One of the things that makes cycling truly unique in my mind is its ability to heal us collectively as well as individually. Cycling can fix what’s broken in our communities just as easily as it can fix what’s broken in our bodies and minds.
That’s why it’s so disappointing to me to have discovered that so many people who advocate for cycling and walkability seem to be angry all the time. It bothers them that the idiots (their word, not mine) on their local city council just don’t see the wisdom of bicycling infrastructure. They rail against motorists and car culture. Just look at the message threads on Strong Towns or any one of a host of other websites that advocate on behalf of smart cities. So much of what they post is toxic.
What seems to bother these people most of all is that everybody else doesn’t see it the way they do. They are incredibly insecure and when triggered they respond emotionally. Comments I’ve made that have challenged their conventionally accepted orthodoxy typically lead to a spate of name calling and, in some cases, pure hatred directed at me. I’ve talked to enough other people to know my experience is not unique. There is a whole cadre of bicyclists who have come to the conclusion that our reputation as arrogant and entitled is well deserved. That’s tragic. It doesn’t have to be this way.
At one time, I thought I wanted to be an advocate for cycling but these people have pretty much cured me of that. The world doesn’t need another screaming voice added to the din. What the world needs is more cyclists. I’m not sure that I can help make this happen by shouting, but I am pretty sure I can do it by engaging in the simple subversive act of saddling up and riding.
I have two heroes when it comes to bicycle advocacy. Neither one of them talks much. They’re too busy doing. One is a Dane named Ole Kassow. Ole started Cycling Without Age in Copenhagen back in 2012. I can’t think of another organization that exemplifies the beauty of cycling as much as Cycling Without Age. The other is Jason Hall. Jason is the driving force behind Slow Roll Detroit, a weekly bike ride that brings people together in a way the “talkers” never will. Slow Roll is what we should all be working towards in our communities.
And so my message continues to evolve and what I believe continues to galvanize. I don’t need protected bike lanes, sharrows or safe passing laws to ride a bicycle. They would be nice and I understand why people want them, but they’re not really necessary. That’s good, because I will never get those things by demanding them of others who are inclined not to see things my way. All I really need to cycle is a bike and I already have a bunch of those.
So if you want to cycle, just cycle. Invite someone along. Invite everyone along, even those whose world view is decidedly different than yours. Especially them. That is how we can change the world. That is how we can get to bicycle friendly. The rest of it? Not so much.