Our Bigoted Bicycles

 

I read the Times for the same reason I stare down from the top of tall buildings: Terrified fascination at what might come next. Here is a case in point:

But two years in, Citi Bike’s inroads have been decidedly uneven, with men far outnumbering women in using the bike-sharing system. A little time on Eighth Avenue on a recent morning, watching the stream of Citi Bike riders heading north past Pennsylvania Station and toward Times Square, was instructive. Man after man pedaled by, some in suits, others in jeans. From time to time, a woman on a Citi Bike rode by.

For the bike service, that is a problem.

It would be easy to dismiss this story for its very New Yorkish insularity. One of the petty obsessions of a self-conscious elite that have little impact on ordinary life. Yet it’s exactly these sorts of ideas that have a tendency to creep into daily life. Across the continent, in suburbs and medium sized cities, there are self-conscious petty elites eager to ape the manners of their Manhattan social superiors.

Biking in dense urban traffic is mostly an upper-middle-class affectation, something done to express simultaneous contempt for the private automobile and the humble bus and subway. There is the thin excuse that biking is healthy. It certainly is in areas with little traffic and clean air. It’s something of a stretch to argue that inhaling big gulps of heavily polluted downtown air, all the while dodging inattentive motorists, is an inherently healthy activity.

I’m old enough to remember seeing stock footage of Chinese cities before Deng’s great reforms. Every news story from that time was accompanied by the cliched image of thousands of Chinese riding around on bicycles. The general impression was of a lot of very poor people who couldn’t afford cars. Further proof, to any who needed it, that communism sucked. This was because way back in that distant epoch known as the 1980s seeing a cyclist in the downtown of a North American city was rare.

On spotting a two-wheeled unicorn the natural assumption was that the fellow was too young or too poor to afford a car or a bus pass. That adults with money, even a little bit, would willingly risk their necks in heavy rush-hour traffic was seen as madness. If people were looking for exercise there were things called gyms and stationary bikes. If getting from point A to B cheaply was the main issue there were slow but mostly safe buses.

Then came the environmental movement of the 1990s. The internal combustion engine was allegedly destroying the planet. Those of enlightened moral conscience were duty bound to oppose it wherever possible. The science of human-driven global warming was dicey then and hasn’t become any more plausible in the quarter century since. That hardly matters. The human need for belonging and transcendence, which traditionally has been expressed through religion, found its way into a sort of vulgate environmentalism.

This Greenista creed has naturally developed its own rituals. Over time it acquired a reflexive admiration for a limited form of asceticism. Thus the fascination with economically nonsensical activities like recycling and urban biking. In this light cycling has a particularly spiritual aspect. Any fat slob can sort trash. It takes a dedicated individual to sweat, swerve and cycle for the greater glory of Gaia. There is that special elevation that is felt in having suffered for your cause. That as a practical matter cycling impedes the flow of traffic, arguably generating more net pollution, is neither here nor there.

Think of the Left’s vision not as a practical program, which it is not, but as a vast vanity project for those comfortably divorced from reality. The Greenista creed has little appeal to those employed in farming, mining, oil extraction, manufacturing or the various trades. The Greenista is overwhelming a service worker, typically at the higher end of the income spectrum. They are those who do not sow, reap or build anything. Someone for whom things appears in stores to be purchased; the origin of those things attracting only a passing curiosity.

From that moral universe it makes perfect sense to worry about whether urban cyclists are showing the correct gender balance. Cycling isn’t about health, wealth or any practical value. It is about a peculiar form of moral vanity. The need to feel superior and moral without under taking any serious restraints or hardships in life. Others have died for their faith. The Greenista has the luxury of nagging, regulating and tweeting about social trivia.

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  1. Bryan G. Stephens Thatcher
    Bryan G. Stephens
    @BryanGStephens

    As a driver, bikers just get in the way. As a Walker, they are more scary to me than cars.

    • #1
  2. Western Chauvinist Member
    Western Chauvinist
    @WesternChauvinist

    Thank you for this, RA. It has given me new compassion for my enviro-nutty friends. They’re desperately seeking God/meaning in such shallow activities as bicycling and recycling. All tied up in their sad little loops.

    • #2
  3. Guruforhire Member
    Guruforhire
    @Guruforhire

    I think their underlying point about what a lack of female ridership says about how their business and products are perceived in the market is fundamentally sound.

    Not everything dealing with a gender disparity is inherantly suspect.

    • #3
  4. Julia PA Member
    Julia PA
    @JulesPA

    Only in New York, from the article:

    Tammy Fisher, 35, an eyebrow specialist, rides a Citi Bike to her job in the West Village almost every day.

