The ‘Privileged’ Engaged In A ‘Heart-To-Heart’

Background Reading


Over tea and crumpets in the drawing room this conversation takes place. It begins with an opening salvo:

Bikes – privileged mode of conveyance?
Posted by Skip Montanaro 12mi on July 1, 2013 at 5:16am in Bikes and Bicycling

I’m sure we all had a good laugh at Dorothy Rabinowitz’s rant in the Wall Street Journal’s video commentary about New York’s CitiBike program. There’s a letter to the editor of the New York Times today in response to a recent article about the bike parking nightmare in Amsterdam, that, while more coherent than Ms. Rabinowitz, still comes down firmly on the anti-bike side of the debate. The author, Gary Taustine, refers to bikes as a “privileged mode of conveyance”:…

The Times tagged it as an “invitation to a dialogue,” asking for responses by tomorrow for publication next Sunday. Might be worth a letter or two from Chainlinkers. Here are a couple ideas:

Replace “bike” with “car” in Taustine’s letter (that is, cars already have privileged status).

Note that being early on the adoption curve, most American cities should be able to adapt before being overrun by bikes like Amsterdam.

Point out that useful above ground and underground storage options exist. (I suspect underground storage would be out in Amsterdam, and might be problematic in cities like Chicago and New York which already have well-developed underground infrastructure.)

New York, Chicago, and other large American cities could adopt a center city congestion charge like London’s to free up more space to park and ride bikes. That is, make cars less of a privileged conveyance.

The Times doesn’t identify Mr. Taustine’s connection to New York, but if you Google for “Gary Taustine”, you’ll see that he has been a lifelong New Yorker, and doesn’t lack for opinions.

As Divvy gets going and Mayor Emmanuel and his minions continue working to improve the cycling infrastructure in Chicago, it also makes sense to keep an eye on what’s happening in New York. The reactions of people like Ms. Rabinowitz and Mr. Taustine are likely shared by many Chicagoans.


The ChainLink crowd goes by so many “assumed aliases” that it is difficult to tell where reality ends and fantasy begins. But let’s assume that Monsieur Montaro is the offspring of Spanish aristocracy and not the gardner who just happens to be well spoken. This is an important distinction because we are after all talking about one of the most segregated cities this side of the Mason Dixon Line.

The Rejoinders

Reply by Reboot Oxnard 4 hours ago
All arguments about whether or not biking is a privileged mode of conveyance pale with a quick reality check: bikers are almost exclusively pale. The people riding bikes look like a netroots/occupy rally: almost exclusively affluent bourgeois white children, as over-educated as they are under-integrated, as intent on forcing people to conform to their norms as their parents ever dared to. Bikers are the children of privilege, engaged in an angry coming-of-age act of transitional defiance, testing their nascent social identities and political muscles like fledglings testing their wings before taking that leap of faith into adulthood. After a few years of self-righteous Critical Mass rides and kamikaze rides through car-infested (but otherwise safe) streets, the survivors will pair off and start to breed and then they will trade in their Surly bikes, if not their surly attitude, for the comfort and convenience of a Prius.

Of course there are outliers but they are so few as to constitute a proof instead of a rebuttal to the truth: biking may not be reserved for the privileged but it is a preserve of the privileged.

Wow! And the answer is “no“, Reboot Oxnard is not my alias. But he does a good job of stating the obvious. Recently WBEZ noted this disconnect between the egalitarian rhetoric of the Liberal Urban Cyclist Movement and the realities that pertain to it. Everything about the Divvy program screams “middle class“. In fact it probably screams “upper middle class” but who is going to split hairs? Any program of any type that revolves around the use of something like a credit card has to be seen as having left the “lower classes” out of the picture. Theirs is a cash-and-carry world where the usurious thrive on outrageous fees for cashing checks and even more onerous fees for payday loans. It is hard to ignore the fact that the very group which could benefit most from a Divvy-like program simply cannot because it is separated by a thin plastic card.

Reply by yai danche 4 hours ago
From the title, I was expecting to read another article about how most cyclists are middle to upper class white men.

