E-Bikes Expose Liberal Ignorance and Anti-Cycling Bigotry

Background Reading


A few days ago I wrote about a rift that has been exposed between Urban Cyclists and those who espouse velomobiles and E-Bikes. What is interesting is that despite the supposed Liberal label that one could apply to most Urban Cyclists they have the same deficiencies as do Conservatives when dealing with things they either do not understand or feel threatened by.

Liberals can be bigots and ascribe some rather mean things to people of color who out of ignorance or childhood training still ride against traffic in the very manner I was taught nearly 50 years ago. John Greenfield took what I think was a cheap shot at the inhabitants of the near West Side when he pointed out that along Madison Street bikers of color were either riding on the sidewalk or against traffic. I asked the question whether he ever took the time when reporting on the Chicago Critical Mass Ride to include descriptions of their riding against traffic activities or even their sidewalk riding. It evidently got one of the StreetsBlog denizens upset as he rushed to John’s defense.

What is upsetting about this kind of reporting is the fact that the motives of these two groups (inexperienced riders, as described by John) and those with lots more experience and knowledge who attempt to do things that they:

  1. profess to dislike in others, namely ‘salmoning‘ and ‘sidewalk riding‘ and
  2. know to be wrong and yet do it anyway as an act of defiance.

are not highlighted. In the case of the residents of the West Side I seriously doubt that they are acting in either instance out of defiance. But we know that the Critical Mass Riders who inhabit the ChainLink Forum know the law debate it vigorously, revile these practices and yet proceed to execute them without fail on their monthly rides. I’ll leave you to decide if you have greater contempt for the West Siders or the Critical Mass Riders.

John has made the mistake of pandering to the racist views of his constituent readers and that makes me sad. He knows better and should be ashamed.

Bigotries Are Largely Visual Hangups

But this type of bigotry is going to be extended it would seem into the very community that espouses cycling as a solution to so many social ills. And it will take place because we as a community do not know how to accept visual differences.

At its core racism is really a matter of non-acceptance of visual differences. In my youth many of my family and friends were ‘light-skinned‘. Like Barack Obama my mother was of mixed racial origin. On my father’s side his people were also mixed race. While my mother’s father was Caucasian, my fathers side of the family were the result of Africans and American Indians mixing. In fact I learned that a distant relative from the Arkansas/Oklahoma area is an accomplished artist who carries the same last name as do I, but identifies as an American Indian.

Photographs from the early years of my parents’ lives would display that both looked not quite white (in my mother’s case) and not quite black (in my father’s case) all because of the genetic materials each had in their makeups that changed their physical appearances. When my parents traveled into the Deep South as newlyweds they had to be careful in various parts of the South because interracial marriage was not only illegal in most states but could result in your being detained by the police and murdered. This was not an uncommon thing.

Bikes That Look Different

Velomobile Showroom

Velomobile Showroom

Regardless of your position on various topics as either a Liberal or Conservative you are programmed with a ‘coping mechanism‘ that causes you to favor things that are visually pleasing or familiar to you. In the case of people it means that you like those who look like you and fear those who do not. In ancient times that was probably the only way to keep from being attacked by neighboring tribes and clans. If they looked different than those who had intermarried for generations from your area they could be trusted. But outsiders looked different.

Bicycles suffer the same issues as do people. If they look different it makes some folks react in a very negative way. The bikes you are seeing in the photograph are velomobiles. These kinds of bikes can cruise at 25 MPH with average riders pedaling them. They can attain speeds in the 40 MPH range with strong riders.

Out at Battle Mountain each year riders reach unassisted speeds in the 80 MPH range! These are bikes that change the very essence of what it means to ‘occupy the lane‘. With a bike like this you can ride alongside cars in traffic and find them to be too slow. This is a seriously efficient means of travel. And because many of the fastest are fully enclosed they can be ridden year round in all kinds of weather.

Forget ‘The Battery Issue’ For A Moment

Speed is what separates cyclists in all walks of life. The reason you are not a Tour de France rider is because you don’t have the chops to ride that fast. And couple that with the fact that you cannot climb very steep grades at speeds sufficient to give you a mountain win on Mont Ventoux and you have to stay home each year and watch the Big Dogs do their thing on television.

In point of fact with really fast riders and very efficient bikes battery power is actually a deterrent to speed.

A strong rider in a very efficient velomobile is far more likely to be a hazard in the bike lane than someone riding an electric-assist bike like the one pictured below:

Unsafe At Any Speed In the Bike Lane?

Unsafe At Any Speed In the Bike Lane?

What we are seeing in ourselves via these ChainLink Forum discussions are the same motivations that made it impossible for many centuries in this country for people to accept visual differences. These differences (what we call racial differences) engender fear and hatred. And they are largely the result of something as simple and straightforward as ignorance.

