July 17th, 2011

Could cycling be the last bastion of regional difference?

One can easily travel the world and never experience the slightest pang of culture shock, just the same kinds of airports, the same ways to pay taxi drivers, the same fast food and hotel chains, and all those things Paul Ricoeur lamented. Should you have a craving though, for that feeling you recall from the old days before globalization went totally nutso, and before you had traveled too much, can I suggest going with a folding bike in your bag, doing lots of riding, and getting involved with people who have a keen interest in bicycle transit. That is what I have just done, and the culture shock was all around me. I mean, people who are concerned about cycling in their own town, but who are engaged in world wide discussions on the topic via the internet, are like a dozen fighters all in the one ring, some kick boxing, some fencing, some punching, some sumo wrestling, and some saying "hey, since when could we bite?"

Here are the English language pages of a blogger who started yelping, venomously, every time I posted to Twitter. I asked him to email me, so I might understand what was making him so irate. I can't be sure (don't want to be sure), but suspect he's on a crusade to keep separate bike paths out of Spain. He sees these as imperialist imports from Holland, Denmark and now maybe America, and hell, maybe he's right. Maybe Spain has a groovy thing going on, running with bulls.

I know enough about the bike transit battle field now, that I might jump to conclusion that he's just another grumpy old vehicular cyclist who is more afraid of being corralled onto a dinky track with learner riders, than seeing cycling diversity and reach the masses. As usual though, my mind takes a perverse tack. I see this guy's Latin passion. Hear him wailing at imperialists forces. And you know what? For the sake of expanding discussion, I'm prepared to side with him, at least for the length of a blog post. 

This cycling renaissance we are presently witnessing, is happening in the age of the tweet, the global e-village, and people like me who would parade ourselves as Messiahs, if we thought you would pay us. What if we take the view though, that cycling offers a last bastion of regional difference? With that as our aim, we would want to see Copenhagenites corralled into thin bike lanes, no matter how fast each can ride, because that is their regional quirk. We would want Dutch cyclists to remain sacred cows, with every other mode yielding to them, but with the cancer of mopeds betraying their nation's misplaced cultural tolerance. Would would let Southern Europeans keep the chaos they see as life. We would let the Chinese only ride bikes if they can't afford cars, or have already blown their dough on a Rolex.

The internet is tricking us into talking about cycling as a global phenomenon, rather than something that is happening everywhere at once, though in different ways.

Regional variation is something architects are better positioned to get their heads around, than the engineer types who have been in charge of bicycle transit thus far. We have been talking about regional identity for nearly 2 decades now, thanks mainly to Kenneth Frampton popularizing the term critical regionalism. The idea is in our veins. Helping it play out as cycling increases all over the globe, might not be the best thing, in any absolute Platonic sense, but then who really knows what is best anyway?

A hot topic no? Spray your thoughts as a comment.