Monday, 12 May 2014

Of bikes and benches

It's World Bike Day on June 3rd!

Everyone needs a bike.

Down to Earth by Michael Cheval @ Cheval Fine Arts Inc

And most people need a couch.

This is a couch. And also, you'll notice, it's a bike.

Miggy, my imaginary best friend: I like the look of this. I could get a couch bike and kick back with a piece of cake.

Mungo, my imaginary husband: I wonder if you can get a TV with it?

This is a blog about bikes and benches. And bike benches. 

There are plenty of cool bike benches around, like this one by designer Mike Farruggia in San Francisco.

Bike Week is coming up soon and sadly, there's no Bench Week. But have you ever been internet shopping for a bench and found a message like this:

                             People who buy benches also buy bikes

followed by loads of suggestions of bikes that you can buy, even if you only want a bench? 

Miggy: Yes. This is very irritating.

But then some people seem to think you should ride bikes on benches.

Mungo: And on picnic tables.

Miggy: Lord Brassica would have a heart attack if he saw this. You know how he loves picnic tables.

And you know how he hates bikes. 

Apparently they get in the way of his Landrover.

There is a bit of confusion about bikes and benches these days. 

Mungo: How can you confuse a bench with a bike? A bike has wheels - it moves freely. Whereas a bench is sited in a specific place. 

Here is an example of a bench which, although sited in a not-very-appealing place, nevertheless makes the point that a bench is sited.

Miggy: Yes, sited, not sighted - that's different. A bench cannot see.

L'Hommage Bicyclette Bicycle Bench, etsy

Mungo: So is there anything Bike about this Bench? 

Actually there is. This is L'Hommage Bicyclette Bicycle Bench and it is made from old bike frames. It costs $575. 

Miggy: I could buy a lot of cake for that price . . .  

. . . and quite a few donuts too.

Speaking of cake, a couple of years ago Mungo, and Miggy and I cycled down the Danube bike path in Austria. For a long bike trip you need a good bike. Here's mine.

No, this is not one of those Ghost Bikes to mark the spot where a cyclist died. This is an aesthetic bike which suits my minimalist nature. Fortunately, I am thin and light enough to manage a bike like this. 

Not so for poor Miggy, who, for obvious reasons, has to ride a bike with a huge saddle and balloon tyres.

my photo, Tilburg, Netherlands

This is Migs in a campground along the Danube. I think she'd forgive me for saying she looks like a waterbed trying to ride a skateboard. 

Miggy: No, I don't forgive you and anyway, it could be worse.

One of Us on a Tricycle by Steven Gregory

Mungo: I saw a cyclist like this outside one of those Austrian cake shops

We found it hard to resist the gorgeous pastries and sachertortes. At this lovely cafe in Emmersdorf, we gave in. 

my photo

If we don't stop eating cake we're not going to fit on our saddles, I warned them.

bench by Kuga Misato

Outside the cake shop there was a bike on a bench, though the rider seemed to have jumped into the river.

Miggy: What is it with bikes on benches? 

Mungo: Don't people ride on the bike path anymore?

We saddled up and set off again.

It has to be said that most bike benches don't look very comfortable. Some people go to great heights in order to avoid sitting down.

iggy: I like the couch ones. Especially if I could get somebody else to pedal the bike. 

Mungo: Maybe the pedalling could power a TV? 

The Danube bike path from Passau to Vienna is 320 kilometres long. We met people along the way who were doing this over a week-end but the three of us were taking our time. 

Miggy: We had a lot to do, photographing benches and such. 

Here we stopped for the bench and then discovered a spring of mineral water to fill up our bottles. 

But first, we had to find a bike rack, preferably one that had a bench. We found this lovely one.

Miggy: Wow! That's a jazzy bike rack. And a brilliant bike. It reminds me of some cakes I made for . . .

Enough about cake! This is supposed to be about bikes.

Mungo: And bike racks. 

When I was combing through images I found this one: 

Mungo: I find it odd that there are people who dedicate their lives to researching, designing, photographing, and sharing ideas about bike racks. 

Miggy: There are geeky people who do the same with benches. Not mentioning any names.

It has to be said that many of these bike rack benches don't look like a really nice place to while away an afternoon.  

But this bench near Canterbury looks fairly comfortable.

Miggy: And it has the added benefit that if the river behind it rises, it could be used as a raft.

Having sorted out the bench bike racks, we had to find places to get cake, otherwise Miggy refused to cycle.

photo by Shinobu Matsuo

The cake and/or the cycling wore us out. Mungo took this picture of Migs and me collapsed in those German park benches that look like lounge chairs. The benches are huge and have the effect of making people look small. 

