Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Follow up on Ride on Washington

I posted last week on the sendoff for the Ride on Washington, which I just happened to stumble across.

I just read an article about their arrival in DC, and about the focus of the ride, which I thought was especially interesting given my initial reaction.  My thought at the time was that the kitted group was a little unrepresentative of average cyclists  And I had questions about advocacy which presents only a stereotypical image of cyclists as super fit racers to policy makers who might have complicated reactions to that stereotype.

Interestingly, what I missed from my skimming of the ride's website, was that the idea behind the ride was to try to motivate roadies to have more of an activist voice.  The Bike Portland article makes the point that stereotypically roadie culture tends to be apolitical, and less involved than commuter culture in advocacy for better infrastructure.  Take the fictional example of the divergent views of Joe (roadie) and Yehuda (commuter) at the Kickstand Cyclery cartoon.

Instead of presenting themselves as advocates to the larger public, the point was for the ride to be elite athletes from the sport side of bicycling to raise awareness of advocacy issues within their community.

I wonder why there's such a divide between roadie culture attitudes towards advocacy, and commuter culture attitudes?  Is it about sport/ transport?   Is it a rural-suburban vs urban divide?  Is it about speed and the feeling that high speed long distance biking is independent of bike infrastructure?  Do commuters feel more entitled to demand infrastructure because their ability to do everyday tasks like work and grocery shop is impacted by it?

Anyway, I felt that the article really reframed my perspective, and made me think about some of the opportunities to expand and redefine advocacy.


  1. I'll give you my thoughts on the different attitudes between sport riders and commuters. Obviously, others will find themselves in different circumstances and will have differing opinions.

    During the week, I'm a commuter (albiet one who wears spandex due to the volume of sweat I generate!). As a commuter, I'm concerned about traffic, safety, drivers reactions, and the generally slothful actions of fellow cyclists. Because I'm concerned, I would consider myself an advocate.

    On the weekends, however, I'm most often out in the country on low traffic roads on my road bike. I see a lot more cattle than cars and people. I feel no traffic pressure, don't feel threatened in any way, and am generally at peace with the world. To someone who only rides in that environment, the issues that are near and dear to me as a commuter are a world away.

    There's a quote by Tim Johnson in that article that ends with, "but really, we're just riding bikes." That's my bridge between my sport riding and commuting. I just want to ride my bike as much as possible, thus I live in both worlds.

  2. Do people who are not cyclists really see roadie sport cyclists as a "stereotypical" representation of all cyclists? I'd guess if you asked, most people would first think of the fixie-riding hipster with a messenger bag that just blew by them at the red light. Going the wrong way. After that, they probably would think of a 12-year-old on a Schwinn.

  3. I think it really depends on where you are. In Boston maybe it's the fixie hipster, but in less urban areas or where I grew up in the midwest, I think it's much more likely to be sport cyclists.

  4. I have long disbelieved, that one can put their thumb on who or what the "stereotypical cyclist" is. For some it's the poseur messenger, for others it's the roadie, for others still it's the super visible uber-commuter. For many, it's just a scapegoat image of whatever annoys them and perhaps make one feel that if just "those people" would get it and behave then cyclists wouldn't have a bad name.

    Personally, I think that you're on a generally accurate track with your analysis. In my experience many sport riders are aware of the issues, but aren't directly impacted by them. Those who live in the city will drive to suburban meetup points to start their weekend rides, insulating them from the hazards and perils of navigating urban traffic. More than a few do bike commute (I know two of the riders who are involved in the Boston contingent of Ride on Washington and they're both car-free cyclocross racers who live in the city and bike commute year round) but those who do year-round commuting still seem to be an anomaly within the culture.

    For many, it's a sport like golf, and getting involved in cycling advocacy issues would be like asking a golfer to get involved in local conservation issues to ensure that their favorite course doesn't get eroded by a deforested watershed. Some will step up and see the connection and put their passion into it as an extension of their love for the sport. Others will just write a check and hope that it helps fix the problem.

  5. I avoid advocacy. Deliberately. Cycling is not political, but advocates are. I ride every day, in all conditions. I will not repeat my experiences with advocates, but those experiences do not incline me to join their ranks, even though some are very nice people personally.