I just saw a headline in The National that read:
“Abu Dhabi resident challenges cultural perceptions by cycling to work”
My first reaction was a bit of surprise at being reminded that, in some places in the world, cycling is still viewed as a revolutionary action. As much as a struggle as it is in places like Australia, the UK, North America, etc, to have cycling considered a normal but important mode of transportation, as much as the media tells us that cyclists simply aren’t people with a right to safety and respect just like any other, and as much as the government fails to treat pedestrians and cyclists with the same reverence as motorists, there are parts of the world that are even worse for cyclists – at least on some levels.
The article begins with:
Cycling to work is more than just a lifestyle, it is a statement.
That’s not all that outrageous. It is often a statement here, too. In fact, it’s often all kinds of statements, not all of them good. But read on:
That is the view of Abu Dhabi resident Rami Eljundi. As one of the few Arabs commuting to work on a bicycle, he said he has been mocked and singled out by Arab colleagues and friends for years.
This is still sounding pretty familiar, though to a far lesser degree, I should think. We can at least identify with it, as most of us are involved in some circles, in some capacity, where this kind of thinking is normal.
“I would receive funny comments such as ‘Man, what are you trying to do?’ and ‘Why don’t you come to work in a car like the rest of us’,” said Mr Eljundi.
Even those who did compliment him did it quietly, in private. “They would grab me in the car park and tell me what I was doing was a great thing.
“I would tell them it was really nice but why didn’t they have the guts to tell me in the lobby in front of others and they would just start to laugh.”
This is sounding less familiar, and if it actually is representative of an entire culture, then that’s something quite incredible. Secretly whispering words of support to someone for doing something they thought was good but that they wouldn’t dare do themselves is exactly the kind of thing you might expect to come across in the time of Anne Frank, or Che Guevara, or Martin Luther King Jr. Except, bizarrely, this is just for someone riding a bike in normal clothes to the place where they work.
…Mr Eljundi said that he still has not come across one other Arab who commutes to work by bike. “The Arab community has to stop seeing cycling as just a fun weekend activity for children and always associating it as a means of transport only for the poor and working class.
“Why can’t it be connected with educated people, with those in suits, with professional people?” he said.
Hmmm. Quite. Which leads me to the next thing I was amazed at:
That the ridiculously simple act of riding a bike for the purpose of transportation is, in fact, in our time and place in history, a revolutionary act. And that, or course, is absurd. It’s far more a poor reflection of how messed-up we are as a civilization that causes cycling to look like such the revolutionary act that it unfortunately appears to be. Cycling doesn’t cure diseases (except it sort of does…), it doesn’t balance national budgets (except it sort of helps…), it doesn’t fight for gender equality (except that it sort of did…), it doesn’t promote world peace starting with healthy and happy communities or save the environment (except… well, you get the point). It’s just getting from A to B in the easiest, fastest, most cost efficient, least stressful, and most enjoyable way possible. It’s an entirely logical decision without the need for further justification and no need to get so worked up about it either way. Revolutionary?
Well, yes. Sort of, I guess. Not in The Netherlands, of course, for they have had their revolution some time ago and are now just getting on with being normal, but in other places? Sure. In Abu Dhabi? Evidently. In Australia? Some days it really seems like it. The struggle is real, so they say.
The struggle. I strikes me as completely absurd that something so beneficial on so many levels with such a low cost would be so staunchly resisted. You really have to wonder what it is that those who resist it are protecting or even hiding, but you also have to marvel at the sheer brilliance of the motor industry for how they have managed to create such a need for a product that is unsurpassed in how much it has shaped the entire planet.
And it’s the cyclists that are supposedly the smug ones. Firstly, I don’t have to point out that there are smug people across all demographics and in every corner of the earth, but is there any wonder we appear smug when what we do so casually is considered to be revolutionary? And anyway, is it really the cyclists who are smug or is it simply how people see us against the contrast of “normal” behaviour in such a screwed-up culture? I don’t feel the “holier-than-thou” that cyclists are often accused of feeling, but it is reasonable to assume that daring to cycle in a world that actively fights so hard against it could make the cyclist appear to be on the moral high-ground to those that already have their nose out of joint because of it.
So anyway, Abu Dhabi. Where cycling to work is a revolutionary act. Radical, defiant, counter-cultural. On the one hand, it’s insane that it is, but on the other, it’s exactly what it can be and in some places exactly what it needs to be.
Tomorrow, when you wake up, you can be a revolutionary, and all you have to do is get on your bike and ride.
Header image: source