Bike Month Editors’ Picks
Since 1956, the United States has celebrated National Bike Month in May. While the event started mostly as a safety campaign for children, it has since evolved to be an all-ages celebration of cycling as a sustainable mode of transportation and a fun form of recreation. Though bike culture in the U.S. has a long history of racism, sexism, classism, and ableism, recently there has been a movement to make cycling more accessible and inclusive for all.
To kick off Bike Month at Edge Effects, the editorial board thought it would be fun to share bike-related reflections and recommendations. We hope you enjoy this eclectic “cyclisticle” of bike poems, trails, books, organizations, movies, and more.
We can often see the racism built into cities in their bike lanes. As Tamika Butler writes, “Many see bike lanes as one of the first signs of gentrification.” The ability to safely navigate busy cities on bike has often been reserved for the well-to-do (and often white) residents. We can see this in Milwaukee, where intense segregation has dramatically affected low-income residents’ health. This is why organizations like Black Girls Do Bike and their Milwaukee chapter are so vital. This movement forces people to reimagine not just who is cycling but the ways in which cities support or hinder cyclists.
– Juniper Lewis
I really love biking, but I don’t know much about it. Every time I pop my tire, I look up a video on YouTube to make sure I remember how to change out the innertube. My bike tech–savvy friends read off stats (mileage, speed, RPM, and on and on) after a long ride together, and it sounds like gibberish to my ears. I try to pick up an article to become more bike-literate, but too soon I toss it aside in favor of running out the door and getting back in the saddle.
I just want to be on my bicycle. Preferably for much of the day, for days on end. Some folks who watch me bike from here to there praise it as sustainable, healthy, even anti-capitalist, but—to be honest—I do it for the feeling. Yes, I love my bike and the feeling of us together. And I don’t think I’m the only one. For those who just want to bask in the marvel that is a bicycle, I recommend reading Nancy Willard’s poem “The Migration of Bicycles.”
– Marisa Lanker
For me, one of the most iconic cycling scenes in film appears in a childhood favorite, The Wizard of Oz (1939). Much could be written about the landscapes of Oz, from the Dust Bowl–ravaged Kansas countryside to the technicolor ecology over the rainbow. Yet here I want to draw attention to Miss Almira Gulch and her bicycle-cum-broomstick. As a kid I unquestioningly accepted the film’s not-so-subtle depiction of Miss Gulch as a miserable old crone; her pedaling along to menacing music sent shivers down my spine. Yet now with a more critical eye, I recognize the character as a reflection of contemporary anxieties about social and environmental change.
The bicycle is now widely regarded as an important feminist technology. Its popularization in North America at the turn of the twentieth century brought urban landscape change as riders sought new natures to traverse and the road infrastructure to get there. It also afforded women newfound transportation freedom. Previously accustomed to traveling under supervision on foot, in carriages, or on horses (owned and controlled by fathers and husbands), women now had independent access to a relatively safe and affordable mode of transport that consequently enabled greater social mobility. This new freedom was met with bemusement, condescension, and disdain from some (especially male) contemporaries.
In this context, Miss Gulch can be clearly read as spinster—a mature, unmarried, undesirable woman (perhaps a former suffragette) that serves as a foil to Dorothy’s innocence and youth. Sara Ensor has written about how the figure of the spinsters can guide the development of a queer ecocritical practice. Such a “spinster ecology” has a slanted relationship to the future and is “attuned to these forms of variation, of nonlinearity, of illegibility that constitute the futures in which we already dwell.” Miss Gulch’s Ozian counterpart, the viridescent Wicked Witch of the West, has similarly served as a figure of ecofeminist inspiration.
To bring it back to bicycles, around Halloween you can now find “witches rides” all over the country. Such events are opportunities for festivity and fundraising that I suspect owe some debt to the original cycling sorceress from Kansas. With all this in mind, I recommend rewatching The Wizard of Oz with more sympathy for the spinsterly Almira Gulch (though I don’t know if we can fully forgive her for the attempted dognapping of Toto in her bike basket).
– Ben Iuliano
I’m one of those people who doesn’t find the phrase “It’s just like riding a bicycle!” very comforting. I did learn how to ride a bike, once upon a time, but with my poor balance and nervous disposition I have never been confident on two wheels. (And by not confident, I mean that I fall down a lot, and I tend to panic in even light traffic.) When I first moved to Madison, Wisconsin, I was sure that I would kick my fear and make my daily commute to campus on the city’s well-maintained bike trails. It’s now seven years later, and, well, I’ve grown very fond of the public bus system.
The fact is, bicycles are great, but they aren’t built for everyone: there are quite a lot of us who, for one reason or another, don’t find cycling accessible. In a bike-friendly city like Madison, where the trails and the streets are full of happy cyclists, wind-tousled hair flowing out from under their helmets, riding along in large packs, it can feel a little lonely. This is why I’m so excited about the increasing popularity of inclusive cycling groups that welcome disabled members with a full range of bodyminds and the rise of “adaptive bike libraries” that makes it possible (and affordable) for people to try out vehicles that will work for them. You probably won’t find me pedaling on the commuter trails anytime soon. But the alternative transportation community is starting to look a lot more diverse, and this Bike Month, that’s something to celebrate.
– Addie Hopes
Lennard Zinn’s classic book on road bike maintenance is a must-have for any cyclist with DIY tendencies. Bike repair can be something of a black box: you hear a funny noise and drop it off at the local shop. Depending on the season, a few days or a few weeks later you get a call back saying your trusty ride is ready to roam again. Repeat every six to twelve months. Zinn and the Art of Road Bike Maintenance lifts the lid on that black box and lets you take control of your ride. From bike maintenance basics like fixing flat tires or cleaning your chain to full-blown overhauls and intricate repairs, this book takes you through the process with clear instructions and ample illustrations—no prior experience required. It might just be the resource you need to take your commute down to two wheels, and to keep those two wheels spinning.
– Rudy Molinek
Set in the 1980s, Stranger Things is a science fiction television show on Netflix that features a group of bike-riding children in a small town in the Midwest, state secrets in a hidden laboratory, and a spooky alternative dimension called the “Upside Down.” Many of the episodes involve thrilling bicycle action scenes where the characters are being chased down by government officials or monsters in the Upside Down; other times, they’re simply trying to get to school on time. The ubiquity of bikes in Stranger Things highlights the biking boom that took place in the ’80s due to the renewed interest in cycling as a sport after Greg LeMond became the first American winner of the Tour de France. However, the bike rides in the show also represent a period of childhood freedom and a form of transportation that allows the children to move swiftly between the real world and the Upside Down, the much darker world filled with strange creatures and decaying plants. As Stranger Things gained popularity, Netflix decided to partner with bicycle companies to make limited-edition replicas of the bikes in the show for a new generation of riders.
– Kuhelika Ghosh
Running the eight-mile perimeter of Mackinac Island in northern Michigan, M-185 is the only highway in the United States where motor vehicles are not allowed. This makes it a haven for walkers, runners, and especially cyclists of all ages and levels wanting to enjoy a safe and scenic ride. Visitors to the island can rent a beach cruiser, road bike, or (for the more adventurous) mountain bike from one of the many shops lining Main Street and be on their way. There’s a little something for everyone, including steep interior trails for challenge-seekers. Me, I’ll stick to the leisurely shoreline ride. As someone who is intimidated by cycling in city traffic, Mackinac Island is one of my favorite places in the world to ride a bike. And you just can’t beat those Great Lakes views.
– Richelle Wilson
Featured image: Bike lane by Şahin Sezer Dinçer, 2021.