Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Dirtbags, Tax Evaders and Self-Righteous Fitness Freaks

People who don't like bicyclists portray us as filthy parasites on the shining body of their magnificent, motorized society. They depict us as insufferable snots who refuse to understand the realities of the modern sedentary lifestyle, as in this comic from Pearls Before Swine.

Unfortunately for cycling's public image, our numbers include cycling chauvinists and destructive outlaws. Enough riders use the road as if they owned it, as arrogantly and uncooperatively as the worst motorists, to feed the stereotype that we are all that way. Because they do it without an armored shell, powered by their own muscle, these cyclists believe they deserve to make their own rules. Then when any one of us protests motorist misbehavior and oppression, these bad examples are flung in our faces.

The parallels to any minority group are striking, because of the homogenization of our image when viewed by outsiders and the difficulties of managing our own internal diversity. It's made more difficult by the fact that activists have to be passionate people to speak out in the first place. Their strong feelings can convey an intensity that repels as many people as it inspires.

Cycling hits people in multiple sensitive areas. How do they feel about exercise? Their weight? Their shiny, expensive motor vehicles they may have enslaved themselves to buy? The economy? Society? What constitutes "the good life?" You make people feel guilty about their choices, then they feel resentful. How dare you question their assumptions or the paths they feel they had to take? Get out of my face, you sweaty freak! My Suburban could crush you like a bug!

Professional mockers smell blood in the water and swarm around the people everyone loves to hate: those idiots on bikes clotting up the flow of traffic on roads they don't even pay for!"

While a minority of cyclists may manage to evade the taxation dragnet and therefore contribute nothing to infrastructure, they are probably living in abandoned buildings and eating from garbage cans. Many of the rest of us actually own and use motor vehicles and contribute to the public coffers in numerous other ways. On top of that, every cyclist represents one more precious parking space that the motoring public so desperately needs. The dedicated motoring public should be doing everything possible to encourage bike riding on plentiful safe routes so the die-hard motorists have more room to express themselves on uncrowded expressways and convenient places to dock the barge on arrival. That's the message we need to keep selling.


Ham said...

That, and cycling is actually quite fun.

I'm guilty as charged when it comes to evangelising cycling - I can be relied on to spout the virtues to anyone who has just been stuck on a train or in a jam. I do try to do it with good humour and stopping short of stuffing my views down people's throats.

Here's a thing, though. At work, there's one chap who self confessed he consistently exhibited some of the worse characteristics of bad drivers - impatience, rage, anger at RLJ etc etc. He often had a little rant about those on the roads with less wheels/speed/aggression than himself.

A few days ago asked me about the cycle facilities at work - "I could save a lot of money if I cycled". No shit, sherlock.

The more that cycle, the more representative cyclists will be of the community at large. And even though it sure as hell feels like it sometimes, I still don't believe there is really "us" and "them"

Ham said...

And on my route in today I saw my second bike on bike crash of season. (or at least I the aftermath. I didn't see the cause but as both have been in bus/cycle lanes, I feel justified guessing.

It really is just folk on bikes or folk in cars.

cafiend said...

Based on how things often go on bike paths and how they went on the University of Florida campus in the 1970s when it was closed to cars, I've often wondered what a bloodbath might ensue if thousands of people took up cycling for transportation. What if a majority, or even just a significant minority, thought the rules went away when most of the cars did?

Accidents are one thing. Operators with an attitude are another. I'd hate to be the victim of anyone's negligence or their malice.

Anonymous said...

Most of the money which supports the road system comes from general funds, not from vehicle registrations. It varies from state to state, but in general, roads are supported by everyone who pays taxes.

cafiend said...

I'd read that about the source of road, street and highway funds. Spread the word.

Anonymous said...

It's also important for cyclists to remember that if wasn't for the bicycling boom in the late 19th century, roads would never have been improved beyond the dirt tracks which constituted public thoroughfares. Put that in your gas tank, motorheads, and burn it.

RCMC467 said...

Late to this conversation, yes, but...

On my ride to work this morning, only 2 miles to work but I streeeetch it as I can (10mis today), I saw half a dozen of my fellow cyclists. Of the six, only one greeted me, quite cheerfully, but I had to be an ass and tell him he was riding the wrong way and illegally as he rode against traffic.

The other five? Not even a look...or smile...or wave.

If we can't be nice to each other, how can we expect the drivers of the behemoths to be nice to us?

cafiend said...

Yeah, I always try to wave. And it is very hard to communicate meaningfully with wrong-way cyclists as you try to maneuver past them. I'm often tempted just to clothesline them. That wouldn't be very helpful, though.