Cycling As Statement

One of the main themes of Utility Cycling.org is an emphasis on the diversity and vast possibilities of the idea of utility cycling. When we first set out to define utility cycling, we came up with a big long list of categories and subcategories. Many of the categories are quite tangible – transportation, bicycle delivery, cycling services. However, the fourth main category that we came up with – community building – speaks to the more abstract elements of utility cycling. In order to understand why community building and the associated subcategories, such as cycling as statement, which we will talk about today, are important parts of utility cycling, I wanted to start by defining the term “utility” in order to demonstrate why community building and cycling statement-type activities are very much a part of utility cycling.

Defining Utility

The word utility, like most others, has different definitions depending on the use. The Oxford English Dictionary defines utility as “the fact, character, or quality of being useful or serviceable; fitness for some desirable purpose or valuable end, usefulness, serviceableness”. So according to this definition, utility is something that has a purpose, something that sets out to accomplish a goal. Another definition, which speaks to the philosophy of utility is “the ability, capacity, or power of a person, action, or thing to satisfy the needs or gratify the desires of the majority, or of the human race as a whole.” In this sense of the definition, utility means to accomplish a meaningful goal, not just any goal, but one that will have some sort of noticeable impact.

Human-powered-move

Using both of these definitions, it is clear that the word utility is very much about accomplishing something useful and oftentimes meaningful. Utility cycling then, is cycling in such a way as to accomplish a meaningful goal or service by bicycle. This definition provides for a very broad scope of potential activities that could be accomplished under the title of utility cycling, but it is important to note that the popular conception of utility cycling at the moment does not include sport or recreational cycling activities (though arguably, there is oftentimes an important utility to those activities, as well). For the purposes of this site, utility cycling includes activities that are meant to accomplish meaningful goals by bike under the popular notion of the idea as not including sport or recreation.

Cycling As Statement

Using the two definitions of utility, and subsequently utility cycling above, it became clear when we first set out to document the different categories and subcategories of utility cycling, that activities in which an individual or group of people use the bicycle as a tool or a means to make a statement are very much a part of the utility cycling movement. Thus far, we have identified the following subcategories of cycling as (or for) statement:

  • Political Protest: One cant talk about utility cycling without talking about the utility of using the bicycle as a form of or vehicle for political protest. Perhaps the most obvious example of this is critical mass, but the bicycle has been appropriated by activist groups of all sorts throughout its history.
  • Social Action: Although somewhat similar to political protest, social action is another important category of utility cycling. Social action rides for example The Ride of Silence help bring important cycling related issues to light, using the bicycle as a vehicle for action.
  • Personal Mobility: Personal mobility is one of the most important subcategories of utility cycling, as the bicycle is very effective at providing mobility to marginalized groups. The bicycle has been a vehicle for liberation since its introduction.
  • Self Expression: A bicycle can be more than just a vehicle; for some, it can serve as a form of self-expression.

bloomers+bikesImage found at Treehugger.

Of course, there are probably many others, so we welcome your comments and suggestions. The main idea that we are trying to emphasize by including the category of cycling as statement, as well as the idea of community building, is that the bicycle can be, and certainly has been used as, a tool for activities outside of transportation, delivery, and service. The bicycle has been appropriated by environmental groups, women’s liberation groups, political or social protest groups, advocates of all sorts, and many other groups to make a statement, improve mobility, find empowerment, and express ideas. At the same time, cycling as statement does not have to be a group activity or even a publicized or visible activity. Cycling as statement can be as simple or as complex as the particular group or individual sees fit, as long as it involves a meaningful purpose accomplished by bicycle.

Perhaps one of my favorite recent examples of cycling as statement, is the now famous scraper bike movement. For the youth that have appropriated the bicycle and made it a reflection of their own individuality, potential, mobility, and self expression, the bicycle has become more than just a transportation object. The scraper bikes have become something positive for these kids to put their energy into and share as a symbol of their strength and community. Not to mention, they are just plain fun.

So cycling as statement can be a very diverse activity, but it is certainly an important aspect of utility cycling as we see it. Cycling as statement speaks to the huge potential of the bicycle beyond being simply an object for transportation, delivery, or service. We will be dedicating posts to the different typ
es of cycling as statement listed above in the next few months, and in the meantime, we welcome your suggestions for more.

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