Sometimes A T-Shirt Is Just A Souvenir

Background Reading

Summary

I suppose it should come as no surprise that when 50,000 people pay lots of money to do something trivial cyclists will try to ‘spin it‘:

50,000 cyclists hit London this weekend
Posted by SlowCoachOnTheRoad on August 4, 2013 at 10:23pm

Have they come to see the new Prince? NO, they’ve come to ride 8 miles through London!

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/active/recreational-cycling/10221356/Lon…
http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/gallery/2013/aug/03/ride-lo…

What is amazing however is that ‘the spin‘ can cut both ways. The Midnight Marauders of the Chicago ChainLink Forum gave a negative spin to the L.A.T.E. Ride by claiming it was evidence that suburbanites ‘with more money than brains‘ would pay for the privilege of riding around the City of Chicago in the dark when they (the Midnight Marauders) were savvy enough to do exactly the same thing for ‘nothing‘. Of course the Marauders liked to lubricate their adventure with a pre-ride libation or two or three and then act like fools by riding against traffic along the ride route and generally scaring the bejeezus out of those silly suburbanites by behaving in such a fashion as to convince the more impressionable that perhaps this was not the ride for them.

Large Rides Are Like Mardi Gras

Jeff Schneider is a middle-aged rider who having moved in from the suburbs is trying to ‘fit in‘ with the gang on the ChainLink Forum. That of course means trying to see every cycling activity through the ‘lens of progress‘.

The logic goes a bit like this: ‘If 50,000 people come to ride in the city this must mean that they would do this on a regular basis if only they were not afraid of city riding.’

By that reasoning it could be assumed that more females would show us their tits each weekend in New Orleans if only they were not afraid to do so. How do we know this? Because during Mardi Gras they get drunk and for the price of a few beads, show us their tits. Uh, huh. You are making this far too complicated, Jeff.

When thousands of folks show up for RAGBRAI each year it really isn’t because they would routinely ride across Iowa in a drunken stupor, eating pork chops for breakfast, lunch and dinner each day if only they were not so very afraid of Iowa traffic. Nope. You are making this far too complicated.

People like events. It is the same reason that thousands of people gather to do the Walks for Breast Cancer or the 5K Runs for Breast Cancer or whatever. The event itself is a bit like an adult version of a rock concert without the booze and pharmaceuticals. And what is even more amazing they get a souvenir of their having contributed.

T-Shirts Are Just Fine

What both the Midnight Marauders and Jeff Schneider fail to understand is people are basically good and fair if given half the chance of being so. Each of us wants to make a difference. You have the opportunity of paying $50 and sitting in the bleachers watching a baseball game while you drink too much and get sunburn or you can ride 8 miles and feel good about yourself, get a wee bit of exercise and dang it a T-Shirt!

Bike The Drive Riders

Bike The Drive Riders

I would safely guess that we have probably 50 t-shirts between us, collected over the years and like a lot of ‘old-timers‘ wear the older ones with pride when we return to that particular ride on an annual basis. Most of us who do such rides are hardly eager to face a crowd this large on a daily basis. This has absolutely nothing to do with wanting to ride the Lake Shore Drive or the old Boulevard Lakefront Tour route on a regular basis. In fact the worst possible thing to happen to rides like these is that all those wealthy suburbanites end up being as jaded and bitter as most of the sourpusses who move to the city become when suburbanites decide like locusts upon their streets to attend everything from walks, to runs, to rock concerts and bike rides en masse.

It is at such times that these folks began to grumble that there are Metra blackouts that are spoiling their weekend commutes or whatever. Of course now that they have Divvy to whine about (or to complain about because their ability to operate the docking mechanism has been frequently unsuccessful and are thus being overcharged) a blackout should be taken in stride. Divvy comes to the rescue, right?

Divvy Is A Mixed Blessing

I Vacuum Copenhagen

I Vacuum Copenhagen

The prevalence of tourists on Divvy bikes is bringing exactly what I thought it would to the streets of Chicago. That is namely a class of rider who is aimless and absorbed. After all these are often going to be those same suburbanites who enter the city on weekends and ride about looking at the tall buildings or touring the Chicago Lakefront Trail or whatever and clogging up the streets which are the private property of the sourpusses of the ChainLink Forum who turn legalistic about the sidewalk riding of these tourists while ignoring their own weekday law-breaking efforts.

Whether we like it or not cycling is much of the world is never going to be as commonplace as it is in Amsterdam or Copenhagen and perhaps that is a good thing. I like to see the big gatherings that fund-raising events bring. Frankly I think it is healthy. I don’t know that those living in Bicycle Heaven would find such gatherings meaningful. Why would they?

If most of them are riding around all week long back and forth to work even the bicycle itself takes on the ‘air of an appliance‘. Nothing wrong with that mind you, but it is not how I want to enjoy bicycling. I appreciate the fact that we are a rare enough breed here in the United States that folks can make a tidy living or fund their charities by holding invitational rides. It is a great way to contribute your money and get some exercise at the same time.

Losing The Specialness of Cycling Is A Danger

I wonder if the Midnight Marauders understand that despite their wanting to look down their noses at suburbanites riding around the city at night each year, it is as much for their (city dwellers) benefit as it is for the suburbanites. Everyone wins.

City living is both glamorous and tragic at the same time. When you are looking at statistics that show that bike theft has risen by 70% in the past 5 years in San Francisco and it is also on the rise in Chicago it is cause for concern. Couple this with Chicago’s problem of gun violence and every single night ride we can hold helps to breakdown the fear of the city that is certainly uppermost in the minds of riders from the suburbs. You take their money and their presence out of the city and you are left with a bunch of folks who are not highly disposed to paying for the privilege of riding around the streets they ply each day on the way to and from work and there frankly are not enough of them to make for a good fundraiser.

But what suburbanites bring to cycling is a sense of the special. It is the suburbanite who packs up his tandem and drives to RAGBRAI or RAW or joins a weeklong tour of the country or even crosses this great land on a month-long tour. And what these folks bring to the landscape is a sense that bicycling is special.

They have bikes that are more ‘bling‘ than functional. For instance you would hardly expect to see many cargo bikes on any of these tours. That is not a bad thing. These bikes are special purpose in a very real sense. They are fine for the short trips for which they are intended. You really do not want to be in the saddle for hundreds of miles each day on one however. But a nice Titanium frame on a set of ultra slick carbon wheels and boy can you fly!

So Sometimes A T-Shirt Is Just A T-Shirt

We probably should hope that we never really reach the level of ridership of the Bicycle Heaven folks. Why? Well frankly I would hate so see hundreds of thousands of bike crammed together along the Chicago Lakefront Trail the way I saw them a couple of weekends ago when the soccer competition was here. In fact the level of downright messiness that these piles of bikes made was an eyesore.

As we were crossing over to the Field Museum a couple of ladies were walking in front of me and I overheard one make that same observation. And I don’t think she was a cyclist. She (like me) found the tangle of bicycles ugly and I think she wondered out-loud to her companion whether she would appreciate having her bike under all of that tangle. I certainly would not. No wonder the city is so very full of beater bike riders. It simply would not pay for anyone to pay top dollar to have a bike that came to rest under a crush of dirty and scratched bike frames. Yuck!