Questions regarding Chrome's creation of the Urban Cycling Hall of Fame

Author’s note: I don’t consider myself a part of bike messenger culture. I’m not one and never have been one. At best, I’m a spectator with a gear fetish- so please be aware that my opinion on this is 1. from an outsider’s perspective and 2. being offered because I write about bag companies, and this is about a bag company.

Andy from Trash messenger bags posted the following earlier today on instagram:

I’ve been pondering the@urbancyclinghof of late, and how it is being gone about gives me some pause. @chrome_industries is clearly heavily involved, and it concerns me that their motor home is traveling around the country collecting messenger artifacts such as the pictured Stupor Bowl II flier only to see them used as Chrome marketing / promotion posts. As someone who came up through the messenger culture and is still a part of it, it makes me wonder how much of who we are is “for sale”? I think our memories and artifacts should be preserved, but not when the means serves two ends: yes, the creation of an ambiguous though important collection, but also the “no strings attached” gift of our collective experiences and artifacts to Chrome. Will @reloadbags be included for their amazing work and contributions? Will @freightbags? What about all the small messenger run companies that continue to define what messenger culture is and can be? And, do these companies want to be turned into “artifacts” of a cycling past when they are a living and breathing part of the present and future? Do they want to lend their authenticity as a corporate marketing tool? This discussion is a lot bigger than something that is on Instagram and Twitter, but I feel it worthy of being thought about and discussed in your community, which is why I am adding my 2 cents on it. If you have thoughts, please weigh in or cross post this. no one is right or wrong, but if it truly is “up to to us to define what the #uchof is” this discussion is part of it.

Commercial sponsorship in cycling is nothing new (how many alleycat fliers have you seen with bags donated as prizes?). The fact is, a lot of companies have ties to the culture, from the courier companies themselves to the bag and bike-makers (both small and large).

As any Sociology 101 class will tell you, often subcultures accrete around iconic brands, styles, and other signifiers. It serves as a shared identity, a way of recognizing people who are a part of the culture and those who aren’t.

That being said, last month, Chrome Industries and ECHOS Communication started a partnership with a number of high-profile urban cyclists to create the Urban Cycling Hall of Fame. Chrome is making a call for important artefacts of cycling culture (such as the Stupor Bowl II flier, above) to be collected and displayed first in a Las Vegas exhibit, and then in Chrome stores across the US.

The UCHOF about page describes the initiative thusly:

The Urban Cycling Hall of Fame (UCHOF) celebrates the people, events and artifacts that have shaped urban cycling. The UCHOF is the bridge from the past to the present and ensures nothing is left behind.

But Andy asks an interesting question: Does Chrome, arguably one of the biggest and most popular messenger bag brands in the world, have a right to utilize the culture this way? Especially in light of the fact that they are in no uncertain terms increasing their brand cache and (most likely) sales as a result? The romance of the bike messenger has taken popular imagination by storm in the past few years. Heck, I started this blog because I like the bags. So for a company that is marketing the majority of its gear to non-messengers, this could be seen as a marketing campaign in addition to a sincere effort to preserve and celebrate urban cycling culture (or, what’s most likely the case, it’s a little of both).

To be fair, it doesn’t seem to me like Andy is concerned with whether or not Chrome should be considered a part of messenger culture so much as he’s questioning the company’s right to the culture’s “collective experiences and artifacts” as a way to gain consumer mindshare and draw people into their stores. I think of it this way: If R.E.Load were to do the same thing, would the response be the same? I guess I can’t say, but I imagine a lot of people would take issue with it for the same reason. On the other hand, It DOES seem like there’s at least some level of anti-corporate sentiment at play here. Chrome’s the big guy, they mass produce in China, all that stuff. I suspect that many people see outfits like Trash, R.E.Load, etc. as much more “authentic” to messenger culture than global brands like Chrome. Especially when so many of these bagsmiths are/were messengers themselves.

Andy’s post has generated quite a bit of conversation from the actual players in the whole thing, including Billy “souphorse” Sinkford (from ECHOS), Amanda Sunvador (from Chrome), and even Kevin “Squid” Bolger himself (who, I have to point out, I am pretty sure is sponsored by Chrome).

It’s safe to say that Chrome HAS done a lot of good for the culture as well. Efforts such as alleycat sponsorship and the Chrome Aces project show that the community can benefit from Chrome’s involvement.

The whole thing is an interesting exploration into the notions of who, if anyone, “owns” culture and who has a right to use it for any specific purpose. Was Premium Rush a shameless commercialization of messengers? Does the fact that a respected bag company like Vaya created bags as props for the movie change your opinion of it?

It seems to be a recurring theme in discussions between messengers - talk of “culture vultures” and “fakengers” are not especially rare on the comments sections and forums where messengers hang out online. Some people take umbrage with the idea of outsiders co-opting what is considered a very serious part of their identity, especially for the purposes of fashion, or selling beer or movie tickets.

I’m interested to see where this goes. I think it’s great that Andy has asked these questions. They’re the sort that really need to be asked.