    • #4
  5. Susan in Seattle Member
    Susan in Seattle
    @SusaninSeattle

    Reluctant yet compelled to comment.  I often ride my bike to work: my office is a mile and a half away.  I do so when I don’t have time to walk.  Not out of any greeny, superior position but convenience and economy.  Parking in Seattle is hard to find, quite expensive, and the meter readers are predatory; the bus system is good and reliable yet also expensive for the short trip.  I do, however, stay off the main drags and take the side streets because as a driver, I know what it’s like to dodge the bicyclers.

    • #5
  6. Tom Meyer Contributor
    Tom Meyer
    @tommeyer

    Richard Anderson: From that moral universe it makes perfect sense to worry about whether urban cyclists are showing the correct gender balance. Cycling isn’t about health, wealth or any practical value. It is about a peculiar form of moral vanity.

    It often is when you get pols involved or some cycling advocates.

    But as someone who uses Boston’s equivalent of Citi Bike, I’d like to second its being both convenient and fun. And as comes up in these threads all the time, most of the problems stem from a combination of over-entitled cyclists (the kind of thing Susan admirably works not to be), over-entitled drivers, and poor road design.

    • #6
  7. Tom Meyer Contributor
    Tom Meyer
    @tommeyer

    What’s really great about ride share bikes is that it means you neither have to worry about locking your bike up, nor how to bring it into town. If I could just figure out a more convenient way to carry a helmet in, I’d use it more often.

    • #7
  8. Ricochet Inactive
    Ricochet
    @SoDakBoy

    Well, I enjoy biking and do it for enjoyment, not out of a sense of contempt for cars/buses (though I don’t disagree that that’s a big motivator for a lot of the population).

    I mostly drive now, but I don’t mind the bikers as long as they meet two criteria.

    1. Obey traffic rules unless no traffic is present.

    2. Don’t wear special biking clothes.

    • #8
  9. Tom Meyer Contributor
    Tom Meyer
    @tommeyer

    SoDakBoy: 2. Don’t wear special biking clothes.

    Sir, cycling clothes are very comfortable. Do they look ridiculous? Of course. Small price to pay.

    • #9
  10. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    Tom Meyer, Ed.:

    SoDakBoy: 2. Don’t wear special biking clothes.

    Sir, cycling clothes are very comfortable. Do they look ridiculous? Of course. Small price to pay.

    I don’t do much riding in dense urban areas, but I do a lot of riding, most of it on roads and streets.  I wear civilian clothes, just like for driving my car.   Well, mostly civilian clothes.

    For rides of over 30 miles I wear cycling undershorts, else I won’t feel much like riding again until the rawness heals.  I have made the mistake of riding over 90 miles in regular undershorts on a day that got up to 90F, which is what keeps me from doing stuff like that again.

    And for headwear, I wear a sort of do-rag from Headsweats underneath a French imperialist-style pith helmet that I’ve converted into a bicycle helmet, by attaching the strap system from a regular helmet.  My helmet doesn’t meet any ANSI standards, and it’s not streamlined, but it keeps my head cool and protects from the sun.   Also, it makes it easy to say, “Yeah, that was me,” when somebody later asks about the weird-looking bicyclist they saw wearing some kind of wide-brimmed hat.

    • #10
  11. Ricochet Inactive
    Ricochet
    @RichardHarvester

    I am an avid bicyclist. I lived in Oregon and biked 9 miles to work each way – in all weather. After I left that position, I biked to the top of our local ridge on a daily basis. It has done wonders for my health – I am in far better shape at 39 than I was at 25. It is also pretty cheap and convenient.

    Now I live in Israel and my family doesn’t even own a car. We have 7 bicycles. Not quite as convenient – but a heck of a lot cheaper.

    Just to make sure people don’t get the wrong idea I have a variety of bumper stickers for my two wheeled vehicle. My most relevant for this crowd is: “My rear-end puts out more CO2 than your Prius”

    It isn’t quite true, but my rear end does put out more greenhouse gases than the a single rear-end of two people in Priuses. Nonetheless, it makes the point :)

    • #11
  12. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    Back in 1980 I proposed a ride-sharing system for my workplace — a rural, off-campus university campus that covered a few thousand acres of land.  One of my supervisors suggested I do just that, and he would send me with money to buy a bunch of bicycles from those that had not been reclaimed after the police on the main campus impounded them.

    Well, he misunderstood.  I didn’t want to do it myself. I wanted somebody else to do all the hard work.

    And then I got away from bicycling and didn’t start again until the early 90s when the kids were older.

    • #12
  13. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor
    Midget Faded Rattlesnake
    @Midge

    Tom Meyer, Ed.:

    Richard Anderson: From that moral universe it makes perfect sense to worry about whether urban cyclists are showing the correct gender balance. Cycling isn’t about health, wealth or any practical value. It is about a peculiar form of moral vanity.

    It often is when you get pols involved or some cycling advocates.

    But as someone who uses Boston’s equivalent of Citi Bike, I’d like to second its being both convenient and fun.

