A funny thing happened during the last decade of the 20th century. Paralleling events that transpired a century earlier, a social movement emerged based on the bicycle. This “movement” is far from a unified force, and unlike the late 19th century bicyclists, this generation does not have to rally around the demand for “good roads.” Instead, “chopper” bike clubs, nonprofit do-it-yourself repair shops, monthly Critical Mass rides, organized recreational and quasi-political rides and events, and an explosion of small zines covering every imaginable angle of bicycling and its surrounding culture, have proliferated in most metropolitan areas. Month-long “Bikesummer” festivals have occurred in cities around North America since 1999, galvanizing bicyclists across the spectrum into action and cooperation.
This curious, multifaceted phenomenon constitutes an important arena of autonomous politics. The bicycle has become a cultural signifier that begins to unite people across economic and racial strata. It signals a sensibility that stands against oil wars and the environmental devastation wrought by the oil and chemical industries, the urban decay imposed by cars and highways, the endless monocultural sprawl spreading outward across exurban zones. This new bicycling subculture stands for localism, a more human pace, more face-to-face interaction, hands-on technological self-sufficiency, reuse and recycling, and a healthy urban environment that is friendly to self-propulsion, pleasant smells and sights, and human conviviality.
Bicycling is for many of its adherents both a symbolic and practical rejection of one of the most onerous relationships capitalist society imposes: car ownership. But it’s much more than just an alternative mode of transit. A tall, rugged blonde man in his mid-thirties, Megulon-5, an inspirational character in Portland, Oregon’s CHUNK 666 group, declares, “We are preparing for a post-apocalyptic future with different laws of physics.”2 It sounds off-kilter at first, but there is a rising tide of local activists in most communities who accept the Peak Oil arguments.3 Many are already organizing themselves directly and indirectly towards a post-petroleum way of life. It may not alter physics exactly, but it certainly implies a radical change in our relationship to energy resources and ecology.
The explosion of zany and whimsical, practical and political self-expression via bicycling comprises a deeply rooted oppositional impulse that challenges core values of our society. The bicycle has become a device that connotes self-emancipation, as well as artistic and cultural experimentation. The playfulness and hands-on tinkering in the subculture is spawning new communities that can be framed as emerging sites of working class re-composition.
Bike Bike, the yearly bike co-op conference
Heavy Pedal Cyclecide bike rodeo
Plan B bike co-op in New Orleans
Bikes Across Borders in Austin, Texas sends bikes to Latin America
Bikes Not Bombs in Massachusetts sends bikes to many other countries
C.I.C.L.E. (Los Angeles)
Derailer Bike Collective (Denver)
Apocalipse Motorizado (Brazilian Portuguese)