[ Robert Silverman ]
[ Guest Gems ]
[ Cybernetically, Bicycle Bob Xe-Dda.p ]
The Man from B.I.K.E.
By Paul Sullivan

Black Friday.

February 23. The day city council made it illegal to walk above ground on Portage and Main. It's a day eternally besmirched with the stain of infamy. Our most famous intersection-the hub of our commerce, the crux of our civilization, the essence of our heart and soul- has been given over to the automobile and is now little more than a glorified go-cart track.

They've cut off our air.

Trizec can do whatever it wants with the air above its spot: it owns the air rights for at least 99 years, but we're relegated to the tunnel, like rats or prototypical Morlocks.


As you might gather, Feb. 23 was no fun for this reporter. So when I encountered the man from the International Bicyclist Conspiracy, I was only too willing to listen as he preached sedition by cycle.

Like a bearded omen, he appeared at the door, laden with satchelfulls of subversive literature. His name was Bob Silverman and he hailed from Montreal, where he's the chief propagandist for Le Monde à Bicyclette (The World on Bicycles), the chief Canadian wing of the conspiracy.

Le Monde believes that automobiles are killing cities, enslaving the workers, poisoning the air. The 400-member organization believes that General Motors is the mastermind of a giant plot to keep us ensnared in the oily grasp of the automobile, reasoning that the only reason anyone would make those horrid, smelly uncomfortable buses would be to drive us to drive.

Because public transportation is the pits, says Silverman, fire in his eye, we have only one alternative. The bicycle. "It's the solution to the cities," he says, "and it's so simple that everyone's missed it. Capitalists and academics despise simplicity." The Bicyclists are the revolutionaries of the new age. They propose to overthrow the state, not with guns, but with bicycles. And they feel their time is coming.

"Consider the car," he said. "It's not a means of transportation, it's a love object. The car companies spend a billion dollars a year advertising It, and have you ever seen one advertised in a traffic jam? A car is hyped as a sex object, a status symbol, a place to make love. There's always a beautiful woman draped over it, and it's always shot in a holiday atmosphere -by the beach or a field. But like a bowel movement -we're better off without it."

He sat slumped in a chair, one hand gripping his forehead, squeezing out file afer file of lovingly accumulated information, the other waving in the air, a baton, a flag of undying dedication to the bicycle, a red flag waved in the faces of the billionaire oil barons of the world.

"People aren't going to give up their cars overnight. The auto industry is a $58 billion industry, while the whole budget of Canada is only $52 billion. One out of every four retails dollars spent goes to the industry, and one out of every six jobs is tied up in it. There are a lot of vested interests here. But, like the Roman Empire and the Third Reich, the age of the auto will inevitably come to an end. We'll run out of petroleum, and anyway, the auto can be replaced at a fraction of its cost..."

It's when he gets to the object of his affection that his eyes really begin to sparkle. He brought his bike from Montreal, hoping to get some time to ride around the streets of Winnipeg, seeking out fellow travellers and just absorbing the ambience. Silverman is an urban animal, a street freak; he loves the smells, shapes, sounds and sights of the city, and he was more than a little disappointed the streets hadn't been plowed after a snow storm.

Weaning the North American male from his fixation with the car isn't going to be easy, Silverman admits, but he believes the bike has enough going for it that the transition will be, if gradual, inevitable.

"People find that getting around by bike is a liberating experience," he said, "almost a loosening. A bike is an anarchist's best friend -freedom is what it's all about. You feel your body better. You become part of the geography, part of the community. You learn more about where you live you meet others on bikes, and make friends with the old people, the kids, the trees. A bike makes you stronger, and you get better and better at it without any effort."

"We're in the vanguard of a gigantic movement -it's the movement toward voluntary simplicity. People are trying to throw off the burden of consumerism -that's what all this jogging, crosscountry skiing and cycling is all about. Bikes outsold Cars in the US. last year for the first time... It's coming; there's no way the car companies can stop it -unless they buy up all the bike companies and make bicycles that are too expensive for people to buy, or too poor in quality to use."

Silverman's mission in life is simply to help the inevitable come to pass. He's like a rudimentary mammal eating the eggs of dinasaurs; his goals are small in themselves, but large in their implications.

"I took 'cyclo-therapy for autoeroticism', he claimed. Throughout the evening, he revealed himself inordinately fond of bike puns, and his favorite, the pivotal pun in his pantheon, is cyclofrustration." That's what a cyclist suffers because society discriminates against him or her. And that's what Le Monde à Bicyclette is out to beat.

In Montreal, Toronto, Ottawa, Philadelphia, Washington, California, they hold die-ins (lying in the middle of the street as if they had just been run over by cars); they demonstrate; they get arrested for the cause. They are everywhere: in Tokyo, 150 people work full time advanclng the cause of the cycle.

They believe no means of transportation is more discriminated against than the bike. There's no place to park; no place to ride. Dress codes make cycling difficult; the lack of shower facilities at work make cycling to work uncomfortable. They want bike racks on the back of buses -the buses in San Diego have it. They want bike trails. In Palo Alto, California, where there's a well-developed network of trails, 40 per cent of the people ride bikes.

Spent, Silverman accepted a ride back to his bivouac. "This is against my principles, but it's so cold," he muttered. As we toured the streets, his enthusiasm rekindled. "That street is four lanes," he shouted. "They could easily give one up." Passing Portage and Main, he hooted in disbelief. "That's crazy! That's the craziest thing I've ever seen."

Bikers of the world unite. You have nothing to lose but your cars. Spring is coming. Take to the streets.

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Paul Sullivan is an editor for the Winnipeg Free Press.

Published in the Winnipeger, March 1979.

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