We know that bicycles are blazing in cities across the United States, with bike-share programs, bike shops, bicycle-friendly cafes and bicycle-friendly clothing lines popping up regularly, but a recent New York Times article about the über-friendly bicycle city of Copenhagen brought something new to our attention here at Digital Dying—the bicycle hearse.
“People here eagerly use their bicycles,” states the article, published earlier this month. “In any weather, carrying the young, the infirm, the elderly and the dead—because it is typically the easiest way to get around.”
Not many details are given, but there is a link, which takes one to a much earlier PRI news article featuring Danish bicycle designer Sille Kongstad. Forget strollers, Kongstad has been transporting her kids in a cargo bike for years and is one of the few female funeral directors in Copenhagen.
“She happened to be looking at pictures of old, stylish horse-drawn hearses,” the PRI article reads, citing the exact moment Kongstad was inspired to create a bicycle hearse. This was back in 2014, and Kongstad received quite a bit of press for her invention, including a spot on a Danish television program where she was directed to put an actual coffin, without the body, inside the hearse. “It was actually easier to steer when it was heavy,” she says.
In a way, the bicycle hearse makes sense for our time. In an age when human beings are attempting to reconsider their forms of energy and modes of transport, and in some cases rediscovering the outdoors and their own body’s ability to do work and exercise, the blossoming of the bicycle hearse falls right in line.
And of course, it is only in our modern era that the idea of cramming a coffin into an elongated station-wagon became commonplace. Typically, the body has been hauled to the cemetery or gravesite by whatever the mode of transport was common to that culture or time, i.e., a horse-drawn hearse, or a camel-topped hearse, or unfortunate minions carrying the body on their shoulders, such was the case in ancient Egypt. The difference now is the arrangement of options in front of the consumer.
The site Complex.com, in a list of “25 Great Hearses For Your Final Ride,” includes a flame-throwing hearse, a Venetian boat hearse, a hot rod hearse, a stretch Prius hearse, and a tractor hearse, among others. There is also a bicycle hearse.
“The Bicycle funeral hearse offers the choice for keen, professional or occasional cyclists to have their last journey by cycle, rather than by petrol or diesel power,” reads a UK bicycle hearse website. “It would also compliment an eco-funeral or provide that ‘something different.’”
The design, built by the Amsterdam-based company WorkCycles, is pretty simple, resembling a large Radio Flyer wagon attached to a tricycle. There is an awning on top with some black frill. It is pretty sparse but looks quite smart beside the British operator in a black top hat featured on the webpage. Though, as the page notes, “The Dutch landscape is flat so long or steep gradients are not possible for the bicycle funeral hearse.” Sorry, San Francisco.
But the bicycle hearse has popped up in Eugene, Oregon. Here, in 2013, Sunset Hills Funeral Home owner Wade Lind created a stunning hand-crafted bamboo coffin that resembles an intricate picnic basket and is meant to be attached to a bicycle. “If it would turn your cranks to not burn fossil fuel en route to your final resting place, Lind offers what appears to be the only bicycle hearse in America,” states an article about the hearse with local media outlet KVAL. Lind appears to be a sort of mortuary virtuoso, and perhaps like many morticians, a Jack of all trades. Aside from being a funeral director and crafty inventor, he serves as an embalmer, a cosmetician, and a sexton.
“When people see it, they do a double-take and that’s kind of a neat thing,” explains Lind. “It expands their perception. It takes away the fear of death.” He says the frame and bike alone weighs over 100 pounds, and with another 150 to 300 pounds of weight in the body and coffin, the bicycle hearse can be a heavy load. To solve the problem, Lind electrified the thing.
Unfortunately, it seems the mortuary-minded da Vinci has left Sunset Hills, though green funeral design still appears to be a part of his aesthetic. “I have helped propagate the concept of natural “green” funeralization through the use of my one-of-a-kind bicycle hearse which I designed, built and use for funeral services as well as marketing,” his LinkedIn profile states.
But even if Lind is no longer riding around on a bicycle hearse, he will be again soon enough.
I designed the bicycle hearse with my own funeral in mind, he told the KVAL reporter years back.
The original aim, he said, was that “I would be the person in the back of it, so I wanted to design something that was unique and that celebrates a life.”