Dirty Words: Bike to Work?

Bikes used to do a lot more work


By Sal Ruibal

Today is National Bike To Work Day. Lots of folks are leaving their cars in the garage so they can ride their bikes to work.

I’m OK with that because some percentage of them might actually start riding to work, but my cynical side says this is a feel-good day, then its back to using the EZ-Pass to the Lexus Lanes on the way to resting a $30,000 German-made automobile in a concrete stall for the eight or nine hours you’re at work.

There was a time, not so long ago, that bikes not only took people to work, they were part of work.

Before the modern ice cream truck came through the neighborhood with its digital Song of the Sirens (look it up), real people, usually teenagers, pedaled a bulky tricycle with a big, insulated freezer box full of Popsicles, ice cream bars, Rocket-Pops, chocolate-covered frozen bananas and Eskimo Pies.

Instead of a Muzak soundtrack, the cart kid would pull a dirty string to make a couple of brass bells ring. Kids who couldn’t hear what their Mom was saying from three feet away could detect those bells ringing from Timbuktu.

Bike karts delivered all sort of treats, but also worked in factories. When there were real factories in America, parts would move from warehouses to assembly lines on bike karts. During World War II, there was a shortage of work-age men, so kids and women took over the parts karts to help build tanks and planes and ships that killed a bunch of fascists.

Some factories today use parts karts because they’re more efficient and less expensive than installing more machinery.

Bikes do a lot of work, but mostly outside of America. In our country, bikes are seen as either expensive toys to race or a means of transportation for folks with too many DUIs.

But plenty of immigrants ride bikes to work. You can see their bikes chained to gas meters behind Kmarts and Wal-Marts all over the nation. They probably bought their bikes at Wal-Mart or Kmart. There’s no shame in that. Their cheap labor saves you a few dollars every week when you buy that 144-roll package of toilet paper.

For me, the bikes that work also protect our democracy. Before everyone had their snouts plugged into the internet trough, people read newspapers.

And the cheapest way to get those newspapers to readers was by bicycle. A lot of kids who grew up to be millionaires (back when a million dollars was something really big instead of just a down-payment on a Manhattan townhouse) got their start tossing newspapers.

Warren Buffet did it and now he owns GEICO and makes that gecko read him the Wall Street Journal every morning.

Our democracy depends on the free flow of information in society. Newspapers and magazines like BIKE are supposed to make you mad about the status quo. But with the centralization of information away from our neighborhoods and our streets, we’ve lost control of that vital link.

The bicycle is a simple machine that joins people together in an efficient manner. You can’t pull its plug but it won’t work if you’re not willing to work.

Ride your bike to work on May 17 and take that one small step in your liberation from the digital maze and one giant leap for mankind.

The revolution has pedals.

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