I am often asked, "Why do you love bicycles?" For a few reasons, but mostly because I am in love with self-propulsion and self-motivation. I love finding solutions to problems and I want to leave the world in better condition than when I arrived. For too long we've behaved as if the resources of our world are infinite. They are not. They are finite. The disappearing species around the globe should be a canary in the coal mine for all of us.
Have you ever been witness to a baby's first steps? The open mouth smile and the parents, with arms outstretched, as the child wobbles into their waiting arms. With each step the child builds confidence and ventures further out into the world. I don't remember my first steps, but I remember the first time I found my balance and pedaled away from my father as he let go of the seat of my first bike. I remember. My heart seemed to stop and I gasped for breath. Balance. More than just a word, a metaphor.
The bicycle provides a greater sense of self-propulsion because it can carry us further and faster than our feet. At some point during the mid 19th century, during the height of the industrial revolution, the love of two-wheeled transportation began to catch hold in different corners of the world. Since that time there have been countless shapes and forms. But each design provides the rider with the same freedom that the first model gave its operator, the ability to get from one place to another quickly and in style.
Sometimes I feel like I am flying when I ride my bike. It's exciting to turn a corner and suddenly find myself in a sea of other bicyclists. They seem to share this feeling of self-empowerment. In love with the knowledge that, as they pass through the air that surrounds them, they are not polluting what we all share and breathe. Bicyclists are free from the petroleum products that have compromised our global environment. They don't have to worry about paying for parking, tipping valets, car insurance, car inspections or car maintenance. And this makes them smile. And, as an added bonus, bicyclists are less tense than the people belted into their metal, four-wheeled boxes.
The statistical truth is that 90% of trips made in cars are less than five miles from our homes. A very comfortable journey made on a bicycle. In addition to saving the aforementioned automobile expenses, riding a bike--just a couple hours a week--will reduce a person's risk of heart attack and stroke by 50%, not to mention reduce the risks of obesity and diabetes, two of the biggest killers in the United States. The more people that ride bikes, the safer it gets to share the road with pedestrians and cars.
Perhaps the best part of choosing a bike instead of a car is what you are saying by pedaling. You are saying to yourself, your friends, your family, and the cars that clog our roads and highways, that you care about the air we breathe and that you care about the environment. You're saying you want to do something to reduce carbon emissions and that you want to improve your health. This personal and environmental awareness is the legacy that you want to share with your friends and family. You are a person that wants to pose beside your new bicycle instead of a new car. Not to mention how much fun it is to ride. The Zen of bicycling is way cooler than the art of motorcycle maintenance.
Our country has had a long love affair with the automobile. Since its invention, the automobile has provided us with the freedom and liberty we yearned for since we took those first baby steps. The automobile took us further and faster than we could have ever done by self-propulsion. But that speed and distance has brought the world to the edge of extinction. We must now look at the automobile with an understanding of what it really is. We must look at the movies and songs that celebrated the automobile with a new consciousness and awareness. We must look at the automobile as a cigarette--a cancer stick--a nail in our collective coffin. The sexy lifestyle that the tobacco industry sold to us contains the same advertising lies and poison which the automobile industry sold and continues to sell to the world. Look at the ads for automobiles and you'll begin to recognize the lies. You'll see open roads with happy smiling drivers. Ask yourself, When was the last time I was NOT stuck in traffic? When was the last time I was not pissed off and stressed out after just a few hours spent driving behind the wheel of a car? The automobile ads always present cars in a setting that is free of traffic and the drivers appear powerful, happy and liberated behind the wheel. Yeah, like that ever happens in the modern world.
Just as tobacco has killed millions with different forms of cancer, the automobile industry and the pollution that has spewed from exhaust pipes ever since Henry Ford's Model 'A' rolled off the assembly line, must be looked upon as a carton of cigarettes and a cancer to civilization. The automobile industry should not be bailed out so it can continue to manufacture the same product. The automobile industry should be transformed into an industry that builds non-combustion engines. They should be given contracts to build new light rail trains that can carry passengers comfortably and safely. And the light rail cars should have bike racks so passengers can get home from commutes too long to be made by bicycle. Imagine how many jobs could be created if the US supported light and heavy rail systems. The car is a mode of transportation that cannot propel itself or our country into the future. The burning of fossil fuels and the internal combustion engine is dead. Raise your glass to self-propulsion! Long live the bicycle.
Matthew Modine is a Causecast leader, a dedicated and passionate individual who is an enigmatic voice for change. Causecast leaders are a prestigious collection of athletes, artists, students, actors, musicians, politicians, teachers and more. These individuals have set themselves apart from their contemporaries with a spirited dedication to their ideals.