Thursday, June 23, 2011 3:17 PM
Bicyclists have a reputation as a bunch of liberals, but it’s worth remembering that not all bicyclists are blue to the core. In fact, as Utne Reader has previously pointed out, there are plenty of conservative-minded folks who get around at least part of the time on two wheels.
Bicycle Times recently published a commentary by one of these mysterious creatures, Tom Bowden, subtitled “How to Talk About Cycling to a Conservative.” (The piece originally appeared on the website Commute By Bike.) Unfortunately, Bowden undermines his own attempt to extend an olive branch by repeatedly engaging in the same sort of stereotype-driven preconceptions and ignorance he’s supposedly campaigning against.
Here are some of his suggestions that really rankled me as a bike-commuting environmentalist:
“If you must meet a conservative face to face, wear a suit! It won’t kill you. Think of it as camouflage—you may find them nodding their heads in agreement even before you open your mouth.” Comment: Really? We should don business-world power attire simply to be taken seriously? I understand that wearing a “Cars R Coffins” T-shirt might not exactly help break down barriers, but Bowden’s proposal is like suggesting that Benjamin Netanyahu don a keffiyeh before the next round of Middle East peace talks. Besides, I know plenty of liberal bikers who wear suits to their jobs and meet face to face with conservatives every day. We’re not all clad in biker-hipster wear from sunup to sundown.
“Here is what turns off conservatives: Global warming, climate change, or climate disruption. If it’s as bad as Al Gore says it is, it will take more than a few bike lanes to fix it. But more importantly, you don’t need to win that fight (or even engage in it) to make your point. Cycling has plenty of merit without dragging in tangential and controversial issues like global … whatever the heck they call it this week.” Comment: OK, dude, you just shredded much of your credibility as a reasonable person. Here, for your information, is what turns off—all right, pisses off—bicycling environmentalists: First, portray well-established climate science solely as the pet theory of a Democratic ex-vice president. Second, trivialize the very real reduced emissions that millions of bicyclists bring about every day by avoiding car trips. Finally, insinuate that the very concept of climate change is wack because it goes by a few different terms depending on the context. Nice work: We’re livid.
“Here is what turns off conservatives: Anti-car arguments in general. Face it: cars exist and most Americans love them. You’ll get nowhere with a conservative if your explicit agenda (or suspected hidden agenda) is an attack on American ‘car culture.’” Comment: Few bikers are so pure that they don’t have a car in their household, so most of them are a part of car culture too—but unlike Bowden they’re willing to confront this conflict head-on and work toward a culture that is not so auto dependent. Car culture is responsible in large part for our messed-up transportation system and has been directly implicated as a major cause of climate change—but, oh yeah, that’s just Al Gore’s pet theory.
“Conservatives don’t like other people to tell them what they should do.” Comment: Do I really need to point out the irony here?
As you can see, Bowden made more than a few missteps in his attempt to create a dialogue, at least with this biker—but in the spirit of ending on a positive note and giving his best arguments their due, here a few of his more unassailable suggestions, absent any smartass commentary:
Cycling is efficient. True conservatives love efficiency! It has been said that a cyclist is more efficient than a bird in flight.
Remind [conservatives] that cycling is cheaper than building more roads. The more cyclists, the more room for cars on existing roads. The more cyclists, the less concrete we need to pour.
Make it clear that you are not suggesting that everyone can or will ditch their cars and ride bikes, but just that people who choose to ride should be able to do so safely, as taxpaying citizens worthy of full protection of their individual rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of that special kind of happiness one gets from riding a bike.
Sources: Bicycle Times
(article not available online), Commute By Bike
Image by swanksalot, licensed under Creative Commons.
Monday, March 21, 2011 11:10 AM
As bicycling proliferates, so does a new type of urban death memorial: White “ghost bikes” that memorialize cyclists who’ve been killed in collisions with autos. The ghost bikes are equal parts shrine and safety awareness campaign, meant to honor lives and prevent more deaths. Bicycle Times magazine (Feb. 2011) interviewed Meaghan Wilbur, a filmmaker who’s working on a documentary about the phenomenon.
Wilbur has been in touch with bike advocates all over the country about their ghost bike displays, and she notes that not all cities allow the white bikes to stick around:
“Boston takes them down almost immediately after a few days or a few weeks. San Francisco, too. People in both those cities cited reasons like tourism, beautification, graffiti laws, and not having the streets cluttered up with junk. Boston is not too keen on street art and other spontaneously appearing objects. Cycling advocates that I spoke to in San Francisco mentioned that perhaps ghost bikes are less common in San Francisco because the SF Bike Coalition is an incredibly strong voice for cyclists, and therefore there is less feeling that a statement needs to be made. … New Mexico has a state law protecting descansos (roadside memorials), and the Duke City Wheelmen Foundation has so far been successful in getting the state to recognize the ghost bikes are descansos and therefore protected under that law. … Miami installed a permanent memorial including a ghost bike for Christopher Lee Canne earlier this year in Key Biscayne, where his was killed. … Portland, Oregon, also has a couple permanent ghost bike installations.”
I sympathize a bit with both the pro- and anti- camps here. As a year-round urban bike commuter, I understand the bikers’ need to mark the places where their own have fallen, and both bikers and motorists can always use more reminders to be careful out there. Nothing does that quite like the bicycle equivalent of a skeleton.
However, I confess that I became firmly opposed to roadside automobile death shrines on travels through the Western United States, where they were more common than mile markers in some areas, and often unsightly: From a distance, many looked like crucifixes growing out of trash heaps. Some scenic stretches of road began to feel more like funeral routes.
