According to League of American Bicyclists, 40% of all trips in the U.S. are made within two miles of the home. This means that by trading our car keys for a bike once in a while we could potentially reduce our dependency on foreign oil while lowering our carbon footprint and promoting good health.
Now, when I signed up to travel exclusively by bike this summer I knew that if I were to do nothing other than simply bike around in a group of people, I would be promoting sustainability. This is because, whether for better or for worse, riding a bike has become somewhat of a political decision. Just like buying a Hummer and cruising it around town reflects a certain kind of outlook and attitude towards policy and idealism, so too does choosing to commute by bike reflect a certain type of ideological vantage point. Committing to ride exclusively by bike for two months reflects a certain type of conviction in the belief that we could potentially as a community, a country, take individual action and simply in changing our behavior and the way we do things, effect real change; change to counteract and challenge the cultural norm, the American impulse that says buy, waste, consume.
I think most of my teammates and I grew up in an economy that valued buying commercial goods as a representation of social status. We all went to school being taught that if you had the latest in shoes or in mp3 player that you were not only worthwhile but that you were better than your peers. At the age of 23 I find myself observing that many of us never grew out of that behavior; we are still running the same rat races that we so desperately clung to throughout our adolescent-hood. Adults and children alike are racing to the bottom to consume the latest and greatest in this year’s production models all the while recklessly trashing our planet and consuming more irresponsibly than ever.
While it might sound naïve or idealistic or even slightly self-inflating to say that commuting by bike could change the world, every bike shop that we have stepped into along our journey has adopted this new strategy, “Be healthier, happier, and reduce your carbon footprint, buy a bike.” Whether the incentive is monetary or political, the bike shops we have visited have promoted a simple message: more biking means a lower carbon output. The biking communities supporting these bike shops also seem to resonate with the idealism that says, “Get people out of their cars and onto their bikes.” With oil, coal, and gas accounting for over 80% of our nation’s energy consumption; 40% of Connecticut’s greenhouse gases coming from transportation; and 40% of all urban trips made in the U.S. being within 2 miles, the bike shops might be onto something more than just a slogan or an advertisement campaign. According to Clif bars (as part of their cycling promoting 2 Mile Challenge), 25% of carbon dioxide emissions in the U.S. are emitted by cars. Furthermore, if one million people replaced a 2 mile car ride once a week with a bike ride, they could reduce emissions by 50,000 tons per year.
Along our route, Team RICONN has met with bicycle advocators and activists and participated in events ranging from weekly bike-shop-hosted community rides with four levels of circuit, to Critical Mass, one of the strongest and most successful attempts to organize cyclists and raise awareness to their presence on the road, to a bike ride protest
with 350CT and New Haven residents in protest of a proposed tar sands pipeline in New England.
If the slogans hanging on the walls of every bike shop I have visited this summer indicate anything, it’s that the biking communities sprouting up in urban and sub-urban areas around the country have been increasingly vocal in validating their presence on the road– validation achieved by taking an active role in addressing and challenging the very culture in which we live. Promoting weekly and monthly organized bike rides might be one of the many ways in which we as individuals can empower ourselves while influencing and challenging the car-centric, consumption obsessed culture around us.