No one wants a bicycle

No one wants a car either.

What people want is freedom, flexibility, and convenience. They want to enjoy themselves. They want to be accepted by their peers. And they don’t want to worry about getting killed or maimed.

Judging by the success of cars (and a litany of data) people only give trace importance to health or environment.

So why are we trying to convince people to ride bicycles because it’s good for your health and environment?

We should redefine bicycles as freedom and cars as slavery.

We should tell people that cars are actually shackles. They lock you up in expensive car payments, maintenance fees, insurance and gas. Some people work an extra job just to pay the cost of their cars. They are troublesome to park. You get parking and driving tickets. Road accidents kill globally the equivalent of about 150 people a day, which is like one plane crashing every hour of every day.

Why don’t we tell people that bikes are an easy, fun way to get around? They offer door-to-door convenience. You can park it right in front of where you are going. Never pay for gas again. You can afford to buy a bike up front in one payment. You can easily learn to fix it yourself. Even if you take it to the shop, a full tune up for only a bit more than an oil change. You can feel the wind in your hair and the sun on your face. Bikes have never killed a person driving in a car. And kids never cry on a bike seat.

Cars imprison you. Bikes set you free.


20 responses to “No one wants a bicycle

  1. Well, feeling that way about bikes and cars is not going to win over Americans. We are not that smart and are destined to repeat past mistakes and create larger illusions about our significance in history. What it comes down to in my opinion, “this week”; is that Americans are not at all comfortable being outdoors and seen “exercising”. Simply, generations of American adults are not physically active. Nowadays, indoor health clubs 24/7 isolate those that are physically active people with their own kind. But what of the outdoors where we do see active Americans? Places where there are promenades, people naturally gather outdoors, places like our city lake paths in Minneapolis as an example. From these promenades, people are seen as active all year long. Neighborhoods and streets are busy too compared with most American cities. But, for those places that don’t have promenades, like Indianapolis, all forms of outdoor activity is rare. But that is only because unique elements of latent promenades from the past are underused or misused. When people walked places and trolley lines ran to areas of commerce, the urban scene now is somewhere between ghetto and gentrified. To go forward, I think the message is for Americans to rediscover the outdoors in the place we reside in by driving less and biking more rather than slavery and freedom. Getting past the fear of being seen in the outdoors tho has no solution. The best hope this year for American bike riding just may be “monkey see, monkey do”

  2. Nice post!
    BTW:’They kill globally the equivalent of 150 planes crashing every hour.’ – do you have a source for this?

    • I heard someone from the WHO cite that statistic at an Embarq event called “Transforming Transportation” at the World Bank HQ in DC which was a side event of the Tranportation Research Board this January. It’s actually for all road accidents globally, not just cars.

      • I think you should provide the source or rephrase the statement.

        If there’re 150 planes with 200 people each crashing every hour of every day all year long, that’s over 262 million people.

  3. Here’s what Mayor Bloomberg (NYC) said today at the World Bank:
    “Around the world, road traffic injuries are taking the lives of 145 people every hour of every day. 145 people every hour, every day. Just think about that, that’s more than two a minute. And that adds up to something like 1.3 million people dying on the world’s roads each year – and a further 20 to 50 million people suffering injuries, often debilitating ones. But make no mistake about it: this is a problem that affects us all – especially the world’s poorest. Ninety percent of these fatalities occur in the world’s rapidly urbanizing low- and middle-income nations.”

    • Sorry, you’re right. I just realized that I had horribly misrepresented the truth in that statement. I will correct it accordingly.

    • It appears that Mayor Bloomberg got his figures from WHO.
      ‘Each year nearly 1.3 million people die as a result of a road traffic collision—
      more than 3000 deaths each day—and more than half of these people are not
      travelling in a car. Twenty to fifty million more people sustain non-fatal injuries
      from a collision, and these injuries are an important cause of disability worldwide.

      Ninety percent of road traffic deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries,
      which claim less than half the world’s registered vehicle fleet. Road traffic injuries
      are among the three leading causes of death for people between 5 and 44 years
      of age.
      … ‘
      [WHO – Global Plan for the Decade of Action for Road Safety 2011-2020

  4. Pingback: Getting Free | Waterloo Bikes

  5. Good post, but how do we actually do it? The problem is that people *do* want cars.

    Cars still have an association of freedom, of a space that is your own, a controlled environment that gives pleasure from the most mundane of experiences. Cars give the thrill of control over others. These benefits are endlessly repeated on TV, in films, in children’s toys etc. Our culture is steeped in the car.

    So how do we shift things so that cars are deemed to be a shackle and redefine them as slavery?

    Look at places that are highly developed and yet car ownership/use is low: how is it done there? Many people live in apartments with no dedicated parking, taxes on vehicle use are high and traffic movement/parking is heavily regulated. Follow this process through, close off more and more streets to motor vehicle access and eventually owning and using a car will become pointless. (Obviously measures that increase the attractiveness of alternatives will also help)

    • What I was trying to argue here, albeit somewhat polemically, was that people don’t want “cars”. What they want is the “affordances” cars give them which you laid out: freedom, space, controlled environment, pleasure and thrill, etc. If we could argue that the bicycle offers most if not all of those things (and still others the car doesn’t offer), we might start getting some traction.