I can’t get too worked up about ghost bikes, though. In urban environments, they don’t intrude much on the scenery, such as it is. And they can have a poignantly haunting quality, which I guess is the point. Several ghost bikes have been placed in Minneapolis, where I live and ride, and each time I pedal past one I think, there but for the grace of Ford go I.
Sources: Ghost Bikes Film Project, Bicycle Times(article not available online), Ghost Bike Minneapolis
Image by Osbornb, licensed under Creative Commons.
Friday, November 12, 2010 11:27 AM
The recent U.S. election was discouraging in general for green transportation advocates, but one loss I felt particularly keenly was the unseating of Minnesota Democratic congressman James Oberstar by a slim margin. For as Carolyn Szczepanski writes on her blog People Powered Transportation at Mother Earth News:
If you don’t live in Minnesota’s 8th Congressional District or follow federal transportation policy, you probably don’t even know the name James Oberstar. He was elected to Congress in 1974, and, since his very first term, served on the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure.
For bike-ped advocates, those committee members are critical and, for three decades, Oberstar pushed to get bicyclists and pedestrians recognized and treated as “intended users” of our public roads. In the last wave election in 2006, when Democrats took control of the House, Oberstar was elected chairman of the Transportation Committee. A few months after he claimed leadership, he told a crowd at the National Bike Summit: “We’re going to convert America from the hydrocarbon economy to the carbohydrate economy.”
Oberstar was vested in many transit issues, as Minnesota Public Radio reports, but it was clear that biking was close to his heart, and he was responsible for directing funding to many bike trails in the nation and the state. He was in some ways a classic pork-barrel politician, but he served up an awful lot of tasty pork to bicyclists. I’ve ridden many miles on Oberstar-funded trails, including the Lakewalk along Duluth’s Lake Superior waterfront—and so, I imagine, have many of the people who voted red over blue this time around.
Washington, D.C.’s Streetsblog reports that now that Oberstar is out of the picture, Rep. Nick Rahall of West Virginia, a “coal-n-highways Dem,” may be angling for the top Democratic seat on the Transportation Committee. (The silver lining: This would take Rahall and his pro-coal agenda off the Natural Resources Committee.)
Oberstar is a savvy guy. He probably knows that he didn’t get voted out because people suddenly hate bike trails, but because the soft, doughy, pliable middle of the electorate simply swung in the other direction this time. Maybe they need to get out and bike a bit more.
Sources: Mother Earth News, Minnesota Public Radio News, Streetsblog Capitol Hill
Image of Rep. James Oberstar by John Schadl, courtesy of the photographer.
Tuesday, October 05, 2010 3:00 PM
New urbanism is the increasingly popular school of urban planning and architecture that aims to create pedestrian-friendly communities. But are these mixed-use developments always bike-friendly as well?
I’ve bicycled in some new-urbanism-influenced developments where the narrow streets, “traffic calming” devices, and wide sidewalks leave little safe room for bikes—and Philip Langdon at New Urban News confirms that my impressions may have some grounding in reality. He writes in a commentary for the September 2010 issue that he’s been an “around-town,” year-round cyclist for nearly 30 years.
Until recently, however, I hadn’t written all that frequently about bike planning in New Urban News because I wasn’t sure that cycling was in tune with the campaign for walkable cities and towns. In particular, I was concerned that the push for bike lanes could result in wider streets or bigger setbacks for buildings, both of which can detract from the pleasures of urban settings.
Having confessed his dark secret, Langdon has come to realize that “Progress over the past couple of years has now persuaded me that biking is indeed good for urbanism.”
I’m left wondering how many other new urbanists have been viewing bicycles as a complicating factor more than an integral part of vibrant city life. It’s not that the movement has ignored bikes—bon vivant bicyclist David Byrne has even spoken at a new urbanist conference—but rather that the emphasis on walkability often seems to have taken precedence over bikeability. Fortunately, New Urban News in the same issue (September 2010) covers a new set of guidelines meant to integrate bicycling into new urbanist communities.
In keeping with the wonkspeak of the architecture and design world, the framework is called a “module” and trades in terms such as “shy zone” (“a painted buffer between parked cars and a bike lane”), “peg-a-track” (“parallel dashed pavement markings that continue a bicycle lane through an intersection”), and “bicycle shed” (“how far a typical bicyclist can travel in five minutes”). The module is available for free at the website of the Center for Applied Transect Studies.
Beneath the lingo there appear to be some good ideas, such as tailoring bike planning to specific communities rather than taking a “one-size-fits-all” approach, incorporating bike lanes where they are best suited, and providing more bike parking. But there’s at least one highly questionable directive: The guidelines are skeptical of the converting underused railroad rights of way into bike trails because “rail infrastructure should be preserved for future use as transit.”
As someone who commutes every workday on a bike trail that shares a corridor with a working rail line, and has ridden on countless great rails-to-trails routes, I beg to differ.
In any case, it’s great to hear that the new urbanists are getting on the bike saddle. One person who responded to Langdon’s commentary chided him for his slowness in professionally embracing two-wheeled transportation:
We committed bicyclists would like to welcome you to the future, Phil! Not only are bikes compatible with habitable urban spaces, they’re one of the most promising solutions to the urban transportation problem, and perhaps the most ‘green’ too. Plus, cyclists are a quality of life enhancer: nobody comes back from Europe to say, “Love that place but hate all those bikers clogging the streets!” Isn’t this a no-brainer? We like those places, so why not emulate them? Is any grand ‘a ha!’ moment necessary?
Sources: New Urban News, Center for Applied Transect Studies
Image by Richard Drdul, licensed under Creative Commons.
