On the back of a rather disappointing car-free day, it got us wondering if we couldn’t just ‘go rogue’ and organise something for ourselves?
Inspired by movements in Detroit and Boston, the idea of a weekly mass ride around the city is something that intrigues us.
We’ve got a bit of a problem, we Westerners. Despite being more connected that ever, as a society we are more divided and isolated than we’ve been in living memory. Social media has for many of us replaced the need to see people in person, but as social animals our need for human contact goes deeper than the words on our screens. Even when we share a bus or train with people we stare at our phones or absorb ourselves in our music. However, a great many of us go one step further and isolate ourselves in our cars, absorbed in a cauldron of hate as other people serve only to delay us or threaten our beloved cars with a dent or two.
This is no way to live. It’s not healthy and it leads to further animosity further down the chain. Unfortunately, this is the price of the path to progress that we have chosen. We moved on from the bicycle, forgetting that it was what kept us fit, lean and socially connected. We replaced it with something that did none of that. Slowly, slowly the realisation is setting in that we might have been wrong. Colin Buchanan‘s Traffic in Towns may have been the single most disastrous piece of writing in recent history and what we thought was the future of independent mobility may have been anything but.
Across many studies of mammals, from the smallest rodents all the way to us humans, the data suggests that we are profoundly shaped by our social environment and that we suffer greatly when our social bonds are threatened or severed. When this happens in childhood it can lead to long-term health and educational problems. We may not like the fact that we are wired such that our well-being depends on our connections with others, but the facts are the facts.
There’s no getting around it, we need to start reconnecting as a society or we face a very difficult future. A lack of societal cohesion often leads people to be suspicious of their neighbours and to divide themselves along any lines they can find –often this is race or religion, but many of us are all too familiar with the division between ourselves and motorists, even if we are often one of the same. Many people you see on bikes also have driving licenses, but because we don’t communicate and because motorists are often stressed out behind the wheel, tensions rise.
We have some work to do to get people talking again. We know we can talk, because whenever there is some sort of disaster people come out of their shells to help out. However, rather than wait for an asteroid to hit us, or a nuclear war to start we could take it upon ourselves to reach out.
As luck would have it, bicycles are perfect for breaking down barriers. It doesn’t matter who you are, what your background is or what you ride, a bicycle is a great leveler. This is something that they have found in Detroit with its weekly Slow Roll.
What started as just a handful of friends riding slowly around Detroit eventually blossomed into a huge event that everyone can take part in, 25 days per year.
Slow Roll is for everyone; all ages, all skill levels and every type of bike is welcome. Our slow pace keeps the group safe and gives riders a unique perspective of our great city and its neighborhoods. Slow Roll is far more than just a bike ride, in its 7th year, this unique nonprofit brings together thousands of people from all over the region during 25 weekly bike rides a year to discover more about our city and each other.
Source: Slow Roll – Home Page
Whilst we don’t have the same challenges as Detroit –a city that has been in decline since the late 60s, we do have our own set of issues that we would do well to address before things start to get ugly. On the back of a few years of the mainstream media stirring up tensions between cultures, culminating in the UK voting to leave the EU, there’s no time like the present.
The beauty of the slow roll is in its inclusiveness. Whilst we are not short of clubs here in Cardiff, giving those of a sporty persuasion a chance to challenge themselves, we don’t have a regular social ride for everyone. A ride that welcomes you no matter how you look; what you are wearing; what you believe in; your level of ability or the type of bike you have could really start to change the city for the better.
When we take the corporate approach to organising something for those who want to ride, we get one street, or we get to ride from Roald Dahl Plas to the Barrage & back. However, Cardiff has proved that it can do it. Many of you may remember the Stop Climate Chaos Cymru ride to the Senedd, plus there’s also the now annual World Naked Bike Ride, both of which have seen a great turnout. There is also the annual Summer Solstice ride to Swansea.
Now, those mass rides had an angle –to tie in with a wider climate event; the other pressing for a cleaner, safer, body-positive world. What about a regular ride just for the love of riding our bikes? Seeing the sights, exploring Cardiff and talking to each other?
It could be argued that Detroit and Cardiff are a world apart. The population of Detroit has been dwindling for many years and the city is virtually bankrupt, but the fortunes of Boston are very different, arguably closer to that of our own. Cardiff is in growth, relatively young and many of us are keen to see a change.
The Boston Bike Party operates on a similar model, although it claims to stem from a movement that started in San Jose, California. Whatever their lineage, they are also run by volunteers and are both open to absolutely everyone.
So, what do you say, Cardiff? Our youngsters recently stole a march on the rest of us, by organising a group of 80-odd to ride through the streets of Cardiff, seemingly without so much as a website or Facebook page to bring everyone together. Apparently they did it by using a popular instant messaging app, but whilst their antics may have attracted the ire of the usual Western Mail readership, credit where credit is due, they sure know how to get a mass ride going.
Now, a fully inclusive Cardiff Slow Roll, with bikes of all shapes & sizes; cargo bikes playing music, dispensing food and coffee; hundreds of people just out riding around slowly for the sake of riding. We could employ rolling road closures, volunteer marshals and for very little money.
It sounds fun, positive, different. Eminently possible…