Like a Republican Needs a Bicycle: Conservative Cyclists Break the Stereotypes of Bike Politics

| 10/14/2008 3:30:55 PM

Tags: Politics, political parties, conservatives, liberals, bicycling, sustainable living, environment, biking, bikes, Critical Mass, bike commuting, Election 2008, Minneapolis, Twin Cities, Minnesota, John McCain, Sarah Palin, Barack Obama, Joe Biden, Mitch Berg, Jason Lewis, Katherine Kersten, media, newspapers, blogs, infrastructure, Colorado, Republican National Convention, RNC,

bikes leftA 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.”

6/5/2009 11:27:47 AM

I am a proud libertarian. I hate nearly everything the socialist Democrats stand for. Hate that Obama is our president. Hate Pelosi period. I bike to work from home. I don't believe global warming is man made. I don't think the cost of gas even at $4 was an issue. I do hate DC traffic and paying $270/month to park my car. I do love the exercise, escape, and fun of biking to work and other places.

6/5/2009 11:26:36 AM

I am a proud libertarian. I hate nearly everything the socialist Democrats stand for. Hate that Obama is our president. Hate Pelosi period. I bike to work from home. I don't believe global warming is man made. I don't think the cost of gas even at $4 was an issue. I do hate DC traffic and paying $270/month to park my car. I do love the exercise, escape, and fun of biking to work and other places.

3/5/2009 10:45:53 PM

You needed to devote more space to Old Scratch from Bike Forums. Your article would not have been so boring and pedantic.

Gary Ashcraft
10/21/2008 5:25:51 PM

My handle is bikpedlr, I'm in my 60's and one of the biggest reasons I pedal ( beyond the pure joy ) is the fact my heart, body & soul are so grateful to me for it. I've been pedaling around Houston Tx since 1980, and seriously commuting by bike for the last 20 years. This is a true RED town, in a really RED state, and yet I find almost all drivers here pretty courtious. I feel it's not a political thing, I believe it's all about a Southern Lifestlye that has caused me to love this place. I am to fiscally conservative for my Democratic friends, and to issue Liberal for my Republican friends, I have little use for Libertarians, and I honestly don't see cycling as being a political issue beyond what sound bite artists can do to use it for polarizing people. Beyond my daily commuting I do a lot of fund and event rides ( MS-150, LiveStong, Hotter'n'Hell, Tour'd'Houston, Bluebonnet, etc. ), for the life of me I have never seen a rider with any kind of political or issue orriented material on themselves or their bikes, all I ever see are Jerseys, Shorts, and Bikes promoting Event's, Sponsors, & Products. Maybe all these folks are closet Capitalists and don't even know it?? Gary Ashcraft

Alfred Lord Tenniscourt
10/16/2008 4:18:42 PM

I am probably best described as a right wing nut job, and I ride my bike every chance I get. For me, riding has strong conservative values embedded in nearly all of it's aspects. I believe, for instance, that while life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness should be rights, our government has tried to make these things dependent on driving motor vehicles, which is a privilege. I believe in self reliance and despise laziness which are both utterly apparent qualities of cyclists. I believe that riding in an automobile is no different than accepting food stamps as the gasoline has been subsidized, the companies that make the cars have been subsidized, and the roads have been subsidized. This is particularly true of the interstate system which is partially paid for with our military budget. I also have great admiration for the pioneer spirit and liken myself to those great men as I hazard forth into herds of cud-chewing motorists, not unlike buffalo in their SUV's, that must be navigated by the sweat of my brow and the sharpness of my wits every day.

Jake Mohan
10/16/2008 3:37:22 PM

Bugmenotrules: Fair enough. I did use the terms "driver," "commuter" (whether car or bike), "rider," "biker" and "cyclist" more or less interchangeably in my article. In the sentence you cite, I used "rider" instead of "commuter" to avoid repetition. Isolated and taken on its own semantic merit, that sentence might appear to delegitimize bike commuters, but I would hope that its context and the rest of the article dispels any implication that cyclists are just "out loafing around." This article was primarily about how people across the political spectrum are advocating for bikes as a practical, legitimate form of transportation. In any event, thanks for reading and commenting!

10/16/2008 2:10:15 PM

"In the escalating (and increasingly dangerous) tensions between car commuters and bicycle riders, battle lines are drawn." As a bicycle commuter I take issue with referring to the cyclist in this sentence as a commuter as well. Does it infer that the car user is on the way to work while the cyclist is out loafing around? Kinda.

10/16/2008 1:44:45 PM

I appreciate the extension of the olive branch to all those who wish to ride. Having started a Bike Commuting Group at work, I can tell you that focusing on safety is the main concern here. I also recently was in the hospital due to have been in an accident involving a pick-up truck. Nobody was "out to get me", they just didn't see me that early morning. That being said, infrastructure needs to be invested to make biking a more active part of our commuting culture in the Twin Cities (Minneapolis/Saint Paul). That means dealing with the political system, and although this falls into a more liberal biased camp, work on all sides is necessary.

10/16/2008 1:27:09 PM

I really have no idea what political affiliation the guy biking next to me is, and I really do not care. I have had just as many Obama sticker people half run me off the road as McCain sticker people.

10/15/2008 12:55:10 PM

I'm what your mag once called a "crunchy conservative" and an avid bike commuter. Yep, we're out there, and those of us who love the bicycle lifestyle are trying to recruit other conservatives to join us. It would help if our liberal bike-brethren did not polarize the bicycle lifestyle quite so much. On the other hand, I totally understand-- when you have found something so wonderful and eminently sensible, it's natural to wrap it up in all the rest of your life, political spiritual familial etc. Anyway, I appreciate the welcome I receive from most of the liberal bike-commuters I meet online. Like permaculture, human-powered transportation really can be common ground between liberals and conservatives. Articles like this one are a great help. Grace and strength to you!

Michael Brown
10/15/2008 12:39:05 PM

Well said, Senator Smoot. Politicizing bicycles with a liberal brush (I know, a mixed metaphor) gets the same results as MoveOn for liberals. You end up preaching to the choir, with no converts. It sounds shrill, and no one wants to ride with such a group. My conservative riding partners are just part of the pack to me. The common bond of riding trumps all. Be careful what you wish for. As a 28 year cycling commuter, I have my hands full with educating newbies on the subtleties of cycling in traffic. It's really asking too much to worry about an SUV seeing me as a convenient target. (non-wiry, greenish, liberal non-Democrat)

Senator Smoot
10/14/2008 6:29:43 PM

Politicizing biking is the very worst thing you could to to promote cycling. Also the worst thing you could do for having fun, saving money, being green, or being a good neighbor. It leads to fractious interactions like Critical Ass and the ghastly blogger mentioned above. I really hate that kind of crap. Just cut it out. Join a group, learn safety, obsess about your gear, fill your lungs, see the countryside, and have fun. (wiry, greenish, liberal non-Liberal)