Cruising Envy: The Battle Between Bikes and Cars
Issue #59, February 2002
I don't know which came first, my desire to ride bikes, or my desire to give drivers the finger. There is that moment of absolute certainty where I know exactly when a driver has acted like a total asshole. It's not about the rules and regulations, but it is about respect. Like millions of others, I continually fight for space on the side of the road, on the sidewalk, across the street, down the hill. I marvel at drivers' willingness to almost kill me several times a day, to not look in their sideview as they open the door, to not pause when cutting me off on one of Pittsburgh's busiest roads.
Just recently, I began to understand the thought patterns of the driver. A few weeks ago, watching television, I saw an advertisement for some car company that featured the slogan "Zoom, Zoom." To illustrate the zoominess, or essential zoomosity of their cars, the commercial opened with a series of shots filmed from the vantage point of a bike rider. The voice-over told me I could get this same feeling, if I were to purchase one of their automobiles. I imagined myself in one of their vehicles, Zooming through the back roads of Ohio, Zooming through the Southwest, Zoom Zoom Zooming through downtown Chicago. Then I realized I get this feeling on a regular basis, on a bicycle. Why would this commercial inspire people to buy cars? It rested on the assumption that all drivers, everywhere, have cruisin' envy. What I know as cruising, the car company had commodified into a nifty little slogan, "Zoom, Zoom." It was there as clear as day — car drivers wanted to cruise like bike riders.
The entire framework for my battle against drivers took on an entirely new meaning. Through some pseudo-Freudian introspection, I began to understand the roots and various levels of cruising envy — the ins and outs, if you will. The condition of cruising envy has multiple symptoms, which I will now examine in further detail.
When I cruise through town, drivers envy the exposure I have on a bicycle. Bike riders have a more direct experience of nature than those who drive a car; there is a lack of "stuff" that mediates the experience between you and the world. While many cars attempt to reproduce this experience, there is still no way of duplicating it. The Jeep has come somewhat close, but it is hampered by two essential factors: 1) there is still too much stuff that keeps drivers from their natural surroundings, and (2) the Jeep originated within the military, and everyone knows the military knows nothing about cruising. They are not along for the ride, and they find no pleasure in it; there are only missions, destinations, and vectors.
Bikers have the opportunity to look around and enjoy the ride. Drivers envy us because they must look only at what is directly in front of them, occasionally checking what is beside. Bikers are not limited by a roof, a floor, passenger seats, or tinted windshields. As a result, there is a much wider range of aesthetic opportunities that present themselves on the ride. Drivers hate this.
Being able to cruise means that I have the ability to move around, to wiggle, to weave, to jump, to ride in, out, and over things. This frustrates drivers, because there are legislative, physical, and psychological constraints which don't allow them to take part in these essential cruising experiences. While they might be able to move around within their car — to change seats, adjust the radio, scratch their ass, etc. — drivers are severely limited within their movements. Perhaps this is one of the selling points of extremely large vehicles like SUVs or vans: the vehicle provides drivers a much larger range of motion, thereby giving them the illusion of freedom to cruise.
Or perhaps, cars are designed to be "roomy" in order to spite all the bikers out there. It is as if car companies, through their cruising envy, design automobiles to be spacious so that they have something bikes do not. They look at our simplistic machines and scoff, thinking about the features their "roomy" cars have. But why would we need "roominess" when we have the essential "zoominess"?
Drivers crave the freedom bikers exhibit. Drivers cannot jump curbs, cut through parks, ride down "bus only" lanes, or run stop signs, without fear of killing other people, killing themselves, killing their cars, or subjecting themselves to fines or jail time — unless one is extremely drunk, in which case each of these concerns is negated. This could be a prominent reason why people like to drive wasted: they are attempting to drive more like bikers. Or maybe people like to drive wasted because they are just assholes — hence, one reason I give strangers the finger.
Cruising on a bike allows me the luxury to stop cruising anytime I want to, thereby allowing me an incredible convenience that is not afforded to drivers. When I reach my destination, I simply get off and lock my machine up. Nearly every American has a car because of the demands of capitalist society, so drivers expect they should reap the benefits of modern day capitalism, i.e., convenience. However, drivers get pissed as they watch bikers reach their destination without dealing with the hassle of parking meters, parking garages, parking attendants, traffic, and all the other factors that make it difficult to simply stop driving and get out.
We can already understand why drivers envy our superior machines and freedom loving antics. But there are also reasons why drivers envy us as people. You see, automobile drivers are subconsciously jealous of bikers because we have a whole slew of bodily modifications that drivers don't need. When I ride my bike, I wear a messenger bag, a red helmet, a bike lock around my waist (a few feet of thick chain covered with faux-leopard fabric), and a metal studded velcro strap which keeps my pants from hitting my bike chain. To the average driver I look like a dork, a bike messenger, or a dorky bike messenger. Drivers might have a few laughs at my expense, but they are only suppressing one of the most powerful forms of crusing envy — an envy based on the ways I adapt my body to the demands of my machine. Let me clarify this point with an example.
When we are young, we idolize certain members of the community, especially police officers, fire fighters, and construction workers. We learn to love these people because they perform vital functions: they build things and protect people. But what do these people all have in common? They all have lots of gear attached to their bodies. Construction workers have large belts with tape measures, hammers, screwdrivers, and assorted tools. Fire fighters wear heavy, shiny clothes, helmets, faceshields, with the occasional tool belt as well. Cops have giant belts with guns, handcuffs, flashlights, tasers, and other tools intended to serve them efficiently in the dispensing of protesters and the beating of civilians (Kids don't understand this last part, but I do.).
Therefore, bikers resemble the heroes of our youth, because they wear funky gear when they cruise. Drivers attempt to compensate for this by adorning their cars with roof racks, cup holders, fuzzy dice, and other accessories. How else could one explain the invention of driving gloves, if this aspect of cruising envy were not present? Can one really drive hard enough to require a set of gloves? — I think not. But some people convince themselves that they need driving gloves because they are envious of others who get to wear cool gloves on a regular basis. Each auto accessory has been created to help drivers deal with this envy.
If there is anything to be gained by this analysis, it is that the relationship between drivers and bikers is a complicated one. Perhaps there are other forms of crusing envy that we are only now beginning to recognize and understand. But it is my hope that all bikers now have a more informed understanding of why drivers demonstrate such a blatant lack of respect for our existence. In addition, it is my hope that you drivers now have a better understanding of the root of your anger and your existential driving frustrations: the reason is cruising envy. Please make a conscious effort to understand the causes of your neurosis, and take every measure to ensure that you become more comfortable with yourself and your machine. If you do not, I will have to cruise by your car and give you the finger.
Zack Furness is a graduate student in Communication at the University of Pittsburgh, a member of the Bad Subjects Production Team, and an aging punk rocker.