For months I haven’t had a hostile altercation with a motorist while riding my 12-speed. It’s uncanny. In the war between bikes and cars, this cycling soldier hasn’t seen much action. Nor have I heard many tales of defying death from my bicycling comrades of late.
Granted, winter has just ended. Warm weather means more bikes in the street thereby making riders more visible, but a rising heat index can also elevate stress levels and increase incidents of road rage.
There’s a wealth of words written on this. Tom Vanderbilt has written at length about the empathy-diminishing confines of the automobile, expounding on how this phenomenon effects drivers more than passengers by orders of magnitude. It would seem operating an automobile tends to bring out the worst in us all – makes us start seeing one another less as human beings and more like mere obstacles in the way of motorists trying to drive fast.
Instead of leveling the playing field by democratizing our common street space the way bikes do, automobiles prompt us to often engage in sociopathic behavior that’s hostile, selfish, dangerous, and downright fascist.
When I’ve talked or written about the concept of Bicycle Rebellion in the past, often I’m confronted by people who say something to the effect of, “Why can’t I just ride a bike and have fun and have it not be political?” Well, obviously you can ride a bike while ignoring the political implications. I’m all for that, I do it every day. When I’m out racing down the boulevards and avenues of Portland-dee–uh the last thing on my mind is saving the planet or cutting into the profits of British Petroleum. But when I sit down satisfied after a day of riding, it’s impossible not to recognize how increasing hordes are ditching the car by putting rebellious fun between their legs.
The principle of rebellion as a political act incorporates perpetual revolution. It requires never being satisfied with a simple changing of the guard. It means saying NO to the powers that be – not because you’ll always win – but because maintaining moral consistency demands it.
As I’ve written before, it’s no accident that car culture drained our cities into soul-deadening suburbs choked with chain restaurants, dealerships, strip malls, and un-walkable 6-lane surface highways. We were sold a lie that the American Dream was about ownership of property, that we needed to buy the land, buy a house, buy a car.
Even worse, burning fossil fuels for energy and transportation is increasing the levels of carbon and methane in Earth’s atmosphere and oceans. This accumulation is causing the planet to heat, ice caps to melt, desertification of farmland, and ocean acidification, which in turn kills phytoplankton, the very basis of the entire food chain. Quite literally, the Earth is dying.
Major fucking bummer, right?
If the bicycle is to be a tool of empowerment and a vehicle for social change, we must recognize what we’re empowering ourselves to do, and what we’re socially changing away from. We musn’t be afraid to deride cars and the people who drive them unnecessarily. Applying negative social stigma might seem harsh at first, but it is an effective behavior modifier. Offending sensibilities is a small price to pay to motivate the kind bio-centric awareness required to survive on an increasingly unstable planet.
We should be free in this world to do as we wish without harming one another. However, we now understand the massive harm that cars have wrought on our atmosphere, our water supply, the social capacity of our commons, and to the very fabric of cities themselves.
The dictatorial regime of the automobile might be waning in some parts of the world, but it has only just begun in others. To lazily make my point, when Adolf Hitler was a bike messenger, he hated cycles. When he became the most loathed of fascist totalitarians, he adored being paraded around in a damned Nazi car. Sometimes Godwin’s Law is a positive.
What is Bicycle Rebellion? It is the abolition of the polluting, the loud, the aggressive. And it is the embrace of the gentle, the swift, the convivial, and the healthy.
Your bicycle is the true Great Emancipator.
It is spring. Let’s go put bikes in the street.
“If the whole world used a bike to get to work, what would that change? It would change a lot.”