Monday, August 25, 2014

Should I feel guilty?

Yet again I see an article drawing the distinction between "cycling" and "riding a bike." As advocates of everyday bike use try to attract participants by differentiating between cyclists and bike riders I get more than a little sense that those of us who wear the shorts, the shoes, the helmets and even moderate, solid-colored jersies because they are more efficient for our particular route and conditions are somehow part of the problem rather than contributing to the solution of putting bike riding into the main stream of transportation (yes, and recreation) options.

Let the thought process run its course. Rhetoric needs to be developed. The whole subject needs to be explored by many minds. And one day in the distant future, if our species has not managed to prevent itself from having a distant future, all pedalers might get along without judging each other or feeling judged, whether justifiably or not. But for now subcultures appear to be trying to define themselves. Or perhaps it is just the one subculture, attempting to become simply culture, that feels the need to distance itself from the despised minorities of snotty roadies and daredevil urban kamikazes.

No one cares what the mountain bikers do as long as they don't spook the horses or run down any hikers. They're not clotting up the streets and highways with their kooky antics. But anyone who gets on those streets and highways will be criticized.

For the sake of inclusion in the transportation mix, the self-proclaimed non-recreational "wheeled pedestrians" make sure that anyone who will read or listen knows that they stand for normal clothes, upright handlebars, dry skin and normal respiration. They ride to get from place to place over rational distances, content to go faster than a walk but slower than a "racer." They don't sweat and you don't have to, either.

If I lived somewhere with distances, terrain and infrastructure that supported casual riding at a sedate pace I would do so. But I've never lived in such a place. From the mid-1970s when I started paying attention to road conditions as an adult rather than bebopping around as a kid, every place I've ridden has had an element of combat. It might not happen every day, but it could happen any day. It could happen on a neighborhood street or one of the major thoroughfares. It could happen on a cross-town commute or a long training ride when I took long training rides. It shaped my riding style to be more aggressive and agile, to wear stiff shoes, even cleats, so I could sprint out of a bind if I needed to.

Interestingly, I did not go quickly to helmet use. I seriously debated the merits of protection against the fact that it made me look like a dork. Whatever the anti-helmet crowd says in its supposedly fact-laced campaign against the brain bucket, looking like a dork is still a major factor. I also liked wearing my wool hat in the winter, rather than the helmet and various liners depending on the temperature.

I find competitive riders pretty annoying. I was not that annoying when I competed, but that may explain why I wasn't too successful at it. While not every top-level rider needs to be abrasive, any intense competitive activity attracts people who like making others uncomfortable. You can't underestimate the psychological warfare. Also, some competitive people tend to be insecure already, which is what drives them to achieve things and stuff it in your face. So I'll grant that the flashy Lycra crowd may not be our best ambassadors, much of the time. But some of them ride other bikes in other ways as well as just the road machine in pursuit of glory.

I suppose a nuanced, inclusive view does not compress easily into short recruiting messages aimed at the general public, a.k.a. non-riders. Indeed, one major factor that propelled the popularity of mountain bikes in the rise of that boom was the idea that you could sit up straighter, wear normal shoes and ride like a kid again. Then the industry and the competitive types managed to technologize all the simple fun out of it. Now they wonder where everybody went, and "wheeled pedestrian" advocates try to drum up the interest without a poster-bike on which to hang the dream.


Steve A said...

I must confess that I often draw such a distinction, though it has little to do with clothing or equipment. Rather, I consider a cyclist as one that more or less understands the fundamentals about the bike and how to ride it safely under a variety of conditions. There are lots of Lycra-clad people on bikes and there are cyclists on $30 bikes. Butts on bikes people are rarely cyclists.

cafiend said...

Your definition of a cyclist sounds positive. The wheeled pedestrian definition of a cyclists is as an exclusively recreational rider. I get the sense this is viewed with contempt and perhaps even alarm as the recreational cyclists generate all the negative effects suffered by bike riders, while the virtuous, hard-working non-cyclist riders toil in obscurity, waiting for the motoring public to be see that there has never been anything to fear.

The term "wheeled pedestrian" must be a calculated contradiction to the concept of vehicular cyclist. But for me it conjures up uncomfortable visions of riders on sidewalks, threading among the real pedestrians like a motorcycle on a bike path. Can you imagine if frightened motorcyclists lobbied successfully to be allowed to ride on bike paths because they were afraid to mix it up with the other vehicle traffic on the street?