Sunday, August 22, 2010

Taking Names

The would-be operator of Budapest's planned bike-sharing scheme, due to launch next summer, has posted an open invitation to give the system a catchy name.

Having posted the invite early last month, Parking kft., a wholly owned subsidiary of the city administration, has already collected more than 2,300 suggestions, available on a downloadable Excel sheet. At present, the default name is "KKKR," the Hungarian acronym for Bicycle Public Transport System. Definitely not as cute or as catchy as some of the existing bike-sharing names around the world: Vélib (Paris), DecoBike (Miami Beach) Nice Ride (Minneapolis) or Ecobici (Mexico City).

Not surprisingly, the great majority of submitted proposals involve a wordplay in the Hungarian language. That's fair enough. However, because Hungarian is such an oddball language, many of these names will go over the heads of non-Hungarian speakers, who will presumably constitute a small but important share of the system's target market. Even worse, some of the names would give non-Hungarians a misleading idea of what they refer to.

In the first category would be suggestions such as "Kerékváros," an amalgam of one of the many words for bicycle (kerékpár) and the word for city (város). It's good wordplay and descriptive of the system, but if you don't have specific knowledge of the magyar tongue, you won't get it.

Under the latter category of potentially misleading names are a few amusing examples. For instance, more than a couple sound -- at least to my American ears -- like names for a strip club or gay bikers' bar:
  • BuBi
  • Hop on me
  • BooDbike
Then there's a surprisingly large number that suggest some sort of niche head shop targetting dreadlocked bike couriers:
  • rollbud
  • joint bike
  • Overdose Bike (probably not one of the top contenders ...)
And there are these odds and ends:
  • BikeKV -- I assume this is an allusion to Budapest Public Transport Co, popularly known by its Hungarian acronym "BKV." The problem with this is that the BKV, particularly at this point in time, is so widely loathed by the public that the connection would do much more harm than good. During the last two years, BKV became widely known as a hotbed of financial corruption, so much so that a public prosecutor litigating a case against one of the key perpetrators called it an "organised criminal enterprise."
  • PubBike -- When I first saw this, I automatically assumed it was a simple combination of "pub" and "bike," meaning an ideal mode of transport for the pub crawler who doesn't want to risk a citation for drunk driving. On further consideration, I can see that it's more likely a shortening of "public bike." My initial interpretation probably says more about me than the person who submitted the idea.
  • Nyeregbe magyar! -- In the current political climate, there had to be a few jingoisitic submissions. Literally it means (something like), "Into the saddle, Hungarian!" It's a play on the first words of the revolutionary National Poem by Sándor Petöfi. "Talpra Magyar ..." ("On your feet, Hungarian ...").
In my opinion, the better suggestions are those that use wordplay that works in multiple languages. A few that fit the bill, more are less, include:
  • BiciPest
  • VeloPest
  • BiCity
  • BikeBud (this one could be understood as "Bike Budapest" or "Bike Friend")
  • FreeCikli
Anyway, the invitation is still open. If you want to give your two cents, send it by email to

Friday, August 13, 2010

Cycling rocks!

If you're planning on seeing Iron Maiden at the Sziget Festival Saturday, you might consider heading out early to catch the world's first bicycle-powered rock tour.

A collection of musical acts from San Francisco have banded together for a European tour that's entirely human powered. Riding under the banner "The Pleasant Revolution Bicycle Music Festival," they transport themselves, their gear and their stuff by bicycle. They even bring their own sound system -- a special, energy-efficient digitally programmed one that runs on pedal-powered dynamos.

As the tour website explains:
More than a bike tour or music festival, this is a new movement for an evolving culture of transportation cycling, renewable power, and greener music/community events.
According to site, at least five different acts are involved, ranging from folk funk ensembles to classic singer/songwriters to a guy called CelloJoe. One or more of these is scheduled to perform at 5 p.m. at the Sziget's Civil Jatszótér stage. For audience participation, you can get on one of their exercycles and help juice the amplifiers.