Our cultural mindset is that the car is a symbol of freedom, but the truth lies closer to the fact that personal mobility, in whatever form, represents freedom to the individual. Bicycles have been attributed as having been an important component of the women's suffrage movement, but, the automobile, had it come first in historical context, could have as easily been that great vehicle of change. The major difference is that the bicycle, at least these days, is far more liberating in an economic sense than the expensive to own and maintain automobile.
For those who do not have a great deal of so-called disposable income, the automobile becomes an oppressive necessity. It can seem like a ticking timebomb. That high school graduation gift evolves into a clunker after a few years of negligent maintenance due to serious cashflow problems. Who knows when the transmission will go? The water pump go out? Computer malfunction?
Working-class college students, and working-class high school graduates, rarely have the money to throw at mechanical problems, and suffer from a deficiency of time and resources to do the work themselves. And with the inclusion of more sophisticated technology in automobiles, the days when a poor car owner could tinker and intuitively solve any mechanical problems are long gone.
Instead of making cars more reliable and rugged, or making them easier to maintain or repair, automakers have gone the opposite direction and created infinitely complex pieces of junk.
On top of all of that, predatory "lot-financed" car loans, the societal pressure to own greater symbols of status in car form, and the perception that each adult-shaped person in the world should own a car compound the problems of complexity and the built in planned-obsolescence of modern car industry.
As a young man, I initially didn't understand why motor vehicles could not be built to be reliable beyond the term of the loan held by the initial owner. But it quickly became apparent to me that if each car owner in the Developed world owned only one car throughout their driving years then the automobile companies would fail to bring in the large sums of cash they were used to.
It makes no economic sense for automotive manufacturing companies to produce a good that never needs maintenance or would seem to have no reason to ever be replaced. On the other hand, it makes no sense for potential car owners to purchase vehicles that do not have a lifespan exceeding their own, yet this is where supply and demand fall apart. The demand is for long-lasting goods; the supply consists of only those vehicles that become obsolete in such a way that their replacement is nearly guaranteed at the sole expense of the purchaser. Does this sound like freedom for the individual?
It's no wonder that a free-thinking person would come to the conclusion that bicycle ownership—even a series of bicycle ownerships paralleling the normal number of automotive purchases—would be more economically feasible than individual car ownership.
I'd take a "lemon" bicycle over even the most reliable car any day. In a very short time period I have taught myself to do all of the normal maintenance tasks associated with bicycle ownership and many of the more complex or difficult tasks as well. No amount of DIY effort ever yielded an acceptable amount of reliability from any motor vehicle I've owned. You could make the claim that I am not mechanically inclined, but then explain why I can work on bicycles successfully.
With new car ownership comes a loan with interest, high-cost full-coverage insurance, parking problems, significant fuel costs, long-term maintenance costs, the reality of planned obsolescence, the potential that the purchased vehicle will not meet a variety of transportation needs and the perpetuation of a set of cultural ideals that are unhealthy for individuals and nature.
With new bike ownership comes simplicity, no liability insurance, hardly ever a parking problem, nearly zero fuel costs, minimal long-term maintenance costs, the beauty of a timeless design, flexibility to meet many different individual needs and the perpetuation of a set of cultural ideals that promote health and vitality, community, self-reliance, resilience and freedom.
I would vehemently argue that the car is not a symbol of individual freedom, but that personal mobility symbolizes man's freedom from the group. Whether freedom from the group is a desired outcome is elsewhere debatable, but if individual freedom is what you seek, then personal mobility by an efficient, reliable and economic means is the way to go. When you compare the Single Occupancy Vehicle (Motor) with the bicycle in any of its forms you will most assuredly come to the conclusion that a bicycle is a better vehicle to freedom than the motor vehicle. Personal mobility, in its simplest iterations, provides the greatest range of freedom over oppressive economic, social and cultural issues.
Once you own a bicycle you have little need for a massive infrastructure of petroleum extraction and refinement, very little beyond the occasional replacement tire, and you can travel thousands upon thousands of miles with far less cost and hassle than is involved with motor vehicle ownership. You become free from the concerns of rising fuel prices, fuel efficiency standards, traffic jams, parking shortages, and a host of other nightmarish realities that are the daily lot of most of your contemporaries.
These reasons and more are why the bicycle must be an integral part of any modern paradigm shift. It is a vehicle to freedom, and to change; the vehicle of the poor, the revolutionary, the enlightened, and the downtrodden. The bicycle carries the resourceful and resilient individual to a place of strength and power. No modern vehicle carries as much symbolism, as much empowering vitality, as the bicycle. For pushing on the pedals awakens your true inner strength and warms your muscles, both physical and mental, to more efficient action.
If you have any doubts, then you must make an experimental comparison and utilize the bicycle for a fair amount of time for the trips you would normally employ a gasoline powered monstrosity. Given an equal opportunity to perform, the bicycle is very likely to convince you of it's superiority.
If you're going to embark on my suggested experiment then I recommend that you do so astride a cargo bike. Cargo bikes take many forms. The most efficient and versatile are longtail cargo bikes such as the Yuba Mundo, Sun Atlas, Kona Ute and the infamous Xtracycle FreeRadical extension. The longtail rides like a bike, looks like a bike, and adds the benefit of a trunk and backseat to your two-wheeled machine.