How Positive Is Your Communal Viewpoint Regarding Cycling?

Background Reading


I asked a while ago why the ‘Urban Cycling‘ scene seems so violent? Everything about it is seemingly based on aggressiveness. From the language used in talking about cycling experiences to the ideas about how to deal with pedestrians in the bike lane or motorists who pass too close or whatever. If you are a frequent reader of the ChainLink this sort of thing is probably not as obvious as it might be to a newbie. But today one of the newbie’s but his mindset on display for all to see.

The only other time I have witnessed this sort of feeling (other than playing college football or training for the military) was when speaking with street gang members. In that setting newbies are sent out specifically to commit their first crime. It usually involves shooting someone to prove their commitment to the group. The guys getting shot at are also quite often newbies and their shared experience of bullets raining down on them seems to be cohesive.

So would you expect bicycling to have that same sort of sense of the urgent about it? Evidently it does:

A Community Based On 'Shared Suffering'

A Community Based On ‘Shared Suffering’

If what Andy says is true his view of cycling is largely like that of a gang member. He got ‘shot at‘ by the other side and now feels a bond with all those who have come before him. That of course has some additional aspects which are not quite so glamorous.

Hatred Is A Powerful Agent For Cohesion

I remember remarking once before that I could barely tell the difference between a skinhead group and a member of the Urban Church of Cycling because of the rather aggressive notions cyclists have regarding motorists and even pedestrians. It was as if I had stumbled on a group of folks holed up in Idaho waiting for the Apocalypse. Why does cycling have to carry this tinge of fear and loathing as it applies to all things motorized?

Just this morning one wag proposed that the reason 50,000 Brits were willing to drive long distances to ride in an 8-mile long fundraiser was because of their “shared sense of fear“. Really?

I do not share this notion that the only reason to be on a bike or to want better cycling infrastructure is because otherwise I will pee myself when attempting to ride city streets. Yes, there are some streets where the traffic level is pretty nasty. These are often streets I would not care to drive either. But I am seldom afraid in the sense that I fear for my life or safety. Rather I am more concerned about being able enjoy the ride.

Enjoyment Is Why I Cycle

If you had to ask me what motivates me to ride a bicycle I was have to say that it is because cycling serves as a stress reliever. If I should happen upon a route where the clamor and din of traffic is of such a level that I cannot enjoy the scenery around me I instinctively find a side street. Nothing beckons to me like getting lost.

I would hasten to add that most of the rides I ever do is because I have a specific interest in learning the route of a ride leader to serve as the basis for my eventual tinkering with the route. I will often go and re-ride a route and see if it pleases me as much as the first time. If the route is very long I will drive it in my car and then take the time to follow down lanes and sidestreets looking for ways to ‘get lost‘.

I simply cannot imagine that my sole motivation for feeling a kinship with other cyclists is because we share a common sense of fear and hatred of motorists. Heck I am a motorist. Why would I suddenly decide to ‘turn‘ on myself?

Cycling Is Not A Religion

Nor for that matter is it a nose ring. If anything it is a sport. And yes there are often clothing requirements that come with that sport. For some it is Lycra™ and Spandex™ outerwear. Currently the relaxed fit look of the hipster crowd is all the rage. But frankly the pricing on this stuff is very high. Even the hipster helmets are quite expensive and frankly Bern helmets literally give me a headache. I ride in Cabela’s guidewear. It is reasonably priced and loose fitting stuff made of nylon and other quick-drying synthetic fabrics.

But whatever you wear I am happy to have you along on a ride. There are no requirements to ride with me. You do not have to tell in gory detail that you have suffered four Door Zone collisions to warrant my respect. You do not have to sit astride a $5K plastic bike with carbon fiber rims before I will take you seriously. You can even vote Republican and ride with an ‘I Hate Obama‘ sticker on the back of your bike bag. I won’t think more of you for this nonsense but because you have the right to be an asshole I will respect that. But your politics is presumably not something I have to listen to while we ride together. I would much rather talk about great rides of the past or what you like about your bike.

I am even willing to ride along with the folks who hate automobiles, cannot shut up about foreign oil and generally make me fear that at any moment they are going to shed their clothing a ride naked alongside me while singing whatever the current Marxist anthem happens to be. But frankly  first and foremost I am there to enjoy a ride.

Nothing puts a damper on a ride like being on a Critical Mass Ride where some knucklehead decides that despite his protestations that ‘salmoning‘ is vile he decides that the only way to show that he is really a committed member of the cycling community is to offer up his body as a living sacrifice to the god of the automobile by riding headlong into oncoming traffic. Cycling is not a religion folks. It is a sport and a pastime. And if you want to save money you can pedal to and from work every day all year long. But in the final analysis it is the activity of pedaling that brings the stress relief that makes battling the elements such a ‘pain in the neck‘.

Take away the physical exertion and might as well be watching television. It is the sport in cycling that makes all the difference.

So What To Do With The Shared Suffering Notion?

Well there is one situation in which shared suffering amongst cyclist is appealing. That would be when you tackle your first century. Now in the past John Greenfield used to lead a century around the perimeter of the City of Chicago. But frankly if you have to be ‘juiced up‘ to enjoy a century it seems to take away from the effort. But a century done without benefit of alcohol or other stimulants seems a worthy goal for any cyclist. It will tell you a great deal about yourself. It might even get you beyond the artificial notion that your greatest struggle is with automobile drivers.

Nothing clarifies who you are and what you stand for like the shared suffering that comes with responding to the physical challenge of reaching beyond your limits. That is something that no one can take away from you and certainly no one can give you. There are no press conferences that you can attend and stand around waiting for the political blathering to stop before riding a couple of blocks on pretty green paint for a photo op. Riding a century or perhaps a 1200 kilometer brevet will certainly help you focus on what is really important about cycling.

Randonneurs do not ride as far as they do because they have pretty green paint lines to follow. In fact when you are loping along in the dead of night unable to see much beyond your hand the very last thing on your mind is whether or not you have sufficient infrastructure this far away from civilization. Under those circumstances you would be happy to know that your cell phone was still operating and that your GPS battery was still alive.

Cycling needs to be less like apply to join a street gang and a good deal more like entering a race where you find out what you are made of.

When you are well past the time when photo ops mean anything to you it will be the thoughts that surround that long ride you did when you wanted to quit but held on to pedal one more stroke that will stay with you. The other stuff about some guy cutting you off is pretty much like being at a cocktail party and having a run-in with a guy whose conversation bored you in the first instance, but you eventually had to cut him short when he interjected his politics.

Your cycling life has to be more than a series of fears that you share with other scared rabbits. It has to be more than a monthly meeting to let off steam and exhibit rage at all the indignities you suffered in the past few weeks on your 5 mile route to work. After all there are children in foreign countries who are dying in poverty and ignorance or burned alive in schools because someone decided that girls should not know how to read and write.

Are you really trying to elevate your shitty life experiences to a position alongside that of these children? If so then fine. That is your right. But please don’t write a thread in which you celebrate such trivia. That is about as meaningful as being a guy in a hospital waiting room with an infected toenail trying to explain how much suffering he is undergoing to the three ladies sharing the room all in the midst of labor pains.