My research project (Winter ’19)

My research project this quarter is going to broadly focus on “bicycles and community building.” So an initial big question driving my research is…

How might bicycles shape or influence one’s engagement with the place where they live?

This question comes from a couple of places. One is that I have made it a point — being relatively new to Tacoma — to take bike rides around town in order to get what I would call “a feel” for the place. I’ve enjoyed riding around different neighborhoods in my new hometown. I also had a conversation not long ago with a colleague whose spouse was a bit disgruntled living in Tacoma. It’s, of course, a long story, but my gut response to her was that in order to fall “in love” with a place you had to get out and experience it on foot or, even better, on a bike. So I already have an assumption that doing something like getting out on your bike in the place where you live can shape your relationship to it. Maybe this doesn’t mean for the better, but it can shape things. 

uh oh…Here I feel I’m doing what I tend to discourage my students from doing which is jumping to quick to having an argument. I think I want to make the argument that the value of riding a bike is that it can shape or influence your relationship to a place. My sense is that someone else has already made this argument — multiple have I’m sure — its not particularly original. But the how here is worth exploring I think. It’s an idea that can be tested, I think, and that’s worthwhile. Not to mention that how riding a bike shapes my particular understanding and relationship to this specific place — Tacoma — is potentially unique, or again, if not unique at least worth exploring.

Another place is that sometime not long ago this article on the Ovarian Psychos came across my Facebook feed. I’m interested in this story and the role that a technology like the bicycle has played in it. So in some ways my big question might be — what is the story of bicycling and community building/engagement? 

More specifically, I think I have a couple of things that I think will guide my research. One is the actvity of Critical Mass rides.

So another initial question I have guiding this part of my research is:

How have Critical Mass rides influenced (or shaped) bike riding as an activist practice? 

I’m not particularly happy with this question as it stands right now, but it’s a start. It seems like this question is going to require me to look into the origins and history of critical mass rides — something I know little to nothing about. I like the idea of doing some history work. I’ve participated in a few Critical Mass rides in the past, so my knowledge of the activity is based on this limited experience. My hope here is that Critical Mass gives a focused way that I can begin to explore some things related to my bigger question. 

Another element of my research is something that you might call field work. I have recently started both volunteering and working on a bike building project at 2nd Cycle Community Cycle Center in the Hilltop neighborhood in Tacoma. I don’t know if I really have a specific question gudiing this part of my research beyond the initial big question. But the 2nd Cycle work will give me an opportunity to do some hands-on, action-oriented research that isn’t just reading stuff about bikes from a library database. My hope is that this work at 2nd Cycle will also connect me with some group rides or even some Critical Mass-like events. 

Finally, my plan is to ride my bike more. Revive the neighborhood rides I had started in the Summer. Document these rides. Reflect on them. How do my experiences sync up to existing research on bike riding and community engagement?