bought her bike from us just after the main restrictions of Lockdown 1 were announced and when the weather was fine. During that time bicycle shops had been given the green light to remain open, coupled with Government advice to avoid public transport, a nationwide bike buying frenzy ensued; "I was really happy to get my bike from you, when I bought it there was a long waiting list so I did have to wait quite a while for it. But it was worth it!"
We met in Clissold Park on a cold, grey spring afternoon to reflect on how she and her racing green Chas Roberts bicycle had fared since. Alice is softly spoken with a Belfast accent and an amiable tone. Her Roberts is a traditional touring bike, the legendary Chas Roberts handbuilt it in the 70s and it has a rich history of which we can only speculate; "I like to think it has been around the world several times or something!", a fitting statement as Alice is a Globemaker by profession! She works from a studio in Stoke Newington making hand-crafted bespoke globes.
"I bought the bike to facilitate going in to work, we're a really small company and it's all socially distanced and everything." Alice was attracted to The Hackney Peddler because she was keen to support a small local business but also due to the fact we restore and reuse where possible. Our restored bikes take time and skill to assemble, they're of a bygone era resurrected for the pleasure, enjoyment, and convenience of people today and for many years to come. It isn't difficult to see parallels in what we're each striving for.
When Lockdown 1 started Alice moved in with her boyfriend in Brockley, it made sense to be together during times of uncertainty, but it more than doubled the length of her commute. She was relying on a fold-up bike that she was using for a long time beforehand. All that added riding made her seek a more comfortable and reliable bike; "commuting from Brockley just became too much for the folding bike so I decided to get a better bike. It really enabled me to carry on working!" If you are going to spend so much time in the saddle on one bike, it ought to be a Brooks B17 on an original Chas Roberts.
With the restrictions came the advice to avoid public transport and so Alice came to The Hackney Peddler, she has taste, having been the previous owner of a Woodrup and the co-builder of a steel tandem! More on the latter, later.
Alice's bike is alluring, it reveals a different quirk upon each viewing. As I go to take some photographs of it she apologises for the state of the paint and decals that are scratched and peeling away. It was at this point I tried my best to define the concept of 'Beausage' to Alice. It looks like a French word, yet far from it, it is much more sophisticated. This neologism is an amalgamation of the words 'Beauty' and 'Usage' that are combined to describe the concept of something becoming more aesthetically and/or ergonomically pleasing through use.
The term is the brainchild of Grant Petersen of Rivendell Bicycle
Works. A legendary brand creator and purveyor of quality bicycle products. As the pronunciation is unclear there is still scope to go 'French', as French as you like in fact. You could go full 'Boh-sage' or leave it at 'Bee-usage'. However, Grant states that; "in general, real materials develop beausage, and synthetics look like old junk. It's like a cowpoke's old denim jacket, versus an old polyester leisure suit...'
It is something for creators and designers to aspire to. When the chrome on the back of my iPhone scratched away, for example, it exposed a grey plastic that made it look and feel tacky. Imagine an iPhone that looked better the more you used it. When you start to conceive of finishes not as veneers but as reservoirs of meaning via beausage, then you are providing your customers with something that will continue to provide a sense of satisfaction over time and you create something truly long-lasting.
Beausage is the bowed steps at the entrance of a historic parish church, worn away by the tread of thousands of congregations entering and exiting over hundreds of years. It is the illegible spine of a well-read and loved paperback or the soft leatherbound hardback that smells of rich mahogany. It is a lovely Chas Roberts with original paint, where the scratches and peeling decals only add to its charm. Showing signs that it has been used, and used correctly.
Alice blames the scratches on a bath; "at home, it always rubs up against the bath. That's where I lock it, yeah. To the bath!" I imagine Alice's tub as displaying the same levels of beausage as her bike, as well as many of her other possessions!
"Potential upgrades might eventually be to get some drop bars and, maybe start to do some longer distances on the bike. Although I do already commute 18 miles a day!" She'd like to see a smattering of Velo Orange on her bike, and ditch the rear rack for something more elegant. She loves her brooks saddle which was already on the bike and has since molded to her form (beausage). "I picked out the gold cables as they looked good with the green and gold frame. I was considering pink for the cables but I wasn't sure it really looked right." She then gazes lovingly at her bike; "I call it my Green Robin. It has a little etching around the side of that bell - 'About My Green Robin.' It might be really hard to see because it really needs a polish (beausage), my boyfriend laser etched it for me."
