Sunday, June 26, 2011

It's all about Image

It's become a bit of a personal crusade for me to bring real vehicular cycling to America. Not that vehicular cycling as an act is anything particularly difficult or spectacular, but in the U.S. it is a very polarizing form of transportation. It seems that people either love or hate the bicycle, and I'm not sure why a more integrative method isn't taken.

I spent this past weekend at my family's house in the almost-rural northeastern outskirts of the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex, a city where the car is absolutely king. As they say in Los Angeles, everything is 20 minutes. A place where no less than three of my own family members looked at me a little baffled; where upon being sent to the store, the first thing I did was grab my bike. With me I took the TARDIS and a bike I'd gotten for my mom, an Electra Townie 8i.

Here it is parked with the TARDIS

Look at it. Fenders. Pants guard. Stepthrough frame. Comfy saddle. It's a European bike done with west coast cool. And yet everyone who sees it is baffled by it for a while, even up to and after they ride it. It gets so many reactions, most of which are mixed. "It rides like a Grandma bike." "I'd get one of these, but only if I lived in Key West." "I feel like such a hipster on this thing."

The interesting thing about those comments is they all came from men. The women who've ridden it have commented, "This is so much fun!" "I feel like I have excellent posture." "I can ride it in a skirt!" In short, putting the average woman on a comfortable, upright bike they can ride in any type of clothing seems to win rave reviews. Because here's the thing I've only ever seen brought up on Cycle Chic blogs - most people want to dress for their destination, not the journey. Gone are the days of driving coats and gloves, and I've never seen anyone in a car wearing a helmet. Because whether they admit it or not, most people are concerned with their image. Appearance. Call it vanity, call it whatever you like, but it's real and it's not going anywhere. Which brings me around to my initial point.

If we're going to make cycling a popular, viable form of transportation in this country, an alternative, if you will, then it has to be possible to get where you're going, looking good. I personally, for instance, hate wearing a helmet. I have a lot of hair and hate eternally arriving at my destination looking a bit like a wet dog. All the helmets and knee pads in the wide world are no substitute for good bicycle infrastructure. It has to be easy, practical, and safe. Popularity brings social acceptance, not the other way around (for instance, consider the evolution of the mini-skirt).

So in my crusade for vehicular cycling, I don't find it to be terribly revolutionary. It's just good common sense to integrate all the available options into our transportation infrastructure, and whether people like it or not, the bicycle is here to stay.

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