San Jose, 2008
I still remember when my Dad let go of the back of the seat on my first bicycle, the Spider-Man bike. A sensation of complete freedom, self-reliability, and sustainability over came me, and the feeling of balancing on two thin, rubber tires was incredible. There's a little tickle you get as a child when you first learn how to ride a bike--it's a feeling of accomplishment, a promotion into the big-kids club. But ultimately, it's independence and control--you can go as far as your body can take you. You can vary your speed, direction; you control your destination.
Growing up in Santa Cruz, California, I took for granted the importance of riding a bicycle, and it's not until my adult years that I've realized that riding a bicycle is something we can do to satisfy our modern, intellectual objectives. Let's put aside the obvious health benefits of riding a bicycle and peer deeper into what it represents. Riding a bicycle in adult life has a profound meaning and directly coincides with intents and feelings from very first time you ever rode.
Our present dependence on automobiles has put us in boxes, literally. The disconnection between human beings is greatly enhanced by the ease and utility of the car. The climate, ambient noise, and environment are completely controlled by the driver. We have the ability to multi-task, check e-mails, make phone calls, and entertain the children with DVDs. We get places faster (or we think we do). Our negative judgments, hostility, and aggression towards others is warranted as we feel entitled to do so behind thin pieces of transparent but solid-seeming glass.
Riding a bicycle is not easy. You are subject to the climate, noise, and environment, whether it be on a busy city street or a tree-lined path. There are hills and terrain to contend with. We can't multi-task, check e-mails, make phone calls, or show DVDs. Any hostility towards another person must be accounted for, as you are exposed fully, without any protection.
So why ride a bicycle?
By boxing ourselves up in steel, we have disconnected from each other and our environment. Exposing ourselves to the elements, such as weather, makes us interact with, as opposed to react to, our environment, and we come to understand it better. The full 360 degree view you get when riding a bicycle gives you the opportunity to sense the environment around you and contemplate your world. We hear, see, smell, and touch things that we'd never have the opportunity to do boxed up in a car. And bicycles not only promote the use of our senses, but hone our reaction times, balance, and body.
Riding a bicycle is about self-reliance, and cars dissuade self-reliance. Not only is the act of driving a car a detachment from our senses (an exception being driving a race car), but with GPS aids and modern cell phones, it keeps us completely served at all times. On a bicycle, our progression is determined by our familiarity, intuition, and map-reading skills. Yes, there are many bicycle riders who use GPS systems, but the foremost mentioned methods are by far the most employed. A bicyclist is also faced with hills and terrain, and it is our own bodies that allow us to conquer these obstacles, not the money we've spent.
By allowing me to realize these things, the bicycle has changed my life and the way I view the world. I often get places faster than those driving, and I get to see other places along the way. I don't yell, act hostile, or lose my temper, unless I have a close call with a car. I'm courteous with pedestrians and dog walkers. I'm able to help and talk to others whom motorists would just drive past without noticing. I'm not polluting the environment or my body. When I ride a bicycle I fight disease and future ailments, and I promote wellness to anybody who cares to share the experience. I familiarize myself with every street, curb, crossing, bridge, creek, tree, stone, pebble, loose pet, and neighbor. I connect with the world all around me, and the world all around me connects back.
What is our world like today? We see:
- Full parking lots and empty bike racks
- An environmental crisis that is destroying the world around us not only directly, but indirectly by creating war and world hunger
- Type II diabetes, obesity, heart disease, and other ailments rampant among adults and even children
- Lack of funding for public school physical education
- Economic hardship as much of our income goes toward gas, car payments, and insurance, and taxes for roads
- An utter dependence on cars
- A growing distance and disconnection from, and despite towards, our fellow humans
At least on a bicycle, you wouldn't need a GPS to know where you were!
Dion Dangzalan operates UglyPads.com