Thursday, September 02, 2010 2:57 PM
Thanks to the new book Cycling—Philosophy for Everyone, I now have a term to describe the state of mind I achieve on my daily bicycle commute. This passage comes from the essay “Becoming a Cyclist: Phenomenological Reflections on Cycling” by Danish philosophy professor Steen Nepper Larsen:
The standard bike is a piece of low tech, the nearly divine epitome of sustainability, and an absolute necessity when cities have to be rethought and redesigned without the present profusion of noisy, space-hogging, energy-consuming cars. In contrast to several years of gasoline-engine monotheism and tailpipes, the cycling polytheism will open many possibilities of otherness and gliding unpredictable processes.
The trajectories and escape routes of the bike do not follow the flows of commodities, money, and capital. The mobility of the bicycle reminds us much more of the old dream of being as free as a bird in the sky than a trip on the discounted economy expressway that commodifies our experiences. The freedom of the road contains much more than the modern, “creative,” self-managed workplace and is much richer than the freedom to consume. It is possible to accelerate your bike, but at full throttle it ironically contributes to a deceleration of the accelerating technologies of globalization. Cycling is an alternative version of rich global communication. Far from the Net, the PC, and the mobile phone, the life-world of the cyclist becomes saturated by the senses and overwhelmed by the physical and climatic reality “out there.” No protective walls or phantom digital walls to lean on. Below the helmet one is happy to enjoy what other people might consider to be empty and dead commuting time to be traveled at the speed of light, while moving from destination A to destination B. The biker knows that the road taken is more important than the goal. It’s no fun getting there if the getting there is deprived of quality and lacks adventures. The Germans have an expression for this fertile time-in-between: Zwischenzeit.
Larsen’s essay is one of the high points of Cycling—Philosophy for Everyone, which like every bike ride contains some uneven territory. The volume spills too much ink on Lance Armstrong and on bike racing in general for my tastes, and calling some of the material “philosophy” is a stretch. Still, almost any type of literary-minded cyclist will find something to latch onto in the book—food for thought during your next Zwischenzeit.
Source: Cycling—Philosophy for Everyone
Friday, July 16, 2010 4:00 PM
The Tour de Fat is rolling across the Western United States, bringing bikes, beer, and carnivalesque frivolity to more than a dozen cities. Sponsored by Colorado craft brewer New Belgium, the event raises thousands of dollars for local bike groups in each location through brew and merchandise sales, all the while allowing local bikers to get their inner freak on.
The riders who show up for the kickoff event, the Tour de Fat bicycle parade, are a wildly eclectic bunch: Geeky vintage bike collectors pedal alongside BMX tricksters and attention-getting body-mod and tattoo fetishists. Tinkerers show off their tall bikes and crazy modifications; single-speeders flaunt their stripped-down rigs; and cargo bikers—such as me, riding the Utne Reader’s new Surly Big Dummy—flex their load-bearing capacity.
I made the rounds at the Minneapolis Tour de Fat before the parade started, asking bikers with notable rides to tell me a bit about them, while Utne Reader art director Stephanie Glaros took photos. (Look for more of her shots soon on Utne’s Tumblr blog.) Here are the fascinating folks we met:
Mark Lukens, Minneapolis
Double-decker BMX bike
BMX biking is literally imprinted on Mark Lukens: Google “BMX tattoos” and an image of the handlebars stretching across his chest will turn up at the top of your results. A welder, he made two bikes into one:
“This is a mid-’90s Wilkerson Airline on the bottom, with a late ’90s Powerlite freestyle frame on the top. I saw other people with tall bikes, and what I do is BMX, so I went with it. Stunts allowed are wheelies, and wheelies only. I Frankensteined together the front steer tube, so there’s no bar spins anymore.”
Bill Eggert, St. Paul
Eggert calls his contraption the Evolutionary Transport, or ET for short—and he’s got a patent pending, so don’t even think of ripping off this idea:
“It’s kind of like an elliptical trainer that moves or a cross-country ski machine that moves. I’m a former long-distance runner with some injuries and was looking for a low-impact way to exercise outside that was still weight-bearing and used arms and legs. I can get a really good workout in a shorter period of time, plus, it’s green. You can run errands on this. I have a big basket on it, and I can take it to the grocery store. A whole bunch of people in health clubs ride elliptical trainers, but they always complain about being stuck inside. I’ve got a patent pending on this, and am getting closer. This is just one of several prototypes: different wheelbases, different wheel sizes. I have a winter version with a Pugsley tire on the rear end. I’m finalizing design issues, and I may be flying to Taiwan early this fall to find a manufacturer.”
Brad Wilcox and Juliann Wilcox, Lindstrom, Minnesota
The Wilcoxes have their own fleet of vintage bicycles—more than a half-dozen at last count, and growing all the time:
Brad: “This is a Swedish-built Monarch, and it’s a delivery bike. It’s very common. We live up in a Swedish community, and we have a lot of Swede tourists. A guy stopped by last summer, and he said, ‘I rode one of these delivering for a local hardware store in Sweden.’ I found this one locally, in an antique store in Minneapolis. I believe someone left it as a garden bike for a while. I cleaned it up as good as I could, but it’s an excellent, very well-built bike. It rides very well. Hopefully the tires won’t blow out, because they’re still the original tires. My wife found it, and I have a bunch of Monarchs, the U.S. built ones, so I thought it fit with the collection. Mainly I ride it around the little town we live in, and people look at me like I’m from outer space. ‘There’s the guy with the rack on the front.’ I paid enough for it, I’m sure. It was one of those deals where I had to have it at the time.”
