I found myself there last week polishing off a coney with cheese and onions. I paid my bill, went outside, and as I was unlocking my bike, the patriarch/owner (also the cook) comes out to the sidewalk to smoke, and begins gently ribbing me about riding a bicycle. “Sure takes you long time to get on that thing,” he said as I was unlocking it, and arranging my bag. “I still have my bike from when I was 12 in my garage.”
Actually, the whole exchange was friendlier than I thought it'd be, but it still got me thinking about why conservatives (in general) seem to have such a disdain for bicycles. Why is that?
|[Michele Bachmann promising $2 gas if she gets elected.]|
Bikes are cheap – When I think about a “conservative,” I imagine someone who’s judicious, skeptical, careful with their money.
Well, bicycles are a great way to save money. On average, cars cost over
But, more than that, bicycle infrastructure is a great way for the government to save money. Conservatives are always talking about "wasteful government spending," but for some reason don't view freeway and road infrastructure as part of the problem. A single stoplight costs more than $3,000 per year to maintain and operate. (And huge projects like the unnecessary $600M+ bridge to rural Wisconsin being built right now in Michele Bachmann's district should make fiscal conservatives cringe.) Bike lanes and trails are extremely cheap and last a long time, one of the best values for government spending you'll find.
|[No caption needed.]|
Trick question! I have no idea. I might visit a gas pump once a year.
I'd say that most conservatives don't like the thought of buying energy from overseas, particularly from places like Venezuela, Russia, or Saudi Arabia. Well, real energy independence comes from riding a bicycle. Zero % foreign oil. You can't beat that with all the drill rigs in all of Sarah Palin's dreams put together.
The Ultimate in Personal Responsibility – Another conservative mantra is the notion of personal responsibility. Each of us should be "held accountable for our actions." Each of us should "pull ourselves up by our bootstraps" or whatever.
Well, bicycling around the city is literally pulling yourself up with your bootstraps. (It's actually pushing yourself forward with your feet, but its pretty much the same.) Find another form of transportation (other than walking) that contains more personal responsibility. When I'm riding a bike, nobody or nothing is going to get me to the top of that hill except for my own limbs. The bicycle takes the conservative metaphor of individualism and independence and literalizes it, makes it real.
You Can Fix it Yourself – Another conservative narrative is the "fix it yourself" mentality. (Here in the Twin Cities, one local radio blabber calls this "garage logic.") The idea is that real conservative people (men) have their own tools, and can fix and tinker with their own machines, and don't have to depend on anyone else.
Well, its becoming more and more difficult to repair your own car. Nowadays, most of them have computerized black boxes that require proprietary tools. They have incredibly sensitive fuel injection systems or computers that nobody can fix themselves. (Thus the conservative nostalgia for American muscle cars of the 50s and 60s.)
On the other hand, you can still take a bicycle apart with a few key wrenches. Most everyone who rides a bicycle has basic knowledge of how to fix a flat, and many bicyclists can disassemble their handlebars, cranks, brakes, or pedals. It's very common to build your own bicycle out of individual parts. Bikes display a DIY culture that conservatives ought to embrace.
|[Anti-bike lane protest signs from LA.]|
But for some reason, the same rules don't apply to everyday life, to walking or biking. The same people that will sit for eleven hours in a deer stand or ice fishing shack will whine about a lack of air conditioning in their cars. Conservatives will routinely say things to me like "Isn't it [windy/hot/cold] riding that thing?" Sure it is, but bicyclists learn to tolerate and even enjoy the changes in the weather. Most of the time, most people riding a bike wouldn't trade the sun on their skin and wind in their hair for the isolated comfort of a car.
Bikes Support Local Business – Conservatives (like all political parties) love to tout their support for the small businessman, the shop on main street, the old-school store. Well, most people that ride bicycle support small businesses at high rates. (This is partly because its difficult to access large corporate retail places because of their large parking lots and auto-drenched locations. It's hard to ride a bike to a Walmart!) Riding a bicycle everywhere, you spend a lot of time on old main streets, old commercial corners. Bicycling fits neatly into the older commercial fabric of small and local businesses. You'd think more conservatives would notice.
Freedom From Rules – Finally, most bicyclists I know have to adopt a libertarian attitude toward how they ride, and how they choose to regard traffic laws. Partly for safety and partly for efficiency, bicyclists have to make their own rules of the road. In some places you'll cruise through a stop sign, or disregard the red light. Sometimes you'll have to go onto the sidewalk or cut through the alley.
In a way, to bicycle through the city is to live a libertarian fantasy. The official rules don't work well for bikes, so most bicyclists adopt their own rules. Isn't that what libertarians are supposed to be doing too?
|[Allegedly crack-smoking Toronto Mayor Rob Ford.]|
Of course, none of this really matters. Despite the professed principles of self-relaince and smart spending, most conservatives see bicycles as a vast left-wing conspiracy.
Right-wing politics is deeply tied to the politics of the automobile. In fact, more than anything else, the car ties together the coalition of exurban escapaism, elderly white people, sunbelt autopians, and vast rural industrial economies that forms the fractious right-wing. In Canada, Rob Ford slaps NIMBY magnets on parked cars while unpaving bike lanes. Scott Walker and Chris Christie campaign against transit. Dennis Hastert, Sarah Palin, and Michele Bachmann trumpet hugely expensive freeway pork projects. Most conservatives probably believe that if God had meant for us to ride bicycles, he wouldn't have given us all Ford F-350s and endless supplies of $2 gas.
Still, it'd be nice if conservatives would get out of their SUVs and try living their values for a change. I'll consider my life's work complete when my local right-wing bar has a bike rack out front.
|[Reagan riding a bike.]|