[ Robert Silverman ]
[ English Texts ]
[ Cybernetically, Bicycle Bob Xe-Dda.p ]
Preface of the book "Deux roues, un avenir",
of Claire Morissette

For the last 19 years, Claire Morissette and myself, as part of our long term mission to convert Montreal into a bicycle-friendly city, have co-organized dozens of theatrical demonstrations to illustrate the present unjust and absurd reality for bicyclists and proclaim our demands. To demand a simple right like being able to cross any of the 5 bridges crossing the St. Lawrence River, we put bicycles in a canoe and paddled accross and dressed up as Moses who tried to part the waters. When, without valid reason, we cyclists were barred from the Metro at all times, we took a ladder and tobogan through the gates, alongside a bicycle which was stopped by metro police, to show how absurd it was that larger and heavier objects had no trouble accessing the Metro. But of all the numerous cyclodramas Le Monde à Bicyclette has done, there is one that I will always cherish the most.

On a bleak early October afternoon, at 5 P.M., the day after Thanksgiving Monday in 1976, on the first anniversary of the metro fare hike, about a hundred people, cyclists and pedestrians lay prostrate on the street at the corner of Ste. Catherine and University. Mangled bicycles, blood illustrated as ketchup, gas masks, canes, a coffin and a 4 year old child carried on a stretcher mingled among the hundred people "lying dead" in the intersection. It was the great Montreal Die-in to dramatize the car's most irrevocable consequence: death. I was lying on my back prone on the pavement amongst the auto victims dead in the square. Claire, a bullhorn in her hand, was passionately proclaiming the 10 deadly sins of the automobile.

Other symathisers handed out explanatory leaflets to baffled motorists and pedestrians. The police gave us ten minutes while one policeman, intensely reading our leaflet, shook his head back and forth continuously. After a few minutes, the drivers stopped honking, and an unusual and solemn silence fell.

Prostrate, I became joyous. For I saw, we all saw how insane was the daily reality. We were exposing this collective insanity. We had reversed normality.

Reversing an intolerable, absurd and unjust reality, and converting it into a personally and socially harmonious, ecological and sane one via a pleasant, inexpensive, simple method, the bicycle, is the underlying theme of Claire Morissette's original book: Deux roues, un avenir. And the book will certainly accelerate the arrival of the future bicycle city, so eloquently described within its covers.

Up to now, there have been no books on the issues and ideology of urban bicycling in French. So this book overcomes this unfortunate void. I expect that Claire's prophetic book will, in addition to her native Québec, be widely read in France, Switzerland and Belgium. As increasingly greater number of people in the industrialized world discover the bicycle's multiple pleasures and advantages, the revelance of Morissette's writing will become more apparent and attract more readers. It will become a classic.

Deux roues, un avenir, is the first book to treat the phenomena of the bicycle as a totality. It deals with the dialectic of transport, not the bicycle in isolation. Aside from some mechanical tips and riding techniques, we learn about the fascinating but little-known social and economic history of the bicycle at the time of the first bicycle boom at the turn of the last century in Western Europe and North America. The reader discovers the key role played at that time in furthering the social liberation of women: gains such as personal mobility for women, the right to wear pants and to be athletic.

In the sections of the book on the present situation of urban bicycling, the reader discovers the state of bicycle facilities throughout the world. We learn about bicycle path design standards, safe parking measures, bicycle on public transit arrangements in depth.

As we know, cyclists struggle to obtain more and better facilities to facilitate their ecologically responsible transport. Driven by cyclofrustration - the sentiment that our sane transport alternative are not officially encouraged, whilst our solutions are so inexpensive - the more conscious bicyclists have organized into bicycle advocacy groups in the major cities of the developed world as we did in creating le Monde à Bicyclette in Montreal.

This new book is also the story of bicycle campagning. Spectacular cyclodramas, with conscious political goals, organized and carried by Le Monde à Bicyclette in Montreal are described and illustrated. In this chapter, aptly called the Vélorution, we learn of cyclodramas in other major cities in Canada and throughout the world organized by bicycle campaigners there to reduce their cyclofrustrations.

Fittingly, for a visionary book like this one, there is a enthralling chapter describing the idylic situation of bicycling and transport , with hardly a car in sight, in 2024.

