I feel a revolution coming on, not just any revolution…but a Velorution!

Creative bike rack - Brooklyn, NY

What in the world is a Velorution, you ask?  Why, it’s a bike revolution, using the French word “velo” for bike, silly!  I feel like up until just recently, biking in the US has been widely under-rated.  Of course, as a wide eyed child with the sky as the limit, you can probably remember thinking that biking was the crème de la crème…or at least most kids did that grew up in the 90’s.  I must admit, though, that after a child is introduced to the wonders of a bicycle, it is only a matter of time until the child is presented with a myriad of [possibly] more exciting and independent activities like dirt biking, skateboarding, snowmobiling, etc.  But let’s not get off track here.  In this sense, I would say that bikes are a “gateway vehicle”.  Once a child learns how to control and navigate a bike on their own, a gate is thrust open towards a more independent individual.  Ok, so the gate isn’t “thrust” open since this doesn’t happen immediately, but my point is that bikes are not just toys, and biking has and will continue to play a pivotal role in our society.

Timeline of the Bicycle

For centuries biking has been used as a vehicle to get from point A to point B.  (Fun fact:  Not very far from here was the very first bike shop in the United States, in Baltimore, MD).  Biking was (and still is) much faster than walking, and once people mastered the art of balance it became a more popular alternative to the horse and buggy (who wants to travel with all that baggage anyway?).  In some countries, biking is the primary means of transportation(those Dutch LOVE biking). 

Suffragette Cyclists - 1912

For us women, however, the bicycle holds a much deeper meaning as, unbeknownst to many women today, the bicycle was our vehicle to freedom. In the 19th century, the bike “inspired women with more courage, self-respect, self-reliance….”.  “Wheels of Change: How Women Rode the Bicycle to Freedom (with a Few Flat Tires Along the Way)” by Sue Macy can provide a wealth of information on this topic.  So it’s pretty clear that bicycles empower all people; men, women and children alike.  I remember the very moment when I not so gracefully mastered the seeming impossibility of riding on 2 wheels, not 4.

After learning how to ride a bike, I remember gaining more freedom, or at least I felt more empowered by the possibilities that being able to ride a bike gave me.  My brother, sister and I would ride our bikes down to the end of our cul-de-sac, by ourselves, to play in the massive piles of pine needles and leaves with our neighbors.  The speed at which we could reach the end of the cul-de-sac was a thrill in its own right.  As we got older we only became better and more knowledgeable about riding bikes and were thus granted permission to ride our bikes to the local ice cream parlor (yeah, it was just Dairy Queen, but it seemed fancy as a kid) that was a whopping 3 miles from home!  Our bikes were our personal vehicles that took us just about anywhere we wanted.  We didn’t have to wait for our parents to get home from work to drive us to a nearby friend’s house; we didn’t need a chaperone to guide us to the local convenience store a mile down the street; we were free to explore the off road paths in the thicket of the woods of Maine.  We were learning at an early age that we are independent beings and that we don’t have to rely on other people, or things, to get where we want.

Now my previous statement might get the philosopher inside of you thinking, but I meant it literally.  Today, as a fresh quarter centurion and a proud owner of a fully functional yet slightly oversized Mongoose bike, I can proclaim that nothing is stopping me from getting me to where I want…i.e. from point A to point B.  Which brings us to what spurred me to write this long winded post in the first place:  bikes are making a comeback…we are witnessing an American “velorution”!.  And it’s not just because they are becoming fancier or better looking (though they have come a long way since 1817), but it’s because they are becoming accepted as an alternative mode of transportation.  Hallelujah!  Cycle sharing schemes are popping up around the US, though they have existed in other places around the world for decades now. 

DC Bike Lanes - Penn Ave

American cities are reforming their streets to accommodate bikes, like adding bike lanes.  Some European cities that use biking as a primary means of transit have already incorporated cycling into their city’s infrastructure and can boast about having a wide and efficient network of not just cycling lanes (sometimes separated by a curb), but also cycling traffic lights and most of all, a plethora of cyclists! 

Think “power in numbers” and you’ll understand how increasing the number of cyclists on the road can have a positive effect on developing an appropriate infrastructure for cyclists in an urban area.  First of all, if cars are not used to having bikers in the road, they won’t think to look out for bikers as they do for other vehicles and for pedestrians.  If there is a higher demand for safer biking conditions then perhaps the bike lanes will be supplemented with their own traffic lights.  Of course this requires a good bit of funding, as well as time, to integrate the systems…but it’s still possible!!  I hate hearing Americans say that it’s an impossible feat because they don’t even consider the abundance of options that we have to develop our network. 

Inaugural Ride in Sep 2010

It won’t happen overnight.  We will be taking baby steps, but at least we can start on the right foot, and go in the right direction.  In less than a year DC’s bike sharing program, Capital Bikeshare (CaBi), has acquired more than 10,000 users, and it’s the largest bikeshare program in the US…that’s positive progress right there!

It’s funny how bikes were originally created for a single purpose but they quickly became multi-functional and came to represent empowerment, freedom, independence and even innovation.  They can be used for fun, for exercise, for adventure and for leisure.  As an amateur photographer (slash photographer wannabe) and bike enthusiast, I have captured interesting images of bikes across Europe and the US during my travels.  The pictures speak for themselves but they offer even more functions a bike can have if you just open your mind…

Bikes and food…

Onion Bike - Marylebone London

Bratwurst Bike - Berlin, Germany

Bikes and advertising…

Ice Cream Bike - Oxford, England

Candy Store Bike - Brighton, England

Good Tea Bike - Prague, Czech

 Bikes as relics…

Hanging Bike - Gary, Indiana

Beatles Relic - Liverpool, Beatles Museum

Vintage Bike - Lyon, France

Sea Swept Bike - Gent, Belgium

 Bikes as art…

Fish Bike - San Francisco, CA

Enchanted Bike - Brighton, England

Bike Mural - Georgetown, DC

Finally, bikes as good ol’ transportation!

Bike Share in Lyon, France

Flower Power Bike - Santa Monica, CA

Capital Bikeshare in DC (CaBi)

Now get on out there, hop on a bike, and get experienced….

Experience the bike


About Zanna Leigh

I am a born Wisconsiner, native New Englander, short term (and wannabe) European, vegetarian foodie, good music lover, public transit enthusiast and sustainability devotee in the DC metro.
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