To cycle for piety, or for beauty?

A change of context forces some fast thinking about priorities and beliefs. I have moved to a city that has yet to make proper footpaths, and will probably never have bike infrastructure. Adults and children alike use bikes as toys, to be transported on racks on their cars, to convivial locations for bike-play. Using bikes for transportation, is unimaginable, even to “cyclists”.

The state government issues number plates that congratulate drivers for being “natural”. I’m not sure what any have done, other than purchase a national parks pass. The #1 pastime is roaring about in your car to destinations where one may tiptoe between ferns with Scarpa-boot reverence. The educated Tasmanian’s way of belittling a transport cyclist, is to question the tanning process used to make his black leather saddle—anything but allow a spotlight to be turned on their own driving.

As a cyclist I have to get my ducks in a line, fast. First, I have to remind myself always that playing tit-for-tat over ecological footprints is like comparing your efforts with mine, to win souls for Jesus. Both pursuits are completely retarded. Jesus is dead and each of us is guilty of over-consumption. Getting too cosy with anyone from this new Church of Sustainability, is like getting baptised just because you fancy the minister’s daughter. I’ve made both mistakes, so am qualified to tell you to beware of these seductresses. What I need, is a jersey with some kind of slogan that says I’m pro-japanese whaling and batting for Satan. Seriously though, unless you distance yourself from the environmentalist cause, everything from your tanned leather saddle to your aluminium stem will be used to discredit your bicycle advocacy.

Bicycling advocates in small regional cities are suckered into substantiating cycling on ecological grounds, because we can’t claim bikes ease congestion, the ace card our counterparts in cities like New York or London are able to play. But even that is a trap. The congestion argument can just as easily be used to support bus lanes, as bike lanes.

This new context in which I find myself living and cycling, sharpens my core position, that cycling is an end in itself, pursued out of aesthetic desire. The philosophies of The Picturesque and The Sublime explain 90% of the aesthetics of cycling.

The Picturesque is the idea that the real world is presented to us as though it were a series of really old fashioned paintings. An off-centre feature in the foreground, sunlight on something like a ruin in the middle distance, and something craggy and natural off the side in the background, presents the traveller in search of Picturesque beauty with an agreeable composition, that invites them to sit down and sketch. At least this is how William Gilpin viewed landscapes in the late 1700s.

Country cycling (and good urban cycling) serves up agreeable landscapes (or townscapes) in quick succession. We choose routes for their picturesque traits. We avoid cars as much to have quiet enjoyment of these, as we do to be safe.

Safety may even be the antithesis of beautiful cycling. I note slow-cycling and anti-helmet bike blogs favour images of slightly risky behaviour, like doubling, to celebrate that wind-in-your-hair freedom of cycling we all knew as kids. Emanuel Kant said true beauty is tinged with the Sublime, which according to Edmund Burke meant terror—albeit at an arms length.

I have discovered a farm route between Launceston and Evandale (all these pictures have been taken along it), a town that some readers may know for the annual Penny Farthing race that is held there. This route has no traffic to speak of, lot’s of picturesque moments, but also some frightening descents and road-kill to remind the bike scorcher how asphalt does play for keeps.

As it is only a one hour ride from Evandale to my office, I have half a mind to go live there, so I can enjoy two hours of sublimity every day. I would be more included to do that if the arterial roads of outer Launceston could be avoided with rail-trails, but perhaps those are for me to achieve as a bicycling advocate.

The only other thing I would like to say with this blog post, is that after two and a half years writing blog posts, I may have figured out what a blog post actually is. It may be some kind of prayer.

 

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