January, 2015
The imaginaries of Velomobilities

The imaginaries of Velomobilities



The bike and the question of velomobility was an important part of this years Networked Urban Mobilities conference. “The imaginaries of Velomobilities” session brought together researchers from different countries and backgrounds to present their studies, opening up a discussion on what cycling is or should be, and what role velomobility should play in shaping our daily mobility and cities. As the sessions went along and the plenary discussion took off, it was interesting to see how there were points of contention between different imaginaries of velomobilities, something that might be a bit unusual among cycle researchers and advocates who normally share a common notion of progression towards the ideal city with more bicycles and fewer cars.

Biking diversity

One of the central understandings of velomobility articulated at the session was that cycling needs to become more democratic. Especially in England, a narrow conceptualization of cycling as something that is exclusive to a “velo-elite” is predominant. The white 20-30 year old male, who is capable of rubbing shoulders with cars in his daily commute, is the image of “the cyclist”, and there is a lack of imagination as to what the future city could look like with cycling as a central part of everyday transportation. Public bike schemes have the potential to be the antithesis to this. The city-bike, with broad wheels and the rider sitting upright instead of hunched over the handlebars, makes for a different experience, closer to that of the pedestrian. “We need to bring the vocabulary of walking into the world of cycling ”, as one participant put it, “especially also in the way of talking about urban design”. As there are many ways of walking or being a pedestrian, velomobility in this sense should be about velomobilities, as there are also numerous and sometimes contenting ways to be a cyclist. Researches need to bring out “the absent” velomobilities, and facilitate bike diversity through this. The case of the Dublin city-bike serves as an illustration of this.

While there are barriers to entry, such as owning a credit card, and the users so far have largely been white and middle-class, the sight of people riding around in ordinary clothes lends credibility to the vision of biking as an urban form of transportation for others than speed-crazed young men.

Spaces of bike flows

Even though the lycra-clad figure on the carbon racing-bike might be vilified, there are some elements to this form of velomobility that shouldn’t be entirely discarded. If velomobilities are supposed to be alternative to automobility, the bike needs to be able to get from A to B relatively fast, as well as something that has the potential to cover larger distances than just the urban center. This imagination of the bicycle is more closely associated with that of the car than the pedestrian.  As explained by one participant: “I wouldn’t want to ride on a cycle path, but rather a cycle road”.  If the bicycle is to become the primary modal choice, the bike, and the infrastructure that facilitates it, should be about easy and quick movement through the urban landscape. When trying to make it in time for getting to work or picking up children, the last thing the everyday cyclist would want is to navigate a Jan Gehl-esque shared-space nightmare, or having to deal with finding a public bike station away from the desired destination in order to drop off the bicycle.

When we imagine spaces of bike flows, we also need to think past the needs and desires of the tourist or the flâneur, towards a logic of speed and route optimization.

Cycling as proxy for other changes

Different imaginaries of velomobility aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive, but provide different approaches to how we could work towards more cycling in our cities. In part, this discussion of course has to do with the different geographical backgrounds from which we speak. In cities with very little cycling, the need for a more diverse view of velomobility is important, compared to cities with many bicycles. However, this discussion can also be seen as a consequence of cycling being a proxy for other changes. We can all agree that we want a city with more cycling, but those who contribute to this dialogue are coming from different underlying ideas and desires as well as different urban realities.

What do we see when we look at the bicycle? Is it a transportation system, a tool for social justice, better public health, a way to a more inclusive urban space, a sustainable alternative to the car, or is it general revolution? The bicycle, as any form of mobility, contain “social imaginaries”, based on the plurality of everyday life, which also contains desires and aspirations for new forms of urban life. Precisely because of this, the bicycle and the many ways it can be included in everyday life, represent a multitude of openings in regards to the discussion of sustainable post-carbon societies.


Thanks to session organizer & chair Peter Cox, as well as the presenters:

Bruce Bennet, Tim Jones (on behalf of the cycle BOOM team), Morgan Njogu, Thomas Sick Nielsen, Hjalmar Christiansen, Carsten Jensen, Britt Zoëga Skougaard, Jonas Larsen and Till Koglin. Also thanks to Damien Ó Tuama, as well as the general participants.

Between dark scenarios and bright futures

Between dark scenarios and bright futures


Between dark scenarios and a bright future

Conference for a sustainable and competitive European transport industry by 2050

When: 29th January 2015 – 10:00-17:00

Where: The European Economic and Social Committee – EESC, Brussels

For registration and information:

Recapturing the Cosmobilities 10th anniversary

In November the Cosmobilities Network celebrated its 10th anniversary with a conference on Networked Urban Mobilities. 165 people from all over the world attended this event with an art exhibition in Copenhagen. They were part of making it an intriguing, interesting and special scientific and artistic meeting. Thank you!

Here is a first short video recapturing it. During the next months we will publish some blog posts from the conference and video-recordings of the keynotes at  

We wish you all a happy new year and look forward to connect further in 2015!  


Ulrich Beck (1944-2015)

BeckWe are deeply concerned to hear that German sociologist and author of the Risk Society, Ulrich Beck passed away on January 1st. The global sociology community in general and the Cosmobilities Network has lost a public intellectual, a singular free mind, constant inspiration, a challenging voice and unique political figure in science and society.


In his writings and social commitment Ulrich was fighting for cosmopolitan mobilities and a world where mobility wouldn’t be a threat but a blessing. He was fully aware of all risks and dangers for modern lives. But he never lost his optimism for a better world and another, a reflexive modernity where people meet and interact with each other instead of being xenophobic and destructive in competition.


Ulrich was very generous and supportive with Cosmobilities from the earliest days of the network. In his welcome note for the 10th anniversary conference in Copenhagen last November he wrote:


“It is a pleasure for me to see how this research network has been growing over the last ten years. I can still remember the first days of Cosmobilities and the workshop on Mobility and the Cosmopolitan Perspective at our research centre on reflexive modernization in Munich in 2004.”


“Today, Cosmobilities has been growing from social science into a strong voice in interdisciplinary research on mobility and transport. Your work still has a significant impact on the mobilities turn in social science. Understanding cosmopolitanization and the globalization of the modern world is impossible without understanding the diverse forms and dynamics of mobilities.”


“Against this background the Cosmobilities Network has become a reflexive place and space for re-thinking the basic principles of modernity and for the future of modern societies. Congratulations for ten years of innovative scientific work! And all the best for the future.”


We are deeply concerned about his death and feel with his family and friends.
Mobility and the Cosmopolitan Perspective will live on in our network and future.


Photo by Regina Schmeken, published in Süddeutsche Zeitung 


Read Ulrich Becks 2008 text on Cosmopolitanism and Mobility:

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