I’ve been commuting by bike, and using it as my primary mode of city transportation, for just over three years (checked my diaries)
under two years now. In the span of my life, that’s not very long. Compared to many people I know, that’s not long at all. Nevertheless, it feels like a real part of me already. I’m more fond of Linus than all but one car I’ve ever driven (I’ve never actually owned a car and it’s been more than 10 years since I’ve driven a car more than once a month).
For me, it’s a very solitary thing, riding my bike around town. A good chunk of my drinking buddies are bike commuters, at least some of the time, but I never ride with them. I take my annual Bike the Drive ride alone, too. Not on purpose. I don’t choose to ride alone or prefer to ride alone; it’s just what I do.
I’ve had passing flashes of affinity–grinning at another rider while riding a brilliant tailwind or whooping at another person also struggling through a sudden snowstorm. I’ve had an interesting conversation at a planning meeting or a good time at bike bar. I’ve had fun at an alley cat.
And it always ends there.
But I read a lot about commuter cycling on the internet and I see many references to the cycling community. I have user accounts at a couple of cycling boards and occasionally participate in activities associated with, or promoted on, those websites. In the end, I never feel a sense of community at or after any of that participation. Even when my bike or some gear I have catches someone’s eye or starts an interesting conversation, it never leads to a connection.
I will sometimes read that the Chicago Bike Community is factionalized, fragmented or cliquish. I don’t agree. I think there is no “Chicago Bike Community” and the absence makes the visible friendships or organized events seem factionalized.
In the end, I don’t know if it’s a consequence of my personality or of the idea that there should be a community based on mode of transport. I suppose it’s the latter.
But maybe not, You see, I’m not an “enthusiast”–I can’t really tell you anything about my bike. I don’t build bikes. I don’t race them, collect them, or catalogue them. Maybe because my bike is my way of getting around and not otherwise an interest, I don’t belong in the communities, whether they are factionalized or not. Perhaps, after all, it’s me.
Still, it’s incorrect to say I view cycling around the city no different than driving or even using the CTA. I consider it superior, even with the lousy pavement, aggressive drivers, and heavy winds. I think the private automobile is seriously problematic. I think traffic and parking are a blight on our neighborhoods. I think good city planning prioritizes transit, pedestrians and cyclists over cars. I think long-range thinking requires us to dis-incentivize driving private auto use in dense urban areas. And this interests me deeply: making our homes better, getting us out of climate-controlled, sound-systemed, metal boxes which move us to view the people around us as obstacles and the things along our paths as in the way.
I’m not sure George is wrong about automobiles. With all their speed forward, they may be a step backward in civilization. It may be that they won’t add to the beauty of the world or the life of men’s souls. I’m not sure. But automobiles have come. And almost all outward things are going to be different because of what they bring. They’re going to alter war and they’re going to alter peace. And I think men’s minds are going to be changed in subtle ways because of automobiles. And it may be that George is right. It may be that in ten or twenty years from now, if we can see the inward change in men by that time, I shouldn’t be able to defend the gasoline engine but would have to agree with George: that automobiles had no business to be invented.