Friday, January 28, 2011

Bikes in the media- digital and dead tree

I had an interesting exchange in the digital media recently.

There was a story on Universal Hub,  a local news aggregator about delays in bus service due to the cold and snow.  The original story was a lament from an unfortunate bus rider, who was waiting for 40 minutes for a bus in the 14 degree temps, and not happy about it.  She mentioned that it was 3 miles to work,  and several people commented that she could easily bike 3 miles.  (whether she would want to on a snowy frigid day is another question entirely)

Someone posted an inquiry about riding to work, saying that he'd done it in his grad school days, but didn't want to show up at work sweaty and dishevelled, and actually asked for advice, so perhaps naively I gave him some.  
I posted about my typical commute, gear and clothing, and pointed him to some sites that feature transportational cycling in normal clothing.   I said that I go slow, and that I don't get sweaty or gross.
And that hijacked the post completely.   

First someone posted to tell me  that I was stinky and that people talk about me behind my back.  This obviously got me mad, and I replied that I most definitely was NOT stinky! Someone else chimed in to say that if you ride 3 miles you definitely need to shower.  I  said- come on- unless you're sprinting, there's no way you need to shower, people are thinking that this is harder than it actually is.  

I was feeling pretty put upon- like everyone was attacking me online.  After a short period though, others started to chime in- to say they have a co-worker who bikes in and doesn't smell.  To say that they bike and don't smell, to say that biking is safe and fun and simple. So many general online forums are so full of anti- bike vitriol,  so it was nice to feel that despite the initial hassling, there was a community of bikers, even on a site not dedicated to biking.

In a less digital medium, I'm just read "No History", a recent book by William Gibson,  the father of cyberpunk.  This book is more of a thriller about corporate espionage and a caper gone wrong.  The subtext for most of it  is marketing and branding, and how iconic certain ideosyncratic brands are.  A character wears a International Klein Blue suit for example.  I perked up when a character need to build a "getaway" bike,  and starts with a Hetchins frame, and is going on about the curly lugwork (although he calls them "curly stays", which might be a British locution).   It's true that knowing some  of these niche brands makes you feel a kinship with someone else who knows about them, because they're both interesting and relatively unknown, so the other person must have some specialized knowledge of the subject if they're familiar with them.  It's like a secret handshake that we're in the same group.


  1. Re Hetchins and "curly stays" he is referring to the chainstays - which were literally curly, or "vibrant", as opposed to straight.

  2. The online debates regarding cycling and clothing... I am not even going to respond about the "smelling" thing, those comments are just meant to provoke and make you feel bad. Face it: What you/we do is unusual, not only among the population at large, but even among cyclists themselves, and people criticise what they don't understand and haven't experienced themselves. I remember when you left a comment on Boston Biker simply describing what you wore while cycling to work on a random winter day, and several people (cyclists!) responded by accusing you of being smug, or something like that - presumably, because they perceive dressing anywhere close to "normally' in the winter to be impossible. It's insane, but the response seems pretty typical.

  3. Actually, after the initial attacks, I was pretty pleased that there was an online community who were supportive

  4. My commute to work is about 3 miles. I can walk it in 45 minutes; there's no way I'd wait that long for a bus. In fact, that's what I did yesterday--when I went out, the streets were still not cleared, plows were still out, and I didn't feel like dodging them the whole way.

    People being nasty on the Internet? When did that start?

    Velouria--"because they perceive dressing anywhere close to "normally' in the winter to be impossible" Really? That seems odd to me, since the I'd say that most--by a large margin--of the other bike commuters I see on the way to work are dressed in normal street clothes, both in summer and winter. Now it may be that people who are actually out riding around aren't commenting about it on forums, leaving them to the "serious" roadies who have put their bikes away for the winter.

  5. Moopheus,

    I think that the percentage of people dressed normally drops on days like today- partly because the weather is gnarlier (lots of sludge) and partly because a lot of people who dress normally on bikes, also walk and T, and don't feel compelled to ride in adverse conditions.

    FWIW I think that the percentage of normally dressed people is higher on the Cambridge/ Somerville side of the river than the Boston side.

  6. Ugh--I saw that exchange on UH but a bit late to jump in. UH is generally a great site, but sometimes it attracts a few knuckleheads. For a comparison read ANY comments on bike topics or almost Anthony on the Globe or Herald sites--there are an incredibly number of predictably oafish, nasty-minded people who seem to post the same stuff again and again (variations of a. Damn hippies! B it's Obama's fault and c. Get off my lawn. I thought you responded with admirable restraint.

    The biking and sweating thing is ridiculous. Most of us know when we need a shower or when we don't but the very idea that someone couldn't bike for three miles without being drenched in perspiration is silly. Maybe it speaks more to the fitness level of the poster--maybe they break out in a sweat every time they climb the basement stairs?

  7. wow. I went and looked for your Universal Hub thing, and well, wow. That's a lot of people being nasty and superior to each other (not you). I laughed out loud at the comments on bulldozing to make parking lots and the lessons of the 60s. But wow, do they go on and on, and did it ever get personal. I'm just surprised that many people are sitting around posting stuff (says hypocrite right here).
    Anyway, that was sucky. Your comment was nicely put and didn't deserve to be bashed.
    ...and (gasp...yikes) now I'm worried I've been smelly for the last 6 months. No one has said anything... but maybe everyone in Japan just thought foreigners smelled all the time.
    I'm not surviving this winter biking thing well as it is. Help....