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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