Juliann: “This is a Columbia with a laser horn. (She pushes a button on the side of the futuristic top bar, emitting a sharp electric skronk.) That’s what I call it. I laser people out when I’m biking by. I wanted a red bike today since it went with my outfit.”
Brad: “The [Columbia] bike was my brother’s pride and joy, but he moved to Florida and it wouldn’t fit in the U-Haul. He said, ‘Would you take it?’ I said, ‘Oh, I think I’ll take it.”
Juliann: “I bought a bike yesterday saw another one, but I couldn’t fit it in the car. We could only get one in.”
Brad: “Bikes are cheaper than drugs, and they last longer. I think they’re cheaper, anyway.”
Elyce Gibson and Brad Ash, Minneapolis
Schwinn Jenny and unidentifiable black mountain bike
Gibson and Ash recently relocated from Washington, D.C., to Minneapolis—lucky for them, since it allowed them to ride in the Tour de Fat and show off Elyce’s brand-new but classic-looking Schwinn Jenny:
Elyce: “I just got this bike, and I’ve been riding it every day since. I like the color, the shape, and that it’s a seven-speed but looks vintage. I looked all over in shops for a bike but then found this on the Schwinn website and had it special ordered by a bike shop.”
Brad: “This has a beautifully speckled rust paint job. I’ve even gotten compliments on it, but it’s not intentional. It doesn’t have any original parts—this is a Frankenstein bike. It has personality, and it works well. Well, maybe not all of the time. About three months ago part of the handlebar broke off while I was riding.”
All images by Stephanie Glaros.
Wednesday, May 19, 2010 10:45 AM
Feministing hipped me to this amazing video from Utrecht, a city of about 300,000 in the Netherlands, where one-third of all trips are made by bicycle. The video shows a busy—but never too gummed-up!—intersection during rush hour. Utne’s hometown of Minneapolis is a great city for cycling, but this bike-happy glimpse of Utrecht made me drool:
Monday, December 14, 2009 1:55 PM
Attendees at the Copenhagen climate change conference should take a cue from their host city’s bicycle-friendly nature, writes editor Jonathan Maus at BikePortland.org:
Copenhagen just happens to be the City of Cyclists, and its dedication to providing streets that make biking a viable option for its citizens has already had an incalculable impact on many cities. . . . The lessons and experiences of Copenhagen are also putting pressure on the field of bike planning in America. It’s Copenhagen’s example that has provided the impetus for a broad coalition of large U.S. cities to push bike planning innovation further, faster than existing U.S. federal highway standards will allow.
As the case against auto dependence grows more each day, it’s becoming even clearer that making our cities more amenable to bike traffic is a winning strategy. I just hope COP15 attendees step out of their meetings and presentations long enough to let the Copenhagenizing take hold.
Of course, Denmark hasn’t come off especially well in the last few days, having been pilloried by developing countries for its ill-considered behind-the-scenes dealmaking in the lead-up to the conference. And it’s quite clear that it will take a whole lot more than bike lanes and chain guards to tackle the climate change mess. Still, it’s worth taking a moment to remember that when the rubber hits the road, the Danes have done some good for the environment.
L.A. Streetsblog notes that the point was not lost on Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper and Democracy Now host Amy Goodman, who interviewed Hickenlooper in Copenhagen:
Thirty-seven percent of the people in this city, when they go to work in the metropolitan area, ride a bicycle to work. I mean, it’s remarkable. I met yesterday for an hour with the deputy mayor of the environment and transportation, Klaus Bondam, and he described how their next goal is to hit 50 percent. I mean, to have half your population, when they go to work on bicycles, they’re healthier, the air is cleaner, there’s less carbon emissions, you save money. I mean, the benefits are dramatic, and you can see the difference just when you walk down the street.
Goodman: I mean, we were just in the city council last night at like 10:30, 11:00. The whole bottom floor of this century-old building is filled with not only bicycle racks, but bicycles that fill them.
Goodman: And city council members, the guards, everyone are riding in and out of the city council on their bicycles.
Hickenlooper: Yeah. When I flew in, the fellow next to me on the plane is a hotshot young technology expert, makes a huge amount of money—doesn’t own a car, rides his bike. You know, he says, “It’s healthier. It’s more fashionable.” You know, it’s what his friends do. And I think that’s the whole thing that—when you get to public sentiment, I mean, what Lincoln was talking about. We need to change our public sentiment so people want to do these things. And it’s not government coming down and being punitive, but it’s creating a change, a transformation in our attitudes.
See the full transcript at Democracy Now.
Source: BikePortland.org, Streetsblog Los Angeles, Democracy Now
Image by malouette, licensed under Creative Commons.
Friday, December 11, 2009 2:27 PM
A helmet protects your noggin while bicycling, but helmet laws can make cycling more dangerous, according to Next American City. Safety in numbers explains the paradox: “One of the biggest determining factors of bicycle safety is not protective wear, but the number of other cyclists out on the road,” Justin Glick writes. Helmet laws—because they imply cycling is dangerous—tend to depress ridership, sometimes dramatically.
“Advocacy group Transportation Alternatives has strongly opposed mandatory helmet laws in New York City on multiple occasions for just this reason,” Glick writes. “Their spokesperson . . . explains how it’s an issue when cycling morphs from a ‘spontaneous activity, as commonplace as going for a walk,’ into something seen as ‘more cumbersome, less safe.’ ” Yet studies have shown that cycling is no more dangerous than driving or going for a walk.
Source: Next American City
Image by Dan4th, licensed under Creative Commons.
