Bicycles as Civilizing Agents

Today I saw what is perhaps the most convincing sign of spring…police on bicycles.

I’m not sure why, but seeing police officers on bicycles makes me feel more secure. Maybe because it makes the world seem less dangerous. And maybe that’s because I’m reminded of the British Bobbies in the movies who rode bikes and were always well mannered and good natured, and proper, and didn’t seem to care that their helmets looked like suppositories.

bikeOr–forgetting for a moment the guy who rides like he can, on a whim, be either car or pedestrian–perhaps the world seems kinder simply because of the civilizing effect of bicycles. Like Iris Murdoch said, "The bicycle is the most civilized conveyance known to man."

I agree with Iris. On a bike the world seems slower, purer. The light streams brighter and the air feels cleaner.

While these days I walk, for years, I used a bicycle for a daily 17 km commute. And I rode through the winter months if the snow wasn’t too deep. Even before we moved to the city I commuted the five miles from our acreage to my work in town.

me on trekOne very foggy morning in the semi-dark, while riding the dirt rode leading to the secondary highway, I sensed movement beside me. I was riding slowly because of the fog. Then, wheeling through a lighter patch, I could make out three of four deer trotting on each side of me. I was part of the herd, rolling down the road. In a moment they sensed me as well and scattered into the ditches on either side.

Another morning, crossing the bridge that spans the Little Paddle river, I saw a bald eagle gliding low, vigilant to the surface of the water. She sailed overhead, close, and I took it as a good sign.

Over the years, riding a bicycle, I’ve seen light’s contours, tasted the rush and sometimes bitterness of wind, and smelled the changing of seasons. All things that are stunted or missed from behind a windshield.

And so I think there is something to the rest of Iris Murdoch’s quote. "Other forms of transport grow daily more nightmarish. Only the bicycle remains pure in heart."

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  1. It’s poetic, but it looks dangerous! Now if we all lived within biking distance of work and nobody drove and the air was breathable and you weren’t taking your life into your hands sharing the road with drivers….that’s what I want — that and 30 hour weeks, no starting before nine a.m…..oh, and employers and co-workers and friends that are kind and reasonable and loyal. Is this too much to ask?

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