Riding Just For The Sake Of It

    [Stuff YouTube Feeds Me Presented With No Context]

    Further to yesterday’s post, my relationship with bike advocacy has sort of fluctuated over the years. When I first started this blog, I didn’t give advocacy much thought, and as a bike racer and hardened veteran of the streets someone who had worked as a bike messenger briefly between jobs if I did think about it I sort of wrote it off as namby-pamby and dorky. However, as the years went by and I became exposed to more and more people and ideas in the world of cycling, I learned some important lessons thanks to advocates. For example, I came to appreciate how much we’ve sacrificed to the convenience of the automobile over the course of the 20th century, particularly in cities. I’ve also come to understand that not only do we take motor vehicle deaths for granted, but we also often take the extra step of deriding or blaming the injured or killed party if said party was not in a car. (For this reason I still think the whole “Crash Not Accident” campaign makes a great point.) Nevertheless, a lot of those people don’t seem to like me very much these days, even though I agree with many of the things they’re saying:

    [This is a weird one. I’ve barely mentioned The War On Cars and don’t think I’ve ever interacted with them on Twitter, so I have no idea why they’ve blocked me. Imagine having an idea you want to share as widely as possible and then blocking people. It makes no sense.]

    I mention all of this because back in 2010, when my first book came out, Transportation Alternatives included me in a “Bike Culture Summit:”

    As I’ve reminded you before, these were heady days for urban cycling–and for me. Blogs were still a thing, and mine was pretty popular; I’d been writing it anonymously for about three years, and I’d just revealed myself on the eve of my book’s publication:

    It was, and continues to be, the most anticlimactic reveal of all time, because I was, and continue to be, absolutely nobody of note. So, unsurprisingly, it was all downhill from there.

    And no, Performance never thanked me for getting a Scattante into the Wall Street Journal:

    This was, and continues to be, the highest-profile media placement a Scattante has ever attained.

    But the Scattante and my own near-miss with celebrity aren’t the point; the Bike Culture Summit is the point. I admit I was feeling very eye-rolley at the summit, partially because I still thought bike advocacy was a little silly, and partially because I was very skeptical about the idea of a “bike culture,” which I even wrote about in the book I was there to promote:

    Meanwhile, one of the participants, who was then with Transportation Alternatives and is now with Lyft, did believe in the idea of a bike culture, and by way of an example spoke of the bond she shared with the fellow riders with whom she had been arrested in protests over the years.

    Now I believe in the right to protest. This is America, goddamn it! Canada’s stepstool! We’ve got the right to free expression, and to stand up to tyranny, and to demand our money back at the supermarket when our Froot Loops are stale. At the same time, I also remember being troubled by the protest comment–not because of the protesting, but because of the idea that this marked you as a member of the “bike culture,” which seemed rather off-putting. It’s riding a bike, not the right to vote. You shouldn’t need to be an activist and face the prospect of arrest to be part of the “bike culture;” all you should need to do is ride a bike.

    And no, of course she didn’t , “If you’ve never been arrested you’ve not part of the bike culture!” All I’m saying is that the average person who might be thinking about taking up cycling or maybe riding to work might find that kind of militancy a little off-putting, that’s all. Between the arrests and the constant references to people dying why the hell would anybody want to bother? It’s not really any different than pointing out how many people might find, say, the marketing around road bikes a little off-putting, as we also saw yesterday:

    On one end you’ve got getting arrested during a Critical Mass Ride, on the other end you’ve got ripping around town on a plastic race bike, stripping off your bib shorts, and jumping into a river:

    In the middle is something a normal person might actually consider relatable.

    It’s sort of like the George Carlin bit about “Live Free or Die” and “Famous Potatoes:”

    Granted, my own sensibilities are much closer to the roadie side than the political prisoner side (I guess road bikes are my “Famous Potatoes”), but I still find the marketing to be quite bizarre and unappealing:

    Oh sure, Guy Looking At Graphs is very convincing:

    But I’m going to have nightmares about the Disembodied Thighs of Crabon:

    Indeed, Canyon is quite literally blowing smoke here:

    Hey, I’ll admit it, I’m getting old and tired. These days I’d rather ride an antique:

    I’m reasonably sure that this was never tested in a wind tunnel, and if any smoke was blown on it then it came from the cigarette the person who built it was probably smoking.

    Increasingly I’d also rather point my bike away from all the mishigas in the city than towards it:

    The path above will take you to some good roads:

    And if you squint a little you can even pretend you’re deep in the country:

    Just beware of the geese this time of year, because they’re very protective at their young:

    This one hissed at me like a deflating tire, a sound I know all too well:

    Eventually I’ll have to change the cables on this bike, at which point I’ll curse the internal cable routing, but in the meantime I continue to adore the top-mounted shifter because you can so easily use them one-handed:

    Less convenient are the toe clips:

    Which on this particular ride I used with slotted cleats for maximum inconvenience:

    You can make a case for foot retention, and you can even make a case for clips and straps, since in a pinch you can ride in sneakers or whatever, but there is absolutely no reason whatsoever to ride with slotted cleats–and yet doing dumb stuff for no reason is precisely what makes us human.

    I guess you could call it wallowing in my own humanity.

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