Nov 152011

The first part of this mini-rant appears in Evolution, not Revolution: All Biking Motives Welcome, Part I. It was inspired by a post entitled Practical Cycling and “Lifestyle” Choices on the BikesideLA blog.

I didn’t start riding a bike as a diehard year-round commuter. I didn’t start as a “practical cyclist” who was making a political statement through my choice of transportation.

I started riding because I generally like being active, the city put a bike lane in front of my house, and when I tried it out I found my bike was—warning, unpolitical statement coming—fun to ride.

When I subsequently spent a Saturday afternoon riding from my house on the South Hill to the Rocket Bakery in the Garland District (which, as Spokane folks know, means I climbed a real heart-attack hill going north up Post) for a caramel latte and a giant snickerdoodle that were equally available at a Rocket Bakery two blocks from my house I wasn’t making a political statement. It was 100% a lifestyle choice. 

Did the enjoyable and successful experiences I had as a “lifestyle” bike rider help me mature into a “practical” bike rider, and beyond that into a bike advocate and activist? You bet your multi-tool and bike pump they did.

I would agree that riding a bike creates a genuine attitude shift; I wrote about my bike-inspired perspective on time a while ago, for example. But the dismissive tone that devalues specific reasons for bike use? Not my thing at all. This, for example, in the post that set me off:

“But when someone uses a bicycle to do something more important than shop for discretionary-income funded items, this use can become more than a consumer choice…The glory of this practical bicycling, then, is that one can actually be an effective and fully human agent using one, assuming that you use it for some substantive purpose, rather than as a lifestyle accessory.”

I get—I really do get—the many problems created in our society by the idea that we can have what we want, whenever we want it, at zero long-term cost. In fact, one of my posts on my personal blog asks questions about the need to own things and whether we might create new models and I lecture you about buying local food in this post.

I shop at thrift stores because it minimizes resource consumption and drive a 15-year-old car (when I drive) for the same reason. I pay more for locally grown food (a “consumer lifestyle choice,” I might note) because of the difference my dollars make. I am fully conscious of my consumerism and make mindful choices.

What I can’t go along with is the idea that people who choose to ride their bikes—only sometimes, only for fun (gasp)—are  not the real deal, let alone “an effective and fully human agent.”

In fact, if we design our transportation infrastructure to support those occasional riders who aren’t the fast and the fearless, we will have a better and more complete bike transportation network than if we only meet the needs of the hardcore riders.

A system that signals safety and encouragement to the occasional “lifestyle” rider is a system that works for everyone from 8 to 88–no matter where, or how much, they shop.

And I’d argue that we’re all humans, regardless of transportation choices. If more of us recognized that–really recognized it, face to face, eyeball to eyeball–I believe we’d have less “us vs. them” language in discussions about transportation and less “this is my lane, not your lane” behavior in real-world interactions on the street.

That is what would make us all effective and fully human agents.

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