I see a T-shirt, bearing the words: “Life behind bars”. On the right, a picture. Not of prison bars, not a view from jail.
The picture is of handlebars.
The view of life, from the saddle of a bicycle.
Life behind bars!
I am struck by the profound polar opposites that can mean.
Behind bars, in prison, one is stripped of so many treasured freedoms.
But behind the (handle)bars of a bicycle, we are able to live out our dearest freedoms.
Maybe the simple bicycle should symbolise our freedom in its most comprehensive richness?
For if we are experiencing “life behind bars”:
We are healthy, strong. Or, at the very least, capable of the physical pedal-power to propel our own body weight.
We are self-sufficient.
We are free.
We are mobile: personal mobility – one of our most enabling capacities. We can choose our route, chase down our destinations.
We are masters of our immediate destiny.
We are free.
We have purpose: when we are on the move, we clearly have somewhere to go.
We have goals, we have meaning. Focus for our considerable energy. An opportunity to succeed.
We are free.
We are outdoors: our senses are alive – the wind, the exhilaration, the awareness.
We are not contained – only the blue sky is above us. We are free.
We are safe: If we are regularly on a bike, if it is part of our lives, then chances are it is safe.
And if we are safe, it means we live in a progressive society, where “NMT” (non-motorised transport) is actively championed.
A local government which takes cycling seriously is vastly more likely to be progressive in myriad other ways too.
So we are part of a new future. To become more free.
In these half-dozen ways, and half a dozen more, the humble bicycle is a profound manifestation of freedom.
That does not romanticise poverty. Public motorised transport for all must be an essential component of equality and dignity for all.
But cycling helps offer a route out of poverty too, as the Bicycle Empowerment Network (BEN Bikes) has taught us.
Bicycles are an extraordinary uniter – as the Moonlight Mass rides have shown us.
Bikes offer us the ride of our lives.
Leonard Cohen sang a great song: “”Like a bird, on a wire”, which ends with the words: “I have tried, in my way, to be free.”
And freedom is so much easier to grasp, to claim, to celebrate, when we spend “life behind bars”.
Written in congratulation to the City of Cape Town for the outstanding new network of cycle lanes across Somerset West.