Tuesday, December 6, 2011


I have an entire array of friends from the Thursday Night Social Ride that I know from absolutely nowhere else. This includes the staff from a local bike shop, architects, a dentist, and someone I'd previously met at a party, among many, many others. One of them, Ali, is a weekly regular and a recent transplant to the United States from Pakistan. One day a discussion of the relative utility of our bicycles came up and I mentioned the huge number of things I have transported by bike, up to and including a roommate on one occasion. At my statement my bike could actually move a person, Ali piped up.

"I'm from Pakistan, this is a normal mode of transport." Well, that shut me up. Even as involved as I am in transportation cycling, it's easy to forget how unremarkable and standard it is to cycle in other parts of the world, and how non-standard driving can be. Admittedly, I'm from the middle part of the US, and more specifically, mostly in the South. I'm from one of the least bicycle friendly places in the world, both in terms of infrastructure and culture, so it's easy to consider yourself remarkable for getting out of the car.

The fact that cycling is considered unusual or extraordinary is part of what's led to "bicycle culture," and along with it, things like blogs about bicycles. Debates about steel vs aluminum and snide comments about the type of bicycle someone else uses to get around. These things really don't exist in places where cycling is undertaken with the same amount of excitement and ceremony as we give driving here in the U.S. Basically, if it's standard it can't be extraordinary (that's not necessarily a bad thing).

What's further highlighted this is the recent weather we've been experiencing has caused the usual immediate winter drop in the local cycling population. In my sleep I can hear the sound of bicycles all across Austin being hung up in garages, where they will remain 'til spring. This morning, as I was locking my bike up to the rack at work, a passerby commented she wasn't brave enough to try, and looked a bit mystified when I said, "All I really did was put on a coat." This was in overcast but dry 32 degree weather, far warmer than many other parts of the country at this time of year!

What I'm coming around to here is how our perceptions of normality strongly affect our behavior - in the U.S., transportation cycling is still a fringe activity and for many, something that is done involuntarily because of the lack of a motor vehicle. Since it's extraordinary, continuing to cycle when the weather turns is perceived to be unusual, so there are very few people who just put on a coat and deal with the cold. Normalization is the only cure here, and the only way to normalize transportation cycling is for it to be a reasonable Plan A or B for anyone, whether they're 8 or 80 years old. I do my part by just getting around and doing my best not to wuss out, whatever the weather.

What do you do?

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