six ways from sunday

I’m sure that, like nearly everyone else, your moods swing like a hypnotist’s pocket watch in response articles or what have you praising the great cycling cities of Portland, Minneapolis, and so on. Admittedly, mine do, too, swaying back and forth between inspiration and awe, on one hand, and the taste of acid reflux on the other.

Having said that, the Bike Snob has a nice piece on Portland in the current issue of the well-known men’s rag, Outside. (For what it’s worth, I think Steve Friedman’s review of Minneapolis in a recent issue of Bicycling, which profiled America’s Top 50 Bike-Friendly Cities, was a better read, largely because it seemed to do a better job of  figuring out just why it is bicycling has gained such a foothold in the city. Nice to see that Grand Rapids and Ann Arbor both made that list, by the way.)

It is what it is, and my reaction was as ambivalent as always. Part of me, though, cannot help but to imagine how great it would be if Adrian were more like Portland in this and so many  other regards, and to ponder what it would take to get there. The one thing these articles constantly point up is the fact that, at some point, the city leaders have to buy in to the benefits and commit to taking meaningful action.

Meanwhile, as a scholar of religion, I was particularly fascinated, shall we say, by the Snob’s description of the shrine to the Madonna del Ghisallo, the patron saint of cycling, at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church, downtown:

Being a cycling pilgrim, I head over there in search of spiritual guidance.

A REPURPOSED HANDICAP ramp serves as the chapel’s bicycle entrance, and there’s a piece of paper that reads BIKE SHRINE taped to the door. The chapel is bereft of souls as I enter and lean my bike against a pew. On the north wall is a painting: It’s of a mountain bike standing alone in a desert; the baby Jesus hovers over it amid some heavenly smog while suckling on the Madonna del Ghisallo and flashing the peace sign. The bike appears to have been copied from a manufacturer photo, since the cranks are at a 90-degree angle and don’t include pedals, but it also has a freakishly long head tube.

It’s difficult to be contemplative in front of such a distracting image. Why a mountain bike? Does Jehovah ride off-road? It seems like something more abstract and universal would’ve been a better idea—a penny farthing or classic road bike, perhaps? Then again, Chris DiStefano, of Chris King Precision Components, says that Portland’s dirty little secret is that, for all its cycling awesomeness, there’s very little singletrack open to riding around here, so maybe this is a prayer for mountain-bike trails. But, really, is a bike chapel a true gift to the community, fulfilling a need for members of the bicycle culture, or is it just a slapdash attempt by the church to seem “with it,” like when my ninth-grade math teacher wore a Van Halen shirt?

If that weren’t bad enough, he goes on to describe the “Bike Temple,” which is “a non-profit, pan-faith movement that seeks to heal the world by having fun and deepening people’s relationship with their venerated transportation form.”

Oh yeah, good stuff.


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