    Yeah. The guys I know who cycle (or scoot) to work do it because it’s fun. Cycling in traffic, in particular, is an adrenaline rush – as one guy put it, one of the few ways left for a citified guy to flirt with danger without actually being mugged.

    Plenty of conservatives like to bewail the “safety cocoon” that modern society has become, and especially the cocoon’s deleterious effects on men. Well, biking in traffic is one way of stepping out of that cocoon. Should we even be surprised that guys disproportionately enjoy it?

    • #13
  14. Retail Lawyer Member
    Retail Lawyer
    @RetailLawyer

    Richard Anderson:Cyclist Roadway Car

    Cycling isn’t about health, wealth or any practical value. It is about a peculiar form of moral vanity. The need to feel superior and moral without under taking any serious restraints or hardships in life. Others have died for their faith. The Greenista has the luxury of nagging, regulating and tweeting about social trivia.

    Really?  You are going to tell me what cycling is about?  For me, it does have practical value.  It gets me to work faster than any alternative.  Cheaper than any alternative.  And I avoid exposure to the filth, germs, and criminals that characterize San Francisco Muni, so it is healthier for me.  I do feel a little bit superior for doing it, but not from any moral or green standpoint.  I have to understand machines and materials and the patterns of everything that moves in the City, and I have to be very alert to the real world.  It is not for everybody.  Only the superior animal can do this without mishap for 40 years.  I was one of the very few bicyclists that could be seen downtown in the 80s.  And the 70s.  The popularity of bicycling has made it much easier and safer nowadays.

    Regarding BikeShare, I think it is used mostly by women in San Francisco.  It also seems to be very labor and van intensive, and surely is subsidized heavily by something.

    • #14
  15. Susan in Seattle Member
    Susan in Seattle
    @SusaninSeattle

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake:

    Tom Meyer, Ed.:

    Richard Anderson: From that moral universe it makes perfect sense to worry about whether urban cyclists are showing the correct gender balance. Cycling isn’t about health, wealth or any practical value. It is about a peculiar form of moral vanity.

    It often is when you get pols involved or some cycling advocates.

    But as someone who uses Boston’s equivalent of Citi Bike, I’d like to second its being both convenient and fun.

    Yeah. The guys I know who cycle (or scoot) to work do it because it’s fun. Cycling in traffic, in particular, is an adrenaline rush – as one guy put it, one of the few ways left for a citified guy to flirt with danger without actually being mugged.

    That’s one of the reasons I ride to work, too: it’s fun.  (This from a chubby middle-aged chick.)

    • #15
  16. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor
    Midget Faded Rattlesnake
    @Midge

    Susan in Seattle:

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake:

    Tom Meyer, Ed.:

    Richard Anderson: From that moral universe it makes perfect sense to worry about whether urban cyclists are showing the correct gender balance. Cycling isn’t about health, wealth or any practical value. It is about a peculiar form of moral vanity.

    It often is when you get pols involved or some cycling advocates.

    But as someone who uses Boston’s equivalent of Citi Bike, I’d like to second its being both convenient and fun.

    Yeah. The guys I know who cycle (or scoot) to work do it because it’s fun. Cycling in traffic, in particular, is an adrenaline rush – as one guy put it, one of the few ways left for a citified guy to flirt with danger without actually being mugged.

    That’s one of the reasons I ride to work, too: it’s fun. (This from a chubby middle-aged chick.)

    I find biking to get places in low-traffic, almost rural, areas fun, too. But not in congested city traffic. I do not trust myself to be attentive enough, so have never even attempted it. I’ll do other “scary” things for fun, but not that. Everyone is a little different about these things, I suppose.

    • #16
  17. Tom Meyer Contributor
    Tom Meyer
    @tommeyer

    The Reticulator: For rides of over 30 miles I wear cycling undershorts, else I won’t feel much like riding again until the rawness heals.  I have made the mistake of riding over 90 miles in regular undershorts on a day that got up to 90F, which is what keeps me from doing stuff like that again.

    1) Ewww.

    2) Ouch.

    • #17
  18. Gatomal Member
    Gatomal
    @Gatomal

    I love this phrase:”there are self-conscious petty elites eager to ape the manners of their Manhattan social superiors”. Just very well said.

    • #18
  19. Basil Fawlty Member
    Basil Fawlty
    @BasilFawlty

    I’m suspicious of pedalphiles.

    • #19
  20. Pseudodionysius Inactive
    Pseudodionysius
    @Pseudodionysius

    Real men wear a suit of armor and a large draft horse.

