Movement & Struggle Theory

Bicycling as Metaphor for Privilege #2

If you’ve always ridden a nice bike, you may have no idea what riding a heavy/malfunctioning “clunker” or having to walk is like — you may not even know that is a reality folks wrangle with. There may be some disbelief that a clunker makes things more difficult, or an attitude that folks on clunkers just need to try harder because everyone can go fast if they only try!

Since 2001 I’ve ridden a bike an average of 10 miles a day every rideable day, and got my first non-clunker in 2012, not long after I took my first stab at writing out a metaphor where bicycling is paralleled with privilege. With springtime riding upon us in NYC I’ve been thinking about that metaphor again and I’m taking a second try at writing that out:

I love this bike–someone dear assembled it for me and painted my name on it!–but it’s heavy as shit and has 1…sometimes 2 gears.

If you’ve always had a nice [eg light, well-built, mechanically sound] bike, you might not know that riding a not-nice bike is physically more demanding, more exhausting, and gets less results. How people end up on certain bikes [or not] is part of the metaphor.

Some people got given “nice bikes” and just have no idea that these are expensive and also make riding easier. This is privilege–not being aware that struggle exists and just pedaling onward.

Some folks got a nice bike but perhaps had to work at something or deal with the devil to get it — aware that getting the best and easiest comes with a human price but still not aware what not having a nice bike is like.

Some people have nice bikes but maybe the brake pads are going or the seat is loose–they are aware of a particular challenge but not others, and the going when you’re uphill is still way easier.

Some people work to get the best bike they can access, perhaps a “clunker” in some ways. Aware of the human price, and still not able to zoom across the bridge due to the bike limitations, still riding.

Some folks are given a clunker and have only been on a clunker. It seems normal and it is confusing as to why some people can get uphill without exerting every ounce of strength they have. How do they do that what the fuck? Yet they are riding.

Some folks can’t ride. Bikes don’t work for their bodies. Everyone pedaling along on all kinds of bikes may be leaving them behind.

Some folks have had horrible bike accidents and there’s no fucking way they are about to get on any kind of bike no matter what, no thank you.

Some folks don’t wanna ride — they see all the various bikes and just say Fuck It I’m Not Doing That. They prefer to walk.

Lesson: what seems normal to you has a ton to do with what’s been made normal for you. Privilege has a lot to do with not stepping outside of your frame of reference.