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Anti-Commodification Effect of Bicycles

by Harv Thursday, Sep. 01, 2005 at 12:13 PM

What the current establishment fears about us bicyclists is not only our freedom, but our manifested alternatives. Alternative transportation, yes, but even more - an alternative value system.

Remember the movie "Easy Rider"? Wyatt (Peter Fonda's character) tells Billy (Dennis Hopper's character) that what those antagonistic local yocals were afraid of is Billy's 'freedom'. What the current establishment fears about us bicyclists is not only our freedom, but our manifested alternatives. Alternative transportation, yes, but even more - an alternative value system.

A system that is counter to the commodification of all things under corporate control. Why do you suppose society turns a blind eye to the 43,000 deaths and the hundreds of thousands of injuries annually caused by driving automobiles? Because to do otherwise would be counter-productive to the commodification of the transportation industry by General Motors, Standard Oil, et al.

Look what these corporations did to the non-auto transportation system already established in Los Angeles up until, what... the 1960's? They ripped up the tracks and junked the light-rail cars, that's what they did. Just to assure that everyone would have to buy in to the expensive car culture.

Enter bicyclists. Not just kids pedalling K-Mart bikes on sidewalks. Serious adults cycling as vehicles, going to work and running errands, as well as recreation and social uses.

Talk about a slap in the face to corporate America! What about that SUV dealership that can't sell us a 30 or 40 kilobuck monster with ten cup-holders and a video entertainment center? What about the oil companies who watch us pedal past their gas stations without spending a dime? What about those insurance companies that can't sell us a legally-mandated policy that costs hundreds of dollars per month? I could go on and on but I am disgusted with listing the money-grubbers already.

So we have our humble bikes to save us all this loot and mitigate the need for wage slavery. They are not free are they? You gotta plunk down some bucks for a nice ride, doncha? Well, no. One of the truly great things about riding a bike is that you can spend as much or as little as you want.

You can build a bike from scrap parts at little or no cost. In Northeast L.A. I see bikes abandoned at the curb frequently. I pedal up the Arroyo Seco bike path and see them hurled into the channel-bottom. I pedal along the neighborhood streets and see them out with the trash on pick-up day.

Yes, they are junk, but they usually have some salvageable parts on them. Or you can probably score a discarded but better bike from a friend or neighbor who had grandiose plans upon exiting the bike shop some years ago, but now just has the bike languishing on a plastic-covered hook in the back of the garage because that monster SUV with 10 cup holders and a two-ton air conditioner has become his/her second home and egocentric self-image.

Imagine what an affront to our corporate consumer culture it is to silently whiz past dense traffic on a zero-cost beater bike built up from junk parts! Having opted out of car payments, insurance, fuel, maintenance, parking fees, traffic tickets, registration fees, vehicle tax, etc (all of which now amounts to 10,000 bucks per annum!), you have succeeded in de-commodifying your transportation. You rebel, you! You counter-culturist! No wonder you get honked at, screamed at, spit at, get trash thrown at you, and are looked upon as a non-conforming weirdo. Or is it fear? Is it fear by that fat, wheezing, angry, impatient, road-raged, car driver that you have somehow beat the system and can exist and be happy without the commodification of every aspect of your life?

Or if you really want to, you can go out and blow hundreds of dollars (or more) on a brand-new shiney bike. All of the above will still be true, won't it? :)

Note: The author's 'beater' was built basically from two discarded bikes. One, a 15 year old all-steel Schwinn Frontier, abandoned by a neighbor upon fleeing the country to avoid prosecution for grand-theft-auto (ironically, an employee of an SUV dealership). The other a kid's 20 inch mountain bike left out with the trash. Tossed into the mix were a slightly damaged saddle donated by a LBS, take-off parts from prior bike upgrades, a 35 year-old pair of steel toe-clips, and a pair of Italian motorcycle handlebar grips gleaned from a dealer's obsolete parts inventory. Only purchased new parts are tires and tubes.

Cyclist Inciting Change thru Live Exchange

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