Ramon Casas and Pere Romeu on a Tandem

Although I have never ridden tandem, if I were to do so, this is how I would want to look: defiantly elegant, fully engaged with the ride but allowing a condescending sideways glance, dressed in pure white despite the grit and gloom of the day.

I came across a cheap copy of this 1897 painting  (which in its original is approximately seven by eight feet) and liked it so much that I stuck it in a plastic frame. It sits on a bathroom counter as a constant reminder of the archetypal cyclist. The cycling costumes mark Ramon Casas—the pipe-smoking captain—and Pere Romeu as distinctive personages. If I could find classic duds like these, I think that I would toss my black wool-lycra blend and henceforth ride in like array.

Of course, Casas and Romeu had no choice but dress like this. Everyone else did too. And as leaders of the Catalan art movement known as modernisme, with many Paris connections, they had to dress according to their place in society, especially when making their entrance into the city off in the distance. In this attire, it would not be inappropriate for them to appear in Els Quatre Gats, the elegant bar in the center of Barcelona over which they presided. (Their establishment was one of the first to mount a one-man show of the work of Picasso.)

I don’t know anything about their experience as cyclists, but in this picture they are fully in charge of their vehicle, which appears to be a single-speed bicycle. They would have to be in full control in order to ride it well. The absence of brakes could be a way to strip the painting of all but the essential details, or it may be a sign that their tandem is a fixed-gear bike depending upon back pedaling to slow it down or stop. Although the handlebar bag seems bulky and in the way, the saddlebag is sleek and exactly right for people who, like me, believe in traveling light.

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