Jai Cooper – Cyborgian Cyclist and Budding Bike-ademic
I was once a pro cyclist. I delivered The Herald and The Melbourne Age as a kid and got into drugs as a teen. I mean that I moved onto the local chemist round because the tips were bigger. I was young, fit and loved riding. It was fun, it got me places and it was an earner.
Not by choice, I became a cyborgian cyclist. At 19, I suffered debilitating leg injuries in a no-fault car crash. Since then, walking has been painful. My footy career was definitely over. After a couple of years barely walking, I got on a bike again and rediscovered my legs and active movement relatively free from pain. Thanks also to cleats and dual suspension, I am far more liberated. I understand the relationship of the disabled to their wheelchairs. “Walk” is a four letter word now, I much prefer to “ride”.
But I don’t just ride because it hurts to walk. I ride because the opposite of fear is love.
After the car crash, I felt fear of the road. I bought a 4WD with a bull bar to protect myself. Before long, I realised I had become part of the problem... we were turning our world into Carmageddon. The zombie apocalypse was thriving on a diet of fossil-fuelled hatred and I could witness the way the caged windscreen view of the world bred isolation and contempt for society and the planet. I love my planet and I didn’t want to be part of that problem. I wanted to do no harm. So, I compromised, less harm. I protested freeways, joined Critical Mass and learned the rhetoric of the movement. As my ancestors fought for me in their way, it is the love of my world that sees me duty bound to fight for my descendants and their future in my way.
And it is my descendants with whom riding means the most. The bike has been my way to be active with my family. I have shared so many wonderful experiences with them which I could otherwise not do. Bicycling has also bolstered me against the physical and mental health challenges besieging my peers so that I am less likely to be a burden as I grow old.
Bicycling has connected me with my community in no way I could have otherwise done. I have the warm feeling of teaching many kids and adults to ride, fix their bikes or improve their skills. I’m sort of “pro” again. I work sometimes as a mountain bike coach including the privilege of working with Team Dunghutti and the National Centre for Indigenous Excellence. I love to race with my peers on the oodles of trails found in my region. I have been the driving force in developing a legal trail network locally and facilitated the work of many in its construction. It is sweet to see it giving pleasure to so many and somewhat contributing to the “wilding” of my own home town. When my local MP named me in Hansard for services to cycling, my fate was sealed, I had a responsibility to continue as a bicycle advocate.
I know it’s just a bike, an object, a commodity but it gives us so much more than just a way of moving.
So, now I am researching for my honours thesis on Cycling Advocacy in Regional NSW with Newcastle University’s School of Humanities and Social Science. I confess to a pro-bike prejudice in my research.
Currently, I still just love riding as I did when I was young. I love to see other people ride and I enjoy praising the Council workers as they build the nearby bike path.