I heart Bobke
So, I’m sitting at work on Friday when Jamene, who lives in Lawrence, chats me the big news: Bob Roll speaking that night at a bike shop in Lawrence. Oh, the pain. I had parental obligations that it would have taken a ruptured appendix or severed limb to get out of gracefully, so I couldn’t attend. Eye teeth, whatever they are, would gladly have been sacrificed to get to that talk. I would have crawled through fields of nettles and worn a Jayhawk shirt.
Why do I so worship an unknown–outside of the hermetic world of cycling–figure such as Bob Roll? As a cyclist, I have to admire not only his athletic accomplishments, which include being one of the first American cyclists to compete in Europe, but his incredible and genuine enthusiasm not only for the sport of cycling, but the larger activity known as cycling. He’s known by those who know who he is for his quirky personality and utterances as well as his habit of gesticulating wildly while he talks. Too many, however, dismiss him as something of a sideshow element, and miss that beneath this veneer, a rather articulate and passionate cyclist mind lurks. In a piece in the Lawrence newspaper prior to his talk, he had this to say, for example, on cycling as transportation in America:
We have a really strong rhetoric involved with freedom in the United States. If you ride your bicycle down any road in America during commute hour, you will be subject to so much abuse, so many dangerous situations. I challenge any political candidate to ride down any street in America during rush hour, especially those that don’t have any provisions for bicycles. … You are literally taking your life into your hands to be free of the gas pump. It’s an interesting juxtaposition of what freedom is and what the rhetoric of freedom is. I’ve been in towns where you breeze across town and nothing ever happens. I’ve been in towns where you can’t even ride one block without being assaulted by some idiot who thinks you’re an affront to their pursuit of happiness. America’s an interesting place. A lot of Americans will see a cyclist and just believe you’re the Antichrist for no reason, and they will try to run you over or try to come so close to you that it will scare you away from riding bikes. That’s a huge problem that’s unique to this country. That would never happen anywhere else in the world. Not China, not the most brutal dictatorial regime on Earth. It would never happen to you in Italy or Denmark or Switzerland or England or France or Spain or Russia or Vietnam or India or Afghanistan. … This country has a long way to go in terms of tolerance for cyclists. The vitriol of motorists never ceases to amaze me.
I didn’t get to see him speak, but am grateful that he’s out there saying what he says, and can only hope that a few people listen to him.