Rethinking the Urban Bike Map

Posted November 12th, 2015 by Nate Wessel

Just sharing a recently accepted paper over at Cartographic Perspectives… check it out!

It’s my first ‘pub’, so…

*highfive accepted*

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Coming back to life

Posted September 28th, 2015 by Nate Wessel

This poor blog, so long reduced to second best by my Cincinnati Transit Blog, finds itself, now, I hope, rising in status, now that I’ve left that poor city and it’s desperate transit for the larger pastures of the grand and chilly Chicago North: Toronto!

Ah, Canada. Ah, academia. The one gives me plastic money issued by the other with which to rent my shiny new basement apartment from whence I commute to my dingy old basement office. There’s lots of exciting and interesting things to be blogged yet, and having learnt my lesson about blog-localization, I’ll try henceforth to keep things of general interest, while being stirred to write, surely, by both colder weather, better transit, and the lack of superb regional cartography.

To a blog reborn!

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Posted May 24th, 2015 by Nate Wessel

A sign of my slow progress: seven posts and two years ago, I told you ethereal readers that I had started grad school–a master’s in geography.

Now I write to brag further: come this fall, I’ll be starting a PhD in urban planning at the University of Toronto. That last word is the most important for me, “Toronto”, as it brings with it a change of place, of weather and of friends. Academia and planning are by now familiar to me, but Canada is not, not yet, nor a city so large as this one with such intimacy as can be implied by a four-year forecasted residence.

Eagerly I await my brief span of life within a city of fashion, wealth, and I dare to dream boldly: foresight and moderation in civic affairs.

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“Who decides what goes on the map?”

Posted April 4th, 2015 by Nate Wessel

There has always been a lot of discussion in the cartography world about the “authority” of maps. Many people, perhaps because of their long history of state production, take maps as authoritative objects, depicting a ‘non-subjective’ reality, presumably using some well-defined and long-established criteria for definition, identification, inclusion and depiction. These maps almost never identify a human but rather an institutional author if any. The obviously contestable and ephemeral content of these maps though so often belies their authority; state boundaries, so often fortified with the boldest of all lines consist in nothing but the prosaic ink of a page in a musty town hall.

As a natural reaction in a democratic world, a whole wave of cartographic effort has sought to wash the authority of state maps and even the associated authority of cartographic styles themselves associated with state efforts at definition. Maps with obviously biased content appear in the usual styles, and unusual, sloppy, styles are applied to the stagnant and reified artifacts of state production.

The question of “who made this map” becomes important when authority is implied toward contested domains. “Authority”: an interesting double meaning. Authorship seems to imply lack of authority and authority means the faceless view from omniscience: unauthoredness. Who makes the maps?

I do!

To the author, a book must appear a transient tissue of compromised satisfactions, the thoughts of a moment, subject to revision and effacement, historically to almost certain erasure. To the sculpter, a stone must be something softer than to others. To a master of any craft, the product is always contestable. What is a law to a politician? A wall to a mason may always bear the possibility for transgression.

It is not for cartographers to democratize ‘the map’, nor for artists to spread oil paints to the masses of clumsy fingers now supposedly bereft of them. We must rather hope that ‘the people’ will claim each their own domain of expertise, and from there extrapolate to ours.

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Cartographic Conventions

Posted February 10th, 2015 by Nate Wessel

With a second big project under my belt, I’m noticing some developing tendencies. I’ll write them down now so that I can decide later to cement or subsume them, or that perhaps I’m simply full of shit.

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Bicycle Leathers – the shorts

Posted September 28th, 2014 by Nate Wessel

I finally got around to starting on my bicycle leathers project!

The idea is basically this: motorcyclists are accustomed to wearing full leather, with the idea that it will protect them in case of a crash. Longboarder racers do this too though in a much sexier way if I may say so. But bicyclists never have. Roadies go to great lengths to prepare for crashes — roadrash is the main reason cited for shaving legs, and the helmet debate has been raging for decades between various camps — but yet they never to my knowledge do anything to cover their skin. I’ve gone down in lycra, and I can assure you it protects nothing.

Ostensibly this indifference might be to ‘save weight’, a common roadie obsession, but this concern simply doesn’t apply to my urban riding in the flat Cincinnati basin. Hell, my lock weighs at least 6 pounds all by itself! Anyone riding for practical purposes in New York or Chicago would surely be in the same situation. But of course… the leathers and the lock are part of a bigger imaginative context. The road, particularly for those unencumbered by petrol motors and roll-cages, can be a very mad-max place. There really must be some sense of the heroic for one to engage confidently in certain situations out there.

