April 28th, 2011

Cycling is Calvinist

Here is a contentious idea, that will need further research, but I shall nonetheless commit it to you, my most learned interlocutors, at this nebulous stage.

Milan and Ravenna are Catholic, and have lots of bikes. Not as many as Holland does though! The difference? Calvinism. In the 1600s the Italians were gathering in Baroque churches, while the Dutch met in austere ones. Moreover, Catholicism only demands of its followers that they take communion and confess all their sins—quite a lengthy task for some Italians, right Silvio? By contrast, Calvin preached predestination. Ones ability to live a disciplined life was taken as evidence that they had been chosen of god, even before they were born.

From left: Dutch cyclists taking zee nature. Italian cyclist taking a drag. Map of Calvinist and Catholic regions.

Now that environmentalism is the new religion, the Italian looks at his car and his bike, and says, "frig it, I'll drive. I just have to go to confession." Someone from Holland says, "No, riding my bike is evidence that I'm made of good stuff." I could write more, but you get my drift.

Some Calvinist churches.

And through a mammoth leap of logic, I would like to conclude by saying the architecture of cycling should likewise be austere, not Baroque. (A fate worse than death, I would suggest).

Manifesto of the many sucked-mango


Fellow gentlemen of the cog, we hereby denounce the single sucked mango as contrived and effete. We proclaim a real man to be one sporting no less than 3 peaks on his crown, and as many as 7, depending on the make of his helmet. We hold this truth to be self-evident, that all men are born equal, but that only some progress to wearing three or more mangoes.

Unsung champions of safe cycling for all


Having the last name of Fleming, I was doubly delighted to discover a cycling blog linking to mine, not in Australia, or even the UK, but in the  Flemish region of Belgium. Upon translating it from Double-Dutch (the language of Belgium) to English, using Google.Translate, I was  quadruply delighted, to behold one of the most rigorous blogs anywhere, of the "fix my town's bike paths" variety. Eindeloze Omwentelingen (endless revolutions) is maintained by Erik Daems, an engineer, cyclist, and father of 5, whose name must strike fear into the hearts of Leuven's road crews and traffic engineers. Every time they compromise cyclists' lives for the sake of expediency, Erik is like a ferret up their loop holes, demanding improvement.   

I wish my city had someone keeping such a diligent eye on all road works. The only problem here, is that such a kind soul could not take more than two steps without having to stop and photograph some new atrocity. As grateful as I am for the link (that alas, Erik, I won't reciprocate, due to the language barrier), I am not as grateful as the people of your town aught to be, having someone working for free as their scrutineer. 

I should take this occasion to say, that my city has heroes too, like: Dan the man who runs The Newcastle Bicycle Ecology Center entirely from his own love of old bikes, that he fixes up and sells for a song; the Newcastle Cycleways Movement, who have lobbied and won for 30 years now; The Newcastle University Bicycle Users Group (NUBUG) who are working to give poor uni students a cheaper alternative to driving to campus; plus half a dozen more who have stepped up to the plate in recent years. At the risk of sounding more sanctimonious than a selfish sod like myself has a right to, I will emphasize that these are people who are concerned with social justice, their neighbours' health, and the environment. Too often they're dismissed as nutters, just because most of us wouldn't do as much as they do for free.

Just a few famous people of known Flemish ancestry. I feel as though I am looking into a mirror!


But enough of all that. I'm wondering now if I shouldn't ride down to Belgium next week, when I'll be in Holland on my new Brompton. The Flemish region is, after all, my ancestral homeland—kinda, I guess. And perhaps they all look like me too.