Miggy: And now you're going to point out that you're the slender person on the left.

I'm the slender person on the left. 

One of our best camps was at Weseneufer in Austria, not long after crossing the German border. The Danube was unexpectedly in full force and had flooded many of the campsites along the banks. Consequently, a lot of prime river-front sites became available. Frau Mitter gave us the very best.

my photo, Weseneufer, Austria

This is the wonderful view from our tent door and what a coincidence; right beside the Danube there's a bench. 

Miggy: I thought we could do with a nice bench inside the tent though. 

Mungo: And a TV.

As it happens, there is a Bike Furniture designer named Andy Greg in Michigan. Here is his clever S-2 upcycled bicycle seating which, with these red tyres and good padding, sells for $500.

Nice. Does it come in any other colour? This doesn't match the tent.

Sure, you can have blue. Or black. Or you can have a loveseat.

Fabulous! I can see the wheels of bike love turning here.

OK, that's enough chat. It's time to get off the sofa and back in the saddle. 

Make that the Bike Sofa, from Hiroshige Koike at Scarabike in Japan.

Scarabike make bikes mostly. But they also make bike sofas. 

And bike stools.

Wow! It's easy to get off track here when you see all these cool bike benches/sofas/stools. 

Yes. We really need to get back on the bike path. Or radweg, as they say along the Danube. 

Actually they don't say Danube. They said Donau.


The Danube path is flat and easy to follow. Most of it is paved. Here is Mungo with his bike and Miggy's bike alongside the river.

Mungo was bored by then. He was missing QI and The Bridge and Have I Got News For You and Radio 4 and all his other favourite programmes. 

Then my minimalist bike didn't work out too well and there was a bit of a row and my bike was, ahem, thrown into the river.

We tried to retrieve it but guess what we came up with?

I couldn't see how I could carry on but Mungo persuaded to stick with it.

                                                 Bicycling Couple 1925, Alfred Courmes

Just past the Schlogen Meander we stopped at a specialist shop and had a look at the bench bikes. Here's one by Eric, who makes a lot of bench and sidecar bikes.

This one from Berlin had the bench in the front. It would have been ideal but Miggy wanted to sit there while I pedalled and I wasn't having that.

You could definitely fit a little flatscreen TV onto that front wheel and then you could watch the Tour de France while you cycle.

Yes, Mungo, we get it. You need a TV.

Eventually I chose this stylish vintage bench bike.

Ah, just the thing for pedalling on to Vienna!

These photographs of our trip may give the impression that the June weather was lovely but definitely it was not. 

It rained almost every day of the trip. 

Usually it poured. 

Quite often it thundered and lightninged as well. 

And in case you doubt how wet it was, here is a cyclist we met riding up river.

my photo, Cass Sculpture Park

At various points you need to cross the river and ride along the other side. Along some stretches of the bike path bridges are scarce so crossing is done by ferry. 

Here is Mungo summoning the ferry with his gong.

And here is Mungo, less cheerful, waiting for the ferryman to hear the gong and come over from the other side to collect us. It was Cake Hour so we had a long wait.

I suggested he buy a TV and a satellite dish to pass the time.

While we waited, we saw a mountain bike climbing a bench with no sign of a rider.

This is a bike in search of a mountain, said Miggy.

Back down on the radweg, this bike was lucky enough to find its bench.

It seemed like our bike trip was going to be idyllic from now on. 

Morning Ride 1907, Erik Henningsen

We cycled on to the beautiful Wachau Valley, where we were overtaken first by some leisure cyclists . . .

. . . and then by a shopping trolley . . .

. . . and then by a unicorn.

We came to a junction where we had a bit of a disagreement about which direction to take.

While all this was going on Miggy disappeared into the town and Mungo caught her stuffing her face with cake. 

Oh for heaven's sake, Migs, give it a rest.

Next time I go on a bike trip I'm going to bring some of my other imaginary friends (ones who don't like cake).

So, just to recap on bikes and benches: 

  • A bench can be a bike or a bike can be a bench. 
  • Some benches move, some don't. It depends on whether the bench is a bike. 
  • Most bikes move, except for the ones that have been dismantled to make a bench. 
  • Or ones which are designed to be bike racks for bikes rather than actual bikes. These, of course, are not benches though.
  • Very occasionally you will find both a bike and a bench together, moving.

Apparently this woman took six days and eleven trips to move house entirely by bike; the bench was the last thing to go. 

As for our Danube trip, we finally reached the outskirts of Vienna where we were surprised to see a familiar cyclist pedalling ahead of us.