I would hardly call biking privileged when drivers who hit cyclists get a slap on the wrist. Taustine’s main concern seems to be that bikes will up too much sidewalk space in the city and for free to boot. Unless, they can come up with some contraption that you can pay to lock up to, I don’t see why I should pay to lock to existing street signs. BTW, if there were parking docks that I could pay to secure my bike I totally would. In Chicago, the Divvy docks I’ve seen are taking up street space, about two parking spaces, which I’m sure people are annoyed at losing a space. I don’t know that much about NYC, but here we have parking garages to combat parking congestion and I don’t see why some of that space couldn’t be used for bikes.

Actually the “slap on the wrist” is exactly what you would expect in a society like ours. There is a penalty that young whites pay for “going native“. In the 1950s and very early 60s it would have been unthinkable for and child of wealth and position to mingle with people of color. But they did and when they were strung out on heroin or otherwise run afoul of the law they suffered sometimes as much as their darker-skinned friends.

In today’s culture bicycle riding past your teenage years is something akin to “going native“. All you have to do is look, simply look at the denizens of Wicker Park. I dined there yesterday and once again marveled at the fact that every single stereotype used in product advertising in the 1930s through the 1940s was walking around me in the flesh and blood.

Instead of bones hanging from the noses of African slaves there were nose rings and the skins of the wearers were both white and black. Dreadlocks are paraded up and down Milwaukee Avenue and a gentleman passed within a dozen feet of me while I dined outdoors with very  long ones. He was white and I suppose either had extensions woven into his braids or simply had hair of a kinky texture. Either way it was as if I was watching a person of color walking through the sea of humanity dressed in ways that were only prevalent in the Jamaica a few decades ago.

Tattoos are so common as to no longer be even remarkable unless the wearer has them on their throat or around an eye socket or in some place that you imagine its application caused great pain. It is however the ear lobe extensions that still give me pause. In my lifetime I never expected to see white folks dressed  up as if they were have a masquerade party from the late 1800s and so many of the patrons of the party were mimicking the slaves doing the serving.

So when you think about the reactions of this society to the deaths of its white children on bicycles, it is perhaps because these are the wayward ones “gone native” in their very midst. These are the sons and daughters who have become outsiders. And for that reason they receive the kinds of treatment that would have been reserved in the Deep South for the sons and daughters of slaves who would have been relegated to travel by bicycles if they could not find public transportation or someone in their village with either a mule or automobile.

In those days (1940s) the fact that you even owned an automobile would have been a symbol of great success. So much so that had you attempted to drive that vehicle outside the county or parish where you lived you would most certainly have been stopped and questioned as to why you (a person of color) was driving a white man’s vehicle. So stop and rewind the footage and understand that in 2013 riding a bicycle is to have taken up the vehicular choice of a person of color. And try as we might we cannot get out of our societal mind the fact that our children have “gone native“.

Reply by Evan 4 hours ago
LOL! Funny and interesting take on the situation but certainly a bit prejudiced.

Actually it is probably more “spot on” than much of what I have been reading on the ChainLink. There is a very big disconnect with reality for Hipsters in that they can always decide to “return to the fold“. All that they have to do is get rid of the dreadlocks, have the tattoos removed and ditch the piercings. And voila they are back to “being white“.

I have sat many a time in the Native Foods Cafe during the awkward visits of parents from the suburbs with their children. The parents are unable to avoid staring at all the faces and piercings and clothing and tattoos being worn by whites. They are probably also wondering why their child has taken them to a place where there is no steak or at least ground chuck to partake of. It has to be a very troubling first visit. They just spent a large portion of the their retirement funds to educate their child and she rewards their sacrifice by choosing to live in a place where people are visually mimicking African slaves from the very pancake boxes they knew as kids. That has to be a rather crushing blow.

Reply by Evan 4 hours ago
Is conveyance of any means a privilege? Cars now get (almost) their own special roads and parking places. Pedestrians certainly have their own paved paths. Bikes are in between and really need to be on equal “footing” (tireing?).

