The Best Thing That Could Happen To American Cycling…

Background Reading


Urban Cycling is at that tender age where it wants its “parents” to keep their noses out of their business while still living at home and eating their food. I remember that stage in my development. It never occurred to me that my parents had one scintilla of native intelligence that could approach that which was given to me. Years later I remember reading the words of Mark Twain:

When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years.  – See more at: this location…

It seems like just yesterday that we cyclists were whining at the unfair notion that while being “accepted users” of the nations roadways we were not “intended users“. And suddenly someone says you can not only ride our roadways but we will provide a special lane for your use. And our eyes brighten up and our smiles grow broader and we have a bounce in our step.

I can remember the day when John Kass starting telling us a bit about the reality of becoming “intended users“. As children we get stuff “free“. It never dawned on me that when I got a present from my parents that in a sense I was paying for it too. That present meant that something else was not always immediately available when and where I wanted it.

I Vacuum Copenhagen

I Vacuum Copenhagen

My parents were smart. I had a savings account almost from birth. I got to see and read the balance in that account. My birthday checks were deposited in that passbook account. They were trying to get me to tie together the notion of receiving gifts with a later period in my life when what I would be asking for was going to have to come out of my own pocket (at least partially).

They insisted that I get a paper route. I delivered papers in my neighborhood for years in all sorts of weather. It was an afternoon paper and that meant going out after school and tossing papers. Then on weekends collecting money from the subscribers and turning it in before receiving a cash payment for my services. Part of that money went to pay for lunch at school and the rest went into my savings account. Oh, how I hated that account.

Then in 8th grade I decided to go out for the baseball team. I wanted the Wilson A2000 fielders glove. If memory serves it was fairly expensive and my father thought the purchase too much. But I wanted it. So the bargain was that I pay for half with my paper route earnings and half had to come out of my savings!

Wait a cotton pickin’ moment! Why was I having to pay for it out of my savings. That was my money. My name appeared on the passbook pages and they even knew me at the bank. But when I finished paying for the glove my balance was smaller and that actually made me sad. But I had learned a valuable lesson. Nothing in life is actually free.

Urban Cyclists Are Immature

The television program “Arrested Development” comes to mind when I read the rather petulant thoughts that members of the ChainLink Forum have about having to be part of the real world. Probably the worst thing that ever happened was that government forked over the money for BikeShare and Protected Bike Lane creation without anyone having to ever write a check or without cash from their ATM for the privilege of riding to work on freshly painted streets.

We sorely need to be part of the process. BikeShare will help with that. But we need to be licensed and to have to take a test and be trained in how to ride a bike on city streets with and without benefit of bike lanes. In short we need to experience the drudgery of just being vehicle drivers on the roadways.

What could really go a very long way to reaching a milestone in cycling is having it no longer glamorized.

Right now young women are appearing in magazines and newspapers dressed in nice clothing and riding nifty Dutch-style bikes. These women look as chic and their males counterparts who are wearing natty outfits that are designed to show that you can look glamorous while cycling. But Mikael Colville-Andersen has said that:

I’ve been saying for years that we don’t have bicycle culture in Copenhagen. We just have vacuum cleaner culture. We all have one, we all have learned to use it, we use it. End of story.

And that is exactly what we need here. Bicycling is not like “playing tennis” or collecting “beany babies“. You do not do it to get on the cover of your local sports magazine or establish a corner on the market for a silly toy. Bicycles are a means of getting from point A to point B. They are not a “nose ring” (i.e. a part of your outfit or lifestyle) nor are they a religion (i.e. your central motivation in saving the planet). Cyclists are not special. In fact if they were special they would be driving Bentley cars and not schlepping around on conveyances that splash crap all over your shiny 8-inch platform stilettos.

The sooner we stop playing poseurs in plaid shirts with arm tattoos or teen-agers in 30 year old bodies riding around naked during the daylight hours to protest oil usage the better. Blocking intersections is not cool. It shows the same level of understanding that an 8th grader would have. Junior High School was a great time but we are all now old enough to have gotten on with our lives, raising kids and paying taxes. Instead we are still trying to drink ourselves under the table each weekend (only to ride our bikes home in a state of near alcohol poisoning) after having had knock-down drag out verbal battles of how terrible it is for motorists to be doing the same sorts of things (i.e. drinking themselves blind and then stepping behind the wheel of a massive vehicle).

Neither of these two groups finds itself capable of admitting that what it is doing is really all that bad. Everyone likes to think of themselves as plying a vehicle under the influence of a slight ‘buzz“. Bicyclists think its cute that they cannot find their bikes after an especially hard night of drinking. It is neither cute or is it safe. The level of judgment that you possess when you run red lights when sober is seriously impaired when you are drunk.

We Should Be Fined Like Everyone Else

The latest blather is now against the notion of cyclists ever being fined. Poppycock! To listen to cyclists as they whine about the latest death from a collision with a motor vehicle or a car door is tiresome. We know that the “Door Zone” exists but are loathe to take responsibility for riding in it and then getting clobbered. And what makes that entirely preventable situation more irritating is that we try to ride brakes less bikes in that same area. How utterly foolish!

We should be fined. Just as with motorists who kill or main individuals while driving we should expect that cyclists who kill pedestrians should be punished harshly, cyclists should be treated with equal harshness. If harsher punishment for drunken helps to stem the behavior then certainly the same ought to apply to cyclists who kill.

Driving under the influence whether on a bicycle or in a car should have similar penalties. I do not want to be the driver who has to be emotionally torn apart when a drunken cyclist wanders into my path in the dark simply because he was too inebriated to know better. And I certainly do not want my teenage son or daughter to have a driving record that is soiled by the death of a cyclist who chose to ride his bike home rather than take a bus.

We have to do better. As harsh as the WSJ article on bikers in New York sounds, I think the lady who made the scathing comments got things just about right. We need to stop coddling one another and testify to the fact that we are far too old and out of shape to be attempting to wear the clothes we sported in Junior High School. And that goes for our behavior on the roadways as well. We should never again champion the idea that movies about scofflaw bike messengers are “cool“.

And unless you mistake my point, we need to be held accountable for the less violent injuries that we inflict on ourselves or others. Breaking traffic laws should come along with steep fines. We should have the same “bad hair days” as our motoring counterparts.