On Rantwick's blog today he posted about the adventures of a cyclist in Texas who writes under the name Chipseal. Chipseal has also commented here on Citizen Rider.
It seems Mr. Seal has been getting arrested for cycling in a legal fashion on Texas roadways. The law allows cyclist behavior, such as taking the lane, that many motorists find unusual and disturbing. Chipseal has reported his arrests and trips to jail as his odyssey through the Texas courts gets underway.
Controversial figures who call attention to the need for various social changes often suffer for it. They get nailed to crosses, lynched, beaten, attacked by police dogs, blasted with fire hoses, assassinated on Memphis hotel balconies and libeled in the foulest terms by opponents of their point of view. I only skimmed the comments, so I didn't see any of the really homicidal trash talk that can crop up in the comment thread about traffic cycling, but give it time.
Because cycling in the industrialized, motorized, civilized lands is always a political act, whether you intend it or not, every cyclist is at some risk representing their people. By going one step further, challenging the logic of the motorized social norm, Chipseal becomes both a beacon and a target. You can be talking all kinds of sense about something that seems entirely benign and you will find someone who stands firmly against you. In between, everyone else will sort out on the continuum from full support to full opposition.
It's risky enough riding in a bold, assertive fashion. While a cyclist doing so is safer from a visibility standpoint, it also excites the mad dog looking for something to bite. It forces people to consider the issue who might have just squeezed by with a feeling akin to sympathy. In raising consciousness you also raise debate. When feelings rise, propaganda has more effect. First you get 'em running. Then you get 'em running the way you want them to. Threaten "normal" people's complacency and you could face a backlash orchestrated by those who profit heavily from the norm.
Chipseal goes armed with a sunny attitude and an extensive knowledge of Texas vehicle law. He has put up with a couple of overnight jail stays so far. Aside from the actual arrests he seems to have gotten along pretty well with law enforcement authorities. We will have to wait to find out if this becomes a rallying point for the beginning of a Golden Age of Texas cycling, a small isolated incident in which Chipseal prevails quietly in court and goes back to riding in the style of his choice or takes a swerve into the weeds in some way.