Bike to the Future

<p>Orion magazine looks at the lifestyle of nomadic utopian cyclists, who are cranking up for a post-petroleum future.</p>
February 4, 2008, 7am PST | Michael Dudley
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"I've begun to discern the contours of a movement of mostly young people who believe that the American pursuit of happiness has taken a decidedly wrong turn somewhere on the interstate and gotten lost among the tract homes dotting the subdivisions of Eden. For the radical few, the bicycle is an important part of the solution. The bicycle, that technological throwback from the nineteenth century, is for them a literal and metaphorical organizing principle for a new vision of the world, one that stands not simply against the most obvious form of petro-consumption, the automobile, but that heralds and celebrates-in advance of its actual arrival, and with bright little bicycle bells and radical cheers-a new, post-petroleum era.

They are people who have turned their backs upon petroleum culture, who, by doing so in a world that has been made safe for consumption, for a besetting tyranny of convenience, have instead profoundly inconvenienced themselves and are trying, in John Updike's phrase, to be "model citizens of Thoreau's utopia of doing without." They are grassroots, agitprop do-it-yourselfers, tinkerers, roboticists, jugglers, musicians, radical gardening disciples, fluffy anarchist trash worshipers, and practitioners of slow food and slow time. They are thrift store habitués, living comfortably and happily off the salvage stream. In dumpsters, on city sidewalks, and on the shoulders of American highways, radical bicycle activists lay claim to the materials of construction to build their huts and their yurts and their geodesic domes in the woods. In a world where one hardly knows where to start the work of redemption, salvage has, for them at least, rediscovered its link to salvation.

I did buy a bicycle, and I've been riding it around Manhattan, discovering the city anew. I have pedaled along the Hudson River Bike Path, a newbie among bicycle commuters but feeling, nevertheless, a sense of silent fellowship. I have cruised through Central Park at night, feathered my way gleefully through stalled midtown traffic, chatted with mounted policemen on their horses at a traffic light in Times Square, shared a laugh with pedicab drivers. I've felt the city and its possibilities open up to me, along with a newfound sense, arriving unexpectedly, that on a bicycle, the end of the world as we know it doesn't really look so bad."

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Published on Friday, February 1, 2008 in Orion
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