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Keith Brown

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The Unnamed Bicycle Column: Changing the World

Posted: 03/13/2012 11:46 am

Fred's bicycle allows him to see patients in rural Zambia with greater ease.

Bharati's helps to provide her with access to an education she might not otherwise get in India.

Mirriam, a disabled Ghanian woman, has a chance to disprove the stigma that comes with her condition by being the best bicycle mechanic around.

And Carlos, a Guatemalan farmer, uses his specially modified bike to increase his productivity.

A bicycle in the right hands can change the world.

* * *

When the weather cooperates, I ride about a little less than 20 miles a day, roughly. I do it for several reasons: To keep in shape, to challenge myself, to clear my head, but mainly I ride simply for the sheer joy of riding.

I choose to ride, as an adjunct to my life. And while it has vastly improved my overall health, it is arguably not an essential part of my life.

What I forget, as do most Americans, is that a bicycle is a machine with phenomenal utility that holds the power to revolutionize the lives of those who possess one. It is an easily maintained, reliable means of transportation that can carry more things and carry them faster than a person could alone, and with minimal effort. And it can be adapted to fit nearly any use.

That's the point of the short film "With My Own Two Wheels: The Bicycle as a Vehicle for Change Around the World.''

Directed by Jacob Seigel-Boettner, the 45-minute film weaves the stories of five people from around the world whose lives have been changed for the better by the bicycle.

While here in the U.S., the bicycle industry has been co-opted by an oligarchy intent on selling bicycling racing gear to those who don't need it, the bicycle is still seen as a utility, a luxury even, in other parts of the world.

The lives of each of those profiled in the film have been completely changed by two wheels and a set of pedals, nothing more. Watching it is as humbling as it is inspirational.

* * *

There are six bicycles in my shed right now, only four of which get ridden with any regularity. They're not all mine. Two are outgrown kids' bikes and three others are their current cycles. One is my own.

Here in the U.S. where the bicycle is considered an "alternative'' means of transportation, it's hard to understand that the same bicycle that collects dust in a shed is the only thing that allows one girl to get an education, that allows a healthcare worker to see twice as many patients, or, with some modification, can help harvest food.

It seems entirely fantastic that what here is mainly considered an expensive toy could significantly alter the course of anyone's life. But the bicycle changes lives. The bicycle makes lives better.

And if you take the logical extension of that and stretch it from one improved life through the lives of all those that person touches and maybe extend it a little further to the lives of that cyclist's children, it starts to become clear that the bicycle really can change the world.

Try that with a car.

There are organizations like Maya Pedal and Bikes Not Bombs that are worth a look. They are changing the world, a pedal stroke at a time.


The Unnamed Bicycle Column appears on the Wall Township Patch website at wall.patch.com Mondays at 11:11 a.m.

 

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