Claire' s book is not an academic one; although it is well-researched and scholarly. Deux roues, un avenir was written by a bicycling militant, not an observer. Claire Morissette has been a leading member of Le Monde à Bicyclette since our founding in April, 1975. She has been our coordinator for the last 15 years. A skilled and thourough researcher and writer, Claire's articles have appeared in almost all the issues of our quarterly newspaper which,incredibly, has been published continuously since 1976. Morissette, with other militants, has planned the numerous Le Monde à Bicyclette cyclodramas which have inspired other cyclist campaigns throughout the world. And, naturally, she bicycles most days throughout the year.

And because Claire has and stills experiences the pains of cyclofrustration - she had a serious accident in July 1993 - and cares to eliminate it, the book is full of passion. Passion and liberation make the book compelling.

A new vision of the bicycle

In the last 20 years, the car and the bicycle have not changed very much in their design. But what has changed is people's vision of them. It is the vision and the consciousness of the bicycle which is the determining factor. And, fortunately, that is changing fast.

When, in the 1950's, I was around universities like McGill and Sir George Williams in Montreal, there was hardly a bicycle in sight. And it was the same at the University of Montreal on the other side of the mountain. Francophones and Anglophones accepted the then general belief that bicycles were for children and when you grew up, you drove.

Almost by osmosis we have rediscovered the bicycle. Every year, we see more and more on Montreal streets in spite of the paucity of good facilities. On weekends there is wheel to wheel riding on the Lachine Canal and other regional bicycle paths. On St. Lawrence and St. Denis streets, every parcometer and street sigh has a bicycle attached to it.

It's the same throughout the developed world; not a fad , but a new and growing consciousness of which this book is an andvanced expression of. Toronto, New York, Boston, London, Paris, Copenhagen, everywhere you visit, every year there are more bicycles on the streets and more facilities to accommodate them.

Unfortunately, the new vision of the bicycle as a sensible, efficient transport mode is losing ground in the developing countries. Cities where the principal transport was the bicycle until recently have rapidly motorized. This is most poignant in Bejing. Cars in the Chinese capital have soared from 20,000, ten years ago, to 600,000 now. Bicycle-car conflicts have become a daily reality and the car population grows rapidly. I had the pleasure of bicycling in Hanoi, Vietnam, in 1988. It was, at least in the day, a bicyclists' paradise with hardly a motor vehicle and virtually no cyclofrustrations. Now, rising incomes have brought with it thousands of noisy mopeds and motorcycles. Bicycling is more dangerous and less pleasant than 6 years ago.

This perverted and short-sighted vision of urban transport is the main determinant and transcends ideological barriers and social systems. Budapest, capital of formerly socialist Hungary, had intense traffic jams when the communist party was still in power in 1989. Now,they are even worse. Did the socialist economic planners not notice how much space each car took up to move one person? Even socialist Cuba in 1990 had too many cars. Havana was having incipient traffic jams. There was hardly a bicycle in sight, other than those of the bicycle racing teams.

However, as Claire's book points out, the rapid decline in Soviet oil shipments following the collapse of the former Soviet Union forced Cuba to turn to the bicycle for her urgent transport needs. Cuba imported 1,2 million Chinese bicycles, and in unprecedented rapidity, introduced a bicycling culture. Cuba also constructed 5 bicycle factories and plans on producing 300,000 bicycles in 1994.

In developing capitalist Asian countries like Thailand and Korea, the normal city life is characterized by day-long gridlocks. Capitalism, socialism, the cars destroy the cities of both.

Claire Morissette is a poet. From Leonardo de Vinci to today, the bicycle has attracted the attention of the great literary spirits of the time. In the Noiseless Tenor by James Starrs, the fiction and poetry concerning the bicycle is inserted. Renowned writers such as Aldous Huxley, H. G. Wells, Jack London and Robbe-Grillet have their writings included.

For Daniel Berhman, the bicycle is a tool of revolution as powerful as the printing presses that brought down the kings of old. For social critic Ivan Illich, democratic social relations can come only at the speed of a bicycle.

The bicycle's triumph in the city is essential for our future survival says Jim McGurn. It will eventually triumph in the cities. It's small size, it's efficiency, it's basic sanity and pleasure for the user and everyone else make this inevitable.

Claire Morissette's superb book will ensure that this day will come sooner.

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By Robert Silverman.
April 1994.

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© Robert Silverman 2000