We literally brought the world affordable cars by way of the Model T. Every war we have fought has been in service of the minerals and petroleum we have needed to keep this great economic engine of our purring along. Do not for one moment mistake the notion that bicycles have any sort of “equal footing” in such a world. That I believe to be an overreach on the part of the Liberal Socialists who provide the talking points for the Urban Cycling Movement.

We are prepared to find ways to make it easier for bicycles to be used for “fun outings“. We are even capable of imagining that a Divvy bicycle can be a suitable replacement for a cab drive across town. But I am hard pressed to understand how anyone can envision its use “year ’round” in a place like Chicago. You can do it of course, but even those who attempt it have to bolster their courage each day on the ChainLink otherwise it would mean seeking the warmer and more convenient conveyance provided by Metra and CTA.

Reply by yai danche 4 hours ago
There are lanes that semis can’t use, but regular cars can. LSD is closed to semis (not 100% sure about this so bear with me). Are people going to say that’s a privilege that cars enjoy but not semis? How about those privileged hybrid and handicapped parking spots?

What you are acknowledging is the fact that our society has categories of “privilege” set aside for various conveyances. But I think the term is not intended to apply to wealthier classes versus those of lesser means. It is instead a way of showing that we take into account those who are confined to wheelchairs and have special needs. It is the mark of a civilized society to behave in this manner.

And we set aside lanes for highway traffic because of the dangers we know to abound when one mixes semi-truck traffic with passenger cars.

Reply by Jeff Schneider 3 hours ago
The privileged attitude bugs me, too. But it is sure isn’t limited to (or primarily the characteristic of) young white cyclists.
It’s interesting that when sprawling car-centric suburban infrastructure is built with our tax money, it’s an expression of individual freedom. When pedestrian and bike-friendly city infrastructure is built with our tax money, it’s privileged white kids trying to force us to conform to their norms.

Happily, attitudes can change over time. I remember as a (not so privileged) teenager I was ridiculed for wanting to eat vegetarian food. I also remember staying away from restaurants because you’d have to sit in cloud of tobacco smoke. Not all change is bad-even that driven by over-educated young white people.

The way to change the hearts and minds of folks is to offer something other than a heavy dose of Social EngineeringDorothy Rabinowitz’s so-called rant was really an instance of a society “pushing back“. What Urban Cyclists do is the equivalent of what she has done. When they hold a Critical Mass Ride they are “pushing back“. When this same group or at least a more committed segment of it decides to Occupy Wall Street they too are “pushing back“. In fact the Boston Tea Party was in fact an instance in which the Colonists‘ “pushed back“.

Pushing Back” is what Rosa Parks did. Her action and actually the response to her action is what helped to bring about that Great Push Back known more colloquially as the Civil Rights Movement. Our entire society revolves around “push back” efforts.

What has happened with the Urban Cycling Movement is that groups like the ChainLink have formed and are in large part driven by anti-social behaviors that are intended to provoke. But when the Critical Masses see this intended response they bristle. There is more heat than light sometimes in the activities of the Movement. We have of late gotten hung up on whether or not we should be required to obey all of the Rules of the Road that pertain to automobiles. And yet there were those in the movement who decided to escalate the discussion by offering outright justifications for “cutting the legs out from under” the most bedrock of these rules, namely obeying traffic signals and signs.

When this sort of thinking takes hold it becomes dangerous for everyone. If the gnarly intersections of Chicago were to ever have a complete breakdown of obedience to traffic signals you could tie up traffic to such an extent all over the city that nothing of true importance could be done. Even emergency vehicles transporting the critical ill or fire trucks responding to blazes or police trying to thwart a bad situation could not do their jobs.

But I am afraid that some on the Cycling Movement would actually welcome this “cut off your nose to spite your face” attitude as a sign of progress. It is important that the Urban Cycling Movement be aware of the anarchists and true socio-paths in their midst.

