A Bicycle Journey Together Part II

This has been in part a travelogue in which the bicycle featured as mostly a "recreational" vehicle. But the bicycle is much more than that. It serves as a means to make a living as a vehicle for a message service in cities, as a village taxi, as a means for merchants to carry and sell their wares in an African village, and as a means to win racing prize money, à la Tour de France.

The bicycle is also a node within a nexus of positive ecological economic relationships. It is a node that comes into being every time one bicycles to a destination rather than drives to it. Let me count the ways.

First, when one bicycles instead of driving a car, one is immediately removing the car's pollution from the atmosphere. Further, in driving a bicycle more, one may drive a car less. This obviates the need to purchase another car and, in this, the pollution resulting from the manufacture of the car will be eliminated. Of course, there is pollution associated with the manufacture of the bicycle, but it is much less than that of the car. When we bicycle, we also exhale carbon dioxide, which is a greenhouse gas, but, again, the overall toxicity to the environment from this is less than the toxicity of the exhaust from a single occupant car.

Second, when one bicycles instead of drives a car, one is saving money anywhere from $0.40 to a $1.00 a mile depending on a number of factors that can not be discussed here. However, it can be written that the ownership and operation of a car are far more expensive than most of us realize (or, perhaps, want to realize).

Third, when one bicycles instead of drives a car, one's health may be improved without having to go out of one's way to exercise (often by car). Not only is one saving money by not having to pay for time at a gym, one is saving money by not having to drive there. Bicycling incorporates exercise as part of one's daily life, foregoing the need to put aside a special time to do so.

Fourth, when one bicycles instead of driving a car, one is reducing traffic congestion; this benefit alone should make those of us who must travel by car appreciative of bicyclists as opposed to being annoyed or angry with them, as is sometimes the case. Additionally, though it may be shocking to some, the speed of a bicycle is not much less than that of a car when amortized over the car's average lifetime. Studies have shown that, if you take the average number of hours one works to purchase (spread out evenly over the average lifetime of car), maintain, repair, depreciate, pay all its taxes, and insure the average car and add to that the number of hours one is actually in the car to operate it for one year and divide that sum into the average number of miles that that car is driven over the same year, it works out to a speed of about 25 miles per hour.

Fifth, when one bicycles instead of driving a car, one reduces one's complicity in possibly forcing military interventions to secure the oil by which a car is allowed to move. (Can there be a better way to "support the troops" then by making it more unlikely that they will be sent in harm's way?)

Sixth, when one drives a car instead of bicycling, we experience the Outdoors in a way that is very much compromised. A car is all about enclosure, insulation, and speed all of which conspire together to create a negative distance and disconnect between us and the Outdoors. Such a disconnect then removes from our awareness and learning the ancient and contemporary signals by and through which we may navigate our lives sensitively and wisely.

These benefits apply to adults and some of them to children. There are additional benefits that apply just for children and their families when a child bicycles rather than is driven somewhere.

First, bicycling may nurture self-reliance and a sense of adventure. A child on a bicycle has only himself or herself to rely on to navigate through the forces of wind, friction and gravity in getting from one point to another. The child, too, is empowered by the bicycle to undertake self-discovery and self-direction in ways and with means not often encountered in contemporary society. The child is a driver of himself or herself as a bicyclist and must manage that task and the risk associated with it rather than them being managed for him or her. Independence and freedom are shown to be directly proportional to maturity and responsibility.

Second, it burns off excess energy that might otherwise find less constructive outlets. In a time when technological culture conspires to thrust children into environments that limit physical activity and greatly increase their body weight, the bicycle offers an escape into physical adventure by which youthful energy may be channeled in beneficial ways and excess calories oxidized. Bicycling offers this opportunity in such a way that it can be incorporated into the child's daily life while realizing many of the benefits listed above.

Third, unlike many sports for children, the bicycle adjusts to the child. Once a child learns to ride a bicycle that child will immediately become a bicyclist. And each new ride the child takes can become an event of accomplishment and celebration, as the child safely bicycles one foot more, one yard more, one mile more than he or she did before. Eventually, strength, skill and stamina increase to a level at which a union, a communion of mind, body and bicycle is achieved and the child experiences a feeling of rapture and release; there is no mountain he or she can not climb, no obstacle that can not be overcome.

Fourth, with a good course in bicycle safety, bicycling can make a child a better and more responsible future car driver. A bicyclist is obligated to follow the same rules of the road as a motorist. Thus a bicycle safety course will alert the bicyclist to many of the same road signs and situations the child will encounter in the future as a car driver. It is hoped, of course, that the child, when he becomes an adult, will eschew driving as much as possible, but when he or she does have to drive, he or she will do it more safely and more responsibly.

Fifth, bicycling with a proper course in bicycle mechanics and repair can encourage a healthy respect and care for things mechanical. Compared to a car, a road bicycle is relatively simple to maintain and repair. Caring for the bicycle can teach the virtues of planning, organization, thoroughness, method, orderliness, patience and perseverance. It also instructs on the virtue of existential reciprocity by which is meant and simply put, what you get (sometime more, sometimes less) is proportional to what you give. There is nothing sweeter than the sound of well-tuned bicycle as it travels the road swiftly and noiselessly. Sweeter still is the feeling that that sweet sound is the result of one's own efforts. Additionally, for those so inclined, the bicycle can easily become a teachable moment, not only about many of the laws of physics and engineering that the bicycle demonstrates, but about the structure, function and maintenance of the human body.

Sixth, though I won't go so far as to write that families that bicycle together stay together, I will write that bicycling together as a family is one way among some others that the cohesion of families may be strengthened. For bicycling together, if it is perceived and experienced as a daily adventure, allows both parents and children to encounter and explore similar joyful and stressful experiences, share reactions to them and from this learn more about each other. And in this, perhaps, grow in greater mutual understanding of one another.

Seventh, bicycling often places the child, as he or she journeys from point a to point b, in closer proximity to forces, feelings and fragrances that would not otherwise happen, if he or she was being driven in car. In effect, the child experiences a greater portion of the natural order, his or her body's bequest and inheritance, and in this the child should experience a greater appreciation and understanding of that natural order.

In the end, it is possible that these benefits discussed thus far for both the adult and the child may be achieved by other means. It would also be a mistake to think that the bicycle is the panacea to all our social ills. Nor would it make good sense to think that contemporary bicycling does not itself benefit from those technologies that it, in its greater use, would render less powerful and less ubiquitous. And a bicycle can not deliver many services that do serve life.

But, if people employed the bicycle as often as possible and in as many ways as possible, it can be truly written that the person, the people and the planet would be better off than they are now.