Sunday, August 09, 2009 8:05 AM
It’s been two long decades since most U.S. bike companies moved their factories overseas, primarily to China and Taiwan. It’s a story avid U.S. cyclists often lament—the decline of domestic manufacturing—and the death knell seemed to sound this past April when the owners of Cannondale, among the last big brands to have a U.S. production facility, announced they would cease stateside production by 2010.
Perhaps Cannondale’s execs (and bummed-out cyclists) should pick up a copy of the New Internationalist. In its June 2009 issue, the global justice publication predicts that large-scale bicycle manufacturing will return to the United States in the next few years. Overseas shipping has become less economical (not to mention an environmental boondoggle), and U.S. retailers are interested in faster turnaround, industry analyst Jay Townley tells the magazine.
If the prediction bears out, which U.S. cities will nab domestic factories? The New Internationalist article, written by a contributor to BikePortland.org, understandably showcases the many perks of Oregon’s bicycle mecca, while conceding that Portland’s “roads and railways are not placed as favorably as a Midwestern transportation hub like Indianapolis or Nashville.”
Source: New Internationalist
Image by doviende, licensed under Creative Commons.
Thursday, July 23, 2009 3:14 PM
Last weekend, my two young sons and I attached twin booster rockets to their Burley bike trailer and shot like a comet through the streets of Minneapolis. Actually, the rockets were tomato cages encased in wrapping paper, with red streamers serving as flames. And when I say “shot” I mean we traveled at 2 to 3 miles per hour. We were part of the bike parade in the Tour de Fat, a traveling bike festival with a carnivalesque atmosphere sponsored by the New Belgium Brewing Company.
We had the only twin booster rockets in the parade, but we weren’t the silliest bikers by any stretch. There were cowboys, Vikings, a green bumblebee, an Elvis, and men in dresses. Propellers whirled atop beanies, crazy wigs struggled to stay on heads, at least one toga got caught in rear brakes, and a sound system in a bike trailer pumped out cheesy hits from the ’80s. A good half of the riders had taken to heart the suggestion to “come as a participant, not a spectator” in this “costumed celebration of human-powered transportation.” We looked ridiculous, and we had a blast.
It was a refreshing change from past mega-bike rides I’ve been in, notably the now-infamous Critical Mass, which I sampled more than a decade ago. In the Tour de Fat there were no hyper-aggressive “corkers” blocking traffic at intersections and holding their bikes in the air like triumphant WWF champions. It didn’t feel like a hipster clique, even though there were plenty of trendy bike fashions on parade. Bikers of all ages, sizes, and abilities were welcome. And it didn’t matter what kind of bike you were on, as long as it had pedals. For once I didn’t feel as if the twitchy, track-standing dudes on meticulously color-coordinated fixies were looking down their noses at my ancient Trek mountain bike repurposed as a commuter ride. (I’ve been riding since you were in training pants, punks.) Again, the atmosphere was written right into the guidelines: “Honor all other bikes: All bikes are good bikes, and all those who ride them are good people.”
As we circled Minneapolis’ Lake of the Isles, it was amusing to see bystanders’ reactions to this rolling mass of weirdness. Most of them couldn’t resist a smile, and even the lines of drivers roadblocked to let the parade pass seemed less hostile than drivers held up by Critical Mass—though I admit I saw one unmoved SUV driver wearing that unmistakable “I hate bikers and all they represent” scowl. Looping back to the Tour de Fat venue, we engaged in more silliness: neo-vaudeville stage shows, a ring full of crazy bikes for people to ride, afternoon beer drinking, a funeral for a car (which had been given up by the lucky winner of a deluxe bike).
It struck me that perhaps this was a better approach to promoting bike power than the in-your-face confrontation of Critical Mass. By dressing in crazy costumes, encouraging diversity, and discouraging testosterone-charged grandstanding, we disarmed our potential foes and robbed them of any good reasons to tell us to get back on the sidewalks or, worse, back in our cars. Because, as more than one T-shirt proclaimed, Cars R Coffins. Long live bikes!
Sources: New Belgium, Critical Mass, Cars R Coffins
Image by dustinj, licensed under Creative Commons.
Wednesday, July 15, 2009 12:44 PM
Mitch Schneider was getting rid of a “sweet, ten-speed thrasher” road bike, and he decided to make hopeful riders work for it—by having them write “in exactly 20 words why you are the most-deserving candidate for my road bike, and what you plan to use it for.”
He shares a handful of responses—some goofy, some earnest—in the new issue of Boneshaker: A Bicycling Almanac, a lively, thoughtful journal that features bike-inspired essays, poetry, reviews, conversations, and more (the article is not available online). Here’s some of the “pure road poetry” that Schneider received:
I done could like this bike to fetch stuff fer me and my wench to cook our vittles real good. –O'Connell
Twenty words is hardly enough to explain how much commuting, cruising, and possibly crashing would happen if it were mine. –David P.
Help I am in need of a bike for Pops! Please help him escape loving but crazy menopausal wife. THANKS! –Sam R.
Moving from Oregon without cash for a car makes this bike an important component to my future success and happiness. –Jordan H.
stripped naked like a chop shop
and then put back together to wheel downtown
and friends in need to borrow
its no haiku, but let me know –Will B.
I would convert this bike to a fixed gear bike then learn how to perform track stands to impress friends. –Bob B.
Source: Boneshaker: A Bicycling Almanac
Thursday, June 25, 2009 5:10 PM
Issue #5 of Philly-based sustainability magazine Grid arrived this week—chock full of summertime “how to” cheer that’s just begging to be shared. Grid is a free magazine, and you can read its entire digitized issue online. Be sure to check out:
How to make rhubarb cobbler on page 15: This tasty-looking recipe calls for delectable maple sugar instead of the loads of predictable, refined white sugar found in most rhubarb concoctions.