Reply by Reboot Oxnard 3 hours ago
Though it may be inflammatory, a demonstrable fact is not a prejudice. The horror of stereotypes isn’t that they are fundamentally wrong, it’s that they almost always reveal at least a kernel of truth.

Quite right. But here is a conundrum of sorts. We create stereotypes for ourselves because we think better when we remove pieces from life’s chess board. We are trying to simplify. It is easier for men and women to objectify one another than attempt to deal with each and every individual. The same is true of classes of people. We are happy as a society to want to see same-sex marriage become the law of the land so long as the people who attain that privilege do no further damage to the institution than have the countless “straights” who have turned a lifetime social contract (which is essentially what marriage has always been) into a mockery that ends in financial ruin (or near ruin) for half of all marriages every single year.

We have taken a situation in which children were supposed to reap the benefits of a two-parent family and instead have been willing to settle for single family households that are more difficult for the remaining parent to manage both emotionally and physically not to mention financially. Our response to this overwhelming failure has been to redefine the meaning of happy childhood by using sitcoms and television series to prop up a new reality called the “single parent household“.

I am not here to belittle the idea of a working mother who raises her children alone. What I am here to do is ask the hard question “what the heck is the father doing”? It is not as if no one ever envisioned marriage as being difficult. But what has happened with the more promiscuous sex and cohabitation scenario that now precedes being married (along with the arrival of the first child) is that instead of couples having gotten past the difficult stages of the marriage they are still breaking up at an alarming rate and kids are still being left to fend for themselves.

Reply by yai danche 3 hours ago
I wish cycling would appeal to the poorer communities as they have the most to benefit. I live around a lot of low-income housing and I’m surprised at how many cars there are in the parking lot. Cars that are old and probably require frequent costly repairs.

Jeez, I hope people don’t view my bike commuting as some sort of political statement. I’m not even an environmental hippie type. I am just trying to get from point A to point B in a cheap and efficient way.

Our society is one in which we have a love-hate relationship with the idea of royalty. We really do not wish to be ruled by a monarch but we seriously desire the trappings of the monarchy. And for that reason we imbue our celebrities with that role. Americans are taught from the cradle to the grave to want more. And that has meant we desire automobiles, fur coats, more meat, bigger houses, electronic gadgets and big paychecks. You simply do not show up for a date with a mini-van and expect the girl to respect you.

People of color are not necessarily averse to cycling but the threshold of even something simple as rental is to high for many. And yes, not only do people view your cycling as a political statement but the Urban Cycling Movement wears that fact as a badge of honor. It has helped create this subculture that is the ChainLink.

Among the worst things about the ChainLink is the willful nurturing of the “us-versus-them” narrative that the Liberal Socialists count on. If that one linchpin were to be removed much of the power of that group would be minimized. But so long as cyclists are content to break traffic laws once a month in the name of “push back” the folks who count on the monies derived from keeping a lid on the nascent violence is assured.

Reply by Reboot Oxnard 2 hours ago
I didn’t say and didn’t mean to imply that the sense of privilege is restricted to young white cyclists – it isn’t. Indeed, I said that bikers are the children of privilege. Except for the spandex and other desiderata (the variable trappings of privilege) they are virtually indistinguishable from their parents.

I would agree with your statement up to a point. Clearly the people from south of the border who ride bikes are cyclists. And more than most their efforts to ride to work have nothing to do with “making a social statement“. The children of affluence who follow in this tradition are the ones who however do not really recognize their “equals“. You can see the disconnect in their thinking about these people of color who “ride against traffic” which they gladly point out is against the law, but then in the same breathe challenge anyone to deny them their right to ignore stop signs and traffic lights. And when they run their monthly organized Scofflaw Fest that they term Critical Mass Rides they have no compunctions about “riding against traffic“.

Reply by Tony Adams 7 mi (dirtbag hipstr) 2 hours ago
The only fact (relevant to this discussion) demonstrated by that video is the demographics of a particular Critical Mass ride. Critical Mass is by no means representative of the cycling population as a whole.

If you are frightened by stereotypes perhaps you should avoid trafficking in them, especially if you are going to base them on faulty data.

