The experience of riding a bike

I often wonder why people don’t ride bikes more often. I know they’re timid, dull and lazy but still I wonder if that doesn’t fully explain them so inexplicably turning their backs on the joys riding.

For me, and I’d suppose most cyclists, the joys of cycling are so obvious that they are, in the words of the US declaration of rights, self-evident truths. But perhaps we cyclists should try and wear our other hat, the one that isn’t a helmet, and think like a non-cyclist. Think of it as a kind of Edward De Bonehead exercise in understanding those who appose us in their cars (with a view to converting them).

First up, non-cyclists also enjoy the joys of the world. Hard to imagine when you see them trapped in their cars but it is true. (Or at the very least, has some truth to it.) Many car drivers prattle on endlessly to me about living lives more “holistically” (and whoever invented that ridiculous new-age hippy conjugation of words should be made to beg forgiveness), of participating in their community, caring for the environment, eating organic foods and generally living a panda-friendly life. Indeed, many of these car drivers will happily get in their cars and drive for over an hour if it means the chance to buy organic and be all caring with a couple of like-minded individuals from “their” community.

They only buy the fruit smoothy in the plastic cup if it’s organic and the farmer who grew the fruit  cared properly for the land. They’ll cross question the food vendors to make sure the produce is bio-dynamic and that no petro-chemicals were spilled onto the earth in the procreation of their food. These are people who care dammit.

And then they get in their cars and drive home. The vendors pack up the old truck and disappear in a puff of smoke.

Their mobility presses the suburbs further into the bushland. If I was feeling uncharitable I might quote William S Burroughs, “All going, to make way for more and more devalued human stock, with less and less of the wild spark, the priceless ingredient — energy into matter. A vast mudslide of soulless sludge.” But I’m wearing my other hat and am trying hard to understand what keeps them away from their bikes so I’ll admit that the soulless suburbs are a convenient place to store humans when they’re not otherwise being useful.

I think the problem is the experience of cycling, or at the very least the way they experience cycling. Most people go for a little ride somewhere dull and safe, like the local lake or walking path. Indeed, usually the bike makes the journey there on the back of a car. If not, they ride around the few safe streets of their suburb and cheerily tell themselves how lovely it is, but are quickly swamped by the pointlessness and boredom of it all.

What we need is for these people to take more bicycle trips and trips with meaning and purpose. Cycling is a hell of a lot of fun once you’re actually going somewhere. And of course nothing makes cycling more fun that more cycling. (It’s hard work at first, just like any decent recreation is.)

As a way of demonstrating how bicycles are more fun than cars let me compare two trips home. Mine on my bike, my friend in her car. I rode past the local park and saw the screen up and stopped to watch Wall-E. It was a lovely moment on a beautiful evening. The popcorn cart was selling, the kids were happy and Wall-E was playing on an inflatable screen. I stopped and enjoyed the movie.

My friend drove past, wondered what was going on, couldn’t see a place to park, and moved on.

On the same journey a week earlier, three kids were all set up ready for a race on their bikes. They seems to have found bikes that were uniquely unsuitable to their stature, as kids do, and they were lined up across the road. When they saw me they invited me to join their race.  I accepted and made sure I fought valiantly for last place.

I can’t imagine missing little moments like these because I’m in a mechanical box with the radio on doing that stop-start thing between traffic lights.

So what I’m supposing here is that non-cyclists aren’t stupid, mean and misguided. They’re merely misguided. If we can just explain to them that their car driving is making a mockery of everything they pretend to believe in and care for they might be halfway there. And then if we explain all the little things they miss out on, the experiences that enrich life, the little things that fill every cycle with the actual enjoyment and meaning, that the mere act of cycling makes you part of your community not apart from it in walled seclusion as you are in a car, maybe we might pull them over to our side.

Or perhaps they really do lack that vital spark.

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