How to attract beneficial insects to your garden on page 12: From lacewings to ladybugs, Grid has the skinny on how to lure the good guys—insects that pollinate and keep pest populations in check—into your yard, including specific “companion plants.”
Plus: How to fix a flat bike tire (page 10), how to recycle your television (page 11), and loads of other recipes, including vegan blood orange cupcakes and sugar-snap peas with bacon.
Tuesday, May 19, 2009 5:03 PM
Organic Gardening just made this bicycle geek smile: The May 2009 issue includes simple instructions on how to convert old bike wheel rims into a support for climbing garden plants, like beans. All the nailing and stringing necessary (which isn’t much), happens through the holes already there for spokes. Brilliant!
Source: Organic Gardening
Tuesday, February 17, 2009 11:17 AM
The kids at Bear Creek Elementary in Boulder, Colorado, are some of the most hardcore green commuters in the land. Seventy percent of the students there walk or bike to school, we learned on the website Commute by Bike—an achievement that earned the school the 2008 James Oberstar Award for excellence in the federal Safe Routes program.
Only 25 percent of the students walked or biked when the program began two years ago, which shows that a little encouragement can go a long way. A little wackiness doesn’t hurt, either. Principal Kent Cruger has helped inspire students by arriving at school on wheeled transport including a foot-powered scooter, a skateboard, and a unicycle. And the school’s “Walking Schoolbus” program promotes walking routes with names that are anything but pedestrian, like Darley Dart, Vassar Vroom, and Sooper Shuttle.
“We are trying to create a new culture of daily car-free habits in this young generation,” says Vivian Kennedy, a parent volunteer at Bear Creek, according to the National Center for Safe Routes to School. “A parent’s perception is a dominant factor in molding a child’s thinking, [but ] it’s now a matter of honor and pride for the students.”
In other words, it’s cool.
Sources: Commute by Bike, Safe Routes, Safe Routes Bear Creek Case Study, James L. Oberstar Award
Image by Dan Burden, courtesy of the
Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center
Tuesday, October 14, 2008 3:30 PM
A wiry thirtysomething guy bikes out of the Whole Foods parking lot, a pannier of organic produce strapped to his rack. He’s on his way home to make dinner after a couple of hours volunteering at the local Obama campaign headquarters. He inches down the driveway, waiting for an opportunity to turn right into the busy rush-hour traffic.
He sees an opening and jumps into the lane, pedaling quickly. But he’s not moving fast enough for a hulking SUV whose impatient driver doesn’t want to change lanes. She tailgates him for several yards, laying on the horn, then swerves into the other lane and tears past him, yelling something about getting on the sidewalk. The cyclist gives her a one-fingered salute, then notices a McCain-Palin sticker on her bumper.
We are all guilty of certain prejudices. In the escalating (and increasingly dangerous) tensions between car commuters and bicycle riders, battle lines are drawn. As an avid cyclist leaning fairly hard to port, I had very little reason to interrogate the stereotypes embodied in the scenario above. But eventually a few needling questions penetrated my insulated sphere of thought: What if there are conservatives who ride bikes? What the hell do they look like? And where can I find them?
On the Internet, of course.
“I am a gun-owning, low-taxes, small-government, strong military, anti-baby murder, pro-big/small business, anti-social program, conservative Democrat,” wrote Maddyfish, a poster on Bike Forums, an Internet discussion forum where everyone from the casual hobbyist to the obsessive gearhead can discuss all things bike-related, from frame sizes to the best routes downtown. There are dozens such forums for bicyclists and I recently crashed three of them—Bike Forums, MPLS BikeLove, and Road Bike Review—with a simple question: Are there any conservative cyclists out there? Maddyfish (an online pseudonym) was one of the first to reply: “I find cycling to be a very conservative activity. It saves me money and time.”
And just like that, biking conservatives came out of the cyber-woodwork, offering their own mixtures of bike love and political philosophy. “I do not care about gas prices or the environment. I care about fun and getting where I am quickly,” wrote Old Scratch. “I’m a Libertarian,” wrote Charly17201. “I am extremely conservative, but definitely NOT a GOPer. … I ride my bike because it provides me the opportunity to save even more money for my pleasures now and my retirement in the future (and my retirement fund is NOT the responsibility of the government).”
The more liberal bikers in the forums repeated some variation of this formulation: “Drive to the ride = conservative; bike to the ride = liberal.” In other words, conservatives load bikes onto SUVs and drive them to a riding trail, while liberals incorporate their bikes into every aspect of their personal transportation, whether utilitarian or recreational. For moneyed conservatives with a large portion of their income budgeted for recreation, high-end bikes and gear have taken their place along golf as a rich man’s leisure activity.
But there are conservatives who integrate bikes into their lifestyle just as thoroughly as their liberal counterparts. Mitch Berg is a conservative talk-radio host whose blog, A Shot in the Dark, is divided between political content and chronicles if his experiences commuting by bicycle. “I grew up in rural North Dakota, and biking was one of my escapes when I was in high school and college,” he told me. “It’s my favorite way to try to stay in shape. And if gas fell to 25 cents a gallon, I’d still bike every day.”
Berg doesn’t believe there’s anything inherently political about riding a bike. “But people on both sides of the political aisle do ascribe political significance to biking. The lifestyle-statement bikers, of course, see the act as a political and social statement. And there’s a certain strain of conservatism that sees conspicuous consumption—driving an SUV and chortling at paying more for gas—as a way to poke a finger in the eyes of the environmental left.”
