Friday, January 14, 2011

Return to Simplicity

In the twenty-first century climate of cycling advocacy, the efforts of cyclists versus anti-cyclists should be clearly demarcated. Ideally I suppose, in a utopian world, there would be no point of establishing such a line. Cyclists would merrily meander down the road, and motorists would wave with broad smiles, or perhaps a friendly horn toot, in passing (after all, there is no such animal as an anti-anything in Utopia). Of course, that is folly because Utopia is where naïve individuals wearing rose-colored glasses call home, where the future will be full of peace and harmony and everyone gathers often to hug and sing Kumbaya. In reality, it exists nowhere and, as there are cyclists, there will be anti-cyclists. Yet, all cyclists should be as one, unified in advancing the collective rights to share whatever transportation avenues exist; whether they are greenways, rural roads, or city streets. Unfortunately, that idea also is only found in Utopia.

A large part of the problem is, that within the various cycling strata, like any societal structure, people often view each other suspiciously when faced with different ideas, or contrasting values, in any hot-button issue. And my idea, while I think it to be grand, if not the same as your idea, will most likely be seen as wrong by you. Try as I will, my attitude will often fall prey to the reverse as well. What then is the grand umbrella where cyclists can stand, (or, if you will, ride) together?

It is that amalgamation of rubber, metal, and plastic that brings us together. Whether it is has one or more wheels, or multiple seats, it should mean the same to all cyclists. Whether it is the everyday commuter who rescued a ride from a junk yard or the spandex-clad weekend warrior who spent the big bucks on a high-end model at a true bicycle shop should not be of consequence either. In a way, that is a Pollyanna view, but restraining it within the prison of the mind’s eye is wrong, very wrong.

Before progressing further, I must own up to my station: In my house there are two bicycles, both purxchased new, with an average price tag of $1000. In my wardrobe there is several pair of cycling shorts and a few cycling jerseys. I own a pair of cycling shoes that partner with a pair of now-disbanded clipless pedals. And, of course, there is the requisite helmet because the idea of sipping my meals through a straw is not appealing.

I do not ride daily. In fact, most of my opportunities find me packing bicycle-on-car to seek a riding venue. Living in a more rural area, where few retail stores exist, I do not have many options for errand-running. Having a seventeen-mile one way work commute, with no secure bicycle parking, and no hygiene facilities at work, and a job that requires I play dress up at least four days a week, fairly negates that opportunity. As well, you don't want to get me started on the rumbled-leaving-a-four-inch-rideable-shoulder US 31W that is my main egress to freedom sans bicycle rack.

All of those criteria should place me in the upper strata of cycling society. Yet, I do not see it that way. I do not sneer with contempt at the cyclist who commutes daily for all, or even part, of their ride. I do not stand, dressed in my cycling regalia, next to someone in baggy jeans and a t-shirt and act as if they are beneath me and should kiss the ground at my feet.

My friend, Anthony Siracusa, in his jaunt across Europe and Australia on a Thomas J. Watson Fellowship to learn about non-American cycling cultures, reminds everyone in his Pedal Power writings that the bicycle should be something that brings everyone together, not splits them apart. That we are one as a society, and that oneness sometimes means we will expose our imperfections to each other. That we, even in our subcultures, no matter what they are, will be discovered as flawed; that we should strive to be individuals divided by nothing of consequence to the point that it sullies our lives with anger and mistrust.

It’s inherently true because when I straddle the saddle, no matter where I ride, I often pass other cyclists (and pedestrians) sometimes so close that we could reach out and touch one another. I have the opportunity to look into another person’s eyes, to share their world on a more personal level than when we are sequestered in our metal, glass, and plastic boxes, screaming past each other on aggregate compound slabs at seventy miles an hour. And sometimes, despite my best intentions, I egregiously screw up following the rules of cycling conduct that I seek to obey.

Yet, that is the appropriate climate. Not one predicated by persons whose cycling adventures find them shackled by desideratum considerations, and rules of their own internal prison. Not one where the opportunities of the bicycle-as-a-social-tool are castrated by the opinions of people who fail to heed those sage words of Jesus Christ about he who is sinless casting the first stone (and yes, I too often toss many stones).

So, fellow cyclist, I shall not regard your efforts, your ideas, as unworthy. Whether you reciprocate is entirely up to you. Let’s just ride and enjoy the opportunity to interact with one another.

Happy Trails!

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