One of Us on a Tricycle by Steven Gregory

That's what exercise will do for you, said Miggy and we had to agree.


The beautiful painting at the start of the story is called Down to Earth (2016). It's by Michael Cheval, who paints fanciful Absurdist paintings, drawings, and portraits. Inspired by the Surrealism of Salvador Dali when he was young, Cheval describes Absurdism as a game in which familiar things and phenomena acquire a bright, new meaning. His work features in books and is exhibited in a wide variety of exhibitions in the US and elsewhere. His own gallery is Cheval Fine Art Inc in Fair Lawn, New Jersey.  

The Bicycle Forest in Ontario aims to promote bicycles and other human powered vehicles as a viable form of transportation. Through renting out a large diversity of well maintained human powered vehicles from manufacturers all over the world, Bike Forest hopes to give people a taste of the various options currently available. Brent Curry and Eivind rode the Couch Bike through Maritime Canada in 2002. It's a handmade bike with a frame built around an old leatherette love seat. It's steered with a tiller linked to the two front wheels on either side of the couch.

Miggy is my best imaginary friend here on Paradise Island. She runs Miggy's Make A Wish, a cake shop cafe in Fribble-under-Par, serving a healthy selection of delicious meals cakes. For more about Miggy and other residents of Fribble and Drizzly see

Every year Miggy and Mungo and I do a bench-finding trip and I don't always get a good service from Miggy and Mungo. Last year, for example, our trip to Greece was a bench mission impossible. This year we got high on alpine benches in Switzerland, Austria and Slovenia. We also managed to find some tasty Italian benches, though ice cream was just as much of a priority. 

There are many fabulous European benches and much diversity. Twenty-eight EU countries, twenty-eight benches: how hard can it be? There's a whole alphabet of Dutch benches, and if you want to go beyond Europe, have a look at the fiesta of Mexican benches or the lovely benches of Las Vegas or Japan.

I have two husbands, one real, one imaginary. Mungo is the imaginary one, who travels with me and has common sense. My other husband is His Excellency, who stays at home and philosophises about benches and other matters. Do they build benches for me? No, they do not. Have a look at their workshop benches to find out why

The sculpture of a reclining figure is not Miggy but Music, by Mari Andriessen (1961). It's in the forecourt of the Schouwburg Theatre in Tilburg, North Brabant in the Netherlands. 

Mike Farruggia is a sculptor, furniture designer, cab driver who lives in San Francisco.  He designed the Bike Bench, shown at an art exhibition called Recalibrating the Synchronicity of the City in 2005. In the same year he was artist-in-residence at the Solid Waste Transfer and Recycling Center, where he inspired and educated people about recycling and resource conservation, providing San Francisco artists with access to materials to work from.

Niccolo Caranti is a student from Trento in Italy. The guy riding his bike on a bench was at Morecombe Bay in 2007. He certainly is getting A Look from the passerby. The photograph is from the photostream of Niccolo Caranti at

What is the law on benches anyway? Is riding a bike on a bench legal? Do you need a driving licence for that? You'd be surprised

Keary O. is a musician, photographer, DJ and drinker of orange juice, now living in Portland, Oregon. That's not him riding the bike across across the picnic tables though; it's Howie. Keary O's photostream is at  For a more conventional take on picnic tables, see Lord Brassica's guide

Yes, Lord Brassica, Fifth Earl of Drizzly, hates bikes, but fortunately he didn't mow down all these cyclists. Samuel van Dijk photographed Wheels in 2010.  He currently lives in Tampere, Finland, where he is a freelance designer, producer and film maker at Chaindata     

L'Hommage Bicyclette Bicycle Bench is made from old bike frames and I saw it on etsy in 2013. It doesn't seem to be there now but I still think it ought to be included. 

The beautiful sleek bike I said I rode down the Danube is not a bike at all; it's a bike rack which has pride of place outside the tourist office in Wittlich, Germany. We stayed there for a while in 2012. I recommend the bike paths in the Eifel region, up the mountains, and down through the Moselle valley.

The Big guy is called One of Us On a Tricycle. He and the Fish on a Bicycle are sculptures made by Stephen Gregory, photographed at Cass Sculpture Park in West Sussex in 2009.

Emmersdorf is an exquisite little Austrian town along the Danube path, not far from Vienna. This stretch of the path, from Emmersdorf through the Wachau Valley was for me one of the best bits. 

