A couple of guys in the shop today were telling us Virginia Beach is a horrible place to ride.
"They really don't get it down there," said one. "They really don't want you out there on the road. When I go to visit my sister there, I just don't go out riding."
When I hear a thing like that I immediately want to go there and ride. I want to see if it is as bad as they say or if something about their riding style attracts problems. And if it is as bad as all that, I want to get on the road and assert cyclists' rights.
In driver education, many decades ago, I was told repeatedly that driving is a privilege, not a right. Unsafe and unsociable behavior would lead to loss of driving privileges. This many years later, with the automobile widely assumed to be an indispensable appliance, I wonder if the government could therefore take away someone's right to this ubiquitous transportation device. They do, and not often enough, but that's a constitutional question for another day.
No one has ever said that cycling was a privilege. Walking certainly is not a privilege. And, in our car-centric "civilization," neither one is exactly a treat in many places. Our automotive overlords shower their scorn on us like chickenshit tyrants from within the cabs of their armored limousines. We are asserting a right of free passage on the public right of way. They are rubbing their privileged asses all over us.
In my neighborhood, the drivers are remarkably accommodating, with the usual glaring exceptions. Some spineless, micro-manhood loser will decide to use the power of his vehicle to make up for the inadequacy of his physical and intellectual capacity by ripping by with inches to spare, maybe downshifting noisily or laying on the horn. Or it might be a woman, though that happens less often. And, when summer traffic packs the roads with people "from away," some of them may be inattentive or impatient in the custom of their urban and suburban homelands. But this is generally a pretty nice area for cycling.
My fortunate circumstances don't keep me from identifying with the downtrodden, such as I was in Maryland. The Annapolis area has gotten better in some ways and worse in others. I didn't move to New Hampshire for better cycling. The better cycling was a bit of a surprise.
Today when I listened to our visitors and remembered things I've read about many dangerous riding venues, mostly in the south, I wondered if we could institute our own version of the Freedom Riders. Send activists into areas that need their consciousness raised about cycling. Don't go all Critical Mass on them, but put a large number of cyclists into their traffic mix right away, to jump start the interactions of motorist and cyclist on a more even footing.
Obviously our civil rights position is not as dire as that of African Americans in the 1950s and '60s. But the motorist bigots do injure and kill cyclists and engage in hate speech against us. We are viewed monolithically as bike riders, lumped into one pool of disparaged sub-humanity because of our bikes. Cycling freedom riders could expect to meet violence. The confrontations would bring the dialogue about cyclists' rights to the forefront of the media.
It would be vitally important for the front-line riders of this campaign to behave with the utmost scruples. It can't be just a handful of local kooks who can be taken out separately. It has to be a campaign of organized activity. It has to be in significant numbers.
This is not civil disobedience. Apparently, in some parts of the so-called Land of the Free, the playground bullies have successfully scared the pencil-necked cyclist geeks into giving up their lunch money and cowering in the audio-visual room during recess. What cyclists want to do is legal. What the bullies are doing is not. We just want to use our bikes. Our right slows down their privilege from time to time. That makes us fair game in their eyes.
That ain't right.