This is why I cannot get on board with the idea that our relationship to the bicycle ought to be exclusively utilitarian, devoid of romance or sentimentality. In his discussions about developing a successful bicycle culture, the author of Copenhagenize.com likes to compare the Danish attitude towards the bicycle with that to the vacuum cleaner:
"We all have a vacuum cleaner, we've all learned how to use it and we all use it. But we don't go around thinking about our vaccum in the course of a day. Only when the bag is full do we roll our eyes and sigh. Kind of like when our tire is flat/chain is loose and we chuck our bike into the bike shop.
We don't have a 'stable' of vacuum cleaners. We don't ...wave at other 'avid' vacuum cleaning 'enthusiasts' whilst we clean. The relationship to our bicycles is the same as to our vacuum cleaners. They're both merely incredibly effective and useful tools for making our daily lives easier."
While I respect Mr. Colville-Andersen's work and agree with him on many issues, this insistence on stripping the bicycle of emotional and personal value is misguided and philosophically flawed.
Though on some level, both the bicycle and the vacuum cleaner are utilitarian objects, the type of experiences they represent could not be more different. A vacuum cleaner evokes associations with: order, work, domesticity, obligation, enclosed spaces, headache-inducing noise, and boredom. A bicycle evokes associations with: movement, freedom, independence, wind in your hair, the outdoors, and joy. It is only natural the the latter invites emotional connectedness and the former does not. An object is never just an object.
The fact that the bicycle performs the very practical function of transporting us from one place to another need not compete with the fact that it inspires romanticisation; the two things are not at odds. On the contrary: It seems to me that the very reason the bicycle is so appealing, is its potential to transform ordinary acts of everyday travel into magical experiences of beauty, fantasy, joy and freedom. My bike is not a vacuum cleaner, and I do not feel silly for loving it.