Jeremy Petrus (born 1973) is from Montreal. His MishMash bench was made in collaboration with Italian bike saddle maker Selle Royal ('selle' is Italian for saddle). The designer explains that "Mishmash is the result of the combination of two designs: Nelson's 'marshmallow' sofa and Castiglioni's 'sella' stool . . . Mishmash is more of a functional sculpture than a comfortable sofa. My goal was to study and apply basic principals through a classic exercise, and of course, to pay tribute to some of the greatest." His website shows the wide range of his work: objects, interiors, graphics, performance art, moving images, etc.

Cycling in Denmark is apparently pretty tricky if you don't keep to the path. You can end up in a haystack, as in the photograph taken by Tomasz Sienicki in 2009.

The bike which seems to be parked on a bench is actually not on the bench at all, but it's a fun illusion. The photograph is called Parkbank and it was taken by Thomas Kohler in Waren, Germany in 2011. Thomas writes about tourism at

The bench made up of multicoloured bike seats was shown at Tokyo Design Week in 2007. The designer was Kuga Misato, who at that time was a student at Hokkaido Tokai University. Japan is a great designing country. For some very special Japanese benches see

The multi-storey bike riders are the Truppe Dalian from the Chinese State Circus, seen by Usien in Germany in 2010. 

Mark Stosberg from Richmond, Indiana seems to work a lot with bikes. Most of his photos on Flickr are about the topic of bikes-as-transportation, especially the Yuba Mundo, Big Dummy, bakfiets and the bikes-at-work trailer. Bike guys will no doubt know what this means. In the story Mark is pulling the girl and the couch. This trailer can apparently pull up to 300 pounds so might be suitable for hauling Miggy to the cake shop. It was photographed in 2009 and appears on Mark's Flickr photostream at

The pretty pastel bike and the arty bike rack are not on the Danube bike path. They are from Polish designer Agnieszka Mazurek, who is an interior architect in Poznan. I saw it on the behance site at  For more amazing European bench designers have a look at the 28 benches from the EU.

The comb bike rack is from Knowhow Shop in Los Angeles.  It is the collaboration of Kagan Taylor and Justin Rice, and was started as an extension of their shared interests in traditional craft, digital fabrication, education, and a commitment to contemporary architectural design. Knowhow Shop is a design/build studio, laboratory for material exploration, a classroom for both digital and traditional craft, and a community space for strange and imaginative happenings. The design for the comb bike rack was sparked by this question: “What would I lock my bike to if I were really small?” The bike rack places itself within a history of social satire and asks us drivers to notice those who are smaller, and more fragile than cars and yet share our infrastructure."  If you're particularly keen on comb benches, there's another one on Benchsite at

SPOKES is an active campaign group in East Kent to encourage cycling and publicise its benefits. The "raft" bike rack is near Canterbury. It was installed in 2012 beside the Great Stour Way and conveniently allows bicycles to be parked between the slots at the back whilst providing a comfortable outlook to the river and shared cycle / foot path ahead.

The gorgeous coffee and cake was photographed by my dear friend Shinobu Matsuo on a previous trip to Austria.

Inspired by years spent in bike shops, and riding bikes, designer Andy Greg makes beautiful bike furniture such as the red S-2 bench and the Modulas love seat. S-2 also comes in black or blue). Located on the shores of Lake Superior in Marquette, Michigan, Bike Furniture Design is a design and manufacturing studio specializing in contemporary, modern furniture made primarily from recycled and upcycled steel, aluminum, and carbon fiber bicycle and motorcycle wheels, handlebars, and frames. Since the original Bike Chair, Bike Furniture Designs have grown to include a wide-ranging collection of high-quality tables, bar stools, loveseats, and more chairs.

Scarabike in Japan makes bikes mostly. They're beautiful, bespoke quality bikes which bring together Japanese craftsmanship, engineering excellence, first-class materials and elegant, understated styling. But designer Hiroshige Koike also made the Scarabike Bike Sofa and the Bike Stool, seen at Tokyo Design Week in 2009. And since then he has joined forces to make other bike furniture, such as, in 2013, the recycled Sweet Seat from artist Rachel Spire at ReGEARED

Thinking outside the boundary of what furniture is, an old metal drum, bicycle parts and other recycled finds turn into industrial works of functional art. Sweet Seat is crafted from 55 gallon drums, the corners and cut metal edges sealed over with inner tubes from recycled bicycle tires. Other materials include recycled wood decking and bicycle gears, pedals and chains. Based in Dallas, Texas, Rachel has an old spin on near gear in her shop at  

Isn't Splash an amazing photo? Lots of people think so. It has been selected for the Flickr Perfect Photographers group, and many others. It was photographed in 2007 by Vitor Guerson, who is a designer and webdesigner in Rio.