Alice's creativity doesn't stop at Globemaking; "I also have my own studio in Highbury and Islington. It's in The Centre For Recent Drawing. They're really cool, I've got a big industrial knitting machine in there and that's where I make my hats from!" As we are admiring Alice's boyfriend's handiwork the conversation turns to road safety and her 'Thinking Caps'; "I made the first one for myself as a response to something I saw."
Alice witnessed the immediate aftermath of a fatal road accident involving a cyclist and it shocked her to the core; "I was so shocked. The scene was chaotic, there were paramedics there that had cut all his clothes to get to his vitals and they were strewn everywhere. The paramedics were basically just calling it. I'll never know if he was pronounced dead at the scene or later."
Alice remembers the accident happening just around the corner from The Hackney Peddler, it's truly a harrowing thought to imagine a customer or staff member being involved in such an incident. But they are all too frequent on our roads.
"It just made me think so much about risk. About the gambles I see people taking on the road everyday. In a way, just getting on your bike is a risk, but it is a risk worth taking." Alice alludes to the many benefits cycling has over other local forms of transport, especially during a pandemic. The event had inspired Alice to knit her first Thinking Cap; "I know a Thinking Cap isn't going to do anything. But I knitted it because I realised that some things are just more important. I was running late for work and I had a thought, is it really worth it?" Certainly, your life would be a heavy price to pay for taking risks on the road to get to work on time.
"I made it for myself, I didn't make it for anybody else. I wasn't thinking this is going to be the next big thing like I'm going to retire on it or anything. I didn't set out to make a product. However, I posted pictures of the first one I made on my Instagram
and I got instant feedback. If there wasn't a pandemic on it would have been great to get a stall at like a maker's market or something and make loads that I'd never sell!"
"I'm actually thinking of a new design for next year that would cover the neck as well, maybe in time for winter."
Alice doesn't subscribe to a particular cycling tribe. She views herself as a commuter and as such wanted to create a cycling specific garment for herself as a non-cyclist. She likes to avoid 'gear' and anything that is aimed to make you go or feel faster and encourages the opposite; "I want to make people think, I am an advocate of people going slower." She has a unique way of approaching road safety, though there is still room for hi-vis and other traditional forms of safety gear in Alice's ethos.
With the thinking cap being around your head, not only does it keep your ears warm, but it is intended to provoke thoughts of caution and general well being. "I've sold quite a few Thinking Caps, but really at the heart of my practice as an artist is talking to people. For ages in the art 'industry' narrative was a real taboo. Everything had to be really minimalist and held back. But now, it seems, because of the pandemic people want a conversation, they want information and little details. Lots of people have been really engaged with the Thinking Caps and sharing their experiences of cycling with me. This has been great."
Alice's thinking caps straddle two worlds, she has unintentionally created a useful product that people want, there is very little on the market in the way of an elegant, warm under helmet hat that isn't racy, bright yellow and aimed at roadies. She has also created a refined piece that provokes thought and introspection. Art.
The Thinking Cap is an all-encompassing item intended to remind people to prioritise their own health and well-being above other non-spiritual and less important ventures, like work.
So aside from coincidentally creating and producing a lovely product, what else did you get up to in 2020 I ask; "My partner and I spent some of last year on the Isle of Wight and we built a tandem out of his old bike parts. We stripped it right down and sprayed it in his garage."
It would appear as though Alice is half of a true creative power couple. She and her boyfriend Philip spent some time welding frames together to create a fully functioning tandem; "The tandem, or as Philip calls it 'the itch that's been scratched, was something we had wanted to do for a long time. We sprayed it 'blaze' orange, a paint from 1972! We picked blaze because it looks fiery fast but this is slightly at odds with the slow and steady pace that we go at! But that doesn't matter it was a great project and the tandem will see us happily wobbling back from the pub!"
Contact Alice on Instagram
for all your Thinking Cap needs!