    • #20
  21. Eugene Kriegsmann Member
    Eugene Kriegsmann
    @EugeneKriegsmann

    I am retired and live in a rural area. I have been an avid cyclist for more than 50 years. I ride for pleasure, usually about 125 miles a week these days. I wear bike clothes for the simple reason that they are far more comfortable and aerodynamic than other forms of clothing. When I climb mountains I wear clothes specifically designed for that environment and the activities associated with it. What one wears, so long as it doesn’t violate codes of modesty is no one else’s business. Cycling shorts are specifically designed to provide maximum flexibility while padding sensitive areas from a hard seat. Bright colored jerseys increase visibility. Helmets protect the delicate cranium. (A note on that: several years ago while cycling on a bike trail in the Seattle area I came upon a man lying in a heap on the trail. He was not wearing a helmet. He had apparently strayed off the paved trail and hit soft dirt. His front wheel slewed to the left and he fell over. It was very likely a very slow speed crash. However, he hit his head on the asphalt trail and was in deep shock with a severe head injury. Had he been wearing a helmet he would have dusted himself off and gotten back on his bike. He did not survive the accident.)

    • #21
  22. Eugene Kriegsmann Member
    Eugene Kriegsmann
    @EugeneKriegsmann

    I have been fortunate enough to have never been in a serious accident while cycling. I have had a number of close calls due to drivers more interested in their cell phones or in where they had to get to than in the rights of others to use the roads. I obey the rules of the road and expect drivers to do so as well. There are, generally, far more cars on the roads than bicycles and they are far more often guilty of violations of both etiquette and safety than are cyclists.

    I always want to ask drivers who deliberately pass too closely or pass on curve if where they are going and what they will do when they get there is as important as the life of the person they are endangering by their rude and unsafe behavior.

    At the beginning of all of my rides is a descent into the valley below my home. I usually make that descent at near 40 MPH. The speed limit for cars is 30 on that hill, and, yet, I have had any number of drivers shoot by me at speeds far in excess of what I am doing, and make some obscene remark about getting off the road. Tell me, am I doing something wrong?

    • #22
  23. Basil Fawlty Member
    Basil Fawlty
    @BasilFawlty

    Year-round biking is a perineal problem where I live.

    • #23
  24. George Savage Contributor
    George Savage
    @GeorgeSavage

    I started cycling back in the 80s to get to school in downtown Boston and back. The bike was faster than driving or taking mass transit; it was free and time-efficient, with my daily exercise built into commuting time.

    I quickly branched out into long rides throughout New England.

    These days I cycle to work–about 15 miles each way–whenever I don’t have to wear a suit, attend a business dinner or any off-site meetings.

    It’s fun; that’s all.

    • #24
  25. user_358258 Member
    user_358258
    @RandyWebster

    If I were to ride to work, the office would have to have a shower, and I’d need a change of clothes.

    • #25
  26. Eric Hines Inactive
    Eric Hines
    @EricHines

    Richard Anderson: men far outnumbering women in using the bike-sharing system. A little time on Eighth Avenue on a recent morning, watching the stream of Citi Bike riders heading north past Pennsylvania Station and toward Times Square, was instructive. Man after man pedaled by, some in suits, others in jeans. From time to time, a woman on a Citi Bike rode by.

    The  disparate impact knife in the heart of this insanity should be an obvious tool.

    Oh, wait….

    Eric Hines

    • #26
  27. Matty Van Inactive
    Matty Van
    @MattyVan

    I love riding. And I was feeling pretty stupid about it after reading the OP. Glad to to see Ricochet is full of fellow riders. I don’t feel so stupid now.

    • #27
  28. Misthiocracy Member
    Misthiocracy
    @Misthiocracy

    SoDakBoy: I mostly drive now, but I don’t mind the bikers as long as they meet two criteria. 1. …. 2. Don’t wear special biking clothes.

    I prefer it when cyclists wear reflective clothing.

    • #28
  29. Misthiocracy Member
    Misthiocracy
    @Misthiocracy

    Randy Webster:If I were to ride to work, the office would have to have a shower, and I’d need a change of clothes.

    I my town there’s a company advertising stand-up electric scooters around the downtown office buildings, intended for workers who live too close to the office to drive to work, but who also prefer to not get all sweaty cycling to work.

    So far, I haven’t seen anybody in a suit who has actually purchased one of these conveyances.

    Then again, it’s a government town. Only the top executives wear suits, and they often either have access to a shower at work or they get a personal driver.

    • #29
  30. Eric Hines Inactive
    Eric Hines
    @EricHines

    Misthiocracy:

    SoDakBoy: I mostly drive now, but I don’t mind the bikers as long as they meet two criteria. 1. …. 2. Don’t wear special biking clothes.

    I prefer it when cyclists wear reflective clothing.

    I prefer it when bicyclists stay off busy thoroughfares and thoroughfares where they have no hope of keeping up with traffic.  In those roadways they’re a danger to themselves and to the traffic trying desperately to avoid hitting them.

    Eric Hines

    • #30

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