Friday, January 27, 2006

Share the road

Responding to the recent killing of four cyclists during a Sunday group ride, Velorution.biz—the website of a London bike shop—published the following excerpt from a review of Hanoch Marmari's book On the Bicycle. Marmari is the former editor in chief of Ha’aretz, one of Israel's largest newspapers. It's a great argument for accepting and respecting bicycles on the road, no matter where you are:

His call to recognize cycling and give it space is almost a cry: “Many hundreds of cyclists ride the roads of Israel, despite the traffic jams, the run-down roads and the hostility of drivers and the police. There is no sport that is healthier, friendlier, more aesthetic, more
ecologically sound or less violent. The thoroughfares of civilized countries are graced with bright splashes of color on weekends as cyclists hit the road. Here they are honked at, cursed, subjected to every kind of intimidation that Israel’s daredevil drivers can think up. The police offer no protection. Bicycle riders are considered a burden and a nuisance. All a passing police car will do is bark at them to 'move to the right.'”

One can balk at Marmari’s category of “civilized countries,” or to be more precise, his implied category of “uncivilized countries,” but without going into what culture is or isn’t, anyone who has ever ridden on Israel’s roads knows that Israeli culture doesn’t leave much room for bicycle riders, who don’t need much in any case. Those who have ridden on the mountain roads in northern Italy know what it means to be able to share a narrow stretch of asphalt - much narrower than the roads in Israel—without fear . . .

While it may be true that cyclists occupy the margins of the road, they are not on the margins of society. Those who use bicycles as a cheap and convenient mode of transport are mainly from the ultra-Orthodox world or foreign workers. Bicycle lovers (most of them Jewish males) invest enormous sums of money in their bicycles. Marmari offers a candid and funny description of his own upgrading mania and that of the community in general. The bicycle stores on Hahashmona’im Street in Tel Aviv are a genuine hot spot. Many bicycle enthusiasts take their bicycles on trips abroad, buy professional magazines, and most importantly, own a private car for ferrying their bicycles around. This is not exactly what you would call “life on the margins.”

1 comment:

daveIT said...

"Those who have ridden on the mountain roads in northern Italy know what it means to be able to share a narrow stretch of asphalt - much narrower than the roads in Israel—without fear . . ."

After commuting to/from work (12 miles one way) in northern Italy for 4 years, I only had a couple run-ins with rude people. All of those were with Americans (military) who are in the mindset the bikes don't belong on the roads. The Italians will either slow down and wait to pass or will give a good safety cushion when they pass.

I don't know how many Sundays you'd come up on either a team with a pace car or just a group of 20+ people out for a ride. What a beautiful country...I miss it.