Culture of biking

Two pieces popped through my Google Reader Feed yesterday. Both of them got me thinking along the same lines.

So here’s my important memo to bike advocates, lobbyists, and politcial types, you did a great job getting us to this point. Now you’ve got an PR problem that you’re ill-equipped to handle. You figured out how to get sharrows and lanes painted on roads, but traffic engineers, are not media specialists. The bike backlash, a general dislike of cyclists, is real and manifests in $42.00 tickets for a traffic-related death. Cyclists are cute on the fashion runway and they make a good joke when buying shitty fixes from Urban Outfitters. It gets real quick when they’re negotiating traffic with cars.


The SUV of the bicycle world is the cargo bike and I have no complaints that cargo bikes exist. I have many friends who own and sell cargo bikes, who live happy, car-free lives thanks to cargo bikes and that’s all well and good. But when those same well-meaning friends insist that my life would be so much better if I had a cargo bike and that then I could do those Costo runs and haul 150 pounds of dog food home, I think that maybe one size doesn’t fit all. I’m still pretty happy not going to Costco and sticking with bikes that I can haul up the stairs to my second floor walk-up apartment.

I often find myself thinking that the biggest obstacles for cyclists (apart from distracted SUV drivers) is “bike culture.” It might sound odd coming from a guy who spends a few hours every day reading about bike culture and sharing the things I find interesting here, but the reality is that “bike culture” often alienates.

We’re all guilty of it. I’ve noticed the blank looks as I talk to an acquaintance about gear ratios and cassette size…it’s the same look I used to get when I toyed with the idea of learning to play bass guitar and my friend talked about pickups and strings and gain before I’d even learned to play a note. It wasn’t his fault. He was an enthusiast. He loved music and wanted to share he love. But it was a turn off. He made the world of music feel overwhelming and impossible to learn so late in life.

It wasn’t all bad. I sold that bass guitar and used the cash to buy my first road bike.

I’m sure plenty of would-be-cyclists are turned off by the fact that I roll into work Lycra clad – “I’d ride my bike more, but I don’t want to dress like that.” And I know, as Byron points out, almost everyone is turned off by critical mass. Tweed rides, fixed gear freestyle, cycle chic, fixies, foldies, roadies, CX, MTB, BMX…all of these things appeal to a specific demographic and do very little to advocate for cycling in general.

I don’t know the answer. We’re all here because we’re enthusiasts. Because we are a part of the bike culture we’d love to share with the word, if only they’d stop trying to kill us with their cars.

Which is the other thing. In America you don’t hear people talking about “car culture” (with the exception of people who attend auto-shows or think that driving around in a circle is a sport). Very few people I talk to find out I cycle and say anything negative about it – they don’t ask me to get off the road or stop running lights or stay out of the way. Instead they ask how far I ride, how long does it take, do I shower when I get to work. Most people don’t know there’s a “culture war” between cyclists and motorists. That’s because there isn’t a car culture.

People don’t drive to work in rush hour traffic because they love it. They don’t wake up in the morning looking forward to another 40 minute commute. No, people drive to work because, while there isn’t really a car culture, there’s a culture of driving. Americans drive because it is the way.

So, I guess, my suggestion is that instead of working to create a bike culture in America, bicycle advocates work to create a culture of biking.

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