Tony has a problem. Or perhaps it would be better to say that the Urban Cyclist Movement has a problem. Urban Cyclists are quite proud of the distinctions they draw between themselves and the Lycra-clad denizens of the suburbs. After all the urban environment is dangerous and the weather conditions are made worse by all the traffic that plies its streets. In fact Michelle Stenzel once used a Venn Diagram to illustrate the greater authenticity of the Urban Cycling Experience.

She went so far as to compare the experiences of an urban rider with those of a member of the Tour de France competition. Now that kind of comparison takes hutzpah. But that is essentially the mindset of the Urban Cycling Community. I would go so far as to resurrect my depiction of them as a religious order. They have their High Priests and their Catechisms. Their sacrament is Critical Mass.

What is problematic is that after going to all the trouble of dressing differently, riding bikes that are difference, riding in a scofflaw fashion you would suddenly decide that holding up the Urban Cycling Community’s behavior as atypical of the cycling population is at best laughable. The fact is you loathe the rest of the cycling world for the bicycle purchase choices they make, the clothes they wear and the fact that they are quite likely to own a car. So if you have set yourselves apart as the Remnant of all that is holy in cycling then own it.

Do not run and hide when your own memorialization of a ride is difficult to defend. If you are going to wear the mantle of cycling for everyone else then wear it proudly.

Reply by Peenworm “8 mile” Grubologist 48 minutes ago
Interestingly, this sentiment almost always reveals a load of bullshit.

Peenworm is not always given to critical thinking. This is one of those times.

Reply by Carter O’Brien 42 seconds ago
A Critical Mass video is a demonstrable fact of what, exactly?

The bike-as-symbol-of-class-warfare concept is silly.

Here is a “demonstrable fact”:
Bikes are cheap, much cheaper and more accessible to a person of little means than a car is. And the vast majority of all Chicagoans ride them at least as kids.

The problem is getting people to stay on their bikes once they get a drivers license.

I can almost imagine the words Carter is speaking coming from the mouths of Nazi war criminals who were presented with the film memorializations of their atrocities during the Second World War. They would have asked the very same question. It would have sounded like this:

An Auschwitz Concentration Camp video is a demonstrable fact of what, exactly?

The nazism-as-symbol-of-genocide concept is silly.

And of course there would have been the requisite pounding of the table or the turning of the back on the judges overseeing the Nuremburg Trial as a show of defiance. One wonders in the first instance why people ever memorialize things that come back to haunt them? I think it is because when conversing in locales like the ChainLink your sense of reality gets distorted. Things you say and hear become “truth” because they are often repeated.

In fact this is the very same dynamic which makes the Tea Party so very effective. Like the Urban Cyclist subculture there is one for racists who fear the onslaught of people of color from every corner of the Earth. And for them saving their cultural heritage (the United States) from heathens is a God-given duty. If you listen to enough episodes of Rush Limbaugh and converse with others of like mind anything is possible.

What makes it all so very effective is that when you drink this particular version of Kool-Aid™ you do so with the full knowledge that listening to anything else in what Sarah Palin likes to call the “lame-stream media” is in fact as bad for you as if you ate a thick juicy steak while professing to be a vegan.

ChainLinkers are alike Tea Party people is this crucial way. In fact when John Hilkevitch had the temerity to question the fee structure of Divvy he was taken to task by John Greenfield and Ron Burke as a “traitor“. This is the kind of thinking that preceded the mass suicide at Jones Town. Folks there is never anyone out there no matter how far up the anus of the Cycling Movement they profess to be who is infallible.

There are no concepts, no bike lane installations which will reveal Truth to you. Every single idea you have heard from a supposed bicycle-friendly source needs to be personally vetted. If you fail to do your homework, then shame on you.

The High Price of Bicycling

While it is true that bicycles can be bought for as little as $162 and change and ridden for quite a while before needing any maintenance they are anything but truly cheap. I took a deep breath when I learned that the lowly Divvy bike is in excess of $3K. Of course it has an expensive internal hub and a front generator but still $3K is quite expensive. Of course the entire proposition of BikeShare relies on “funny money“. So someone like the late Senator Proxmire would have a field day with the pricing of bikes meant to be paid for with government funds for a project which is meant to look like private enterprise.

