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Trail of Violence

Here is a list of weapons: brass knuckles, nunchucks, daggers, spears, swords, baseball bats wrapped in barbed wire, Colt 45, Bazooka, F-35, Triton Class nuclear submarine, revenge porn, and slurs.

In contrast, here is a list of non-weapons: stuffed animals, Hallmark cards, watermelons, file cabinets, water slides, oil filters, tomato starts, the color yellow, the sound of turtles swimming, orange-haired Troll Dolls, wakeboards, hedgehogs, duvet covers, tennis visors and bicycles.

“Bicycles are not weapons, no matter how aggressive the head angle.”

But there are some amongst us who insist upon referring to their bicycles as weapons. And this clique isn’t some shadowy cabal, noooo, no. This faction is very out in the open, peddling their influence across all varieties of social media. From Instagram to blog to vlog to Snapchat and back to Instagram, there are those who insist upon weaponizing the venerable bicycle. For instance, a middle-aged man might share a picture of his very carbon, very expensive road bicycle as it leans against a garage door, a sudsy brush just poking into the frame—“Just cleaned the weapon for this coming weekend’s Cat 3 crit!” Or a young male dressed in just the right amount of beard might pose his new bicycle at the start of a trail, the caption reading: “I present to you, the #UltimateTrailWeapon.” “Have you ever thought about killing time in your triathlon? With this weapon, time is as good as DEAD.” No, I’ve never thought about a triathlon and, please, just don’t.

Why make the bike a weapon? There has to be some sort of logic to it. In order to get inside the mind of a killer you have to think like a killer, and my killer instinct tells me that the impetus to use the word ‘weapon’ to describe a bicycle by the pro-bicycle-as-weapon crowd must be related to how they use the term. Let’s also assume, for the sake of this article, that they’re probably not referencing the parasitic and exploitative production practices that go into building bicycles—from raw material extraction through to build-up and delivery—because in this sense, nearly every bit of manufactured good is some sort of weapon.

So all that taken into account, the first question I have is, is this literal? Are they saying that in times of crisis the bicycle is meant to maim or kill enemies? We’re talking about gripping the bike by the stem and seat tube and lobbing it at the face of an attacker, or maybe just a stranger who dared to question your God-given right to publicly dress down your five-year-old in the latte staging area at the local Starbucks.

It’s not likely that this most obvious take on bicycle-as-a-weapon, i.e. it serving as a sword or a gun or a slur, is how pro-bicycle-as-weapon advocates are using the term. It has to be something more abstract: a proxy, a metaphor, weapon as an idea in a pantomime of violence. As best as I can figure, the harm this weapon is inflicting is either upon the users themselves in the form of self-imposed flagellation—the pain from lactic acid build-up, the light-headed discomfort of a rapidly beating heart, we’re talking unvarnished, true Goddamned masochism—or that the bicycle’s function is as a weapon in the battle of riding itself, whether in a formal race against others or an informal race against oneself and the totality of nature.

Either way, the slope is slippery. What parameters dictate that a sporting tool could or should be defined as a weapon? Do we arrive at a place where anything that might induce even a modicum of effort, pain, or conflict should be considered a weapon? Then please, allow me to slide on my feet weapons so that I may wage war on the sidewalk. The paper will run blue with the results of my marking weapon while I spend an afternoon lounging on my overstuffed standing weapon. Later I might get up and run my teeth weapon under my dryness weapon in order to fight off the plaque horde. Afterwards I’ll use my anti-dryness weapon against my food weapon and then spit the gory slurry of that battle into my puddle weapon, taking one last look at my image awareness weapon before laying my head down on my sleep weapon. Asinine? You bet, but it illustrates how the misapplication of a word or an idea annihilates its practical use. ‘Weapon’ as a sign is just a combination of symbols we’ve chosen to assign the value of “a thing whose sole intended purpose is to do harm.” It could be ‘cactus,’ ‘shark,’ or ‘giraffe,’ but in a hypothetical world where ‘giraffe’ stands for “a thing whose sole intended purpose is to do harm,” would the word “weapon” even exist? What would we call what we know now as a giraffe? ‘Weapon’ (or ‘giraffe’) can’t simultaneously mean both “a thing whose sole intended purpose is to do harm” and “long-necked ungulate with spots endemic to Africa.” The utility of words in language is to arrive at a place where those of us utilizing a shared language-set have a mutual understanding of the words that comprise that language-set.

“If we come to a place where the word ‘weapon’ is used interchangeably with the concept/word ‘tool’ then what the fuck good is the word ‘weapon’ to us? Or ‘tool’ for that matter?”

This misapplication of the term ‘weapon’ to a bicycle is perhaps the logical result of a society in which violence is the dominant cultural paradigm. Here, in the mucky simulacra of late-capital, post-modern, end-of-empire America, violence is our de facto cultural currency. But while incredibly invasive, it is not inescapable. Identifying violence as the sole driver of any action would mean we’d have to annihilate much of what we’ve come to respect and value in our fellow humans—not to mention completely destabilize our sense of language, self, other, etc.

Fortunately, for a world as grand, complex, and diverse as ours to function, we cannot strictly operate under the baleful light of violence, nor can we allow ourselves to absentmindedly or idiotically mislabel our favorite exercise/fun machines. As Arthur Ashe once said, “Start where you are, use what you have, do what you can.” Don’t call your bike a weapon, even if you love weapons, even if you’re a sword guy or a knife guy or a gun guy or gal or person; in fact, especially if you are, because it’s lazy and is actually a disservice to both the concept of bicycles and weapons. Further, it dims and degrades the idea of how and why we spend time on our bicycles and compounds the amount of psychological sewage that infects the headspace we all have to share.

You might be thinking, “Kyle, you snowflake, you’re so triggered, I am going to keep calling my bicycle a weapon, and I am going to destroy trails, obliterate watts, and absolutely eviscerate the mom on the stationary bike next to me.” To which I say, “Cool, dude/dudette/person, cool… keep saying it, keep stoking that little smug, evil coal of anger, resentment, and personal inadequacy. Just know that I’ll be the first to say ‘I told you so’ when your teeth fall from your mouth, your colon bursts, and a goopy black lizard/octopus type creature drinking a cappuccino crawls out of your mouth, because you’re rotten and your brain is sad.”