02 September 2017

Bike Shares: The "Monster Revealing Mirror"?

I've head and read more than a few anti-bicycle (or, more precisely, anti-cyclist) rants.  Almost invariably, they say we are scofflaws who run red lights, thumb our noses at everyone in sight and run over puppies, kittens and people's grandmothers.

I'll admit that in my younger years, I was bolder and perhaps more reckless than I am now.  But I have never run over anyone's grandmother, or a puppy or kitten.  In fact, I've actually rescued a couple of little furry ones and stopped to help senior citizens with one thing and another.

And I'll also admit that however inaccurate the rants may be, I don't recall anyone--at least, not in this country or this time--blaming us moral decay.  I've been fingered as one of the agents in the breakedown of civil society and Christian values, and as a potential bad influence on young people--but not because I'm a cyclist.  Of course, I might not be the best example one can find for his or her children, but not for the reasons the blamers usually cite.

Anyway, I at least feel fortunate in that most of the time, I can cycle in relative peace, alone or with whomever I choose.  And I can make a case against the haters of cyclists by being law-abiding and well-behaved (mostly).  And I've listened to more than a few rants that ended with the ranter turning to me and catching him or her self:  "I didn't mean you.  It's those others--you know who I mean."

Now, you might think--correctly--that the ranters haven't been on bikes since they were kids, or at all, and they still can't wrap their heads around the idea that someone who's old enough to drive would continue to cycle by choice.  But cyclists--and bicycles--are getting the blame for "moral breakdown" and all manner of bad behavior in one of the first countries that comes to mind when one thinks about everyday adult cyclists.

I am talking about China.  There, bicycles--actually, a specific kind of bike and rider--are seen as the worm in the apple of their country's order.  

As I have mentioned in earlier posts, Chinese bike-share companies have pioneered systems that don't require ports and, instead, depend upon telephone apps and codes.  Borrowers can, therefore, leave their bikes anywhere when they are finished, and anyone who has the share company's app can find it, or any other available bike, wherever it may be.

Well, people are complaining that bikes are left literally anywhere, including in the middle of busy intersections, where they block traffic.  They've also been left on people's doorsteps or in their yards, and in any place where grandmothers can trip over them.

But some Chinese people aren't upset only because users of bike share programs are being inconsiderate of others.  Turns out, those share programs are taking business away from taxi and rickshaw drivers.  They, like those whose properties are blighted or paths are blocked by piles of abandoned bikes, are angry. It's believed that they are behind much of the vandalism and outright destruction of bikes, which includes setting them on fire or tossing them into dumps and rivers.  And bike vandalism isn't limited to the "strip and dump" variety:  individual parts are hacked and shredded, and the pieces are conspicuously displayed. 

(I am reminded of those hate crimes in which the victim is shot, slashed and burned.)

The Chinese response to the bike share menace, if you will, might reveal something about the difference between their culture--or, perhaps the way people see their roles and responsibilities in it--and what we see in the West.  When I hear an anti-bike or anti-cyclist rant here, it always goes in one direction:  against bikes and cyclists.  It is not in any way self-reflective, or even self-referential:  It begins and ends with blame of the bikes or cyclists.

On the other hand, some in China have described bike-share programs as the "monster-revealing mirror."  They believe bikes that are vandalized or block intersections expose the true nature of Chinese people.  Then again, no one seems to be saying that the phenomena I've described are indicators of anything new:  Nearly a century ago, writer Lu Xun assailed Chinese culture as boastful, cruel, selfish and servile.

Well...at least nobody in this country says such things about cyclists.  At least, not in the anti-bike rants I've heard.


  1. In the UK the media has gone ballistic against all cyclists because one proven unpleasant rider of a brakeless bike killed a pedestrian who was a mother of two, a perfect initiator of a perfect storm. Cyclists mown down by mothers of two would hardly get a mention in local press before being asked not to do it again.

    Whilst many are now being pushed towards cycling to survive they have to do so on a road system hardly any different from how it was fifty years ago, some roads are a few feet wider but the traffic density is five or ten times as great drivers have had experience of life as a cyclist when young. A cyclist is just a slow obstacle slowing you down or worse an object of jealousy when stuck in traffic and the cyclist trickles by and takes many minutes to catch up in their turbo charged carapace.

    We all remember images of millions of cyclists in China only a short time ago, replaced by solid clogged roads of jammed traffic. I cannot help wondering who were the happier, the cyclist in the past or the frustrated motorists of the present.

  2. Coline--I think I saw that story about the brakeless rider. And I agree with your assessment.

    We have a similar situation for cycling here in the US. Not only is traffic denser, but the vehicles are bigger: Instead of sedans and station (estate) wagons, families--and sometimes individuals--get around in SUVs.

  3. Sounds like the NEW Seattle bike share program. It is even more likely to fail than the previous Seattle bike share. They just haven't come to grips that places where helmets are mandatory won't be successful for bike share. By the way, is the "Turbo Charged Carapace" built by GM?

  4. Steve--I guess the organizers of the current share system aren't learning any lessons from the previous share system.

    If the Carapace isn't built by GM, it looks as if it should be!