If you are using a bicycle (any bicycle) as primary transportation I doubt very seriously whether $162 is the true cost of its ownership. There are tires to be purchased, front and rear racks to be installed, annual maintenance and parking fees to be considered, accessories like helmets, lights, and such to be purchased. That adds up quickly. After all most shops make their “real margins” on accessories.

The 800 Pound Gorilla In The Room

A couple of wags decide to “wrap things up“:

Reply by Peenworm “8 mile” Grubologist 1 hour ago
Getting back to what the actual topic is about, I should think if we had anything close to the ridership of Amsterdam or Copenhagen and the bike parking concerns they’re facing, we’d be able to repurpose a tiny fraction of the space devoted to car parking presently, and have enough space left over to put the space dedicated to car storage to actual use by human beings.

Once again white Liberals are like this fellow:

So, is my backpack on straight?

So, is my backpack on straight?

Far too much emphasis is nearly always placed on the wrong things. We are worried to death of someone questions the fee/fine structure of Divvy. We are simply oblivious to the impact of having to use credit cards upon people of color. That little detail is something that we might not notice if not for those cycling-unfriendly types who like Hilkevitch are not willing to do a lot of “happy talk” but are instead investigating the lapses.

So what exactly is Peenworm missing? Cameron will fill us in:

Reply by Cameron 7.5 mi 1 hour ago
It’s also worth noting how much of Amsterdam’s problem is caused by abandoned bikes. Bikes don’t take up a ton of space and most buildings can find space to accommodate a bike for every person in the building. The problem is finding space for every person currently in the building as well as all the people who parked their bike, got on a train and never came back.

Ugh! So close and yet so very far!

Yes the abandoned bikes is the problem. But let’s try and couch this in terms that (uh oh here goes my snarky side) even a white Liberal can understand. Suppose we were talking about food. Mounds and mounds of fresh fruits and vegetables. Breads and pasta. All of it being dumped onto the sidewalks or in alleys each night because, well we did not sell it the day before.

Some hipsters understand this problem and have developed a “dumpster diving” subculture on the West Coast. But unlike bikes food tends to rot and putrefy and before long its presence reaches your nostrils. And long before that every rodent in the Midwest is hieing himself over to the back alleyways of Chicago in search of dinner. And shortly after that every person who loathes and fears rodents is dialing 311 to complain about the influx of rodents. And what pray tell is that lousy commissioner of rodent feces clean up doing about this problem! (All said in a shrill hysterical voice.)

But the Dutch are not dealing with decaying food. They are dealing with abandoned bikes. This is a commodity that keeps a while before becoming useless. And if the article is to be believed there are potentially hundreds of thousands of bikes across the country that have suffered this fate. So here is my question:

Why the heck are they not being donated to Africans just to the south of them?

Bicycle Heaven or Amsterdam has an abiding problem. It is filled with obviously selfish, uncaring folks who could care less about “saving the planet“. At least that is what their abandoned bicycle plight tells me. Correct me if I’m wrong. If that much food were being thrown away and I knew for certain that people in my city were going to bed hungry why would it not occur to me to help recover the food and donate it to homeless shelters and warming houses with soup kitchens.

Is there a fatal flaw in the teachings of our High Priests that riding a bicycle shows that you care about the planet? Methinks so.

And if you read that article and did not wonder aloud how that many bikes did not make their way overseas to needy peoples then both you and I are worthless scumbags. The problem here is not that our backpack may not be on straight. Rather it is that we are inappropriately attired. We have draped robes of angels on our backs while ignoring the heavenly need for redistributing abandoned bikes in the fatherland of bicycling. There is no hope for mankind.

So in a word, yes. Cycling is demonstrably the conveyance of the privileged. There could be no clearer evidence than the birthplace of urban cycling itself.