Cycling Hucksterism

Background Reading


Bicycle Rider pedaling on a Country Highway stanley45 via Getty Images

Bicycle Rider pedaling on a Country Highway
stanley45 via Getty Images


The quickest way to get the knickers of the Urban Cycling Community in a virtual twist is to present something that smacks of ‘bad news‘. Not something mind you that is malicious or propagandistic, just something that takes their message in a direction that could mean having to explain themselves.



Earlier this year the Governors Safety Report nearly sent some members of the Urban Cycling Community to the hospital:

All it did was point out that the safety figures for bicycling were going up and not down (despite the increased numbers of miles of bike lanes). This sort of thing is almost a ‘venal sin‘ in the eyes of the Church of Urban Cycling. It would be like claiming that while the church was against divorce and same-sex marriage, its priests were involved in pedophelia.

But the hucksters of the movement went into overdrive and figured out that they could perhaps take a hit on the data side and simply ‘spin‘ away the problem. And no sooner had that process begun than you heard all sorts of weak admissions that things were not what they should be and that perhaps the data itself was being collected improperly or that the guys doing the collecting had their tightey-whities on inside out. Either way nothing about the ‘promised safety increase‘ was in jeopardy.

Now keep in mind that there is a timestamp on the success of the Urban Cycling Movement. If nothing moves forward soon, then when the budget figures come through for cities like Chicago which is in the midst of considering the largest tax increase in recent memory it won’t suddenly cause people to ask why all these expensive lanes are being built and showing no decrease in deaths on our roadways.

A Mild Bit of Hysteria

So the most recent bit of kerfuffle came about when three major outlets started releasing stories about the spike in injuries among older adult riders. This is always a cause for a twinge around the heart cavity because it means that newbie commuters might rethink their participation.

And what was really a problem for some of the readers of these articles was the mention of a spike in brain injury accidents. Yikes!

So immediately on various forums discussions broke out on whether or not helmets should be used. And in the midst of all this the naysayers regarding the safety issues relating to seniors starting calling the data analysts hucksters.

I kinda smiled when I read that because it was the same excuse for the data analysis of the red light cameras here in Chicago showing that the system was rigged to bring in money (imagine that). And of course the Urban Cycling Community ended up with copious amounts of eggs on their collective faces for having backed this sham operation in the first instance.

But the Urban Cycling Movement is nothing but a sham if it is anything. It is chock full of folks who have a religious fervor that would make a Conservative Evangelical envious. And like all sham movements, when the ‘real truth‘ gets exposed it sends people running around as if their hair were on fire looking for someone to tell them what to believe next.

The Tea Party and the Urban Cycling Movement are sister operations. They have differing aims but similar methods.

Here Is Some Data You Cannot Refute


Alki Avenue, Seattle.

This trend in data release simply cannot be argued. What you do is you ask people whether a given form of bicycle infrastructure ‘looks safer‘ than another. And you add in the question of whether the ‘appearance of safety‘ would make the respondent more likely to use that infrastructure over another. What you can then do is report the response as one form of infrastructure being 7 times more effective than another.

The beauty of this is that most folks reading it will feel warm and fuzzy about protected bike lanes and confuse the idea of ‘effective‘ with something more meaningful, like ‘actual safety‘. Everybody involved feels good and if you are lucky the politicians will miss the ‘sleight of hand‘ as well.

All’s Fair In Love and War

Look for more of this sort of thing from the Urban Cycling Community and the groups that have a vested interest in the Urban Cycling Movement. But do not confuse this with the kind of scientific query that would certify that the miles and miles of lanes being installed (protected or otherwise) are having a positive effect on actual safety.

Meanwhile it is time for me to get back to the daily round of ‘why wear helmets‘. What I have noticed is that the silly sorts who protest the use of reflective clothing and gear are finding that there has been an onslaught of sanity from publications that purport to be all about bicycling.

I for one heartily support the use of reflective gear. I further love the hi-vis clothing that can be readily purchased. I think it makes it easier for me to see people who are out and about on darkening streets towards the close of day. But pardon me for not falling in line with the ‘hard line radicals‘ who seem to be leading the Urban Cycling Movement by the nose down the proverbial garden path.

I prefer to avoid the hucksterism wherever it presents itself. No movement with an ounce of moral rightness really needs to succumb to that approach. But they all do and that is what you have to expect. Nevertheless the behavior needs to be ‘called out‘.