The Many Reasons We Ride: It's not just National Bike Month

Hey! It’s National Bike Month, when we “celebrate the unique power of the bicycle and the many reasons we ride.”

It’s also been a year since Osama bin Laden was killed in Pakistan by US Navy Seals.

 National Military Family Association: Military Appreciation Month
Screen Shot: National Military Family Association

If not for his messiah complex, bin Laden would have been just another, high-rolling, porn-watching, hypocritical son of a rich family — a family made rich through tight connections to the Saudi royals.

Put another way: Osama bin Laden was a privileged, self-important, rich oil punk. Supposedly he was charismatic too, but I didn’t see it. (I don’t know what people see in Ted Nugent either.)

Take away oil from that formula, and what would you have? You’d have just another hyper-religious Internet troll telling everyone else they’re going to hell — and not being taken very seriously.

He’d also still be alive — as would be a whole lot of people who died as a result of his actions, and as a result of our reactions. Nobody agrees on the numbers, but tens of thousands. They were civilians, and military, combatants, non-combatants, Americans, and nationals of many countries.

There are many reasons I ride. Although I prefer cycling to driving a car, I can’t say I experience the ecstasy some people say they get from riding a bike. I also ride because it’s good for me. But a big reason why I ride is to reduce my participation in that dirty, corrupting, violence-rationalizing cesspool known as the oil economy.

There I said it. I believe that the more people cycle, the fewer people will die from many causes, including the military actions that are implicitly or explicitly about keeping that moneymaking machine running.

SUV with built-in stationary bike: Its like biking to work, except stupid as hell | Grist
Reduce bike commuting down to only the exercise benefit and you get this. Photo: Grist

Nearly every trip I make in a car, I imagine the exhaust going into the atmosphere, and some portion of it travels across the Atlantic Ocean, and across Africa to the Arabian Peninsula, where it collects, and solidifies into currency and lands inside a bank vault, in the account of a Saudi oil prince, who is more than happy to have our military insuring his access to our markets.

Does that make me a smug cyclist? Maybe in the same way a “smug stoner” is someone who grows pot in their basement as not to contribute to violent Mexican cartels. (Smug stoners exist. I know one. A relative. By marriage. That’s all I’m going to say.)

So May is also Military Appreciation Month. I’m sure it’s a coincidence. I don’t think the League of American Bicyclists figured that bikes and the military make a great twofer — but I do.

Military Bicycles
Photo: Utility Cycling

I belong to a demographic that doesn’t have much of a personal connection to the military. In that way, I’m like most Americans. The military is sort of an abstraction that we watch on TV — the fictionalized version and the version that intrudes on the news. Most of us don’t personally know anyone in the military, and most of us find military culture alien and mysterious — regardless of what stickers we put on our cars and/or our bike trailers.

Almost by chance, I became a consultant to The National Military Family Association, and I worked with them for about ten years — me, the former Peace Corps Volunteer.

I remember preparing for my first meeting with them. I was expecting a bunch of tightassed, flag-waving robots… or something. Frankly, I was expecting to dislike them.

Instead, we got along great. I found every staff member of that organization very likeable. They were a very loyal client, and I was loyal to them until I gave up consulting and took a full-time job where I write about bikes and stuff. I developed a sensitivity to their lives, to their anxieties, and to the political and bureaucratic nightmares faced by military families. I would sometimes arrive by bike to meetings at their office in Alexandria, Virginia. I’m not sure what they thought of that, but if they thought I was kooky, they kept it to themselves.

And actually knowing members of the military and their families has made a huge difference in my attitude and opinions of the military. Now, when I think of the politics, economics, and militarism of oil, I think of my friends and acquaintances who I wouldn’t have known if not for an accident of consulting. I think of the many thousands more who would be just as interesting, multifaceted, and fun to know. I also think of what I can do to reduce the chance that those families will be affected by “national security” dependencies in which I am a participant.

So it’s National Bike Month. It’s not going to get me to bike any more than I do ordinarily — which is everyday, and nearly everywhere I go. But I think of my bike as a car with a “Support the Troops” bumper sticker — minus the car and sticker, and with actions instead of words.

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