Still, many readers—perhaps riding readers—will find the most meaning in Rosen’s carefully contained but undeniable personal passion for the bicycle. “Cycling is the best way I know of achieving altered consciousness,” he writes, “better than yoga, wine, or weed. It’s neck and neck with sex and coffee.” All the enthusiasm is a bit crazy, and sometimes Rosen reaches a kind of embarrassed nirvana as he ponders his subject, lovingly describes the stunts of a trick rider, traverses Dhaka with a rickshaw or his own encounters with snow, car doors and of course drivers many unpleasant, numbering unfeeling drivers.
Four wheels bad – that’s the logical second half of the quote that the book’s title invites us to end. As a species, should we cycle instead of driving? Probably. “The automobile era is an era of carnage,” Rosen writes. “Each year, about 1.25 million people die in car accidents.” And not only that: “Motor vehicles are the largest net contributor to climate change.”
The inevitable problem is that cars have their own romance. “Two Wheels Good” admirably contends with that fact without ever completely subduing it. Even China, which at its peak in 1996 had distributed some 523 million bicycles to its citizens, has indulged in a new “car frenzy” that has sent bicycle use into a “steep decline”. For all the bike’s charm, practicality and elegance, we as a species seem to be drawn to its disastrously problematic successor.
I live in Los Angeles, where bicyclists zip through the turns of Griffith Park so fast that it sometimes seems like a miracle that one of them makes it home alive. It’s a riding city, which is why I’m currently a riding person—despite Rosen fully believing that cities built around bicycles would be “safer, healthier, healthier and more habitable.” Unfortunately, we live in a different world than we want. “The ice is melting at the top and bottom of the planet,” the author writes, “forests are on fire, political systems are falling apart, a pandemic has rocked everyday life, and in the midst of the tumult a new global cycling culture is emerging.”
The question is whether it is on time. Would it be surprising if, however it comes, we all met on bicycles after the apocalypse, humble, easy, indestructible? After reading Rosen’s passionate history, I was convinced. And there is also a bike shop nearby. I always want to drive there.