Monday, January 25, 2010

A Brave and Willing Advocate

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.


Steve A said...

For the nastier comments, you'd have to visit the Ennis County Observer.

I have ridden with Chip and did not observe him to be an irresponsible rider in any way. He lives in a rural area that can be tough to get around in if you are car free and convinced shoulder riding is more dangerous.

cafiend said...

I prefer to avoid the nastier comments. Such minds are never changed by rational discourse. Why agitate myself by witnessing their ignorance?

I hope I said nothing that even faintly implied that Chipseal is irresponsible. I observed that he places himself in a position like activists throughout history (and probably prehistory) who took salvos of shit-bombs in the hope of helping to create a better world. While such brave souls define the front lines, many other members of the subculture just try to survive. Try not to attract the wrong kind of attention. Hope you don't cross paths with the wrong psycho. Every minority has gone through the same thing. Even when the worst seems to be over, incidents occur. The bigots may lose much of their power, but isolated individuals and small groups cling to tattered banners of misplaced pride, and so continue the battle.

Steve A said...

I didn't think you said or thought Chip rode irresponsibly. Still, such stories are always open to suspicion about what isn't being told. I've seen how he rides. A big part of the problem is he lives outside town in a rural county and doesn't have a white pickup truck. It's a tough place to ride.

cafiend said...

Steve A: I was worried beause I can come off harsher than I intend.

Chip's problem points out the confusion that can occur in what is supposedly one great Land of the Free. Try being free to get around by bike. Your results will DEFINITELY vary from place to place. Since most motorists would be just as happy if no one rode a bike on the roads, norms from one place can infect others, usually to the detriment of cycling. Law enforcement no doubt feels it has better things to do than protect the rights of s few sweaty malcontents. At the very least, ideas to restrict cycling in one venue can seem attractive to other jurisdictions who see a way to make whining motorists go away. Whining cyclists are another matter. Then it comes down to legislative clout first, but real-world implementation an important second.

Doohickie said...

I've ridden with Chip (and Steve A, too, for that matter). If Chip has a fatal flaw, it's that he stands by his principles. I will admit that, if the police told me to ride on the shoulder, I would comply even if I knew it was a BS order.

I think the next ride we have I'll pass him a file so he can cut through those jail bars. Y'know... just in case.

I've had my differences of opinions with him, and I haven't posted this to his blog (although maybe I should), but I have a deep respect for him.