There are numerous paradoxical aspects that characterize the bicycle. The first biking paradox, which runs throughout this article is the idea of the bicycle as a tool to draw people together while also fostering the power to create a barrier between groups and generating antagonists of the bicycle. As a ‘thing,’ it is democratic, affordable and open to all. However, as a social artifact, it is the opposite in many ways. Certain cycling sub-cultures are known to be exclusive in less concrete ways. Distinct in their dress and views, the usage of the bicycle mirrors a certain identity. In this way the bicycle is a tool for establishing and bonding a community, while it also divides and excludes.
Biking Paradox: Consumerism
A second element of biking paradox is the association of the bicycle with a minimalist and simplistic perspective and lifestyle. But on the other side of the bike culture is a highly consumerist nature. There are those who are involved in road, mountain or BMX racing that spend thousands of dollars on customized equipment. Also for apparel and the resultant lifestyle. Even those who are riding older bikes, often pay in the hundreds to create a vintage look for their bike. This develops not only a paradox, but as support for Bijker’s ideas of “interpretational flexibility” according to social user groups.
The bicycle is also a private and personal machine, while at the same time it is only used in public venues. And in many cases is widened out to the public. Bicycles can be customized and cost in the ten thousands. Some bicycles can be free but personalized with stickers, streamers and handlebar tape. Other bicycles have established sentimental value through long journeys and exciting adventures.
Despite this monetary and non-monetary value of many bikes, they are forced to be left outside, in the rain, on street corners, and mud covered. The physical proximity of our tightly gripped handlebars and well sat on saddle, the trust in continual maintenance, and the assimilation to the specific materiality and functioning makes the bicycle ones own. Yet these are concepts that are not realized until a rider uses another bicycle or is forced to lend to another rider and the specificity of a personal bicycle surfaces. The free bikes in Europe program epitomizes this simultaneous straddling of public and private. These are public bikes that have no home bike rack nor individual owner. The idea of ‘your’ bicycle still exists, but only for a short period, until a new ‘your’ bicycle is established for the commute home.
Biking Paradox: Transparency
The bicycle possesses a transparency that the car does not, making a form of visible, accessible technology. All of the parts can be seen from the outside and manipulated easily. This is unlike the car where many of the parts are under the hood or underneath the car and requires some tools to operate. However, people are intimidated by the complexity of the bicycle as a machine and would rather drive a car for its simplicity. Additionally, many who ride a bike do not know how it works. The idea of transparency does not necessarily imply comprehension and rather, will often serve as a deterrent for use.