For Bike to Work Week, the Cascade Bicycle Club made up this short film about a person who has previously been a “wannabe cyclist” becoming a full-fledged “bicycle commuter.”
It details the appropriate safety gear and clothing she will need, how she will need to pack water, energy bars, extra clothing above her “cycling clothing” depending on the weather, and how she probably shouldn’t ride on the freeway. Then finally it shows how she needs to safety-check her bicycle every time she rides, using a clever acronym, and finally, after much deliberation, is ready to actually get on it and go somewhere.
The first issue I have with all this Bike To Work Week business is actually not specifically related to cycling at all, but more to American culture in general – reinforcing the idea that a 9-5 job, “real” work, is the important part of your life, it’s your most important destination, it’s the place you should ride your bike to, whatever. Our lives are so centered around work that we often neglect the rest of our lives, give up what we would really love to do to have “real” work, and we culturally see people who don’t hold traditional jobs as inferior or unable to make it in the real world, lazy, pretentious, etc.
That issue aside, for many people, the distance to work is one of the farthest distances they go on a regular basis – and things like coffee shops, grocery stores or neighborhood parks are much closer to where they live. I don’t live all that far from work (about 5 miles), but it is easily the farthest thing from home that I go to on a regular basis. I’m not sure that encouraging a person who hasn’t ridden a bicycle, or not since childhood, to start off by riding to work is necessarily a good idea; especially in a society where many people have intentionally moved away from work by moving farther and farther out into suburban areas.
Now, on to this video, and for another good example, the League of American Bicyclists’ Bike to Work Week Brochure:
Both of these pieces of media detail all the special things you’ll need to wear or take with you in order to ride a bicycle. The last time I looked around in Portland, most people, when going to work or to the grocery store, or to the library, don’t treat it like an expedition. If you walk to work, you probably don’t carry a water bottle and an energy bar with you, in case you almost die of thirst or hunger before you get there. The League of American Bicyclists’ brochure even goes as far as suggesting shorts with padded chamois liner, moisture-wicking fabrics, etc. Only once you are “geared up,” as it says, should you hit the road.
Honestly, if I really felt all of that was necessary, I would be done at this point. I would rather walk 2 miles than ride it if all of that is necessary to get on a bike; and I’m not saying that flippantly, I actually mean it. I also find it ironic that the League of American Bicyclists’ brochure goes on to say that if you can walk a mile, you can ride 5 (implying that cycling is less-intensive than walking) – and yet you need water and an energy bar?
Under the “rules of the road,” the League of American Bicyclists’ brochure talks about wearing high-visibility, reflective clothing along with signalling and following stop lights and stop signs, which implies that at least in some places, it is legally required to wear such things in order to ride a bicycle (I’m not aware of anywhere this is actually the case).
They also recommend counting the number of times your knee comes up while pedaling so you can make sure that you’re “spinning” at the “correct” rate – dictating the type of riding you should be doing (I’m pretty sure I’m not spinning at the correct rate most of the time, though I never thought to check, I just pedal at a comfortable pace).
The League of American Bicyclists’ brochure recommends re-hydrating every 10-15 minutes, as you apparently will lose a lot of needed water by sweating and then having it evaporated away by the constant airflow. My suggestion is, if you need to re-hydrate every 10 minutes, you probably need to slow down.
I’m sure that the League of American Bicyclists and the Cascade Bicycle Club mean well in putting out this kind of promotional material, but it is clear that they view cycling as a sporting activity first, which can incidentally sometimes be done when going to a specific destination, and it seems very much like they are trying to recruit people into a club (and after all, one of them is a club).
From my own experience, while people do like being a part of a group, unless they are interested in an activity for its own sake (and not as a means for something else, like getting somewhere), they are probably not interested in a club. Also, when it comes to vehicles, most people are just trying to get from point A to point B simply and easily, unless they are specifically participating in a sporting or recreational event.
This is a large part of why I think this kind of campaign really misses the mark, and misrepresents cycling for transportation, which can be very simple, easy, convenient, and not this mass of readiness and preparation and worry and strenuous activity and a huge checklist before you even get on the bike. It can be as simple as walk out the door, get on, start pedaling.
As a bit of a side note, Velouria of Lovely Bicycle!, Matt DeBlass of Bicycles, Books and Bowties and I are collaborating on our own “Guide to Cycling for Transportation” booklet, which we will be happy to share online once it’s finished, and you may even find in print, if you are lucky enough :) More on that once we’re done, or more nearly so.
What do you think about the kind of “bike commuter” advocacy shown in the examples above? Do you think it’s helpful, harmful, doesn’t matter? What do you think is the best way to present cycling as a feasible means of transportation for the average person?