The Philosophy of Bicycling

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Thanks to the new book Cycling–Philosophy for Everyone, I now have a term to describe the state of mind I achieve on my daily bicycle commute. This passage comes from the essay “Becoming a Cyclist: Phenomenological Reflections on Cycling” by Danish philosophy professor Steen Nepper Larsen:

The standard bike is a piece of low tech, the nearly divine epitome of sustainability, and an absolute necessity when cities have to be rethought and redesigned without the present profusion of noisy, space-hogging, energy-consuming cars. In contrast to several years of gasoline-engine monotheism and tailpipes, the cycling polytheism will open many possibilities of otherness and gliding unpredictable processes.

The trajectories and escape routes of the bike do not follow the flows of commodities, money, and capital. The mobility of the bicycle reminds us much more of the old dream of being as free as a bird in the sky than a trip on the discounted economy expressway that commodifies our experiences. The freedom of the road contains much more than the modern, “creative,” self-managed workplace and is much richer than the freedom to consume. It is possible to accelerate your bike, but at full throttle it ironically contributes to a deceleration of the accelerating technologies of globalization. Cycling is an alternative version of rich global communication. Far from the Net, the PC, and the mobile phone, the life-world of the cyclist becomes saturated by the senses and overwhelmed by the physical and climatic reality “out there.” No protective walls or phantom digital walls to lean on. Below the helmet one is happy to enjoy what other people might consider to be empty and dead commuting time to be traveled at the speed of light, while moving from destination A to destination B. The biker knows that the road taken is more important than the goal. It’s no fun getting there if the getting there is deprived of quality and lacks adventures. The Germans have an expression for this fertile time-in-between: Zwischenzeit.

Larsen’s essay is one of the high points of Cycling–Philosophy for Everyone, which like every bike ride contains some uneven territory. The volume spills too much ink on Lance Armstrong and on bike racing in general for my tastes, and calling some of the material “philosophy” is a stretch. Still, almost any type of literary-minded cyclist will find something to latch onto in the book–food for thought during your next Zwischenzeit.

Source: Cycling–Philosophy for Everyone

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