Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Paean to the Power of the Pedal...

"Everything that was directly lived has moved away into a representation."

— Guy DeBord, Separation Perfected

I love my bikes for a plethora—more precisely, a shitpot full—of reasons. Dispensing with the obvious, though no less relevent, qualities that evoke such feelings of affection, e.g., the greenness factor, the health benefits, the cost savings, etc., I think it all comes down to this: the bicycle is the ultimate social vehicle.

On a bicycle, open to the air, free of the compartmentalized, sterile, "comfortable" cabin of the automobile, you come into close contact with other people by necessity. Through the magic of unmediated proximity, pedestrians become that which they are: human beings, like you, with a right to the open spaces, instead of obstacles to fast, easy passage or, worse yet, moving, unpredictable liabilities that command a sort of diminished respect that arises only as the automobile driver approaches the point of collision. Commute in a car, your mind is on your job; commute on a bike, your mind is on the ride—the here and now, mindfulness, to borrow a term from Buddhism.

On a bicycle, you're free to engage whomever is within earshot, to eavesdrop as it were on anything and everything within audible range, to notice, to see, to be aware, to contribute to the social fabric as a necessary thread in the social fabric, to move within the environment instead of merely through it, a dynamic actor in the daily drama of life instead of a detached tourist or passive spectator, isolated and inert like a specimen under tempered glass. Uncontained by the chaotic servitude of traffic patterns and "rush" hours, you're free to move and, more importantly, to stop when and where you please for whatever reasons obtain. The community matters to you precisely because you are the community.

In this age of the triumph of the simulated over the experiential*, the bicycle offers a tangible antidote to the banal and the scripted, one that lets the rider be, in both a physical and metaphysical sense. Riding a bike is real: the heart pumps, the legs churn, the lungs burn, the body travels through time and space, the eyes convey the local world in three dimensions, the mind roams-thinks-vacillates-commits, the ride, the trip, the journey, the expedition is worth it, not just because it is the opposite of that other, but because it is, unquestionably, an authentic experience in an increasingly unreal and prefabricated world.

The beauty and simplicity of life unfolds, free and unsponsored, beyond the sloping contours of a handlebar. The bicycle offers us an escape, not from reality, but into it.

*An age in which, for example, people "live" vicariously through television, an utterly and deliberately contrived domain where so-called reality shows seek to compel viewers to develop distal attachments to the flashing, empty, one-dimensional pixels on the screen as if there could be any value, any meaning in such "relationships," where real crimes are mirrored in the plagiaristic panopticon of the screenwriter's pen to produce police drama plots "ripped from today's headlines," where the illicit and ethically bankrupt subterfuge of intelligence organizations is glorified and sanctified by lantern-jawed actors as heroic "necessary evils," where the bombing of foreign cities from infinite altitudes is transmitted in "real-time" by major news networks (and later digitized) as all-too-real scenes in a video game; in short, an age in which the glass teat, as Harlan Ellison calls it, does its plutocratic duty not so much to control our minds as to render them impotent and asocial, all in the name of eternal consumption. The bicycle is one of the few inventions that can throw up the finger in the leering face of the status quo, rather than serving it like so many other products whose goal is strictly to fatten the wallet of the manufacturer while lulling the buyer into a phony state of happiness, satisfaction, and tranquility, one that must be continually renewed with fresh purchases, one that draws its strength from isolation or, at best, a simulated sense of community.


Hjalti said...

Very well spoken. For me, I just like riding bikes.

Tim Wise said...

WOW! Very heady. I do love how instead of looking at it, you are it.

Yuri said...


the old bag said...


George said...

Well said.