Pete Jordan invited me for coffee a couple days ago. Pete is perhaps best known for his 1990’s zine Dishwasher Pete but I know him as another bicycling obsessed Amsterdammer and author of the very thoroughly researched book “In the City of Bikes: The Story of the Amsterdam Cyclist“. It’s an absolute must-read for anybody with an interest in the history of urban cycling.
Pete showed me a project he’s been working on for several years and quite frankly I feel a bit stupid for never noticing this phenomenon. It seems there are bicycle bell tops (“beldoppen” in Dutch) pressed into the streets all over the city. Rattling over cobblestones and tram tracks unscrews them from their bells and eventually flings them to the ground. Most beldoppen probably end up in the gutter and get swept up by the street cleaners but some get squished into the asphalt or between cobbles where they remain as part of the road surface. There they remain, sometimes for years, getting driven over by thousands of cars, trucks and motorcycles. Eventually the road gets resurfaced and the beldoppen disappear.
Few people would ever even see the beldoppen. Even fewer, or perhaps precisely ONE person would meticulously record their locations (many hundreds of them) and vital statistics in a database and re-photograph them each year during late May and June. Why May and June you wonder? Well, that’s the only time it’s light early enough to photograph these busy, inner-city locations in daylight but without traffic.
Some beldoppen remain in place so long that the passing traffic eventually wears them down to bell fossils. Only the center, circumference and vague pattern remain. Who would even realize what they were looking at if they spotted one of those?
Pete’s beldoppen project deserves a more public exhibition space though. It’s currently displayed on the walls of his WC. Any gallery curators in the market for a fascinating piece of urban archaeology art?