at OCAD  together for a year-and-a-half; but we’ve been working together on our blog, The Good, which centers on Toronto’s creative community for even longer. The Good Bike Project grew from our blog and was our way of recognizing the neighbours and initiatives we’ve been celebrating on our blog since its beginning. In addition, we also identify as freelancers (writing, consulting etc).

A lot can happen in ten years; but we both imagine working together on expanded versions of what we do now. Ideally, this means realizing large scale community art projects, editing a magazine and doing consulting – all under the umbrella of The Good.

What is one thing you’d like to see the city do to improve cycling?

C & V: Separated [or protected] bike lanes! Cyclists’ safety is still compromised in the painted lanes that predominate in Toronto, and all too often one encounters parked cars and delivery trucks.

Related on the dandyBLOG: The Good Bike Project 'zine review.
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