The impression that bikers are liberal is reinforced, Berg feels, by the most vocal and political members of bike culture. These are the folks who corner the media's spotlight (and draw drivers' resentment) with high-profile events like Critical Mass, a group ride that floods downtown streets in many cities at the end of each month as riders zealously reassert their rights to the paths normally traveled by cars. Similarly, when the price of gas climbed to $4 over the summer, the media couldn’t run enough stories about the unprecedented popularity of bike commuting. Activist bikers leveraged the newfound media attention to promote certain messages: that bicycling is an inherently political activity; that cyclists care about traditionally progressive causes like environmental protection; that more tax money should be allocated for bike paths and a transportation infrastructure that takes vehicles other than cars into account.
“The faction of bikers that is fundamentally political has done a good job of tying [bikes and politics] together,” Berg says. “The Green Party has wrapped itself around the bicycle.” But for many, biking is political because everything is political: “You need a public infrastructure to [bike],” wrote Cyclezealot, on Bike Forums. “So, cycling will always be affected by politics, like it or not.”
When politics does bleed into cycling, does it create tensions? I asked Berg if he ever feels outnumbered on group rides dominated by liberals, and if those differences ever come to the fore. “Of course,” he replied, “On several levels. I’m a conservative. I don’t believe in man-made global warming. I’m biking for reasons that are partly personal and partly capitalistic; I don’t want to pay $4 for gas.” But he has made liberal friends based on a common love of cycling. So has William Bain, a retired Naval officer living in the Pacific Northwest whose bike commute is a 43-mile round trip. “Cycling is the common bond I have with my liberal friends,” said Bain. “We can get in a heated passionate argument about politics and then go out and try to ride each other into the ground. Good clean fun.”
Berg and Bain have allies in the government who see bicycle advocacy as a nonpartisan issue. Take Republican Greg Brophy, a Colorado state senator and an avid cyclist who competes in road bike marathons and uses his mountain bike to haul farm equipment. Brophy worked with Bicycle Colorado to pass Safe Routes to School and is supporting a “Green Lanes” bill to give bicyclists safer routes through metro areas.
Conservative cyclists don’t tend to get help from all their political allies, however. Some right-wing personalities know that biking is a hot-button issue and make pointed attacks on cyclists while reinforcing the liberal-cyclist stereotype. The Minneapolis Star-Tribune’s hard-right columnist Katherine Kersten earned the ire of the Twin Cities bike community in 2007 when she characterized Critical Mass as a mob of “serial lawbreakers” bent on ruining the lives of honorable citizen motorists. “Are you rushing to catch the last few innings of your son's baseball game? Trying to get to the show you promised your wife for her birthday? Critical Mass doesn't give a rip.”
Last fall, Twin Cities talk-radio host Jason Lewis made on-air remarks decrying the “bicycling crowd” as “just another liberal advocacy group.” He recycled a common anti-bike canard—that bicyclists have no rights to the roads because they don’t pay taxes to service those roads—before issuing a call to arms: “The people with the 2,000-pound vehicle need to start fighting back.” Lewis’ comments seem especially reckless in light of recent events: In September alone, four Twin Cities cyclists were killed in collisions with motor vehicles. One conservative blogger celebrates bike fatalities and gleefully anticipates more. “Keep it up,” he tells cyclists, “and the law of averages says we’ll have a few less Obama voters in November.”
While such critics tap into right-wing rage at all things liberal, conservative bikers appeal to a saner tenet of their political tradition: the free market's invisible hand. “Let the market roam free,” Berg exclaimed. “The higher gas goes, the more people will try biking.” And where there’s money to be made, bikes and bike-share programs will emerge. When the Republican National Convention came to the Twin Cities in September, for example, a bike-share program was there to greet it. Humana and Bikes Belong made 1,000 bikes available for rental during the convention, with 70 bikes staying behind as part of a permanent rental program.
Conservatives on bikes represent the breakdown of party-line stereotypes. They are heartening examples of crucial divergences from the lazy red/blue dichotomy the pundits are relentlessly hammering in these last frenzied days of campaign season. They are a microcosm in which a stereotype falls away to reveal an actual individual. What's more, they represent not just the abandonment of tired clichés, but more bikes on the road—something all of us on two wheels, regardless of our political idiosyncrasies, can agree is a good thing.
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Friday, August 29, 2008 4:07 PM
A newly developed piece of clothing called the Speed Vest is giving bicycle safety some much-needed visibility.
The reflective vest displays its wearer’s speed in bright neon numbers on the back, increasing the rider’s visibility while addressing the common complaint that bikes slow car traffic. Automobile drivers’ impatience might be mitigated if the Speed Vest confirms that the bike in front of them is traveling at or near the car’s speed.
The Speed Vest is still in the prototype stage, but its designers—Brady Clark, of Minneapolis, and Mykle Hansen, of Portland, Oregon—have already won the Bike Gadget Contest held by the Hub Bike Co-Op in Minneapolis and showcased their invention at the Minnesota State Fair this summer. The bike blog Urban Velo has some playful suggestions for alternative messages bicyclists could convey via the Speed Vest.
Image by Nathaniel Freeman, courtesy of Speed Vest.
Friday, July 18, 2008 5:36 PM
The 8th annual international Bicycle Film Festival (BFF) concluded its Minneapolis leg this past weekend with a hefty roster of screenings at the Theatre de la Jeune Lune. For Twin Cities residents, Saturday served as a bittersweet goodbye to the venue, which officially shuttered operations at the end of June.
