Friday, April 17, 2009

On Keeping Bicycle Advocacy Positive

It has been interesting over the last several days to watch different bloggers react to this New York Times story about Dutch bikes becoming the new "it" accessory. Here are a few examples, illustrating a spectrum of reactions:

Chic Cyclist: "It's heartening to see that this topic is going mainstream, and a good read. "

Bike Snob NYC: "Obviously, the fixie backlash has been going on for a long time now, but the sheer bulk and weight of these Dutch city bikes nicely embodies just how much mass this backlash movement has gained."

Drunk & In Charge of a Bicycle: "Puke. It's a bicycle, not an accessory. "

Personally, I couldn't care less whether Dutch bikes are the next big thing in New York City, or anywhere else. Aside from liking the design and features of the bikes, I really have no opinion on the matter, and I've never ridden one.

The bikes are really beside the point, it's the reaction amongst the bike blogging community that interests me. The majority of the responses to this article have been sarcastic and dismissive, with only a few positive reactions. I'll admit to leaving a somewhat critical comment at Chic Cyclist, but it was more about a specific quote from the article than it was about the article itself. And really, sarcastic and dismissive is what most have come to expect from Bike Snob and D&ICOAB on just about any topic, so that's not really a surprise.

I think, however, that we as a community need to change our tone when talking about bicycles becoming popular, for whatever reason, because unless we welcome the positive changes to our nation's bicycle culture when they do occur, we're going to seem like guardians at the gate, judging others for how, when, where, and why they ride. It's not up to bike bloggers to tell people what is authentic bike culture and what isn't.

So somebody buys a Dutch bike because it's the latest thing. So what? Yes, ideally, that person would have bought the bike to cut out car trips, be more environmentally friendly, help make the streets more livable, etc., but those things will be accomplished anyway, so who really cares why they bought the thing in the first place? The most valid reason to object to bicycles being viewed as "accessories" is that people don't take them seriously as transportation. But just get on one for a quick errand to the corner store, and you can't help but understand that a bicycle is a vehicle.

Again, simply riding the bicycle is the solution to the problem, and as long as more people are doing that, bike bloggers who feel compelled to bash their motives just look like curmudgeons. We're supposed to be opening our arms to new riders, folks, not offering caustic wit in order to demonstrate our superiority. Bicycles were the fashion accessory in the 1890s, too, an era that many consider to be the first golden age of the bicycle. The history lesson here is pretty simple: If they're popular, people will ride them. Isn't that the point?


  1. I hope Dutch bikes are the next big thing because people are finally in the market for practical bikes (for purely selfish reasons). But even if they're not, I agree with you; if more people are riding bicycles, that's great. I figured out awhile ago that those in charge of allocating funding for cycling infrastructure don't look at the kinds of bicycles people riding, just the number of bicycles being used. Around here, if current infrastructure isn't used, more won't be built.

  2. I agree with you! Is the bike pretty? Well, that's about as subjective as you can get? It's like asking if a band is good.. or if you like a particular food.

    It's very unintelligent for people to argue against a bike as a whole when it encourages more cycling. More cycling is a win.

    And until the US Bike Industrials come up with something more practical and more desirable, the market will seek out what is available.

    It doesn't matter what bike you ride as long as you ride the bike you like.

    BTW, the Schwinn and the crate are pretty cool!

  3. Cycling has been a fringe element for a long time, especially in NYC. The model that has been used for over a decade is that of the hard, edgy, urban punk that lives on the gritty edge. There has never been a desire from them for the mainstream to be a part of 'it'. There is going to be a lot of kicking and complaining from those who find identity in exclusion.

    While those growing pains get loud and silly, the rest of us should just get on with it. It does not matter if there are those that ridicule how cycling is evolving, it only matters that it does.

  4. To me, "it" is "vintage". Part of the reason is that I'm a gadget curmudgeon. I like old, mechanical, useful things, and bicycles are old and mechanical as they get. A family portrait of my regular riders represents four decades- the 1960s, 70s 80s & 90s. Fiddling with them is half the fun.

  5. I feel ya,Thom,and agree with your message 100%!

    I have "friends" that carpool with me when we ride one certain park's trails (too far to ride to),and this time of year,we commonly pass bike tourers from as far away as the left coast (I'm told). It thrills me to see them,and I toot the horn,thumbs-up and/or wave at each one (and stop to talk if feasable).

    My oldest friend always gets this disgusted look on his face and says something like "What are you doing??? They're not like us! We're hardcore mtn bikers,they're not!" (he says just minutes before he's struggling to keep pace up every technical climb there =/). I've explained to him till blue in the face,that we're all brothers and sisters of the spoke,we're all cyclists,and that...sigh...some people just aren't capable of getting it,they need they sarcasm and distaste to make them feel better,I suppose.



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