My bike was not thrown in the river and the bench fished out of the river was not the Danube. It was the river Mystic in Connecticut. The photograph, taken in March 2014, is by Eric Heupel at  Eric likes photographing wildlife and birds and other living creatures at

Eric Cornwell in Athens, Ohio has been enthralling and delivering the inebriated since 2009. How? He makes a lot of bench bikes and sidecar bikes that are ideal for use as pedicabs. At Upcycles Bikes, he has a passion for designing and creating unique human-powered machines using recycled materials. His Bikes Bring It company is dedicated to providing human-powered services using vehicles built by Upcycle Bikes. Eric offers local pedicab rides for any amounts in tips starting at a dollar.

The two girls on a bike with the bench in front were seen in Berlin in 2011. The photograph was taken by . . . some guy   (no, seriously, that's his  Flickr name)  Some Guy lives in Montreal and has travelled a lot in Europe and elsewhere. 

Kate Robertson from Idaho Falls is the Queen of Creativity. She describes herself as a painter, mixed media artist, weaver, spinner and writer. Besides that, she photographs all kinds of stuff wherever she goes on her creative pursuits, including the lovely pennyfarthing bike bench shown in the story. On World Animal Day, her horse and dog benches were saved on Noah's Ark. She is a Kaizen-Muse creativity coach and she has loads of ideas on how to get your creative mojo working. She has various blogs; I first saw her at

The man with the bigscreen TV and satellite dish on his bike was photographed by Michael Foley in Hanoi in 2010. You'll notice that he's talking on his phone at the same time. That's a lot of technology on one bike.  Michael from Dublin is an educational technologist who has travelled and photographed a huge number of countries around the world. But as he says, it's not the countries he HAS visited which is interesting; it's the ones he hasn't done yet. 

The mountain bike on a bench was seen and photographed in Switzerland in 2013 by collideous, who lives in Biel.  Well, you could say that Switzerland is the appropriate place for a mountain bike. Apart from being a web developer, Collideous is a very serious cyclist and if you enjoy stunning scenery viewed from a bike, his photostream will please you. This is cycling at its best! For some glorious alpine benches see

The black and white photo of a bicycle carved into a bench was photographed by Ian Southwell in 2015. It's a memorial bench on the beach bike path at Hengisbury Head in Dorset. Ian is a photographer and web developer who lives in Salisbury in Wiltshire.

Morning Ride was painted in 1907 by Danish artist Erik Henningsen (1855-1930). It's a joyful painting, full of love and sunshine on a morning in Copenhagen. Henningsen was a Social Realist painter whose work exposed poor and disadvantaged groups in the late 19th century. His paintings invited social comment and empathy for wounded workmen, evicted tenants, people injured in the street. He is one of my favourites among the Nordic Realists. 

The couple on pennyfarthings were cycling in Christchurch, New Zealand in 2013. They were photographed by Jocelyn Kinghorn, who is fairly new to Flickr but has captured a lot of lovely sites around New Zealand. She also has photographed the effects of the not-so-lovely earthquake of 2013.  at

Ryan McFarland blogs about bacon, beer, travel, making stuff, and his new adopted son Jacob. Back in 2007 in Arizona he managed to get a photo of the shopping trolley bike which he posted at  This was later published in a book by Wild Pansy Press (2010).

Korean designer Eungi Kim was shortlisted in the Seoul Cycle Design Competition 2010 for his Horsey bike. The designer said I wanted to give a special look to bicycles so that people would care about cycling not only as transportation but also as a lovely pet. Then I saw Pearl the Unicorn bike, which apparently prances around town with her friend Charlie. I don't know which town but Pearl was photographed in 2011 by the speaker guy at

The red ghost bike riders at the end of the story are also from the Seoul competition for bike racks. The designer of Dynamic Seoul is Leon Zhu from China. His bike rack aims to energise the streets of Seoul.

The bike facing both ways is of course not a real bike, not in the sense of riding down the Danube anyway. It's called Art Bike II and is . . . um . . . an art bike. It was shown at the Catharine Clark Gallery in San Francisco in 2006. the photographer is Todd Lapin

The Bicycling Couple are very stylish and doesn't he look understanding about whatever is bothering her? This was painted in 1925 by French artist Alfred Courmes (1898-1993), who had a long career and was still exhibiting into the 1980s. 

Debbie from Lancaster is the woman towing a bench with a bike. In December 2012 she actually moved house entirely by bike, an admirable effort to be green. Her blog says it took six days and eleven trips to move three and a half miles from one place to another. Somehow I doubt that house moving by bike is going to catch on. 

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