This bike is a Quaker rifle

Gun + bike = message for car culture

Gun + bike = message for car culture

I’ve seen this image at a local bike shop. The bike shop itself is an active, community-oriented business offering common-sense repairs, products and support for bicycle lifestyle as a whole. I don’t know what is intended by the bicycle + machine gun image, but I personally associate it with another sticker I’ve seen around that says “This bike is a pipe bomb.” I realize This bike is a pipe bomb is actually a punk band, but as a sticker on a bicycle it can not fail to be a message as well. To me, the message of both is the politically-charged, radicalized version of “One less car.” It’s saying that riding a bike is a subversive act in the charge to abandon car culture, and with each ride the revolution gains momentum.

In a way, I associate the usage of guns on par with the general acceptance of the car as status quo in this country. Car ownership is standard in the U.S., just as gun ownership is not to be questioned by the political mainstream. In another sense, both cars and guns are easy, thoughtless solutions to everyday problems. So easy, in fact, as to be cowardly in certain situations. Need a bag of flour? Jump into the car. Suspicious of your neighbor? Don’t worry, you can have a gun. In terms of intimidation, the use of the bulk and speed of a car to intimidate a cyclist (for example), or the use of a gun to threaten or harm an unarmed person is pure, loathsome cowardice.

I heard an ugly story from one of my favorite places to ride a bike – the Blue Ridge Parkway. The Parkway offers hundreds of breath-taking and thigh-burning miles along the spine of the Appalachians in V.A. and N.C. Heavy vehicles are not allowed, and the speed-limit is slow: therefore you have no reason to fear traffic as you plod at 5mph up a gap, nor is it a problem to take a lane when you descend for 5 miles doing around 40mph. It’s a National Park, so there’s decent camping as well, making it an ideal route for bike touring.

Bear with me, it’s one of those A friend of a friend told me that: a cyclist was riding the Parkway the other weekend on his bicycle, when he was cut-off by a motorist. The cyclist caught up to the motorist at a stop sign. He rode up to the front window of the car to address being cut-off when the driver displayed a firearm. Smartly, the cyclist backed off and the motorist drove off. I was told the cyclist reported this to the police, since it’s still illegal to possess firearms in National Parks. Sadly, that ban – what I consider a safety measure of ALL of us – is about to be overturned.

Of course, those who follow N.C. news and/or those who follow bike blogs will remember the story in the media this past July in which a driver, angered, ostensibly, that a male cyclist was putting his family at risk by leading his wife and child on bikes out on busy roads, actually pulled a gun and shot the man. The bullet was somehow deflected by the cyclist’s helmet (who needs a better reason for wearing a helmet?), sparing the man.

This isn’t to say that the roads are unsafe because aggressive drivers are also packing and ready to use guns. I feel as safe biking as I do in any other aspect of life in this country. It just makes me think of all the times I’ve been threatened, intimidated, or simply mindlessly cut off by motorists, and in response I gesticulated, expectorated, or pontificated toward them to put them on notice. If I’d been a little more assertive, there’s a chance it could turn out much worse.

Where I live in N.C. is historically home to Quaker settlements. You can even see a musical called Sword of Peace about the Quaker’s history at the time of the Revolutionary war produced annually every summer in Snow Camp. For the purposes of this blog entry, what you need to know about Quakers is that they are pacificists in the most strict sense – they won’t condone war, and you can’t have a military wedding in one of their meeting halls. The other day, I had the opportunity to attend a Quaker meeting, and a story from the Revolutionary war was recounted. One of the very last battles of the war was fought just down the road from here – the battle of Lindley’s Mill (we’re still buying flour and grits from Lindley Mill). The pacificist Quakers didn’t condone the taking up of arms on either side, and were faced with the dilemma of what to do when soldiers of either army came through villages and pillaged requisitioned supplies like hunting rifles. The story related in the meeting was about how one man by the name of Osborne stayed true to his Quaker convictions, and bent the barrels of his rifle, rendering them useless for battle.

While I appreciate the notion of the bicycle as revolution, and feel that metaphors of other revolutionary methods – sub-machine guns and pipes bombs for pipe-smoking subcommandants – can be aesthetically and emotionally appealing, it’s not really how I choose to adorn my riding or my advocacy. I can be pretty vocal in traffic about my rights to the road as a cyclist, but faced with a clear deficit in fire- and horsepower and tons of steel, maybe the best thing I can do is assert my position on the road, conduct myself peaceably, and get people used to my presence.

Pipe + Machine Gun = Revolutionary

Pipe + Machine Gun = Revolutionary

On the tandem, my honey and I really do feel like we have magnified presence. We’re bigger, that much more visible, and once drivers see we’re on a bicycle-built-for-two, I like to think that people soften up and treat us sweetly. If consistent visibility (and our cuteness) on the road doesn’t pave the way toward more acceptance of our favored mode of travel, I suppose we always have the option of setting up the tandem to live up to one of the many nicknames of the stoker – the tail-gunner.


1 Response to “This bike is a Quaker rifle”

  1. 1 Emma J October 16, 2009 at 12:24 pm

    Yikes. I think I’m more comfortable with the presence approach, too. One of the things I love about biking vs. driving around town is that I engage in a lot more eye contact, smiles, waves, even conversations than I do when I take the car instead. In ten-plus years, biking my kids the 6 miles in for school, toting groceries, making deliveries and running other errands, plus weekend to weeklong trips up over the hills and around, I’ve had only three – maybe four – times yelled at, honked at, etc. Not bad odds.

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