This past couple of weeks has seen climate change dominate the headlines a little more than usual. There was the cautious optimism that came from the G7 agreement last month [Tom Bray covered that here], to the recent #ForTheLoveOf march on Westminster [Rebecca Baron covered that here], and then there was the Pope’s much-hyped encyclical, Laudato Si. [threads hasn’t covered that yet, if you want to, please get in touch here].
And in case you weren’t aware – let’s not kid ourselves, you definitely are – this week is ‘Bike Week.’
‘And what,’ I hear you ask? ‘What does that have to do with my faith?’ Well, I thought it might be fun to suggest that if Jesus lived in the 21st century, his mode of getting about would probably be the lowly bicycle. I know that’s a very niche thing to think about, but hey, it’s Friday.
So here we go. The bicycle; the modern Palm Sunday mule.
Making a case for the bicycle as a legitimate form of transport is an effort undertaken by many urbanists across the world. There used to be a time when it was one of the main ways people traversed their cities, towns and neighbourhoods. As industrialisation kicked in and modernity became the defining form of place-making, cities began to develop around the car. The people who are paid to stare into that hazy horizon we call the future tell us that by 2050, three quarters of the world’s entire population will live in cities. Not hard to believe considering half of us are already in them. So there’s a case to make sure our cities are designed well. The biggest problem is working out how to make better use of the limited space we have.
As roads and transport dictate how we get to places, it’s important to consider those things when thinking about the future. This is where the bike comes in. It might seem like a fairly primitive claim to stake, but the future isn’t the car, it’s the bicycle.
H.G. Wells once said: “Every time I see an adult on a bicycle I no longer despair for the human race.”
Allow me to make a brief case as to how the bike holds up against the car.
First up, health. On an individual scale, studies have shown how regular cycling contributes to greater physical and mental health. Looking at the bigger societal picture, a report from McKinsey and Company claims the total annual cost for treating obesity in the UK to be around £47 billion.
The economic argument is just as persuasive. An American study concluded that it costs roughly $300 a year to maintain a bicycle versus the $8,000 for operating a car, not to mention the monetary gains from living longer. And I’m not advocating living longer to just gain more money… the longer we live, the longer we can contribute to society.
Again, if we step back to look at the big picture we see that regular cyclists take fewer sick days, saving the economy £128 million a year. Last week, a recent Guardian article said cities that invest in walking and cycling return an average of £13 in economic benefit for every £1 invested. Local trade can be boosted by up to 40 per cent in an area where more people walk.
The ecological argument might be the most obvious, but until recently, one of the quieter matters in church conversations. More and more we’re realising that the creational mandate given to us in Genesis wasn’t just to the green-fingered, Spring Watch fans among us… it is a command that we’ve by-and-large ballsed up.
In seeking to live under the reign of God’s sovereignty on this side of eternity, we are to be part of the conversation that redresses the imbalances that exist in our world. I, for one, can’t imagine the new kingdom as one that places financial gain as the ranking value. Nor as one where there is injustice or abuse, of either people or the world we find ourselves in.
So by choosing the bicycle to get about, you’re healthier, benefitting society significantly, ecologically active and an all-round better person.*
So maybe the bike wasn’t created on the sixth day with humanity. That doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t be recognised as really, very good. Don’t you imagine the Kingdom of God to have the most delightful air quality you’ve ever breathed? What are you waiting for, Church? On your bike.
* There is no guarantee that cycling will make you a better person. I don’t associate the cycling I’ve mentioned to the Lycra-clad, Tour de France wannabes… when I speak of cycling I speak of the citizen cyclist.
This article was amended to include report from McKinsey and Company. The original figure was £4billion based on a report from British Cycling.