Tag Archives: tamerlane

ethics and aesthetics of biking

Some while back, I wrote a little bit about trying to work out an ethics of biking:

Very simply, and perhaps naively, a possible ethics of cycling might begin from admitting a shared vulnerability. Of course, as Kirsten noted, looking at some of the people who do ride near us, there’s a occasionally masculine and oftentimes aggressive image at work, an image which wouldn’t seem to be all the amenable to arguments about a common vulnerability. It is, again, a valid point, but working in the realm of the hypothetical, if you do posit a shared vulnerability (shared between cyclists, drivers, pedestrians, people), then one broad ethic might be: Don’t act in such a way that harms another. As a cyclist, this means that I expect drivers to give me space, to recognize and affirm my right to the road; but it also means that I ride in such a way that drivers can predict my actions and don’t feel pressured into making a rash decision. And when it comes to making choices about the stop lights and street signs, I can take a long moment to wait at a red light late at night, long enough to realize that the road will not recognize me nor the weight of my bike, and as such, there’s no issue with my crossing of Sunset at 1 a.m.. On the other hand, taking the time to stop at stop signs during rush hour traffic is a gesture to other cars.

I bring it up because the opposition of aesthetics to ethics has come up a couple of time in the last week, and I spent a little bit of time on the ride home mulling some things over. To make a long story short, one particular way of thinking about the difference between the ethical and the aesthetic is in terms of universals and particulars. Ethics, then, is that which should be universal to everyone. Aesthetics, in contrast, is the cultivation of an individual identity or style.

In a strange way, it might bear on the cycling world, or at the least cycling in Los Angeles: Ethics is asking whether cyclists have an obligation to yield to traffic at stop signs; aesthetics is color-coordinated bar tap and toe clips. Ethics is asserting a right to the road; aesthetics is asserting that right while riding a tall bike.

I suppose it’s possible to work through more than this, but two stories stand out as something neither about ethics nor aesthetics. The first is Will Campbell’s story about an orange soda and a Jaguar; the second is BikinginLA’s story about why truckers should never argue with cyclists while leaving their truck unlocked and idling on the side of the road. Not really sure what to say to either, but maybe this: If I read those stories and think, I wish I could have done that, the stories might be about an ethics of cycling. They may just be great reads.