How a book dedication saved this bicycle advocate’s life

Riding a bicycle is life-affirming, but I never thought writing a history book about cycling could have the sort of impact I’m about to relate.

Montreal in Quebec, Canada, was a hot-bed of cycle advocacy in the 1970s and 1980s, one of the key reasons that city now has hundreds of miles of cycleways, including a two-mile curb-protected cycleway smack-bang in the Central Business District.

Montreal became bicycle-friendly because of people power. Bicycle-advocacy group Le Monde à Bicyclette was founded in April 1975, and many of the campaign tactics it employed – such as die-ins – are still used by advocacy groups around the world.

The anti-automobile activism group was cofounded by Claire Morissette and Robert “Bicycle Bob” Silverman. The curb-protected cycleway in the Central Business District was built in 2007, replaced a car lane, and was named for Morissette, who had died from cancer earlier in the same year.

To research Bike Boom I visited Montreal, and hung out with some of the 1970s members of Le Monde à Bicyclette. This is my pic of Robert on the Piste Claire-Morissette (I ferried him around in a Christiana cargo trike):

Bike Boom is dedicated to him:

For Robert “Bicycle Bob” Silverman and all of the other 1970s cycle advocates who tended cycling’s flame when planners and politicians were trying to snuff it out.

Last week I sent Robert a proof of the designed pages. His reply took me by surprise:

“Thank you for dedicating the book to me. Reading it actually saved my life. I’m going blind with macular degeneration which started a few years ago, which was combined in early October with a stroke. Life has been very hard; so bad that I cannot ride a bicycle any more, cook, or do other very simple tasks. I was prepared to take my own life, but changed my idea after reading your dedication.

“This is true, not an exaggeration. In Quebec, dying with dignity is legal … But since receiving your dedication [my mind has] changed.

“When I became a bicycle advocate [in the 1970s], for the first time I had a reason to live. I would ride a bike, and that in itself was revolutionary … I have dedicated my life to making the world a better place via a simple solution: the bike!”

I was very touched by Robert’s candour, and asked his permission to tell this particularly sensitive tale.

Wonderfully, Robert is now working with local advocates to produce an in-depth history of Le Monde à Bicyclette and will also be dictating a number of hard-hitting bicycle blog-postings. Bike power!

1 comment

  1. I’m a life-long Montrealer, and Bicycle Bob is not only a local legend, but much of the reason we currently enjoy a wonderful network of urban cycling lanes and paths. His decades of tireless advocacy will never be forgotten.

    Hearing Carlton mention this story on a recent episode of The Spokesmen Cycling Podcast warmed my heart, even if it was terribly sad to hear that he is no longer able to ride.

    Thanks Bob!

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