Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Bixis As Vehicles of Diversity: An Interview with Jonathan Maurice

When Morin Heights' favourite son Jonathan Maurice first rode a Bixi, the sky opened, the sun flashed, and in an instant, he was re-born. From importer of the infamous iPod Battle, he became a Bixi Supporter who may have unwittingly spilled the beans about a Communist plot to socialize transportation. (Bixis, shall I compare thee to a Lada? Though art more lovely& temperate.)

As an early adopter of the Bixi, you're uniquely qualified to offer insight and to comment on the Bixi phenomenon, the challenges it faces, and some of the great successes the program has seen in the past couple of months. When was your first Bixi ride, and what was the impetus for that ride?

As the average Montrealer, I was starting to be a little bit frightened of getting my bike stolen or vandalized every summer. It's been 15 years that I am living in this beautifull city, but it's been also 15 bikes or more I bought (actually, I did steal one back a night I have been robbed...I was drunk, far away from home and the stealer managed to leave an unlocked bike just near my stolen one...). Anyways, I was glad Montreal adopted Paris and Amsterdam's idea of sharing public bikes, so that I could ride freely, without feeling any fear of getting robbed again! The good thing is that it cost less than the price of a used Raleigh (low class) bike to get a year membership, and it does the job honnestly when getting from A to B. For the longest drives, well I guess I would have to borrow my grandma's bike. she doesn't use it anyways.

My first bixi ride was curiously when I got back from Paris in this year may. On vacation, I had the chance to try the velib (Paris' bixi equivalent) and I was waiting for the bixi to arrive in Montreal. As a matter of fact, I knew it was coming in Montreal, but I did not know it was coming the exact same date I was coming back home. When I got back, I was eager to try the new bixis so I just put my credit card and rent it for a simple ride, a pure "goingnowhere" 2 wheels roadtrip! It was a lot of fun actually! I think I went to parc Maisonneuve with a friend of mine. It even inspired me to be romantic for a short period of time, as my friend and I decided to buy some goodies at the public market to do a romantic picnic in the middle of the montreal ecosystem.

Do you see the Bixi as part of a broader civic approach to alternate forms of transportation, or is this a one-off pilot program destined to fall into disrepair with the arrival of winter?

I really foresee the Bixi as one of the elements of Montreal's mayor proud. I know that he gave himself a lot of credit for copying what Amsterdam and, more recently Paris, were already doing. He also decided to export "his" idea to Boston, London and New York, which will sooner or later have Bixis also. So for me it is inconceivable that he would stop investing in one of his favorite project! I would not be surprised that Montreal decided to heat the bike paths up this winter! Honestly, I think bixi is more of a marketing "tour de force" than any civic approach. Obviously, it sells for itself because it is a green form of transportation, but for me, it is mostly the signature of a political gesture. A political gesture yes, but at least a political gesture that is useful!

What's the smoothest thing about a Bixi ride?

The smoothest thing about a bixi ride? Hmm, I don't really think it is that smooth of a ride. The bike is really heavy and tough to run in the hills, but in a downhill situation, yesss, it is smooth. Beside that mechanical issue, I think the smoothest thing about a Bixi ride is the fact that you don't have to find a place to lock your bike. You just leave it to the stand and forget about it. If you want to go somewhere else, you go and you don't have to bother yourself of always carrying a bike from places to places. It's like having a little genie in the pocket that makes a bixi appears anywhere you need one. There is really a lot of stands, so it is not hard at all to get a bixi anywhere in the plateau, mile end or downtown area!

As a high-profile Bixi rider (you were featured prominently in a daily commuter newspaper early on in the program), do you feel any pressure to muffle your criticisms about the Bixi program, as one would with a loved, yet flawed, family member?

Not at all. Maybe if they'd paid me though, but even then... And by the way, I hope I am not seen as an ambassador of the Bixis. I was just happy to offer myself as a satisfied user of the bixis for the medias, but the city didn't ask me anything, so I don't feel like I owe anything to the city at all.

What are some of the cosmetic and structural changes you would make to the Bixi?

I don't really care about the cosmetic of the Bixis. I am totally aware that they are far from being as sexy as the fixed gear bikes per example, but for me, the usage of a Bixi is everything except sexy. Sexiness is for cupid and individual purposes. Bixis are mostly element of a communist or communitarian philosophy, which endorse common sense and compromise, more than eccentricity and style. Maybe someday, when our society will become totally narcissistic, we'll remember the Bixis as the good old age of our past humanity, and than, they will become sexy...maybe. I don't know. I just suddenly feel so visionary!

Anyhow, the system is not perfect. Sometimes the stands are broken or the key doesn't work, but again, it is like in the former CCCP, I am sure the Ladas were not always the best reliable cars, but they were almost free!

Who do you think the typical Bixi rider is, and do you think with the program's success, a whole subculture might develop around the Bixi? What would tie together the various practitioners of the Bixi Lifestyle?

Again, as a broad public initiative, it is really unlikely to develop some kind of a ghetto usage of the bixis. I think it will be hard to identify any tendency or fashion around it. You will always find fat tourists, as well as hipsters around a Bixi stand. That's the beauty of the thing. It is democratic. It represents our diversity. For some purists, Bixis will never worth a try, but again, I am ok with that. It leaves more Bixis for my usage.

iPod Battle #1, 2006
featuring such titans of the Montreal music world as Mike Durcak, John Lee, Peer Pressure, Christopher Pare, Baz, Annie Q, Heidy Pinet, Guillaume Decouflet (pre-Khiasma days), Mange ta Ville, & me with a terrible haircut.

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