Joined by bike lanes, hipster and Hasidic Williamsburg fight over biker fashion in Mayor Bloomberg’s gentrified New York.
Bike shop owner Bill Di Paola tries to bring together two of Williamsburg’s most distinct communities: hipsters and Hassidic Jews. Now joined by Mayor Bloomberg’s bike lanes, the communities are divided over fashion. While hipsters cycle through Hasidic Williamsburg in skinny jeans and playful skirts and dresses, Orthodox Jews adhere to a strict uniform of long black skirts for women and two-piece suits for men. Fedoras and beards are where the similarities start and end.
At Times Up bike shop on South 6th Avenue, owner Bill Di Paola has tried to bridge their differences by offering free bike loans to Hassidic Jews. Although the scheme was successful at the start, the Rebbe – the Jewish leader of Williamsburg’s Hasidic community – voted against the use of bikes which has since caused the number of Di Paola’s Hasidic customers to plummet.
If anybody’s ever biked, you know it’s freedom.
Some people have biking in their roots and some people didn’t have that.
Here we have the Williamsburg bike community, which is going great and they’re biking everywhere and they think it’s the hippest thing. But right next to them is the Hasidic community that dresses a certain way. And the way people dressed when they rode a bike through their neighbourhood, was a little too sexy for their religion.
So, originally when we got here, we tried to put a lot of language on the building and stars. We had a loaner bike program where they could borrow bikes just to get the feel of them for free.
And their kids were coming here a little bit. And to get the kids in the workshop -- it was difficult for me because when I was working with the Hasidic kids, I would try to talk to them about Superman or Batman and they had no idea what I was talking about.
And then it kind of went bad because the city went in front of us and just threw done a bike lane, I think without really doing the proper research.
There’s different ideas that people have in different neighborhoods.
Some people are against bikes because they think it makes them look poor. Some people are against bikes because they don't want to lose parking spaces. Some people are against bikes because it's a change and they're not used to it. But to be against bikes because of the way people dress who ride bikes, that was something we were unprepared to deal with.
I mean I'm not religious at all. So I think religion is a huge problem but I understand that people are religious and if I want them to ride a bike so there can be cleaner air, I'm going to have to work with them I guess.
It’s a very difficult situation.
Times Up: times-up.org/
News Story: gothamist.com/2013/05/09/video_hasidic_man_gets_into_heated.php
Former bike shop: nymag.com/listings/stores/traif-bike-gesheft/
Behind the Scenes:
I felt it was important to do this story because there was little to no video coverage of the fashion/bike clash between the Hasidic and hipster communities of Williamsburg. After some research I cam across Traif Bike Gesheft, or ‘Non-Kosher Bike Shop’ that was owned and operated by Baruch Herzfeld, an Orthodox Jewish hipster who created the shop with the intention of bridging the gap between the hipster and Hasidic communities. However, Herzfeld became so upset by the gentrification of Williamsburg that he left the area and refused to come back for the film project. Herzfeld passed the shop over to environmental organization, Times Up, which is how I met my character, Bill Di Paola, the manager of the organization’s Williamsburg shop.
An interesting thing to note about this story is that in order to get shots of Bill riding his bike through Williamsburg, my colleague had to ride in a bullet bike – a regular looking bicycle except for the long compartment in front, in which I sat and filmed Bill from behind and in front of us as cars and bikes whooshed past my head on both sides.