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New York’s highly-anticipated launch of CitiBike has brought the requisite pro– and anti-cycling freakouts from all corners of the Internet—or, rather, all American corners of the Internet, because people in Europe and Asia have been using bike-share programs for ages and nobody gives a shit.

I used CityBike in Vienna quite often—sometimes just to ride around for fun and get lost, other times to get somewhere—as did innumerable residents and tourists alike. Everyone loved CityBike—or, if they didn’t, they certainly didn’t go on borderline-incomprehensible antigovernment rants about it (despite CitiBike being 100 percent privately operated), which then devolved once again into the usual stable of anecdotally-based faux-data about cyclists: law-flouting anarchists whose superpowers emanate primarily from not having a real job and ruining the American way of life: we are Americans, and we drive everywhere, and it works out great for us (or not…check the young people!).

The other day, my partner, who is an experienced, law-abiding cyclist, was commuting the seven miles home from work on his kickass carbon-fiber Trek (he bought it used at a huge bargain because it had a surface scratch on the frame). He was in the right lane of a four-lane road in a residential area, riding at about 20mph and minding his own damn business, when a motorist buzzed by him and bellowed: “SIDEWALK!” as in: he should have been riding on the.

Never mind that riding at a regular clip on a road bike is a death wish on St. Louis’s rippled, pockmarked sidwalks, and never mind that it is actually illegal in St. Louis for cyclists to be on the sidewalk in many neighborhoods—this street didn’t even have a sidewalk. This motorist wasn’t necessarily an asshole (all right, he was probably an asshole), but he was operating under the very common American misconception that cyclists should be treated like pedestrians (i.e. loathed, banished, ignored and subjected to near-death experiences in every crosswalk).

On the other hand, although cyclists are operating vehicles and as such protected by—and, ahem, subject to—the same laws motorists are, the fact is that we are also not the same as motorists: cycles move slower (in my case, MUCH slower—on my too-big fixie I usually average 8-11 mph on near-desolate St. Louis backroads!), and we are also many times more vulnerable than motorists.

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My old one-speed I used for my first year in Columbus! (We sold it).

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The 90s-vintage 18-speed mountain bike I used for my second year in Columbus. I’ve used this pic on the blog before, because it is so awesome. I loved that bike. (We sold it).

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Halter-dress biking! (I’m too small for that dress now, heh.)

As any everyday bike-commuter (me!) or avid cyclist will tell you, the bicycle is the straight-up best mode of short-distance transportation ever invented. It is awesome, it’s fun, it’s great exercise, it’s convenient, you never have to worry about parking…for serious, you guys, in all but the worst winter weather, cycling is THE BESTEST, and in spite of the ill-informed braying of (sometimes unwittingly) car- and insurance-company fellating anti-cyclists, it’s becoming more and more mainstream in the US.

Now that El Bloombito has made the final accomplishment of his Vulture-Capitalist-Roosevelt megaterms CitiBike and hundreds of miles of dedicated, protected bike lanes—what a weirdo, by the way; for every godawfully racist, classist, anti-education or otherwise odious thing he did, he also did something equally progressive—this is likely only going to increase in the coming years, as more Americans realize that cycling is easy, economical and autonomous.

This last part—the amazing autonomy of ze bike—is what brings me to my main question here. Let’s examine the socioeconomic and sociopolitical implications of using a bicycle as your primary mode of transportation:

  1. Bicycles operate on a fully replenishable and independent power source: our fat asses. It costs approximately whatever you are already going to eat anyway to “fill up” your bike—plus some tire air and a little bit of chain grease now and then, if you are really getting fancy. There is not now and will never be an “energy crisis” around bicycle fuel, because bicycle fuel is us.
  2. There is a bicycle for every economic bracket in existence, from a $15 beater on Craiglist to a $10,000 Orange County Beer-Gutted Sunday Rider Special. Really, no matter your economic standing, if you want a bicycle, you can almost always get a bicycle.
  3. Closely related to the above, the bicycle market is hugely varied, and as far as I can tell, almost entirely unregulated. You can buy a mass-produced piece-of-shit child-labor-assembled Magna at Target if that’s your thing; you can buy a lovingly restored antique Schwinn from a guy with a basement full of disembodied frames and handlebars; you can have a giant-tired hipster bike custom made for you, you can build a bike yourself—and you are legally allowed ride them all with no restrictions, because…
  4. Bicyclists do not need a license and can be any age and any ability. Bicycles do not need to be registered. Bicycles are not taxed (other than the original sales tax if you buy a new one). There are no government restrictions of any sort on who may or may not ride a bicycle, and there are bicycles made to accommodate nearly every disability under the sun. The only exception to this is that selected cities in the US have helmet laws—but they are almost never enforced. Which brings me to:
  5. Again, for better or for worse, unless you do something straight-up murderous on your bike, or are biking in Midtown Manhattan during rush hour during NYPD arrest-quota season, in most American cities cyclists can get away with a “loose” interpretation of traffic laws. I happen to be a law-abiding cyclist and strongly encourage others to be as well, but the fact is that if you are a savvy biker and know how to do it right, you can get away with doing the “St. Louis roll” through stop signs, red lights, etc.