I think the reason motorbicycle leathers don’t often strike me as sexy is that the rider seems passive. The longboarder of course is a very active figure, swinging low into the corners, bending, leaning and sliding. Even sexier than the longboarder is the superhero, and too clad in protective layers, physically deflective but imaginatively magnetic. We are so drawn to these heroes in every context but those that matter that it’s curious to me that motorcyclists are the only ones who seem to approach the look of the modern hero. I loved the movie Kickass for it’s dark and sarcastic take on an actual attempt at heroism, though I think it’s ultimately too cynical. Or rather, it adopts an extreme case and is rightly cynical about an attempt taken too far. The movie’s costumes are the butt of jokes, and are made to be, but it’s clear too that the actors are enabled to be heroic or villainous by these same costumes. This is actual psychology!

Are we so cynical about actual heroism these days that we’re afraid to give ourselves the psychological tools necessary to try it? Or so cynical, that we know others will laugh down any attempt? I say it’s worth a try.

Back on track:

I started with shorts. I was initially going to cut these out of a dark oily brown leather that I picked up recently, but I lost my nerve at some point and went with the leftovers from the backpack I made last year. This left me with sharply contrasting colors which are great for being seen, so I’m not complaining too much. Given easier access to a range of leathers, I might have gone with a slightly darker color in place of the green, but…oh well.

So these are the first draft in actual leather, after several mockups in some leather-approximating vinyl to get the fit right.

Just a little process:

Bicycle Leathers (in progress)

Wearing them around the studio:

bicycle leathers front

bicycle leathers leg

bicycle leathers rear

One of my original thoughts was to have this piece laser-cut. I wanted to make these very airy where I could by punching everything full of holes and perforations. Other thoughts involved getting air to flow to the groin by inserting some sort of a down-and-forward facing vent on the thighs that would scoop up a little air when riding. Neither of those ideas got addressed here, though they’re still rolling around in my mind. As it stands, the shorts do little to address sweat and evaporation, though the leather actually breathes great so far.

There are three pockets, all with brass zips: One in the rear, accessible by the right hand, is small and leaves it’s contents sitting neatly in the cavity between the cheeks and lower back. Cyclists are used to carrying things here though they usually do it with their jersey. The other two are right at the knees when standing and just above the action when riding. Originally, because I ride best with my left hand, I was going to make two pockets accessible to the right by putting a third pocket on the inside of the left thigh. This plan was spoiled by my own slightly rushed and habitually symmetrical cutting, so that will have to make it to another version. As it stands though, both knee pockets serve their purpose of protecting their joints from side impact with multiple layers of leather and the pocket contents themselves. Similarly, it would be great to protect the hips from side impact, but I haven’t yet been able to work out a compromise that allows a full range of movement. There’s another idea for the next phase.

As for the closure, they’re front entry with an offset, adjustable, asymmetrical front right zip, reinforced by an extension of the right front panel that wraps around and attaches to a couple of brass rings above the left hip. Huh? Adjustable zip, you said? I needed the waistband on these to be adjustable by about two inches. I want them near my waist when I’m riding and on my hips when I’m not. Higher for keeping them in place, hips for comfort and style. Also, because I’ve had trouble with slowly stretching leather waistbands in the past, I wanted to build in a way of tightening things up. The front zip is sewn onto the front left panel, but attached via some lacing to the right, where the seed-shaped black leather piece is inset within the green. This piece provides a firmer hold for the lacing and eliminates the pulling and gathering that would have occurred if I had laced the zipper to the softer green leather. There is nothing but buttery soft leather at the top of the closure. which is obviously the idea since I’ll be mostly hunched over the handlebars while wearing these.

Let’s see if a few more pictures can’t do a better job of explaining all this…


front closed

Fully adjustable side closure:

side closure

Just the zipper now:

front open

Behind the scenes:

front closure

The laces fit pretty snuggly in the holes, so friction is enough to hold the zipper in place. At it’s top, it’s adjustable by almost two inches by letting some of the lace out. (I still need to trim it)

I will definitely try to get some on the bike photos of these, hopefully before the winter.

Overall, I’m quite satisfied with the shorts, though eager to pick up some more cheap leather that I won’t worry too much about experimenting on! I really want to try out some lasercutting and air control ideas.

As for other pieces, I have a jacket started in black pig leather and blue denim, but I’m not sure I like the fit well enough to finish the collar. That jacket was designed for winter, but I think I’ll start one for summer soon, just to spite the weather or I.

I’d love to hear your thoughts, oh elusive readers ;-)