Motor Kit Methadone for Internal Combustion Junkies

Eugene Bicyclist responded to How to Talk About Cycling to a Conservative with his own post on How To Talk A Conservative Into Riding A Bike:

Bike Engine Kits
Photo: Eugene Cyclist

The How to Talk to a Conservative post got me thinking. Sure, I can do the things [Tom] Bowden suggests. I can say that cycling saves money, is good for my heart and reduces our need for Saudi Arabian oil.

But I dont see that convincing the kind of people were talking about here. For them, when it comes to foreign oil, the sentiment is more drill, baby, drill than pedal, baby, pedal.


I think the backlash [from conservatives] has to do with a sense that the increasing tide of urban cycling may be saying something unkind about their own way of life a way of life that includes a warm coziness with the device known as the internal combustion engine.

He concludes, in the name of peace, brotherhood, and political reconciliation, that the cycling left can reach out to the cycling right with gas-powered motor kits for bikes. “Its a bike and an internal combustion engine.”

When I was done laughing, I began reflecting.

I know this is not a new or novel insight, but I believe there is something about internal combustion that is deeply embedded in the American soul. I realized this after living abroad, in Africa. I didn’t set foot on American soil for more than two years. It was in Africa where I learned to maintain a motorcycle engine. When I returned to the USA, I set out on a three-month motorcycle tour to rediscover my country.

When I stopped for awhile in Washington DC, I eventually wandered into the “America on the Move” exhibit in the Smithsonian Museum of American History. I entered a room with many specimens of internal combustion engines throughout history, and I felt something akin to a religious experience. Understand this and all it’s societal impact, I felt, and you will understand America.

Ducati Cucciolo (human and engine power)
Photo: Ben Kamenjas

Fast forward a decade or more, and I’m sitting at my desk typing for a cycling blog. But Eugene Bicyclist’s observation on the backlash from conservatives made me realize that there is a corollary to my epiphany at the Smithsonian: Fight this and all it’s societal impact, and you fight America.

I certainly don’t believe that to be literally true, but it deepens my understanding of the backlash. A “warm coziness” with the internal combustion engine is an understatement. “Pathological dependency,” might be a bit strong. Somewhere between those two descriptions there’s precise adjective-noun combination to describe the relationship that we threaten when we advocate for habitual motorists to consider cycling (or to at least accommodate others who do). It’s like asking an unrepentant junkie to give up heroine and try lemonade instead–maybe just one day a week. Even conservative politicians have used the addiction metaphor, so cut me some slack. If Eugene Bicyclist is right, then maybe motor kits are the methadone for internal combustion junkies.

P.S. Yes, there’s also a Bicycle Collection in the Smithsonian but my instincts didn’t guide me there at the time.

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