TCI Friday

There was a time in my cycling life when I wanted to burrow as deep into the culture as I could, the inside jokes, the inside knowledge, looking just right, knowing all the etiquette, learning the history. Now I find myself wanting to burrow my way out again.

Hear me out.

The world looks different to me now. Back then the city streets were minefields of moving cars, oblivious pedestrians and poorly timed lights. Now there are bike lanes and even bike lights. Back then being a cyclist was a statement. Now it’s how you get around. I know. I know. It was likely always both, and I’m the one changing. That’s the point, I guess.

Now when I pull up at an intersection I see MAMILs (Middle Aged Men in Lycra) but also families, and young people just out riding around (FOR FUN!), and I see that the “hardcore” cyclist may have had their time in the sun, and now we can move on. The person I so wanted to be was repellent to the masses, a good reason not to ride a bike.

Now, I don’t buy into that view. There is room for everyone. It’s just that, in the ’90s and early ’00s, the hardcore didn’t make much room for everyone else. The dominant cycling culture was one of expensive bikes and tight, tight kits. I don’t recall how many people said to me, when I asked them if they rode bikes, “Well, yeah, but not like you.”

And I thought, what does that mean?

But what it meant was that, through some accident of group think, people who didn’t take riding a bike super seriously felt somehow inferior to those of us who desperately wanted to be part of whatever that in-group was, the real cyclists. Now I look at the bikes streaming by and smell the bullshit in how I used to view the cyclo-verse.

I got an email from the League of American Bicyclists the other day, and it was titled: EVERY BODY is a cycling body, EVERY BIKE is the best bike. It’s a long time since I read something that so succinctly expressed what I think about riding bikes.

What I say to people when they give me the, “Yeah, I ride, but not like you,” line, is: How do you think I ride? I’m pretty sure you ride just exactly the way I do. And that’s not false modesty, it’s an effort to make room for them in this big tent we have. TCI’s tagline is: “If you ride a bike you’re one of us,” but I’d go a step further, “If you ride a bike you’re one of us. If you don’t ride yet, we’re here for you.”

This week’s TCIF aks, what sorts of things do you do to grow the party? What could you do that you haven’t started yet? Is it even incumbent on us, who have been doing this for a while, to bring new people in? I was tempted there to say “into the sport,” but calling it a sport probably narrows it too much. What do you think?

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  1. tommilani says

    When my wife and I are on our tandem, we wave at all the little kids we see and try to be friendly in general. A car we stop for is maybe one less driver who hates cyclists. A kid who waves back is maybe a future cyclist.
    Tom Milani
    Alexandria, VA

  2. bluezurich says

    Wave. Wave and say “Hi” to all cyclists. Especially the marginalized. True, the fast white guys on plastic sleds can’t be bothered to give you an OYL (maybe were never taught to) But recognizing those who aren’t the typical rider who are out there, doing it, perhaps defying all odds and stereotypes, give them kudos.

  3. khal spencer says

    I am now an Old Aged Man in Lycra** (OAMIL), but say hello to everybody, slow down when passing pedestrians on a multiuse trail, and try to make cycling inclusive. Saw a bunch of people on e-Bikes on the Rail Trail yesterday. Stopped to say hello and talked to the ride leader, who was actually a tourist guide running an e-Bike tour through the city. Thanked them for enjoying our trail system and our downtown.


    Had my own epiphany a while ago. I tend to be a policy geek. Helped write the first Honolulu bike plan that was supposed to make sure anyone would be comfy on a bike. Then wrote the bike plan for Los Alamos and was the guy with the most political cuts and bruises finally getting a complete streets policy adopted by the Los Alamos County Council. Then we wrote a new bike plan designed to be a “bike plan for the people” so to speak. Now I’m vice chair of the Santa Fe Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee.

    Part of the reason the U.S. never had an inclusive bike culture like Europe is we design our cities and suburbs to make bicycling hostile, so the only people who ride are the odd person who chooses to be car-free and the lycra crowd so of course that can be offputting as it is either elitist or geeky. I started adult riding when I was burning my health out in grad school and needed to get some exercise. I had banished my first nice bike, a Sears single speed, to the roof of my parent’s garage and got a motorcycle when I turned 18 and I worshiped at The Church of Internal Combustion. Anyway, after gaining weight and getting sedentary, I borrowed a friend’s bike and started riding the 11 miles to the university in a t-shirt and cutoff shorts. There were no bike lanes in eastern Long Island. Got hit by a car. Kept riding. Later I got into the lycra gig.

    Bicycling will be inclusive when as a society of planners, engineers, designers, and as a society, we make it welcoming to all and stop treating a bicycle as something people do when they don’t have the spare change for gasoline. I see it happening, actually, just as you do. Its a good thing.

  4. TominAlbany says

    I wave to EVERYONE! Especially kids! I downplay what I’ve done on a bike because that’s not the point. The point is, more people on bikes!

  5. Dan Murphy says

    OK, I’ll admit something: I used to be a bike snob. There, I said it. I used to look down at pedestrian bikes, for whatever reason. Yes, I was a jerk, and I’ll leave it at that.

    I’ve grown up, and now I welcome everybody. If someone is out on a bike, that’s a good thing. I encourage anybody and everybody to get out there, use what ya got. I’ve been involved in advocacy. For years while I was working, I bought a kids bike every year for Christmas and just loved the thought of a kid I don’t even know getting a bike.

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