So, let’s review. We have a form of transportation that is fully autonomous in nearly every way, that requires little to no government interference, whose market is dynamic, robust and largely unregulated. That is: bicycling should be a Libertarian wet dream.

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All right, this is a Libertarian wet dream. But a bicycle should be a close second!

And yet, just looking around and listening to my Young-Libertarian students, I fear that many American Libertarians are not just obsessed with their cars, but are the kind of people who drive down their driveways to the mailbox, and then idle at the mailbox, just to burn extra fuel on Earth Day. And are the kind of people who screech “SIDEWALK!” out of their car windows when there is no sidewalk (which is probably good, since that is fewer tax dollars spent on hippies).

I’ve been thinking about why this mode of transportation that should be a vaunted Libertarian ideal is instead relegated to the domain of the “libturd.” Here’s my hypothesis: Libertarianism isn’t just about individual freedom—remember, Ayn Rand’s whole schtick was about how amazing it is to be selfish. The logical extension of this is to lionize not just individual liberty, not just selfishness—but a fully-exaggerated selfishness that requires the less-fortunate (or just other people) somehow be harmed or worse off as a result of said selfishness.

The individual motor-car is the perfect example of this. Despite being one of the most government-subsidized and government-regulated industries ever to exist in these United States, the single-passenger low-mileage automobile accomplishes something that might be more important to the Libertarian ethos than actual individual liberty and autonomy:

  1. Automobiles are prohibitively expensive for a large portion of the population;
  2. Automobiles are extremely harmful to every possible aspect of the collective good: they are isolating, alienating, dangerous, environmentally disastrous, loud, etc.

So, what’s not to love? It’s a mode of transportation that actively makes the collective good worse—and for a Libertarian or a Libertarian-leaning [whatever your political party is], that is actually more important than true freedom and individual liberty. The “liberty” of Libertarianism is the liberty to make other people miserable and love it.

Because anyone who has ever whipped down a quiet city street on a warm summer evening can tell you: that, my friend, is freedom.

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18 thoughts on “Sincere Question: Why Aren’t Libertarians More Into Bicycles?

  1. Reblogged this on Funkstitch and commented:
    My favorite line from this ,”American Libertarians are not just obsessed with their cars, but are the kind of people who drive down their driveways to the mailbox, and then idle at the mailbox, just to burn extra fuel on Earth Day”. I love my bike!

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    1. I got that mailbox thing DIRECTLY from an old AOL message board that complained about “treehuggers” back in the early aughts. I don’t remember what I was doing on there, but it was like a trainwreck and I couldn’t turn away. One lady was like, “I’ll drive to my mailbox and idle there while I eat a sandwich on GMO bread!” Whatever floats your boat, lady.

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  2. hey, I normally read your blog for academia stuff, but I feel compelled to comment on this. I’m a failed academic (got out right after the Masters, in history), and now work on staff at the same (huge) university. I’m also a libertarian. To temper this for my friends in academia, I sometimes say I’m a “left-libertarian” (not even sure what this means, really, and I’m mostly usually disgusted with the left – but it seems to limn “Noam Chomsky” which is kind of useful) or an “anarchist.” I still generally vote Democratic (with considerable distaste).

    I actually converted to libertarianism in grad school, as I became increasingly convinced in my study of early modern European state-building efforts that a strong state always already = extreme oppression.

    I’m also a fairly involved urbanist, highly interested in transit, who would love to give up my car and never drive again.

    There is a considerable young libertarian movement of people like myself who really despise cars. Cars do indeed tend to be valued highly by old-school, (pseudo-conservative) establishment libertarians who believe “CARS = LIBERTY!!!”. I actually think cars don’t particularly provide liberty and perhaps are more frequently oppressive. I believe that American car-culture was largely created by state subsidy (roads/gas/etc) and without said subsidy, we’d probably have far more effective transit, less sprawl, etc.

    Interestingly, there is often a strategic policy alliance in cities between young, pro-urbanist leftist/Democrats/progressives and young, pro-urbanist libertarians. That is certainly the case in Austin, which is the milieu I know best.

    For a taste of this movement, I recommend checking out @MarketUrbanism on Twitter. (They also have a blog, but it’s less active these days.)

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    1. You had me at “I normally read your blog”!!!! Thanks, this is awesome. I think the divide you mention between old school “I drive to the mailbox” types and newer, more innovative self-identified libertarians is crucial. Thank you so much for your comment!

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  3. Love this post. “Bike&Chain” was equally unafraid to mix bikes with politics, religion, science and whatever institutions and weenies hold sacred. The flack chapters attracted a decade ago was isolating and withering.

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  4. Sorry to be so late to the party — I just now had this article pointed out to me.

    I’m a Libertarian (party affiliation), libertarian (political ideology) and bicyclist for pretty much all the reasons you bring up (and because I like bicycling). My used Trek 7000 (bought via Craigslist for $100) is my primary form of transportation.

    One libertarian point I didn’t notice you hitting on: The road funding system as it exists is a gigantic subsidy by regular working Americans of giant corporations. Much more of a subsidy than either bike trails or mass transit are to regular folks. The bulk of road wear and tear comes from 18-wheelers; the bulk of gas taxes comes from people driving their little beaters to work and back.

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