Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Two Types of Cyclists...Or, I'm an Evil, Militant Cyclist: The Dangers of a False Dichotomy

What could be more militant and fascist than proclaiming a false dichotomy of cyclists in the world of "militant" vs. "civil" cyclists and then essentially saying if you are not a "civil" cyclist your are bad?  Such is the ongoing case from the Cycle Chic movement, and in this recent piece from Hush Magazine out of Canada.

I appreciate that the style mavens out of the chic movement get more play in fashion magazines which is a good thing.  People should be willing to hop on a bike in whatever street clothes they have on to ride somewhere.  But that's not the whole story.

There are all sorts of things that make riding a bicycle an enjoyable past time and one of them is embracing the many types of riding out there.  Bicycles can be tools for enjoying many types of outdoor recreation and transportation, from touring, to coffee runs, to nights on the town, to racing, to commuting, to mountain biking, to errand running.  

I can point to my own progression in Reno as a commuting cyclist.  A few years back my commute to school was a 24 mile round trip that began around 6 a.m., often in the dark, during the coolest part of the day, and finished around 4 p.m. during the warmest time of day in the high desert.  Apparently the Chic movement would begrudge me wearing tech clothing for comfort and enjoyability of the ride and because I didn't where street clothes...I am an evil, militant, cyclist.

When I switched schools and dropped to a 15 mile round trip I looked forward to embracing a bit more street clothing into my riding gear if only because it would take less time to change before work.   But I soon discovered that the mile long hill at the end of my early morning ride was far too steep and I was always excessively sweaty for street clothing.  So I reintegrated my nice wool "tech" gear into my commute.  Apparently that also makes me an evil, militant, cyclist.

In the last year or so at my new school with its flat 10 mile round trip commute, I have opted for more street clothes during the milder parts of the year.  I even thought about using simple platform pedals on the main commute bike I recently purchased.  But what I soon noticed was that I was still changing shoes at the end of my morning ride because my nice dress shoes weren't particularly safe and were being unduly worn by my biking conditions.  If I was going to change shoes anyway I figured I might as well put clipless pedals on the bike and use my biking shoes.  Once again, I'm now an evil, militant, cyclist.

How sad is it that I'm not allowed my own degree of expertise after over 20 years of commuting to decide what works for me as a cyclist because the Chic movement says there is a right way and a wrong way to ride bikes.  And if I decide not to dress like I'm rolling off the pages of Vogue or GQ because of my judgement about what works best in my climate and terrain, I am the one according to their rhetoric who is being "militant."  I believe we would call that the Pot calling the Kettle, Black.

Excerpt from the article:

There are two types of cyclists in the world: militant cyclists and civil cyclists, as pointed out by Copenhagen’s Bicycle Program Manager, Andreas Røhl. If you’ve spent any time on two wheels in our fair city, you’ll recognize the undeniable fact that Vancouver is dominated by the former: Gore-Tex clad Super-Dads, hunched over mountain bikes decked with “One Less Car” stickers, pedaling like maniacs with scowls on their faces. They are an unfortunate product of their environment, which contained some of the most historically unfavourable conditions in North America: inadequate and unsafe bike infrastructure, an incredibly wet climate, an unforgiving terrain, a misguided mandatory helmet law, and a MEC-mentality that pervades everything we seem to do outdoors.

The slow-moving, smartly-dressed civil cyclist is a rare species in Vancouver, but that is changing incrementally, as attitudes and conditions around cycling improve. Not driven by politics, people are choosing practicality and accessibility; rather than saving the environment, they are merely embracing the humble bicycle as a graceful, elegant, and dignified way to move around the city. This simple idea was the genesis of the Cycle Chic Movement: when Mikael Colville-Andersen, a Danish-Canadian filmmaker, began photographing Copenhageners as they made their everyday, two-wheeled travels around their city. Over the past six years, these modest photographs have spawned a global game-changer: a manifesto-based republic of a hundred blogs worldwide, inspiring people to think differently about their bikes. To quote a dear friend: “Cycle Chic and their content inspired me to give up aspirations to spend loads of money I didn’t have on cycling gear, and remember what I used to ride in as a child: my regular clothes.”

In an intriguing turn of events, the Critical Mass demonstrations around the world are gradually handing over the reins to the Cycle Chic Movement. The local council in Budapest, for example, recently cancelled their semi-annual Critical Mass event (which was the largest in the world, attracting upwards of 80,000 participants). Explaining the cancellation in an official statement, they first acknowledged the role that Critical Mass played in transforming Budapest into Eastern Europe’s most cycle-friendly city. More importantly, they went on to recognize the fact that “even more powerful new engines have emerged: the Cycle Chic Movement, which is successful in increasing ridership and breaking down stereotypes with greater visual impact in the city.” This is Bicycle Culture 2.0: the transition from a militant bike culture to a slower, simpler, more civilized one.


Danny G said...

Two small comments:

-One time I bought a pair of nice leather dress shoes, and noticed that they were too slippery to walk on stairs or dance or ride my bike, so I simply got them resoled with rubber. It was a practical upgrade.

- Don't worry about choosing either technical-oriented spandex cycling or fashion-oriented chic cycling. Most people will choose something in the middle. People on the extremes are just looking for attention.

Anonymous said...

I totally agree that there's room for many types of cyclists! I like to ride in dresses for things like meeting friends for a glass of wine or going for coffee. I also ride a really fast ride once a week with a bunch of guys on fixed gears - about 20 miles averaging around 20 mph, and I *really* like my spandex padded shorts for the times I hit the potholes on my single speed. I think the problem where I live is that the city (Phoenix, AZ) is not really set up for leisurely riding..the city lacks bike lanes and infrastructure, and the drivers treat streets like freeways. Unfortunately, here many of the spandex crew identify more with the vehicular cycling movement, and are not in favor of things like protected bike lanes, even just bike lanes, or cycle tracks. I think this really discourages ridership among those who would be more inclined to do more leisurely riding.

I also read the article in Hush, and found it a bit off-putting. Reducing everyone in gear who likes to ride fast to a "militant cyclist" does nothing to move the cause forward. But I think the issue of gear certainly speaks to the diversity of riders, which also speaks to how city transportation departments will respond in terms of implementing infrastructure. If there is a vocal vehicular cycling movement (as there is here), efforts to implement such infrastructure may be stymied by this voice.

I hope the different groups are able to put aside differences and recognize that we are all working toward a common goal, and that there needs to be room for multiple voices in this conversation! Thanks for the great piece!!

Khal said...

I don't think there is a common goal among all cyclists just as there is not a common goal among political parties. There are indeed different points of view and different clienteles, i.e., vehicular cycling vs. the infrastructure movement, mountain bikers, urban commuters, hipsters, etc. Reducing our differences to whether one is wearing kit or not misses the point.

I know quite a few cyclists through the years who will drive to a nice place to start a ride and ride on quiet or rural streets, but who will not bike to work unless there are protective facilities in the urban core. Let's not concentrate on the wrong things. Its quite possible to support vehicular cycling where it makes sense, such as in rural/suburban or well designed "grid" layout cities while at the same time supporting infrastructure where it is desperately needed.

If there is a common goal, its to understand each others point of view and discuss these things rationally rather than shoot from the hip.

Anonymous said...

I think the common goal among cyclists is that they love to ride bicycles and want to do so safely. No need to create an argument/be crabby when it isn't necessary.