Night Riding: Bicycling and Flight

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Last night I took the New York Times and the Protovelo on a ride to the Linkery, a local slow-food favorite. While the Mexican dog (their take on the “danger dog” of Tijuana), the conversation at the bar, and the Times provided satisfying sustenance, the ride home had me thinking about flight.

Marshall McLuhan became famous in the 1960s as a public intellectual – he had a memorable scene in Annie Hall – for his book Understanding Media (1964). He argues, in many little chapters, for an understanding of communication & technology as an extension of the human senses and describes how changes in technology beget many unintended outcomes. He has a great chapter on the bicycle. McLuhan argues that by placing the wheels on the plane of aerodynamic balance, the invention of the modern bicycle led directly to the possibility of human flight. Its no surprise, he tells us, that the Wright brothers were bicycle mechanics.

While modern aircraft resembles bicycles very little (you could actually argue that modern carbon race bikes are trying to become more like jets), the similarities between bicycling and flight are difficult to deny. Like a simple aircraft, the bicycle is light weight, controlled by levers and cable, and subject to weather. But its the experience of riding, which I would argue, is the closest land-based approximation to flight. Riding last night, through quiet, dark neighborhood streets, helped me understand this. The silent, gliding flotation – the satisfaction of balance and movement – may touch something inside us that reaches for flight, as I’m sure humans always have.

Or maybe I shouldn’t have had that second craft beer.

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2 comments

  1. Franklyn

    I’ve always felt that riding my bike is like hang-gliding at 5 feet from the ground! Especially when I rode near Big Sur and on mountain tops–such as Ridgecrest Road on Mt Tam or Orr Springs Road in Ukiah, California. I love the B/W photo.

    Franklyn

    • Esteban

      Since I first posted this I’ve been thinking a lot about it when riding. I think the quite of night helped me notice the gliding. Maybe that’s what BQ talks about with “plane.”

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