No secret around these parts – I like to ride bicycles more than most people.
The last couple of years, my mountain bike has been gathering dust as I spend much more time on the road, in no small part thanks to the guys of the Fraser River Fuggitivi – a rag-tag group of Sunday morning riders, some life-long cyclists, some new to the sport, some fast, some just trying to hang on. On a good day, the FRF can be a dozen riders; on some days we only have three or four; on rainy days we stay home. Them’s the Italian Rules.
This past weekend, for reasons that are more complicated than just the serious headwind we experienced on part of the ride, I was thinking about what riding a bicycle has taught me about society. Cycling is not just a social sport, it is a socialist sport. From the Pro Peloton to a local Sunday morning ride, we work together into the inevitable wind. The weaker riders protected by the efforts of the strongest, taking their pulls when they feel able, sitting back when they don’t. Rarely do we judge those who don’t take their pull, we know when you can pull, we know when you are hurting. By working together, we all go faster for less effort. There is nothing more socialist than that.
However (and here is the beautiful part), all that working together doesn’t mean there can’t be winners. Individually, few in the FRF could have pulled off our 80+km ride on a hot windy day with the average just a tick under 30km/h like we did on Sunday, but working together we got there and got home sooner. But not before we sprinted our lungs out to see who had the most left in the tank. @Gye_Incognito managed to ride the rest of us off his wheel in that flat-back slightly-too-big-gear style of his (last year’s FRF Sprint Champ @FlyingOakes was not present, and John of the Thundering Thighs is no longer with us, so we will have to put an asterisk next to this win). The sprint was fun as much as it hurt, and there is pride and respect earned for winning it, but none of us would have gotten there together to see it won without the several-hours effort we put in together, pulling together against the wind.
Over history, bicycles have been liberating and empowering, and they have been marketed, commercialized and commoditized. They were seen both as a symbol of Maoist communism, then as a roadblock to progress in post-Maoist communism. They were effectively driven off of the streets of our democratic urban areas to foster “free movement” of people and goods, and are now a symbol (arguably, THE symbol) of urban renewal across that same post-industrial capitalist world. Meanwhile, bicycles facilitate a sport that never shies away from its pure capitalist roots – Professional Cycling is a rolling consumer road show that grinds through its workers like a commodity, but where sacred symbols (including the most sacred of all – the Maillot Jaune) are just corporate branding exercises. Still, it is full of traditions that put the team before the individual: with winners who giving their cash awards to their teammates, a culture of Domestiques and Omerta and lead-out-trains and not attacking when your opponent is down.
Bicycles are about the most efficient human-powered machines ever invented, but they are also a powerful tool for society. They bring people together for common causes, and make society move forward more efficiently. You can’t help it: cycling makes you a socialist.
They also commonly remind me how out of shape I am. Thanks for the pulls, guys.