The BFF screens its first films tonight in Los Angeles, and gets rolling this Wednesday in San Francisco, before moving on to Chicago and Boston during the month of August. After that, the jet-setting festival will travel to Toyko, Austin, London, Vienna, Zurich, Paris, Sydney, Melbourne, and Milano—before finishing its run this December back in Portland, Oregon. Here are some of this past weekend’s cinematic highlights—many of which citizens of next-up cities can partake in:
Road to Roubaix
, a 2008 documentary directed by a pair of Davids (Deal and Cooper), tells the story of one of the world’s most brutal road races: the 160-mile Paris-Roubaix, which, as the name suggests, winds north from the City of Lights toward the industrial town of Roubaix, traveling along unforgiving cobblestone roads. Not all riders finish the historic race, but those who do complete the course in a single, grueling day. (The bikes take so much abuse, the filmmakers note, they’ll never again be ridden professionally.) Road to Roubaix relies on the triumph-of-human-spirit trope, but fairly so—one look at the hefty chunk of stone bequeathed to the victor, and it’s clear that riding in the Paris-Roubaix at all is a Herculean feat. Watch it for: the holy crap factor.
See the Road to Roubaix trailer here:
The Six-Day Bicycle Races
, directed by Mark Tyson, is a jaunty romp through the origins of track racing, the jaw-dropping endurance cycling races that drew sell-out crowds to Madison Square Garden in the1920s. This sport phenomenon of the American Jazz Age required pairs of (handsomely paid) riders, one of whom was always on the track, to zoom about in a brutal, non-stop, no-holds-barred contest to accrue the most mileage. Hollywood and gangster glitterati would sweeten the pot for impromptu sprints by offering extra cash premiums—known as “prems”—to the winners, but the real cash was in the big race, where superstar cyclists earned enormous purses and ageless glory. Watch it for: geezers’ recollections of the sort of glamorous heyday you and I will likely never know.
The Urban Bike Shorts program offers a variety of views of cycling in the city. King of Skitch ought to be mentioned if only for the awesome, unexpected ending. (Watching bike messenger Felipe Robayo hang onto the back of a sports car and fly through New York City traffic isn’t bad either.) Pterodactyl “Polio” begins with a well-worn concept—the lone bicycle wheel, bouncing down the road—but rises to deliver a creative spin on the idea. The Trunk Boiz entertain in their music video Scraper Bikes, which is pronounced scrape-er not scrap-er, and explained here. Raven and the Bicycle Angel tracks a new biker’s determination to win the heart of (or just even a minute of conversation with) his bike-riding crush. And Fast Friday—at 27 minutes the “feature” of the bunch—does a respectable job documenting the rise of Seattle’s youth bike culture. Watch the program for: more track stands than you can shake a stick at.
Image courtesy of Kelly Riordan.
Monday, June 30, 2008 11:35 AM
A custom-welded, 10-passenger, beast of a bicycle (complete with a purple velvet banana seat for the driver) was just one of the highlights on this past Saturday’s FRAME x FRAME gallery opening-barbecue-bike ride, which—as if it weren’t enough to squish all those activities together—also kicked off the Minneapolis leg of the Bicycle Film Festival (BFF).
The ride meandered leisurely through the city, making use of Minneapolis’ top-rate trail system. At the Minnesota Center for Photography, riders paused to have their portraits shot in the parking lot—posing with bikes, of course. Word is the photos will run as a slideshow during parts of the Minneapolis BFF, which takes place July 9-12. (The festival tours to more than a dozen other U.S. and international locations, so stay tuned for our online coverage of the Minneapolis event.)
The ultimate destination was the One on One bicycle studio, where the opening reception for the FRAME x FRAME photography exhibit was already underway. The show features work by six local photographers: Mark Butcher, Mark Emery, Jason Lemkuil, Kelly MacWilliams, Heidi Prenevost, and Kelly Riordan, and will run through July 13.
As I wandered through the gallery—noshing on hyper-local grub provided by Common Roots Café—I couldn’t help but feel, well, cozy. Bikers sometimes get a reputation for being insular, unfriendly, a clique on two wheels. Not here. The photos on display at One on One wrap the room in welcoming colors. From giddy shots of the Stuporbowl to portraits of riders in a back-alley derby, FRAME x FRAME makes biking look like what it’s supposed to be. Fun.
Image courtesy of Kelly Riordan.
Friday, April 04, 2008 8:35 AM
Tired of the anarchy of Critical Mass rides, when street cyclists often disregard traffic laws, Reama Dagasan launched Critical Manners for the well-mannered bikers, reports Bicycling (article not available online). Critical Manners promises “a helmet-wearing, bell-ringing … good time” the second Friday of each month in San Francisco, Seattle, and Little Rock, Arkansas. There’s even synchronized signaling practice. Dagasan believes that cyclists can encourage motorists to share the road without provoking them or putting themselves in danger.
Tuesday, March 25, 2008 5:31 PM
Government efforts to foster fitness have expanded from passive public service announcements to interventionist urban planning. Spiked finds attempts to create obesity-combating “fit towns” in the United Kingdom downright Orwellian. It concedes that more attractive stairways and improved lighting in parks are sensible steps. But suggest giving pedestrians and cyclists roadway priority, and Spiked grows indignant. UK lawmakers—audaciously!—proposed limiting office parking to cycle-sized spaces. (Spiked’s virulent anti-bicycle commentators might commiserate with U.S. Transportation Secretary Mary Peters, who drew a link between bike path funding and Minnesota’s August bridge collapse.) Yet compared to the stupidity Salon chronicled in October of U.S. “parking requirements” that result in overabundant, frequently unoccupied pavement, urban design that encourages outdoor time and self-propelled travel seems downright sensible, not despotic.
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