Letting the idea of battery power influence whether you accept a E-Bike in the bike lane is about as meaningful as deciding that:

  • girls should not be encouraged to take up technical disciplines in school
  • women-of-color who behinds are not flat should be laughed at for having ‘big butts
  • nappy hair is unattractive and should be worn straightened with lye-based products
  • people-of-color have thick lips and wide noses which are unattractive

I could go on but you get the picture. We fear and loathe what we do not understand. Longtime folding bike rider Bob Matter is also a E-Bike owner. But try as he might it is difficult to cut through the ignorance and intolerance of even a Liberal to get at the truth about such bikes.

Our Real Selves Get In The Way of Our Collective Narrative

I believe that one of the reasons I was kicked off the ChainLink Forum is because my style is to challenge the Collective Narrative of Liberals who ride bicycles. Urban Cyclists think of themselves in fairly grandiose terms. They believe that theirs is a mission to ‘save the planet‘. By extension it means that anyone who objects to them for whatever reason is ‘part of the problem‘.

Conservatives definitely react to the visual differences that have become part of the Liberal Hipster Uniform. You know for instance that to be a good Liberal these days you just have to prominently display a tattoo. Of course that fact is startling considering that long before hipsters ever thought to adorn their pale fleshy parts with tattoo ink, White Supremacists were living in glorious tattooed color.

To help keep themselves distinct from their Aryan Brothers they added ear lobe plugs, nose rings, lip rings and wore dreadlocks that were made popular by Jamaicans. So clearly having made ourselves visually distinct from those guys it was necessary to make certain that the kinds of bikes ridden by your average hipster was also different. Enter the brakeless fixed gear bike.

A counter-culture with scattered alleycat rides and skin-tight blue jeans helped to redefine a generation. And all of their belongings for a days work had to fit into a Chrome Bag. The visual look was complete and now anyone ‘in the know‘ could tell those who were ‘part of the solution‘ from those who were ‘part of the problem‘. Never mind the inherent danger of riding bikes without brakes, they looked cool and besides you do not question what the group has settled upon a meaningful.

If a black guy comes along and says that much of your world view is indistinguishable from the White Supremacists you loathe than means that in between bouts of calling the West and South Sides of the City of Chicago ‘shitholes‘ you need to find a way to oust him from your membership roles lest his ideas spread.

Well I might be gone from the forum but the racism and ignorance and bigotry (only this time towards a style of bicycle) is still there staring you in the face. You still cannot erase the fact that you despise people who ‘salmon‘ and ‘ride on sidewalks‘ and yet these are the practices you choose to emulate during your monthly Critical Mass Ride. Why?

We Humans Are Complicated

Our movement has gone from merely wanting to be accepted and both permitted and intended users of the roadway to wanting to hide in a bicycle ghetto we now call the Protected Bike Lane. Our leadership has moved on to a position where training and education in how to deal with truck and car traffic are far less important that letting women know that they can ride their bikes in stiletto high heels and mini-skirts.

And now we are waging a battle against our own kind because they have the temerity to ride bikes with batteries! Ignore the fact that many people with disabilities ride wheelchairs with batteries. Ignore the reality that electric-assist bikes are likely to be practical in extending the riding life of octogenarians. What is most important is that these bikes ‘look different‘ and we are thus afraid of them and ignorant of their design and purpose.

Yet we are still quite proud of our Liberal stances on:

  • Climate Control
  • Bicycle Infrastructure
  • Reduced Oil Consumption
  • Complete eradication of automobiles where possible in urban environments
  • and blah, blah, blah

We are never as human beings going to be perfectly consistent and filled with limitless interest in eradicating our ignorance. That is what has served us well for thousands of years and gosh darn it will be our salvation going forward. We just have to make certain that Conservatives (who by definition are ignorant and fearful people, unlike ourselves) do not regain control of the Transportation Pie.

We All Have to Do a Gut Check For Biases from Time-to-Time, Right?

We All Have to Do a Gut Check For Biases from Time-to-Time, Right?

That could be disastrous. They might require us to prove that what we tout as ‘safer‘ really is. I know instead we will redefine the narrative to be all about ‘rider comfort‘. That of course is not what you think it means. We are not talking about wider saddles and more padding for our butts. We are talking about that elusive sense of well-being and safety that gets people into the bike lane to ride when they have heretofore been paralyzed with fear.

But hey, if they were out of cycling simply because of physical limitations or fearful that a longish commute might leave them stranded in a ‘sketchy neighborhood‘ and wanted electric-assist as a safety net, too bad. We have made up our minds:

Reply by Tom Dworzanski 9 hours ago
Well I don’t believe your 20mph e-bike to be safe in the bike lane no matter what type of straw man you create to justify it.

Gosh it feels good to be a White Liberal with all the answers. Hey, somebody get John Greenfield to write up a column about anything that makes us white folks feel even more superior, just be sure to let him know that we do not appreciate having any of our inconsistencies and hypocrisies treated with anything approaching a glaring harshness. Can I get a witness?