11th October

The Bicycle

Was there ever an invention as benign and brave as the bicycle? Humans have made many things which cause suffering, death and ugliness through their use: weapons of all kinds, for example, guns and bombs especially; aeroplanes, ships, cars, lorries and other vehicles. Labour-saving devices such as dishwashers, lawnmowers, chainsaws and sewing machines all have points in their favour: but a dishwasher may disgorge harmful chemicals into the water system, a lawnmower pollutes the peace of a Sunday afternoon, chainsaws can massacre a forest and a rank of sewing machines may constitute a sweatshop. What great harm can a bicycle do? If its tyres cause a little hurt to a country lane, what is this against all its benefits?

The cost of keeping a bicycle is low. A bicycle does not take up much space. A child or a nonagenarian can ride a bicycle. A bicycle will last a lifetime, or more. A bicycle is quiet. What small sounds a bicycle makes are pleasing. A bicycle uses no energy other than that of its rider. A bicycle encourages exercise and fitness.

Bicycles are adaptable: they can be modified into tricycles or tandems, for use by disabled or blind people. Bicycles do no damage to roads. Bicycles encourage sociability. Bicycles are democratic. Bicycles civilise the traffic systems of cities.

Bicycles are liberating. On a bicycle you can travel from the town to the country, or from the country to the town. You can bicycle with friends or you can bicycle alone. You are dependent on nobody else when you set off on a bicycle ride.

The nineteenth-century American campaigner for women’s rights, Susan B. Anthony, said of bicycling, ‘I think it has done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world. I stand and rejoice every time I see a woman ride on a wheel. It gives women a feeling of freedom and self-reliance.’

When you rest on your journey you can lay down your bicycle, take out a book and read. A book requires only the energy of daylight and the engagement of the reader, yet even a book may contain intimations of evil. A bicycle whispers only of happiness, freedom and health.

Reader: Kate Molleson
Fiddle: Aidan O'Rourke
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