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Our Beloved Bicycle Trust! (1987)

outside the law and built to stay that way

For the last two years I have been a primary host of a radio call-in show called "Hyde Park" on a Boulder station. At least twice the program has been entirely devoted to Boulder's Bicycle Trust, often called the Bicycle Community because it sounds so peaceful and non-threatening. It is neither, and the shows provided forums for the practitioners to so demonstrate.

After years of watching bicycles become a Big Business complete with all the touches that make General Motors so easy to hate, the realization is coming that Boulder needs to license its bi-wheeled vehicles propelled by human limbs. This, mentioned on the air, went over like the proverbial pregnant pole-vaulter, with objections, sans hysteria, rather comfortably reduced to two or three basic rants: that bicyclists are victims, bikes are the conveyances of necessity for the poor, and despite all contrary evidence - people who ride bikes are more virtuous than those evil polluters the car owners. There was more in this amusing vein. It is the classic set of defense postures within Boulder's Vehicular Meritocracy, currently outside the law and built to stay that way.I was asked why I would want to license bicycles. Other states do it, other cities do it, all admit, but why here in Boulder? So many people have bikes, even excluding the University's contributions, that it would be a bureaucratic nightmare. Why not just get the police to go after law breakers and leave it at that?

I offered a hypothetical example. Someone on a bike cannot be caught easily if he/she tries to escape. Police on foot have no chance, police in a car cannot follow through sidewalks and alleys and pedestrian malls. A description of a bike rider sounds like a description of half of Boulder. With a license plate, there is a chance that order might be preserved.

This was laughable, most callers thought. A ridiculous example, nobody they know does that, etc. etc. So it was with a certain amount of smugness I read that the twice-weekly bike race that lacerated North Boulder had been busted - at some expense - by police from three agencies. And when the police appeared, numbers of riders split across open fields and got away.This incident immediately got A-1 damage control treatment from the Bicycle Trust. One participant even was quoted as saying he was glad the police had arrested the race, that it was getting out of control, and that, gee, perhaps it wasn't really cool to run stop signs. Contrite. Sympathetic, somehow. Forces greater than he were at work compelling him to do the race. And there was announced consensus that from now on, things would be better. You bet.

Of course, a race that stops at stop signs is not a race but a sort of rally, so the whole premise is ludicrous. As soon as the police stop covering the event, it will immediately go back to normal.Had a car killed any of the racers, the uproar would have been horrendous; we are already treated to the spectacle of local bike riders, having been killed by a car in politically correct fashion (the car was at fault at the moment of impact), being turned into martyrs. For what cause, one wonders?Bicycles in Boulder, for the most part, are not the conveyance of choice by the poor. Bikes are the recreation of the rich, as the price tags on handlebars can tell you. Of course, the ranks are currently swelled by the faddists, but the hard-core bikers are typically Boulder: young, arrogant, Yuppie. People who have the time and cash to discuss The Wall are generally not concerned with their next meal.

I predict the following: there will be, sooner rather than later, a horrible accident in which a car will hit a number of bikes and kill people. The car will not be entirely guilt free - she will be going 25 in a 20 mph zone or something, rushing children to school - but the obvious, clear guilt will be with the dead. A vicious power struggle, one that will involve City Council, will emerge as various political groups try to pat the situation into shape. Some will want vast amounts of tax funds spent upon inserting bike paths along every road (which are not wide enough for racers, who ignore them). Others will trot out the ecologic Gresham's Law: bikes cannot compete with cars, so one has to go.

Of course, surviving participants split from the scene, so nobody really knows how fast the bikes were going, or who ran the stop sign. Descriptions of the vanishing riders were clear. They had on black shorts, white helmets, and striped jerseys of various colors. It will never come out that the bike riders were not the victim of their own stupidity, totally, but of the Boulder Bike Trust who not only encourage non-enforcement (despite their pronouncements), but who clearly have a fiscal stake in making Boulder a city of bikes.