Bicicultures Roadshow Planning Begins

What fascinates me most about bicycling is their circulation as cultural phenomenon. This, combined with a fascination with how object and machines imprint themselves on our bodies, drives much of my own research. 

I also find that I think best in community. Being more of a dialoguer than an monologuer, the dissertation can be a challenging format, and the process a bit isolating. So, I have sought and happily found community with other researchers engaged in studies of bicycling cultures. What as until now been primarily an online interface will soon be an in-person encounter.

I am happy to announce the Bicicultures Roadshow: A Critical Bicycling Studies Tour de California. This event hopes to bring together some of the most engaging work being done in the many bicycling worlds that populate our roads, trails, shops, and various other time-spaces. Researchers, activists, and others interested in the social lives of bicycling are all invited to participate. See the website for more details, and please apply by February 10th. 

More thoughts and musings on this event surely coming down the road…


Neither Guilty nor Innocent

The preservation of spaces of nature is far from a natural act. Sites of wilderness are more museum than found artifact, replete with the historical baggage of colonialism, racism, ableism, and sexism endemic to some of our nation’s finest institutions of preservation. They are stolen, taken by violent means, made ‘pure’ through the extinguishing of that which was branded dirty, wasteful, or unappreciative of the ‘treasures’ around them.

This is the refrain environmental historians know too well. Its haunting tune enters the consciousness of the outdoor enthusiast and leaves them deflated, thrown into chaos as they watch their innocent nature assemblage become reterritorialized as imperialist, sullied, and soaked in histories of oppression. Access is racialized and privileged. Redwoods become sites of eugenics. Parks are preserved at the expense of others who suffer environmental degradation out of scale. The rhythm is thrown in chaos.

And so I come back to the mundane refrain. The sun warm on my skin feels good. Moving through the quiet hush of the trees calms me. I am a platitude. I giggle like a child. Is this a natal refrain of footsteps and heartbeats, breathing and wind? Maybe here is a refrain prone to deterritorialization. The refrain is a new budding.

“the intra-assemblage, the territorial asemblage, territorializes function and forces (sexuality, aggressiveness, gregariousness, etc.) and in the process of territorializing them transforms them” (325).

Just because I giggle in the outdoors does not excuse me from the territoriality of violence that we call nature. The ongoing legagies and everyday enactments of privilege ensure that I am always reterritorialized into these histories. But we need not escape one assemblage to enter another. When moments oscillate in the vibrations of shuddering leaves or the wind howling in our ears, these refrains can be “a prism, a crystal of space-time.” Assemblages are both amplified and eliminated. We are both fully complicit with and fully outside of colonized nature.

In a seminar, a woman asked, “can we decolonize hiking?” Perhaps the answer is yes and no, a both/and. We’ll never get free, but we can still certainly be swept away in moment when the music of the most mundane refrain catches us.

A reflection inspired by A Thousand Plateaus chapter 11: On the Refrain.

Making Single-track

We are becoming single-track. Single-track is riding along desire, moving in a suspended line of dirt, rock, rubber, sinews, muscle, metal, and nerves. It is the possibilities of negotiation between things we think of as separate. Body. Bike. Trail. To make single-track is to fashion multiplicities.

Throw out a line. Let go and brake less. A thrill of terror enters the bloodstream. No time for logical reasoning, just motion as the rocky terrain passes faster than thought. We know this is working until it is not. Thrown.

Now we have new connections. Synapses that connect speed and nerves to fingertips gently squeezing the brake lever. Centers of gravity that account for slopes. Tires that skip off rocks of a certain size in direct relation to speed.

It takes awhile to learn how to use the sensory capabilities of the rubber pads. Sensations are crude, mostly limited to slipping at first, the times the dirt slips from beneath the rubbery nubs. Sometimes I can feel them dragging and sticking into the soft layer of pine needles. That means the tires need more air.

Everything crowds around me. Sight lines are short as movement and sight curves. In another configuration the trail is a raw sore cut open. Bleeding ruptures of tree stumps and broke branches, eroded soil and trampled grasses. Making single-track is an ongoing business that requires ongoing injury. Kill the life underfoot and alongside to keep the wound open and rideable.

A tight turn ahead, switchback. If I switch back to my body negotiating this bike around this trail turn, I stop riding. I stutter to a stop as my eyes track my fears. The brambles lining the trail that my front wheel stubbornly follows so long as my eyes see what is not the single-track. To make the switchback means not switching back. Look forward and lean, steady on the nerve-brakes. They are sensitive to even a millimeter too much in either direction. It really is a measurable thing, making this switchback. I know the formula, but the middle is the messy part. Moving outside the moment is disaster, or at the very least a minor inconvenience.

Making single-track is hard to sustain. I get scared at the flows, the loss of the me that I have grown so accustomed, and cannot sustain the line of flight. Nor can the multiplicity remain quite yet. I worry that I will get drunk on the flow and move beyond current possibilities into the impossible, the making of injury.

Riding single-track relies on making memory. Short term memory happens in the moment of making the ride. It relies upon those tendrils of long term memory extending from nerves down the metal frame into rubber nubs and flinging out to rocks and roots and soil. Memories are in the making but they don’t stay there.

It’s like riding a bike. You never forget. What they don’t tell you is that the forgetting is in the not-making. Remembering requires making riding, another multiplicity that’s more than just a memory in a body. Two wheels and a sense of surface make riding a bike a memory of relations. So we store ourselves in the middle, in making multiplicities that are always one less than the sum of the parts.

The above is a reaction to reading the Introduction to Deleuze & Guattari’s Introduction in A Thousand Plateaus.