Cycling in the city has such universal roots. I say this as a veteran—as I’ve proudly spent the past two and a half weeks joining the ranks of Chicago’s finest eco-conscious commuters...the “city cyclers.” Unlike their brethren of the country and (more commonly) suburbia, this clan of dare-devils spends their commuting and/or leisure hours, dodging pedestrians and playing chicken with traffic. And, why? I’m finding the answer lies in our most American values.
Did anyone else just gag? Unfortunate isn’t it, that the phrase “American values” triggers nausea rather than pride (or at the very least, nostalgia.) While our values system has been compromised pretty much from its inception- I think we can all agree that it’s time to revisit what defines us as “American” and how some of these definitions are changing in regards to how we see our role in bettering our country and by extension our planet.
The rhetoric of freedom and independence that lost its luster from overuse and abuse (and by extension induces nausea) can truly be regained in the act of city cycling. It’s independence from the gas pump and freedom to travel on human energy and simple machines. It’s the ultimate self-empowerment, personal control—the positive side of rugged individualism. It’s about fitness—physical AND mental fitness. Conquering the lack of self-control lacking in the OLD Americans.
There is a new breed of Americans, and they’re bike riding, canvas-bag toting, local produce shopping, eco-conscious consumers. And not just as a novelty- people actually are finding it’s actually enjoyable, convenient, cheap and consistent to live this way. I think we’re getting smarter as a country. Not to get too political, but let’s just say we’re learning from our mistakes of the last 8 years. We are taking back ownership of words like freedom and independence and not being so naïve as to allow others to control us.
To me, that’s the crux of bike riding. It’s taking back control- creating your own schedule, paths and routes at your own pace. I felt the words of Jack Kerouac the other night, as I rode my bike through alleys in my neighborhood of Lakeview, “The air was soft, the stars so fine, the promise of every cobbled alley so great, that I thought I was in a dream.” (from On the Road) Maybe the stars aren’t so fine in the city, but the sunsets are, and the skyline takes on a starry quality of it’s own (as much as can be appreciated from light pollution).
And, perhaps this wave of yearning to recently envelop Americans, is now rushing toward the open road, where we, on our bikes, can take back the streets and create new paths. It’s getting back to the idea that we are creators, and not destroyers. And how powerful, cool and empowering a concept to live by, in repairing the ethos of our country, and commitment to our world.
Now, armed with my bike lock and wire basket, there is literally no Chicago-turf unconquerable on my cherry red, vintage 70s AMF ladies cruiser. Until it hits below 45 degrees...
Note: My new commitment in cycling is dedicated to my high-school friend, Eric Ng. In December of 2006, Eric was killed by a drunk driver while riding his bike in New York City, on the Hudson River Greenway. He was an active cyclist, teacher and eco-warrior. Google him to find out more about how awesome this guy is ☺ May his dedication to our planet inspire us all to live greener lives.
(Bicycle pic above taken by Melissa in Amsterdam, eco-conscious cycling city of the universe, March '08)