Yesterday lunchtime I strolled across town to The Royal Exchange to check out their ‘City Cycle Style’ photography exhibition. Initially I made the mistake of actually wandering into the building itself; but as the eyes of the wealthy and influential looked up from their expensive lunches, and the immaculately attired waiters regarded me with suspicion, I realised the exhibition wouldn’t be found nestled amongst the posh cafés and luxury goods stores. Feeling the heat of the disapproving stares on my back I retreated outside, and found the exhibition on cycling to be in its rightful place – hidden out of view at the back of the building.
The images – shot by fashion photographer Horst Friedrichs – apparently captures “London’s most stylish cyclists”, so it was a surprise to see the gurning face of Boris Johnson amongst the voguish ladies on Pashleys and young men with tattoos astride their custom fixed gear rides.
I’ve encountered Johnson riding his bike, and the word that sprung to mind wasn’t ‘stylish’. It was on a wet wet morning commute heading along Southwark Street. I pulled up behind a bedraggled figure unprepared for the weather; a sopping mop of blond hair and a soaking suit, he was stooped over some piece of rickety machinery he appeared to have pulled out of a shed and through a hedge. Nowhere in the dictionary under the definition of ‘stylish’ can I see the words ‘drowned rat’. It’s still puzzling to me how the Mayor of London can arrive at his office in a suit that needs to be stripped off and wrung out, and it’s occupant given a good towelling down, transferred into a dressing down and handed a mug of hot cocoa. I like to imagine him conducting official meetings with slippered feet resting on his desk as his clothes gently steam on a nearby radiator.
Clearly in an attempt to help him blend in, Johnson has been given an attractive vintage bike to model next to. I can’t quite believe he actually owns it, and it’s still missing a decent set of mudguards for those rainy day commutes. Maybe Boris next to an actual Boris Bike would have been more fitting?
Alongside our esteemed Mayor sit photos of the esteemed fashion designer Sir Paul Smith, esteemed Lord Mayor Alderman Michael Bear, and various other esteemed members of the establishment. Others of appropriate occupations – artists, inventors, entrepreneurs, fashion designers – are captioned accordingly. ‘Derek’, a weekend racer and owner of a veritable fleet of bicycles, remains occupation-less; clearly he does something irrelevantly ordinary for a living. Maybe I’m just cynical, but I’ve a hunch half the people in this exhibition aren’t featured due to their innate stylishness.
But despite my cynicism, I applaud the intentions of ‘City Cycle Style’. If the men and women in suits, the bankers and financiers and trust fund managers of the city, can be persuaded by famous faces and successful creatives that cycling is a viable alternative to taxis and private cars, then I’m all for it.
‘City Cycle Style’ runs until 29th October at The Royal Exchange.