Jun 192023
Riding Thoughts: Privilege Is a Tailwind

I’ve written before about the many ways that privilege I’m not always conscious of underlies my bicycling. Riding my road bike Sweetie and thinking about how that differs from riding my e-bike Zelda gave rise to these thoughts about structural and institutional privilege: the invisible-to-me unearned advantage, the water I swim in without thinking about what it means to be a fish.

Imagine you’re on a long ride. You’re heading up a grade. It may be steeper at times, it may be less steep, but you’re always grinding uphill. It’s hard, it’s wearing, it never stops.

Contrast that with being on a slight downslope. You feel as if you’re flying along. You must be so strong! In such great condition! It may be one of the very, very slight slopes so you don’t really know you’re heading downhill, you just know life is good. If you turned around and started riding up you would realize it’s work to go the other way. But as far as you know, all the speed and momentum you carry is thanks to you and you alone.

Imagine you’re riding into a headwind. No matter how hard you pedal, you don’t gain as much ground as you could if you weren’t facing this pushback.

Contrast that with having a tailwind at your back, like the gentle hand of a friend giving you a push. You can go farther with less work. You don’t even know the tailwind is there because you don’t turn around and ride into it. If you did, you would realize that you’re going so fast not because of your own strength, but because an invisible force gave you a boost.

Imagine you’re riding a road bike after you’ve gotten used to the help of an e-assist giving you a little boost on hills and into headwinds. All the effort has to come from you; there’s no help. Things that could be so much easier are instead so much harder. You know that if you were on your e-bike this wouldn’t be so much work. You’d still be pedaling but systems would be in place to make your effort produce more forward motion.

Imagine you’re riding downhill on an e-bike with a tailwind.

That’s privilege.

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