Bicycling is not a political act (he shouted fruitlessly into the void)

I was reading the urban cycling blog BikePortland this morning and came upon a post about an initiative called Green Patriot Posters. The organizer — one Edward Morris — asked graphic designers to create artwork in the spirit of those World War II “We Can Do It” propaganda posters. Except that the Green Patriot Posters are intended to “encourage all U.S. citizens to build a sustainable economy,” according to the Green Patriot Posters website.

So far, so good. But why did this end up on BikePortland? Here’s one sentence from the post: “When [Morris] and his partners set up a website and asked designers to submit posters, they were intrigued by how many of them included bikes.”

Then there was a quote from Morris, which included this: “The bicycle is a nonthreatening, nonideological image, unsanctimonious and almost childlike. At the same time its mere presence is a direct challenge to our car culture.”

Something about all this rubbed me the wrong way. For one thing, I do not agree that a bicycle’s “presence is a direct challenge to our car culture.”

I’m not a great fan of car culture myself, but I’ve always seen riding my bike as simply a way to try to extract myself from the car culture for short period of time, rather than as a way to take up arms against it.

So I pounded out a comment to the BikePortland post. For whatever reason, the comment did not appear. I don’t know whether BikePortland editor Jonathan Maus didn’t receive it or whether it he opted not to allow it. I e-mailed him to ask, but didn’t hear anything back. UPDATE: Just as I was about to hit “publish” on this post, I checked back and see that my comment has now been posted at BikePortland.

Anyway, here is what it says:

These are cool posters for sure.

But I’m going to jump in here and say that I am a little saddened by the politicization of the humble bicycle. This is something I’ve been feeling for a couple of years now.

I get incredibly frustrated and angry when I see those news items you link to on occasion, Jonathan, in which hard-right politicians start denigrating bikes as being a “socialist plot” or something.

What the hell? I’ve always tried to just ignore them as being so far out of the mainstream that they don’t really matter.

But then, maybe I’m wrong. As much as I hate to see it happen, perhaps cycling is going to — or already has — become another front in the great political war that’s going on these days.

For me, riding a bicycle has never been a political act. Mostly, I ride my bike because it’s fun. I’m just disappointed that this innocent, naive little bubble of childhood that I get to ride around in for an hour or so everyday has probably popped.

Maybe in the end it will be for the best. Maybe this is just cycling growing up.

About the “socialist plot” thing: That referred to remarks made by Dan Maes, the Republican candidate for governor of Colorado during this past fall’s campaign. Yes, this kind of nonsense infuriates me. Bicycling is not a political act.

As it turns out, Mr. Maes garnered all of 11 percent of the vote in last month’s election. Yes, 11 percent! As the Republican nominee for governor of Colorado! 11 percent! Granted it was a three-way race, but apparently a lot of Republicans, too, thought this guy was loopy.

So, yeah, part of me still thinks it’s better to just ignore comments like that than get all righteously indignant about them. Maybe the people who want to politicize cycling are still a small minority (on either side).

But as I said in my comment, maybe I’m wrong. Maybe, unbeknownst to me, I have become a Green Patriot. Not because I have changed my behavior, but because times have changed around me. I don’t want bicycling to be a political act. But maybe it’s getting sucked into the swamp, along with just about everything else.

I suspect some will disagree with me. That’s fine. I’m curious to know what you think.

8 thoughts on “Bicycling is not a political act (he shouted fruitlessly into the void)

  1. I also lament the politicizing of the bike. Though I don’t quite view it as a little bubble of childhood either. I rode when I was a kid, yes, but I’m getting into my 40s here, and I’ve been using a bike as my main mode of transport, to get to and from all sorts of adult endeavors, for 20 years. So on the best days, it reminds me of being an active, vital, outdoorsy, athletic, hardy adult (who actually stands a chance of getting laid now and then, HA!)

    Most of the time though, it’s so commonplace in my life that it just is what it is. Ya feel me? I’ve been doing it forever, and it’s almost too late to change at this point, it’s just what I do. And so it’s basically, kinda boring to talk about. Apparently that’s how it is in places like Copenhagen & Amsterdam where a lot more people bike this routinely. They’d sooner talk about their vacuum cleaner than their bike. That’s the kind of environment I’d like to be in, one where bicycling is so common that it’s too boring to talk about. Assuming continued petroleum availability, I suppose it’ll take some years of this crappy political struggle, to get to that kind of place. Assuming dwindling petroleum availability, it may happen a lot quicker than that.

  2. I would hate to see the poor bicycle be politicized, I can see the results now, the “war on bicycles” with the inevitable result of one half of the culture refusing to allow their kids to grow up with those subversive things.

    However, I must say that when I ride my daily commute I feel privileged, and I feel that way because I am escaping the car culture. I suspect that a significant portion of the growing cycling community feels similarly — let’s face it, the car culture is one of the most invasive aspects of society in our lives (licensing, insurance, enforcement and the effects on our ability to socialize, etc).

    People are people, and some will interpret abandoning car culture as more of a political act than others; it probably correlates with the number of bumper stickers on their existing car.

  3. Me: “One thing I like about riding my bike a lot is that I’m not giving piles of money to crazy religious extremists.”

    Coworker: “…you mean Texans?”

  4. I think riding a bike – especially regularly, in place of driving cars – commuting, running errands, etc – is a political act, but that’s not a bad thing. It’s not even an aggressive thing. It’s just what it is. Pretty much everything we do has some political implications, and awareness of that can actually add to the enjoyment factor for some of us.

    The trouble comes when we let other people define us, our actions, our intentions. I think that might be what you are objecting to?

    I am not anti-car, I would just rather be on my bike. I like that my choice also benefits the planet and doesn’t benefit the oil-opolies. How is that a bad thing? And if politics gets us to the point where it’s more boring than vacuum cleaners, even better. (But I will always want to talk about my bike, and my bike trailer, and my panniers, and how I ride a one-speed and where I got my cute helmet, but that’s just me being boring. I like talking about my chickens, too, ad nauseum…)

    1. Ker,
      Yes, I think you hit on something here: that I don’t like people assuming they know what my motivations are or assuming that I have a larger political agenda because I’m riding my bike to work. There was just something that struck me about a couple of those posters, that they were kind of mustering the bicycle into service as tool in a pitched political battle. But maybe I’m just overreacting. Appreciate your thoughts. I like talking about bikes, too, as anyone who reads here could probably tell. I also like talking about my derailleur! :)

  5. Whether y’all like it or not, riding a bike consistently in our culture IS a political act. I speak as someone who IS opposed to car culture. It is destroying what little livability is left in this country, it is mnaking us fat and unhealthy, it is dangerous (they give driver’s licences to 16-year-olds, for cripes sake), it’s dirty, it takes up way too much space (look at all the space that we reserve in our culture just for PARKING CARS).

    Aside from a few rentals to get to the airport (which would have been unnecessary if we had decent rail culture in this country), I have been car-free for 17+ years. This is only impossible for people who decide that it’s better to park their ass in a Barca-Lounger of a vehicle and to hell with their health and to hell with the rest of society.

    1. I know. I’m getting over this. I’ll just say that I’m not going to go out of my way to be all political about it — on the other hand, if there are going to be people who want to criticize cyclists for political reasons, I’m happy to take up the fight.

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