Saturday, July 4, 2009
Here He is! Mitch, the Bicycle.
Here's my new bike! My life has gotten about 49.7% more enjoyable since forking up the 40 quid for this little gem, that I have dubbed Mitch. (Mitch is not cool, Mitch is probably the nerdiest, shoddiest bike in all of London). However, not only can I get to Uni in under 20 minutes, but I can avoid the trauma-inducing tube. Why did I put this off all year? Must say, I was a bit fearful at first. I've historically been a complete reject on bicycles (see summer 2007, where riding my mountain bike like someone at my skill level should just didn't seem appealing enough to me). Needless to say, the horror stories of London cycling were enough to discourage me. But by the end of exams, I knew that warnings from my mother could no longer keep me from one of my deepest passions.
Here I am with my mountain bike that I miss dearly.
I've always had a thing for riding bikes. It's in so many ways a proletarian thing to do. But as anyone living in a big hip city knows, it's also become simply "the thing to do" as a young person. Fixed-gear madness abounds at Brick Lane, or College Street or Brooklyn for that matter. This idea that walking or taking public transportation (gasp!) is somehow less cool than riding a bike is one that seems odd. Rather, the bike has been appropriated from the world's peasantry. My friend from China believes that riding a bike in London is a petty bourgeois choice. (I disagree respectfully, of course, because riding a bike is carbon neutral, and any environmentalist is obligated to do so). Why would you want to ride a bike? He asks. Apparently he had to ride them so much as a kid, because there was no alternative, that he cant stand them anymore.
But I persist. In many ways the bicycle went from being something that was "just for kids", family picnic trips, and hardcore athletic types to being an active form of resistance to the monolith that is car culture in the West. See this dude's tattoo really captures the sentiment!
But now, and especially here in London, the anti-establishment symbolism of choosing a bike rather than a car has been undermined by the aggressive incursion of capitalist values of 'cool'. I find myself admiring other people's bikes all the time, and Mitchy becomes much less attractive. Why? It's just a bike! Just a way to get around! Does capitalism have that much power? Or am I just too weak to resist shallow cultural trends? Both of these questions of course lead to the more long-standing issue of what trends mean (a friend would point me to Bourdieu's 'Distinction') in a class-conscious framework. Not to delve too deeply into a regressive enumeration of how and why people identify with certain trends in a capitalist society, I think it's fair to say that bike-loving hipsterdom is a far cry from the kind of life-choice that is made by eco-socialists. The kind of choice that is made, perhaps, in solidarity with the world's poor who ride bikes as a basic necessity. We may pity that kind of situation, yes, but in fact, we shouldn't. We're the pathetic ones, polluting our air with inefficient SUV's that crawl through cities like bloated cows, farting out the non-biological equivalent of methane. The bike is the better way to get around. It's the fastest way. And its no longer only for the alternative types. This yuppie-friendly mode of transportation is indeed popular among all sorts of people, which as a walker-bus-tube person I didn't expect. At the end of the day, I'll know my world has changed when I see P. Diddy or Jay-Z rolling around on the two-wheeled gems of joy.