May you live in interesting times

As I’m sure you’re aware, today was the first day of a new presidency. At first glance, it doesn’t appear that there will be much change, at least for a while. Troops will continue their fight in the middle east, unemployment is still on the way up, and the markets are continuing to tank. I still have one hope though, and that is for our country to become less car-centric over the coming years.

This country for decades has been focused heavily around our cars. They let us get around quickly (unless there’s a traffic jam), cheaply (unless gas is $4 a gallon), and easily (unless there’s no highway to the destination). Hundreds of millions of cars hit the road every day as we commute to work, some for long trips and some for short, yet only a tiny number of people hop on their bike for the commute. So many of us are only a few miles from work, where biking can be faster than driving, yet excuses about time prevail. I found this online today, no source was attributed.

Waltzing around the cycle blogosphere it seems odd that so much terminology has spawned regarding what is, in fact, a simple pursuit. Is it a result of the decades old tendency in North America and other non-bike culture countries to nerdify cycling because it has primarily been viewed as a sport or a hobby for closed groups of “enthusiasts” – and not a reasonable and basic form of transport? Perhaps.

Let’s straighten things out, shall we? What you see in the photo above, taken in Copenhagen, is something we call a “cyclist”. Not a “bicycle commuter”, nor a “utility cyclist”. Certainly not a “lightweight, open air, self-powered traffic vehicle user”. It’s a cyclist.The Copenhagener above is not “commuting” – or at least she doesn’t call it that. She’s not going for a “bike ride” or “making a bold statement about her personal convictions regarding reduction of Co2 levels and sustainable transport methods in urban centers”.

She’s just going to work. On her bike. And that’s what she’s riding. A bike. A “cykel” in Danish.She doesn’t call it “my city bikes” or “my Alternative Transport Vehicle” or “my Dutch bike” [whatever THAT is… not even the Dutch call them Dutch bikes, not to mention tens of millions of Chinese] – it’s just her bike. When she bought her bike at her local bike shop she didn’t have a “fitting” at the “full service workshop and showroom”. She probably walked into the shop and said, “I need a bike”. The chap working there probably shrugged, glanced her up and down and said, “you’ll be needing a 52cm”. “I like the black one, over there…” “That’s a 52cm” “Great. How much?”And off she went with her new bike. He didn’t offer her any fancy, expensive “bike gear” or “accessories” and he didn’t try to dazzle and confuse her with inaccessible, nerdy technerd abble in order to make more money. He doesn’t even have “cycle clothes” in his shop. He assumes she has clothes in her closet at home. A wooly hat for winter. A summer dress for… well… summer. She needed a bike. He owned a bike shop. It was over in 20 minutes. Although he probably adjusted her seat for her.

The bike she chose was a black one. Probably a good, reliable Danish brand like Kildemoes or Taarnby. It certainly wasn’t a “TerraTurbo Urban Warrior X9000”. It was just a bike. What it is called isn’t important to her. Just the fact that it works. She doesn’t know how much it weighs. Nobody she knows or has ever met could tell you how much their bike weighs. Likewise, she doesn’t know how far she rides each day. It isn’t interesting. She rides at a good pace, not too fast to cause a sweat, and the ride is nice enough. She likes the fresh air and she often sees friends on the bike lanes. She loves crossing The Lakes and seeing the transformation from season to season. That will suffice.

She doesn’t wake up and make a decision to “commute by bike to work today”. It’s just a part of her day. She just walks out of her flat and gets on her bike. If it has a puncture, she’ll walk it down to the local bike shop to get it repaired and then take the bus or train to work. Picking it up in the afternoon.

She isn’t an activist, doesn’t belong to a cycling organisation with a long acronym and she doesn’t even think about the fact that she lives in something called a “bike culture”. She’s just a cyclist. Riding her bike to work. She’ll be doing the same tomorrow. If other cities had more of these kinds of cyclists, they’d find that a “bike culture” would be achieved a lot more quickly.

I can’t say I’m 100% like the person described, nor would I want to be. I enjoy cycling as a hobby and as a workout, and enjoy riding to and from work rather than driving. We need more people like this. Imagine what would happen to our obesity rate if even 10% of people who live within 10 miles of work hopped on a bike instead of getting in their car every morning. How much money would be saved from going to overseas oil cartels, and how much wear on our crumbling roadways would be reduced. Stressed out from a long day at work? Great, work it out on the ride home and enjoy your evening with your family rather than stewing about it all night.

I understand that the chances of serious progress on this front are small, but every morning I see more and more people on their way to work, choosing to take their bike rather than their car. And every time I do, it makes me just a little bit more hopeful that this movement will continue to grow.

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