      My suggestion is that we “freedom” is among the most powerful discursive terms in America. We should redefine “freedom” so that the car is seen as the opposite of freedom (eg, binding, a ball and chain, etc.) and brand the bicycle as a liberating mode.

      Jane Jacobs’ rhetoric was powerful against modernist architecture precisely because she argued that modernists were themselves not meeting their own definitions of what it means to be “modern”. She effectively rebranded and redefined the term “modern” as the opposite of everything they were doing, thereby rendering modernist architects impotent. We need to do the same with “freedom” as it relates to cars and bikes.

      • You make perfect sense.

        I suppose the issue for me remains how this is achieved.

        I’m afraid that for a lot of people the car is still a very appealing concept. The ‘affordances’ you mention could (and are in many parts of the world) acheived without resorting to the immense destructive power of personal motorised mobility, but for many that is the only way. So many people are locked into an environment where the car is the only option.

        I wouldn’t dream of moving house without ensuring that I was living close to good public transport and cycle/walking distance of all my needs. But for much of North America (and vast swathes of Europe) people already are stuck in car-land: they can’t just up and move to a better place. There is no way out. Those people will bring up their children to be car-bound.

        Changing the debate will work (and indeed perhaps is at the moment) for inner urban residents, but it doesn’t work very well for the rest of the population who are already captive car users. What’s needed for them is planning to constrain and densify towns and cities together with restrictions on movement and ownership of motor vehicles.

      • I like to use the slogan. The car is not a lifestyle choice but a lifesteal choice

  6. the problem is that EVERYTHING is marketed as freedom now. What makes your version of freedom better then another? that’s the challenge, i think.

    People first want cars to get away from their parents. Or get around in their town with no bike infrastructure. It’s how they knew they were growing up.

    So that makes me think about who bikes really ARE freedom for. Urban folks.

    I can see people who are stuck- in the gym riding an exercise bike rather then getting places; endlessly looking for parking spaces; having to pay at the gastank; while they watch someone free of that bike by.

    The car is the teenage dream of getting away from the parents, but the bike is the freedome of leaving your tricycle behind and IMMEDIATELY stepping into a grownup role. I don’t want to encourage the image of the bike-as-toy but i think some nostolgia might be a good idea. I am thinking of that speech from Mad Men where Don is talking about the Kodak Carousel where it is a “Time Machine”

    so i would create the sense of return to the garden. Equate being stuck and not getting anywhere = the kid on the bigwheel, the person peddling endlessly in a gym, the person working to pay the cost of gas, and someone else glides by on their bike with a playing card between the spokes…

  7. The quote i was thinking of:

    Don: “Well, technology is a glittering lure. But there is the rare occasion when the public can be engaged on a level beyond flash. They have a sentimental bond with the product.

    My first job, I was in-house at a fur company with this old, pro, copywriter, Greek, named Teddy. Teddy told me the most important idea in advertising is ‘New’. It creates an itch. You simply put your product in there, as a kind of Calamine Lotion.

    But, he also talked about a deeper bond with the product, nostalgia. It’s delicate but potent. Teddy told me that in Greek, nostalgia literally means ‘the pain from an old wound’, a twinge in your heart far more powerful than memory alone.

    This device isn’t a space ship. It’s a time machine. It goes backwards and forwards. It takes us to a place where we ache to go again. It’s not called ‘The wheel’. It’s called ‘The Carousel’. It lets us travel the way a chld travels. Round and round and back home again, to a place where we know we are loved.”

  8. other thoughts really quick

    i think about how the wright brothers are always shown as one of the great steps of humankind… is there a way to attach that to the bicycle? the brothers used bicycle technology for all of those first gliders.

    i also think it might be useful to show the role of the bicycle in wartime. to show the historic rides of soldiers across the country, the use of the bicycle of the VC during the vietnam war, etc etc. The modern bike corps still in opperation in many countries.

    another thing to think about would be to show the bicycle in a setting that people never show bikes: the future. show bikes in ultra high-tech or sustainable futures. Bikes on large space ships. Bikes on rotating space colonies, a future family in a super permacultured house where the bike is used to run machinery.

    another idea: celebrities and people are admired who bike for fun and for commuting.

    i used to hate the Apple ads “think different” where they implied that apple was like gandhi or einstein or john lennon. but to actually show all the great people who ride bikes would have an impact.

    • I alway remind myself of how addicted to stories we are. Tell me a story and I’m your devoted listener and probably more. Since bicycle thieves, we’ve lacked really gripping, touching, stieies about or involving bikes,

      It is in part because recent times have been all about the west getttin richer and richer, and being so, expecting to see the toys now afforable, displayed in films and books.. not to mention the product placement of the same.

      The bike is linked, unless it’s a racing bike in the Tour De France, in the public mind to poverty and even desperation as with bicycle thieves.

      So, that’s the challenge, how to make bike stories, (assuming they are indeed key) which are true to our times but also true to the bike, to it’s modest nature.

  9. Hi Ezra – nice article – I can recommend my latest bike – its great for shopping, driving with kids, going to the beach, forest, etc – and it even fits into a train here in Copenhagen!

    Best Peter (ITU – bike project)

  10. Coming at it from a different angle, I think that bike art on paper, sort of high or higher art, can bring status and cachet to the bike, esp. those of the elegant sort, the stately sit-up on which people look so good.

    I’m testing that with rubbings, lino cuts and solar prints.

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