AT 20 YEARS OLD, carless and living in Connecticut, Elly Blue snatched the purple bicycle of her childhood from the purgatory of the family garage. It was little more than a lark—she'd actually been mining the garage for old furniture—but the rescue planted seeds that have bloomed into an obsession. Even in a city that really likes bikes, Blue, now a Portlander, rails with the avidity of a street preacher.
More than a decade after she rediscovered two-wheeled conveyance, Blue publishes a bicycle-themed zine, writes for Bicycling magazine, and has now authored two books on the subject. Her latest, Bikenomics, is the most ambitious yet: Blue is out to convince you that bicycles are a potent tonic for a sprawling, despondent America.
That argument goes well beyond the book's subtitle: "How Bicycling Can Save the Economy." Just check out this snippet from the first chapter: "Environmental destruction? Bikes can help stem the tide. Health crisis? Bikes all the way. Distracted driving and the epidemic level of traffics deaths and injuries? Absolutely bikes. Mental health crisis, depression, misery in general? Bikes. Social isolation and community disintegration? Bikes. Food crisis? Bikes can even help with that." It is, as you can see, a tall order.
And Blue sets about making her case just as you'd expect (and just as she had previously in "bikenomics"-themed blog posts for the website grist.org), patiently hashing over the studies and data that are available. The result often feels more like an argument about the many evils of automobiles—expensive, dangerous, pollutant-emitting, alienating automobiles—than a paean to the benefits of the bicycle. In a lot of ways, though, they're the same argument. We've got to get around somehow, and Blue's got plenty of reasons why we should all go plunder the garages of our youth.
At 172 pages, the book is a relatively short read that in places could have benefited from more stringent editing (billions and millions are mixed up, I think, in one typically figure-heavy paragraph). And the book, in its final pages, pulls back somewhat from the lofty tone of its subtitle, noting: "The bicycle may not be able to save either the economy or the world that we have now. But it is one means by which we may be able to get through whatever comes next with grace and meaning."
Despite these qualms, I have to admit Blue's book helped me better frame my own reasons for riding, and got me thinking a lot about what a more bike-centered future could look like.
It's a future, I realized, I'd really like to see.