Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Bikers Unite

"Spring is Here and the Time is Right for Riding in the Streets, oh…”
Magic Bike
Not quite the same sentiment of the Stones’ ‘Street Fighting Man.’  There was a time during the summer of the Republican convention in 2004 when the police were stopping young people on bicycles as suspicious ‘terrorists’ of some kind.  Terrorizing motorists, Republicans and sex stereotypes evidently.  Now Minneapolis is one of the top bicycle towns in the U.S.  Number two maybe? The bicycle/pedestrian Greenway cutting across the south side in a deep rail ditch has more traffic than most city streets.  It’s not all just because there are few hills in this town. People ride in the winter and ‘fat wheel’ winter bikes owe Minneapolis their status as birth mother.  I remember when this storm of two wheels started, and one of the local right-wingers was virtually threatening to run over bicyclists with his SUV.  He didn’t of course – another blowhard.  Fewer bicyclists are dying because drivers are getting used to them.  This is true in every city where bicycling picks up – accidents lessen.  But pickup truck drivers are still the worst, the most aggressive, the most hostile.  The white bikes still show up as memorials, lashed to street-side poles.

Young people are tried of the car culture and nature is tired of the car culture.  The auto companies are running scared, just like the churches. The Democrats have had to make being ‘bike friendly’ part of their cultural platform in dozens of cities, as they have little to offer beyond easy decisions to paint white lines down some streets.  Go to Amsterdam or Copenhagen.  There cars are #5 on the roads, after bicycles, scooters, buses, delivery trucks and then cars.  Or Hanoi, where the destructive car culture of China has still not appeared so strongly. Scooters are king in that old city.  Or Phnom Penh – tuk tuk’s and scooters rule with bicycles.  Even in China the bicyclists are making a comeback through the thick smog and traffic jams. 


Right-wing motorists argue that bicycles should be governed by the laws of automobiles.  Yet the bicycle rider is closer to a pedestrian than a car driver.  Are people on skateboards, push scooters, roller-blades or wheelchairs all like autos because they also have wheels?  Just to ask the question, answers it.  What really distinguishes the two is not the wheels, but the motor.  Bicycles are human-powered like the others, and can be carried into elevators, ridden on sidewalks, thrown over fences and ridden on walking trails.  Anything with a motor – including those tiny short scooters kids get for off-roading – cannot do that.  Which is why bicyclists – except for who I call the ‘spandex boy-scouts’ – ride through red lights and stop signs when no one is there.  It’s called jay-riding and its similar to jay-walking.  A misdemeanor ‘crime’ not enforced, a ticket not written.  A law ginned up by automobile drivers for bike riders 60+ years ago.  The reason bicyclists do this evil deed is because the most precious asset of a bicyclist is forward motion.   


Did you know that bicycles are a gateway drug?  Yeah, to good physical and mental health, inexpensive commuting, zero emissions and being grounded in the places you pass through.  It will also get you places faster than walking.  My 5 mile round-trip to work gives me a 40 minutes workout, building exercise into the day.  Not relegating exercise to some concrete building separate from daily tasks. 

Metamorphosis (CGG)
However, that shiny two-wheeled thing with a seat can be a gateway drug to motorcycles too.  Lurking behind every limber lumber-sexual on his or her single-gear bike is a scooter, and behind that, a 2-wheeler with a bigger engine.  Now why would I want to spoil this paean to idyllic pastoralism?  Because sometimes you need an engine and the most environmentally friendly in general is a good motorcycle.  Look throughout the world – scooters and motorcycles out-number cars.  They are cheaper and use less gasoline.  They certainly need to be engineered better to cut emissions even more, but they are a start.   In many countries they carry as much as a small truck.  They can haul trailers as part of being work vehicles – though bikes can do that too, but not quite on the same scale.  They are easier to fix than any car, with fewer parts.  Bicycles are even easier to maintain, and with a spare inner-tube you are set for most road problems.  


I’ve had leftists rag at me because I don’t wear a helmet all the time - alleging that I’m filling up the emergency rooms on the tax-payers dime.  My mother’s only question for years always was, “Aren’t they dangerous?”  Nothing else.  I’ve had people compelled to tell me about someone who was hurt while riding - this is the only way they can talk about motorcycles. Maybe they were jealous.  35 years of riding and that is their only conversation.

Sure enough, they are not retirement vehicles.  Believe me, riders know.  The question is, though, who is doing the killing?  Mostly, it is car and truck drivers.  Whose record of killing each other isn’t too shabby either.  The stats in the U.S. are worse than the murder rate.  Yeah, the nice folks behind the masses of steel thousands of pounds of heavy.  Texting, eating, talking on their phones, reading the map or GPS, playing with their entertainment center.  The ones wagging their fingers at bikers.  The same people who also threaten bicyclists.  That little helmet you’ve got on?  Perhaps if you fall on the top of your head, you might be somewhat cushioned.  Everywhere else?  Hmm…  Bike and MC helmets are a sugar pill placebo to make you feel a bit safe.  And they help – but not enough in many circumstances.

At any rate, safety is mostly about the intersection of those who drive.  The ones on the bicycles and motorcycles and the ones in the cars.  The more vehicles, the more danger.  The faster the vehicle, the more danger.  The more a road is set up for speed, the more danger.  The more drunk the driver – including those on motorcycles – the more danger.  The more in a hurry we are – the more danger.  So we are all in this together.  The best thing for everyone would be to keep the car in the garage as much as possible.  The best thing for nature would be to keep the car in the garage as much as possible.  Or never need a car in the first place.  Winter makes this difficult and then there is mass transit, which is also part of this story.

But enough of the public service announcement. 

Bicycling is a little like flying through the air.  Motorcycling is a lot like flying through the air.  Like in a dream.  Flying in dream analysis means ‘freedom.’ Happy is what you get motorcycling.  Happy.  Motorcycling is not about having a ‘death wish’ but actually having a ‘life-wish.”  Oxygen in the nostrils, wind and sun, contact with the road around you, easier to pull over and ‘smell the flowers,’ easier to pick roads that are beautiful, not just fast.  To hug the one driving and to be hugged.  Then there are subcultures.  When was the last time the car drivers hung around a scooter outing or at Whiskey Junction, Bobs 33 Hut or the first Thursday at Dulonos Pizza and just enjoyed the camaraderie?  Or went on a Critical Mass rolling protest? Or participated in a ‘ride your bike to work’ day?  Almost never.  Get out of the glass box, the rolling retirement home, which is more like a moving TV looking at the world. Ride your bike(s).  Spring is here and the time is right for riding in the streets.

Mayday has a good selection of practical DIY books on bicycle maintenance, bike maps of the city, gardening, fixing things and other down-to-earth skills we need to survive. 

Prior related reviews include “The Outlaws – One Man’s Rise Through the Savage World of Renegade Biker,”and  Shop Class as Soulcraf.  Use blog search box, upper left.

Red Frog
March 18, 2015

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