The Real Reason

OK, actually a reason that’s not talked about enough…

So, what can bicycling do for us and our towns and cities? The usual reasons to ride a bicycle include: health, wealth, relieve traffic congestion, and (add two or three things you think of most).

Kasey Klimes, wrting for This Big City, says the following is the real biggie:

The most vital element for the future of our cities is that the bicycle is an instrument of experiential understanding.

Can one take a motorist and/or a suburbanite on a bicycle ride and turn them into a bicycling urbanist, or, rather, a sympathizer with things urban and alternative (to the automobile)?

It’s worth a shot. It’s worth a shot primarily because, yes, one does experience the world differently from a bicycle saddle. Once the experience has been had there’s no taking it back. So, incrementally, yeah, you can change hearts and minds with bicycle rides.

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Comments 5

  1. Khal Spencer wrote:

    Good piece. I wrote the following as part of the August, 1999 “President’s Column” for the Hawaii Bike League Newsletter.

    “…Although we live in the Aloha State, the Aloha Spirit is increasingly strained by a decade-long stagnant economy, roadway crowding, infestation with dangerous drugs, and an increasing sense of economic and political pessimism. As an organization of one thousand cyclists, what can we do to maintain a community that is livable in more ways than just cycling?
    The bicycle is a pretty good symbol of personal renaissance, and it could be a symbol for a social one as well. Cycling breeds better health, cleaner air, less congestion, and more involvment with one’s surroundings. You can roll up the windows of the SUV and drive your “tank” through an area you don’t like, ignoring its problems. It’s much harder to do that while riding a bicycle. The bike puts you in touch with the community and tells you whether things need to improve. It’s up to you to put in the time and energy to work on improving the aspects of the community that need your help…Cyclists are the canaries in the civic coal mines. Small, vulnerable, and in intimate touch with our surroundings, we have the choice of giving up and surrounding ourselves with the fences and steel of walled communities and SUV’s, or of fighting back to reclaim our communities and restore their livability. All this takes effort, as I am well aware. But as an old friend from grad school used to say, “Hey, if it was easy, someone else would already be doing it”. I ask your help in guiding Hawaii towards a better future. Get involved.”

    Posted 30 May 2011 at 3:36 pm
  2. Tom wrote:

    As a instrument of experiential understanding the bicycle certainly broadens worldview- perhaps it can even shift it. I wonder though at you comment that the shift would be toward an urban-alternative perspective. Do you think bicycle commuting is only an urban phenomena? It is certainlty alternative but perhaps it encompasses more than just city life.

    Posted 31 May 2011 at 8:54 am
  3. Khal Spencer wrote:

    Seems most of these essays are written by urbanites in the bike movement, so it has a decidedly urban and liberal perspective.

    In a car, an entire city can disappear in half an hour or less. One misses a lot. Sometimes intentionally. On the day of my mom’s wake in Buffalo, N.Y., we were driving through part of the east side where I spent my childhood. My wife, no stranger to the Third World, muttered “Soweto must be better than this” as we saw people warming themselves by burning old tires in 55 gal drums in the street. We hurried through.

    Bicycle commuting for the mere mortal is on a scale of miles, not tens or scores of miles (Pete Penseyres notwithstanding) hence it works in Copenhagen or Bremen. Tougher in more disseminated environments. To the truly rural person, the bicycle might be useful for local errands as is walking, or to ride to a bus or train station, but to get the twenty or forty miles to town, is less practical. Perhaps that is the point. We moved out to the country when Buffalo exploded in the sixties. I got a lot of alternative perspective time riding my bike the three miles to school, or hiking out in the fields to hunt and fish. But I knew from the seat of that bicycle how far it was to Buffalo. That’s also when I noticed how bad the water was in Ellicott Creek–prior to the Clean Water Act and the first Earth Day, it frothed and foamed from God knows what. It was best used for floating bottles as targets for my 22 single shot rifle.

    Posted 31 May 2011 at 4:12 pm
  4. Andy Cline wrote:

    Tom and Khal… I live in a small city (or an over-grown town. My perceptive (bias) is decidedly urban largely because my interests are in things urban. But small towns in rural areas would also greatly benefit from more bicycling.

    Posted 01 Jun 2011 at 6:41 am
  5. Khal Spencer wrote:

    Agree, Andy. I’ve lived in small towns and big cities. Wherever the scale of destination fits the bicycle, the bicycle fits the need on its own. The bicycle can also fit in as part of a multimodal system. One can live in Hooterville and get around Hooterville Village on a bike and then take the train to The Big City.

    Of course, getting that load of hay to the barn, or delivering the new 21 cu ft. freezer, is best done with something motorized.

    Where some urban bicyclists, and urban bicycling organizations, sometimes miss the boat entirely is with the needs of rural cyclists. One is less worried about bike paths and bike lanes or yellow bikes than with serviceable shoulders and death-dealing rumble strips or lip paved pavement. I sometimes think that organizations such as LAB need to send a few people out to the Southwest to see how the other half lives.

    Posted 01 Jun 2011 at 9:45 am