Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Treachery! Infamy! They've all got it in for me...!

I mentioned something a while back on another blog (might have been "At War with the Motorist") about feeling, just occasionally, that as an existing utility cyclist, I was viewed as "the enemy" by some advocates.  And by utility cyclist, I mean someone who uses a bike to travel to places where I have things to do, as opposed to (purely) for the fun of it, and who wears cycling gear for longer rides.


I don't mean to single him out, but this post (at the excellent 42 Bikes) is a case in point;


I have just witnessed a classic way of making cycling appear unattractive to – well to anyone really.

The trick is to arrive at a busy Costa in a nice town on a cool but otherwise pleasant Saturday afternoon wearing lycra padded shorts, a muddy waterproof jacket and of course your cycling helmet on. To complete the image make sure that you are alone and that your legs are as unattractive as possible.

All those people wearing comfortable clothes and enjoying each others company will look at you and wish they had come shopping by bike – not!


We've no way of knowing what the object of the blogger's ire had been up to - he/she might have been in the saddle for hours, treating him/herself after a hard training ride, or fortifying ahead of one.  Hell, he/she might just find bike kit more comfortable for riding around in.  Does he/she somehow have a responsibility to sacrifice his/her comfort and enjoyment for some nebulous greater good, I wonder?


As a frequently linked post by Dave Moulton points out, there are good reasons to wear modern bike gear - and for some things, it's difficult to argue that anything else is better. The argument that people "wore regular clothes for long journeys in the past" is a flawed one - "racing" gear then was expensive, and difficult to care for, making less practical (in this sense) alternatives essential. 


I can recall other campaigners on the "hard" end of the utility advocacy side chuckling at cafés that refused to serve people in bike gear, and it's from this sort of post that my unease stems, because I can't help thinking that being on a bike *at all* is worth something over here.

I'm uncomfortably reminded of the "That Was the Week that Was" sketch;

Roadie: "I look down on him", (looks snootily at utility cyclist), "because his bike weighs more than mine."

Utility Cyclist: "I look down on him" , (looks snootily at roadie), because he wears cycling gear."

And some drivers don't look *at all*, as my scars testify - if you want to be angry at anything, I'd suggest that's a better target than other cyclists.


All of which is just a re-write of this, really. But there you go.

(By way of recompense to 42 Bikes, whose blog I like, I should point out that I'd not have read this Sheffield University presentation without him, it's very interesting.  I also very much enjoy his cargo bike tales, which feature a Larry vs Harry Bullitt).

Posted via email from monkeyphoto's posterous


Col said...

Good post. I suppose the main bone of contention for me is how you encourage someone who doesn't cycle into trying it. At the moment, the sporty image of cycling is the most prominent one. This is great for attracting people whose disposition means they naturally lean towards that kind of cycling anyway. Sadly, the more casual hop-on and ride type of cycling is less well represented in cycling advocacy, although this is changing.

Whilst I don't normally go for bike gear myself (although I do own a pair of Endura Firefly trousers for longer rides), it works for some people, and I wouldn't suggest that their choice to dress in a particular way is a bad thing, and it is wrong to expect everyone who currently cycles to behave as if they are an advert for cycle promotion.

When trying specifically to encourage mass cycling however, I think a non-gear, utility type approach will be best received by the average person. I feel that the average person will be more likely to identify with this kind of image.

On an individual level though, just wear whatever makes the experience of cycling best for you.

Greg Collins said...

Whilst I'll happily leap aboard my trusty stead and cycle to the shops/pub/cinema a mile or so away in whatever I'm wearing (possibly changing shoes depending on which bike is at the front of the shed) I wear cycling specific clothes for my 13 mile commute because they are more comfortable. They work better.

Bimbling to work in normal office clothes means the journey loses much of its element of time effectiveness. (and weather changes mean you can get awfully wet over the course of an hour+ ride in or out)

If I multi-mode (train+bike) to work I'll wear normal clothes but still need reflectives to add for the night time journey back from office to station when it is dark.

I think the best way to encourage other people to ride their bikes for reasons other than fun/sport/recreation is to be seen to be doing it yourself by your friends regardless of what you wear.

A final thought; if a jogger wandered into a coffee shop in track leggings, running shoes and a kagol top would that be seen as putting people off jogging?

A final final thought; is it the 'duty' of cyclists to encourage other people onto bikes? News to me.

Mr Colostomy said...

It'd put me off jogging, but I could say the same regardless of what they are wearing. I tried jogging and it is not for me.

If they had put on that sort of gear to go for a walk, that might put me off walking, but I don't see any duty of the person walking in that gear to be seen as an example to encourage others either.

If the National Association for the Promotion of Walking used the image of the walker in said jogging gear to promote the idea of walking as a normal means to get around for the average everyday person, I would say they had failed.

John the Monkey said...

Perhaps ironically, I wrote this on a Brompton commuting day, which means "normal" work gear on the ride (it's hard to get sweaty over 3 miles).

My worry with this snide, mocking attitude to people already cycling is twofold - firstly that it alienates the mockee from what is a good cause (surely all but the most elitist want more folk on bikes?)

Secondly that it fosters a contempt for other cyclists that could make things worse ("those weirdos in lycra").

As a worst case, it may not increase the number of folk cycling (the traffic danger will be there without serious action from government, and I think that's still the main barrier for most people) - and increase the level of hostility towards some existing cyclists. We might end up with a situation where modal share drops (even more).

We can afford this sort of cliqueyness when there are loads of us - it will still seem rude and pointless to me, but at least it won't be as counter productive as it is now.

It also occurs to me that relatively little promotion is done with "normal" people. I certainly don't recognise myself, my neighbourhood, or the roads I see day to day, in the car adverts I've seen.

And I'm with you, Mr. C., about jogging - a dreadful business all round.