A New Story, And Some Thoughts

Firstly, I’ll be taking my contractually obligated break next week, so after today you most likely won’t hear from me until a week from Monday.

Secondly, I’ve got a new story on Outside:

Wait, no, that’s not it. This is it:

But obviously that’s very exciting news about the Crosstrek.

As I’ve mentioned, my Outside column has been paused indefinitely (along with our civil liberties) owing to the economic fallout from situation I like to refer to as “The Pando.” However, Outside were gracious enough to ask me if I’d like to write something about the bicycle’s role in counter-cultural movements in light of the bike-weaponization we’ve been seeing during the protests. People are angry about this, but I have to admit that I had some misgivings about joining the pile-on. However, I couldn’t quite put my finger on why I had misgivings, since I’m not in favor of the police hitting people with bikes or anything else. Furthermore, the bicycle has indeed been an agent of change ever since the late 19th century, and also happens to be one of the greatest inventions ever wrought by humankind. So I accepted the assignment.

Then, this morning, while having my coffee, I watched the new Dave Chapelle video. When you put carbon atoms under pressure, you get diamonds–and of course we’re all made out of carbon, which is why we’re laterally stiff and vertically compliant. What he does here is crush you, yet you feel like you’re transformed into something better for it. Put it this way: it’s pretty much the exact opposite of the email I got from Chipotle the other day touting all they’re doing to foster racial equality.

That’s when I finally understood why I’d felt uncomfortable writing this story about how the police are using bikes against protesters: because who fucking cares? What does it matter if they’re hitting people with bicycles, or batons, or stale French breads? Violence is violence. In a way the outrage over the fact that bikes happen to be involved exemplifies everything that’s wrong with bike people; the police are choking people to death, and here I am writing a story about how the police are misusing our precious bicycles.

This isn’t to say I don’t think I should be writing about bikes right now, or that they aren’t important to me. Bikes are everything to me. They’re how I understand the world. I’m blind, and the bike is my cane. If North Korea fired a nuclear missile at Seattle, I’d still go for a ride the next morning, and I’d probably write a blog post about how much I love my Rivendell. In the strange universe I inhabit this is a perfectly reasonable response, since bicycles have given me pretty much everything I have in life, and I must pay them obeisance on a daily basis. But writing a magazine article about the tragic loss of RenĂ© Herse tires would be pretty fucking tacky, and I can’t help feeling a little bit like that’s what I’ve done here.

Of course, by the time I was able to articulate any of this to myself the story was already published–which is fine. I don’t think the world is a worse place for this story being in it. But I do feel I should note that Outside edited the story quite a bit, which also made me uncomfortable, but which also may be the consequence of my own discomfort with writing the story. And all of this is compounded with the fact that, ever since The Pando started, I’ve been uncomfortable with the tone bike advocacy in general. I’ll always feel strongly about the need for safer streets and bike lanes and all the rest of it, but for the past three months the usual mouthpieces have struck a shrill and discordant note for me. I’m sure I’ll join them again at some point, but frankly right now I feel like it’s the least of our problems. And please keep in mind I’m still very grateful that Outside asked me to write this, and that I hope they’ll keep asking me to write stuff in the future, and that I’d suffocate a kitten to get my column back. (Not really, but it got your attention, didn’t it?)

So how’s that for a plug?

On a sort-of related note, this morning, as I was headed to the George Washington Bridge, I noticed someone walking a bicycle with the fork on backward. You see a lot of this sort of thing these days, what with the Pando, and people ordering bikes online that they assemble themselves–that’s just how bikes are packed, and if you don’t have much experience it’s perfectly reasonable to assume that’s how they’re supposed to be.

Anyway, I didn’t want to bother the guy, or to come off as patronizing, but I also didn’t want him to have a shitty riding experience that would turn him off bikes–or worse, crash. So, as politely as I could, I explained that his fork was on backwards, and offered to fix it for him, since it would cost me all of three minutes with the multi-tool I had in my saddle bag versus him waiting on line at a bike shop for an hour and a half. (There were a good 15 to 20 people waiting outside the bike shop on Dyckman when I rode by on my return trip.)

He declined my offer, maybe because he was capable of fixing it himself, or maybe because he thought I’d give him the COVID. Either way, for the second time that morning, I gained a greater understanding of my place in the world. Basically, I’m not going to change it, but at the very least I can help a few people get their forks on straight, and maybe as a result of that a few of those few will eventually wind up getting as much joy from their bicycles as I’ve gotten from mine.

It’s not much, but it’s not nothing either.

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