Pedal-Pushing Protesters

Nine weeks into Vancouver's bus strike, the view from above the handlebarslooks pretty good. The weather's warm, the bikeways are filling with ridersand, if you're Carmen Mills, you can sense a social movement gainingmomentum.

Mills is editor of the newly launched Momentum, one of the fewmagazines in North America to treat bicycling as a political, rather thansporting, culture - and a pretty sexy one at that. The cover of the premiereissue features a woman lustily licking her bike frame.

Inside, stories celebrate a bike-themed wedding, attack Canada's record on global warming,mix fix-it tips with fiction, track the politics of local cyclinginfrastructure and advise men on how to ride with less pain and risk totheir genitals.

The readership is as diverse as the content, ranging from mud-spatteredmountain bikers to lycra-skinned roadsters to BMXers doing tricks tohipsters tooling about on funky low-riders. Here in Vancouver, we've alsogot the Dinosaurs, a rolling, costumed street-theatre troupe attacking the cultureof "automobility."

While political movements tend to start with an idea that launches peopleinto action, the opposite is true for the bike tribe. This is a movementinspired by movement. "Even if cycling polluted and made me fat, I'd stilldo it," says Mills with a laugh. Addicted to the "bliss" of riding, shedeclares: "I'm no eco-martyr."

"The experience of riding," says Lee Henderson, a longtime green activistand founder of the Dinosaurs, "is one of freedom, a feeling of flow, a senseof the moment, of multi-directionality, of lightness, of fun."

"The magazine for self-propelled people," that's how Momentum bills itself.And in its pages, you'll find this advice: "Bike people should marry bikepeople."

Indeed, the sexual politics of getting around together, or alone, are whatdraw many women into the tribe. "For women, cycling is such an empowering,liberating experience," says Mills. "You can go where you want, when youwant." She never has to stand in the dark waiting for a bus, never has toendure the harassing remarks that sometimes come a woman's way on publictransit.

Want a neat summation of gender relations within the bike tribe? When theDinosaurs and their fellow riders take to Vancouver streets en masse, youoften hear this little ditty. To the tune of "Daisy," the women sing:

Michael, Michael,Here's your answer true:
I like to cycle. I'm happy that you do too.
So cool, you're not a gas junkie
And your quads are ripped and hunky
But I must be in charge
Of the front handlebars.

(Here, the men chime in)
Then I'll check out your glutes
And let you choose the routes

(All together now)
On our bicycle built for two.

And yet. Every car door that suddenly opens to block the way and every gulpof carbon monoxide belched from a tailpipe feeds a simmering anger. The rageis the flip-side to the bike tribe's fun-seeking sensuality. It stems fromthe daily contest with automobiles over right-of-way on the paved terrainand it informs a more philosophical outrage at the pollution anduglification of the landscape that is the by-product of car culture.

"We aren't stopping traffic," is the famous rallying cry whenever the bikeactivist collective Critical Mass fills downtowns around the world on thelast Friday of every month. "We are traffic."

The reason Lee Henderson turns himself into a bicycle-riding dinosaur, hisbody made of corrugated plastic, his rows of jagged teeth cut from reflectortape, is to embody a myth about anger. The dinosaurs are ghosts, heexplains. They were roused from their Alberta resting place of 100 millionyears by oil drilling and they are angry to have awakened to a world ofasphalt smog and, as Lee puts it, "murder wagons."

Of course, it would not be fair to say that bike politics is all aboutprotest and defiant opposition. A Vancouver group called PEDAL (Pedal EnergyDevelopment Alternatives), which operates out of the not-for-profit OurCommunity Bikes, outfits Mayan villages in Guatemala with pedal-drivencoffee-bean processors made from old bikes.

But Carmen Mills felt a frisson of satisfaction when she learned, recently,that a group calling itself the Earth Liberation Front had torched an SUVdealership in Eugene, Oregon, causing a million dollars in damage.

"I think this action is really important," Mills explains. "It's a landmarkin the slowly turning tide of global awareness of what cars - and mostsymbolically, SUVs, those obscene vanity machines - are doing to our earth.Someone at some time had to blow up a few logging machines to make theirpoint, and the time has come for direct action to raise awareness of thisissue. There are more polite and mainstream-friendly ways to make the samepoint and Momentum is one of them. But I know a lot of people who'dtoast a marshmallow on the flames of that SUV dealership. I would."

David Beers is a writer and editor based in Vancouver. This pieceoriginally appeared in the Vancouver Sun. It is posted onrabble.ca with permission.

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