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Bicycle Bob, 47 Peddles Freedom
By Nick Auf der Maur

Don Quixote

He's commonly known as Bicycle Bob, and he's emerged in the past few years as one of Montreal's truly authentic characters.

Bob Silverman has become a regular fixture on TV and in the press, a favorite on campuses and a thorn in the side for transportation authorities as he has pursued with uncommon fervor his passion in life, the bicycle.

"Cycloconsciousness . . . anarcylists . . . velolutionary," the words of Silverman's vocabulary stream out as he bubbles his irrepressible enthusiasism for the two-wheeled vehicle he feels will inevitably push the private automobile into a secondary role.

Recently, Save Montreal, the conservation group, gave him a silver tankard award for his "contribution to the urban environment," citing his "quality of perseverance."

"I was very touched," he was saying yesterday. "I'm 47 and it was the first award I ever got." The next morning, as he was savoring his award, the bailiff showed up at the door with a final warning, ordering him to pay a $25 fine plus court costs or go to jail for eight days for painting a bicycle path white line down a city street. "I'll take the eight days," he said. "It will be an honor to go to jail for our movement...

"The bicycle is the epitome of freedom. It's the perfect companion of a perfect urban world. It's cheap, it's healthy, it's simple, it's easily fixable. It breaks the radical monopoly of the car.

"The car is an optical illusion. It promises you a great deal but all it delivers is indebtedness and traffic jams." Silverman devotes his whole life to delivering the message and working for Le Monde à Bicyclette, the group he co-founded with Vickey Schmolka as Citizens on Cycles six years ago.


I first met Bob Silverman back in 1960 when he hired me to work in the Seven Steps Bookstore on Stanley St.

Every morning I opened the shop, and every morning Silverman would show up, open the door, peek in and whisper hoarsely: "Is my accountant here?" The accountant was always trying to track him down to give him a lecture on his lack of business acumen for allowing anybody with a sympathetic look to "borrow" books instead of buying them. The store went bankrupt.

Afterwards, he packed off to Cuba where he taught English and did translations for record and book jackets. But given his unorthodox nature, he ran afoul of pro-Soviet elements over some political literature he tried to bring into the country. His departure was requested.

He came back to Montreal and kicked around in left wing politics for a while before going to Israel to work on a kibbutz and then to studies in France, where he acquired a liking for bicycling.

I lost track of him over the years ontil one day I ran into him in Fletcher's Field where he tried to press gang me into a volleyball game.

The sport had become his mania, and he had just written something called "The Volleyball Manifesto".

He had persuaded the city to set up the first outdoor volleyball court and was busy encouraging neighborhood residents to play. He had elaborated a theory based on "the 1O ecological and humane points of volleyball." One, it is cheap, requiring only a ball and net. Two, it requires a small space for 12 people to play. Three, it is easy and uncomplicated. Four, it is non-sexist -women and men can play together. Five, there is no age barrier for participants. Six, there is little risk of injury. Seven, it's egalitarian and non-specialist, in that everybody changes places and nobody is relegated to an inferior position. Eight, it requires co-operation. Nine, it is dialectical and the pressure improves your personality. And finally, according to Silverman, volleyball is like making love: If you like your partner you play better.

The ultimate

From volleyball, it was only a short and logical step to bicycle activism. And right from the start, Silverman and his cohorts displayed a great deal of flair and imagination in building the cause.

Soon he was organizing die-ins at the Auto Salon, rush-hour races between cars and bikes, demonstrations for more bike paths on riverfronts, in parks and the city, theft-proof parking, access to the Metro and bridges, etc.

"We'll end the cycle of frustration," he says. "Bakunin said: 'The masses mock Don Quixote, but in the end they follow him.' "

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Published in the Montreal Gazette, Wednesday, April 1, 1981.

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