An author by the name of P.J. O’Rourke penned a most puzzling piece entitled Dear Urban Cyclists: Go Play in Traffic (be sure to read this article). Cyclists do play in traffic every day, but their activities do not constitute a conundrum.
Humans are bipeds. As such, they are meant to walk. Legs are their natural source of locomotion. What, then, could have inspired them to give up one of the most important features of being Homo sapiens – the ability to walk upright?
Homo sapiens’ descent into self-destructive conveyance began around 1769 with the advent of the steam engine automobile. By 1885 the gasoline fueled internal combustion engine was introduced, creating humanity’s love affair with non-bipedal transit.
Although early two-wheeled balancing vehicles were seen as early as 1817, it wasn’t until the 1880s – in response to the very dangerous combustion engine driven motor vehicle – that the safety bicycle was invented. This safer form of transportation made it possible, for the first time, for women to participate in rolling transportation. In fact, unlike the engine-powered vehicle, the safety bicycle – by allowing women increased mobility – played an important role in women’s emancipation. Motor vehicles oppressed; bicycles liberated.
Despite the clear and convincing superiority of the bicycle, greedy industrialists insisted on manufacturing their noisy, polluting, pedestrian endangering machines and inflicting them on an unsuspecting public. Where was the outcry? There was none because in the early 19th century – when all of this was unfolding – no one ever imagined how ubiquitous the automobile would become.
Had they known how these machines would proliferate unchecked, like cockroaches thriving in an unsanitary urban environment, they might have taken to the streets in droves to protest the infestation of these vermin. Alas, this was not to be.
“ Homo sapiens’ descent into self-destructive conveyance began around 1769 with the advent of the steam engine automobile. ”
First, in Western societies, automobiles became the playthings of wealthy ne’er-do-good spoilers looking for a thrill. Zooming around on unpaved roads these uber-wealthy denizens instilled the fear of an internal combustion engine’s prodigious power on the innocent populace.
Then, the idea of mass producing these monstrosities took hold. Before anyone knew it, automobiles began to appear more frequently, eventually even among working people. As automobiles grew greater in number, their prices fell, and they became a more attractive option than walking or bicycling – or even riding a horse.
Their filth began to fill the air. Noise was everywhere. Windows and doors had to be shut tight on hot summer nights to prevent the sound of roaring engines from disturbing what was once quiet, uninterrupted sleep. From this point onward, everyone would be obligated to learn how to sleep through the cacophony of engine-driven machinery.
Our land went from silence and the sounds of nature to the ear-splitting squeal of a hell on wheels. Motorists sped through cities and villages, mowing down everything in their path. Masters of massive steel tanks, they whizzed along, invincible and uncaring about anything but themselves – they owned the road.
The rights of pedestrians, bicyclists and horseback riders were dissolved in the combustion engine delirium. No place was safe with these vehicles roaming free. New habits had to be learned. Where once it was possible to stroll down a lazy country lane, it was now necessary to walk defensively. An eagle eye had to be cast for high velocity metal barreling over the horizon. A keen ear had to be tuned to listen for the echo of thunderous motors.
There was no more peace in the land. What ensued was a war of rights. Could the bipeds retain their dignity and equality? Not if the motorists had their way. Great distances were in their grasp; speeds only attainable by a cheetah were accomplished by a mere press of a foot. Motorists became self-proclaimed gods on Earth and no one dared to stand in their way.
Then, one day, a band of courageous bicycling rebels gathered to plot their revenge. Roads had once been welcoming to them. Pedaling had been an accepted means of transportation, with no motor required for motion. After long deliberation, the bicycling rebels vowed to take back their roads.
One day per month, they gathered in great masses of two-wheeled travelers, defying the law of the land. They would be seen. They would be heard. They would take back their right to use roads built upon their sweat, tears, and tax dollars.
Neither road rage, nor profanities, nor obliterated bike lanes, nor ridicule would stop them. Bicycling infrastructure was their goal. The bicycle would be returned to its former glory.
A message was sent to motorists across the land: cyclists are here to stay. If you don’t like it, go drive on the train tracks. Throw down the gauntlet and let the battle begin.