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COP15 & Biomega On Sustainable Artifacts

Posted on 07 December 2009

Editors note. I remember finding out that Hilary Clinton was going to shake hands across a Danish Biomega and I knew we had to write about it (timely, since she is potentially up for election at the time of writing). We brought in Biomega during the Great Recession and in many ways it lacked the "post recession" aesthetic of waxed canvas and beard oil. It was, in short, ahead of its time. This year we are thrilled to bring Biomega back, and thrilled at the advances they have made in the last several years. 

- February 2016

Hillary Clinton on a Biomega? At the very least she will be shaking hands over one this week at the COP15 summit. Leaders have been invited to the house of Jens-Martin Skibsted, designer of the Biomega Copenhagen, owner of Skibsted Ideation and recent collaboration partner in KiBiSi - a new brand thinktank. Skibsted, who has been called a 'hyperactive citizen of the global design elite' is an ideal host.  Biomega bikes represent a strong internalization of the Danish cycling experience and Jens-Martin's designs are an emerging archetype - intersecting Danish design, politics, and urbanism. With a Masters degree in Philosophical Ethics (he was a co-founder of the Ethical Economy website, which Treehugger called the "Ethical Facebook"), Jens-Martin is the philosopher king of the bicycle world, having pushed function and form to entirely new levels.

Shaking hands over a bike is one thing, riding one is another. At the Mayors summit in Copenhagen, various booths will be arranged around a bike track where cities from Toronto to LA will compare the advancements they have made reducing their carbon footprints. Access to each booth is accomplished via bicycle, and once again, these bikes are Biomega.

A Biomega is undeniably Danish. Danes have a deep respect for objects that transcends mere price and necessity. An almost mechanistic minimalism and modernism may appear to embody the Danish worldview, but this couldn't be farther from the truth. Modernism assumes that everything made will be replaced by another. Each new design thus represents a rupture that signifies the death of the old. Landfills are full of these acts of violence. In the 19th century the Danish philosopher Kierkegaard warned against the empty formalism of modernism, encouraging a much more emotional pathos. It would appear that the Danes took this very seriously.

The Danish production of form is hardly empty. Carbon footprints are a lifestyle problem, and the lifestyle of the Danes may be their greatest ideational export after Kierkegaard. The Danes practice a far more curated consumption than the conspicuous consumerism of North America and as a result they spend more and own less. The aesthetic and social goal of Danish society is hygge - a word that signifies a 'cozy sociability' that creatively consumes but does not eliminate the presence of annoying elements. (We've written about hygge in a previous post). This gracious standard of living may be why Danes prefer to meet each other face to face on bicycles rather than in their cars, or why the Baltic sea is littered with thousands upon thousands of wind farms. The Danes tend to privilege personal responsibility over personal rights, and this responsibility is hardly begrudged, instead it is the platform for creative solutions with broad appeal.

When Mikeal Colville-Anderson of Copenhagenize first called Denmark the 'cycling capital of the world' we scoffed a little. Amsterdam still has way more bike lanes, more cyclists, and a longer history of city cycling. But Copenhagen is far more marketable - and Mikeal realized that. And he's right. Copenhagen has a wonderfully self-reflexive bicycle culture. The first bike lane was only paved 25 years ago. It is still in the midst of accomplishing itself. But what the Danes have accomplished is remarkable. Over 350km of cycling lanes and a plan to have one in every two citizens cycling by the year 2015. The Danes approach the bicycle with a creative and energetic vitality that is at once inspiring and infectious. And, when scandinavian design first approached the bicycle, the results were beautiful. No one had ever approached a bicycle as a design object. But the Danes wouldn't buy it unless it was. This is why little bicycle design houses like CykelMageren and Sogreni exist in Copenhagen. The Danes will pay a lot for their artifacts, after all, their artifacts are avatars of themselves - just like a car is for a North American.

Biomega is truly the most representative bicycle of Denmark. People visit Denmark to see a civilization that truly values a distilled and rarified civility as its cornerstone. The almost alchemical mix of bicycles, design, fashion, and clever urbanism represents a vernacular and dignity missing in North America. With its shaft drive, the Biomega solved the biggest problem of Copenhagen: weather. Copenhagen is covered in a misty cold ice for the better part of the year, and bikes are stored outside. Even the Dutch bikes - so prolifically scattered over Copenhagen - are victims of the salt poured on the streets. The almost hermetically sealed shaft reduces the moving parts of the drivetrain from 116 moving parts to only three, and uses grease instead of oil - eliminating constant cleaning and lubrication. This, combined with the austere Danish minimalism of Jens-Martin Skibsted, represents a notable leap in the bicycles evolution. As Gary Fisher said of his Biomega, 'it betters the breed.'

Copenhagen means many things to many people, but it almost always means bicycles and design. And fashion. Biomega embodies all of this. So, when Hilary Clinton shakes hands over a Biomega and Michael Bloomberg takes one for a spin, they are not only riding a fundamentally Danish bike, but also a reflection of Danish sensibility; of a creative and playful responsibility; of a collectivist sociability; of a capitalism that creates sustainable artifacts. Objects that bear ligature of past authority.  And bikes that keep your clothing clean. Just imagine that.

We're off to Copenhagen again in January. Report forthcoming!

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