The bike as iron-cage

-By Ondřej Mulíček, Masaryk University, Czech Republic

It is ten past seven in the morning in Brno, Czech Republic. As in other European cities, there are measures in place to control the outbreak of COVID-19. I am riding my bike to my office at the faculty – as usual, I would say. Still, I can see a very subtle shift in the way of feeling and thinking the journey (and the compulsory face-mask is not the reason).
Firstly, I am more sensitive to the street traffic. However, my attention is not focused on the cars passing by. I watch other cyclists and pedestrians thoroughly as their level of “cocooning” is as low as mine. They represent potential risk to me, I represent potential risk to them. We play a ‘spatial distantiacion’ ballet (Jensen, 2010) when we meet at the traffic lights, when we pass by on the narrow bike path. We all try to keep some reasonable distance. It seems to me there is developing a kind of spatial ethics, an emerging set of rules applicable exclusively to the moving entities unprotected by the car body.
Secondly, in somewhat of a contradiction to what was written above, I perceive my bike as an “iron cage” (Urry, 2004) isolating me from the others. It is the speed of my movement that encapsulates me and builds a virtual barrier between me and the passers-by. The higher the speed, the shorter the time I am exposed to possible contact, risk and uncertainty. The speed of the bike, however low, is sufficient to evoke the illusion of being cut off from the surrounding world.
It is as if some features of car and automobility were projected onto other modes of movement.  I always perceived ‘safe distance’ and ‘cocoon-like encapsulating’ as the attributes of car mobility. Nowadays, I meet them every day in my head when biking.

Jensen, O. B. (2010): Negotiation in Motion: Unpacking a Geography of Mobility. Space and Culture  13(4), 389–402.

Urry, J. (2004): The ‘System’ of Automobility. Theory, Culture & Society 21(4/5), 25–39.

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