Given our complicated relationship with holidays and with Europe, it's no surprise that we also have a complicated relationship with cycling. Just as it can be difficult to convince people to simply take the day off, it's also difficult to convince people in this country to get on a bike, even though it's enjoyable, practical, and (at least once you've paid for the bike) free. Furthermore, unlike Columbus Day, there's not even any moral ambiguity involved; here in America, many of our ancestors were slaves, but very few of them were oppressed by cyclists. Still, it seems people are constantly trying to figure out why Americans won't ride bikes for transportation, and according to an article in Scientific American which was forwarded to me by a reader it's because the whole endeavor is too manly:
In fact, if you're a woman reading this, you may be flattered to know that when it comes to cycling in America you're actually an "indicator species," like a harbor seal in the Puget Sound:
Women are considered an “indicator species” for bike-friendly cities for several reasons. First, studies across disciplines as disparate as criminology and child rearing have shown that women are more averse to risk than men. In the cycling arena, that risk aversion translates into increased demand for safe bike infrastructure as a prerequisite for riding. Women also do most of the child care and household shopping, which means these bike routes need to be organized around practical urban destinations to make a difference.
It certainly makes sense to me that more people (and perhaps even harbor seals) would ride if there was a safer "bike infrastructure," and it also makes sense that such an infrastructure should be "organized around practical urban destinations." And who can deny that what little "bike infrastructure" we have is hopelessly masculine? It's virtually impossible to follow a bike lane here in America without winding up at a gun shop, bowling alley, or Home Depot. If only more of them led to nail salons and maternity shops then perhaps we'd be living in the cycling idyll which is, apparently, Holland. (Their invaluable contribution to the slave trade notwithstanding.)
This is absolutely essential if you regularly carry precious jewels and your existing bag and pants aren't already lined with silk, or if you prefer to make your purchases with gilded coins instead of dirty cash or tacky plastic credit cards and require a suitably precious coin purse. Actually, if anything urban cycling in this country has long ago bypassed "outlaw" and is now solidly in the "swashbuckling dandy" phase.
So even if cycling becomes safe and drenched in estrogen and all the bike lanes are sheltered and feature spas every quarter of a mile, I can't help but wonder if we will be able to surrender our carefully "curated" consumer identities in order to do it. Unfortunately, it seems instead that we prefer to treat every ride like a narrative which tells the "epic" tale of our savvy fashion choices and athletic accomplishments. Take this video, which has been making the rounds recently, and which tells the inspiring tale of some people who managed to ride their track bikes from London to Paris in order to slaver all over Lance Armstrong:
(I also buried an Albert Brooks reference in there if you listen carefully.)
Now, your eye is drawn away from the black kits and gear-mashing and towards the pretty scenery and the absurdly comical spinning. Furthermore, you realize they're less an army of fixed-gear avengers than they are some guys in lycra having a good time. It's just that, in order to sell that good time, they've couched it in the aesthetic of pain.
Really, the biggest challenge we face is figuring out how to ride our bikes while maintaining the illusion that we're special. For some of us, the truth that we're not is even scarier than all that motor vehicle traffic.