Thursday, March 17, 2016

Attitudes about Cycling I've Encountered

I've had my own thoughts about cyclists over the years. I can get irritated seeing cyclists traveling down the middle of the street, riding on the sidewalk, or doing other precarious and dangerous things. When a colleague came into the office wearing his kit -- the memory seared into my brain is of tight, white shorts -- I had to wait several years before I could even think about pulling on the lycra. Yet, I have heard comments from other people about cyclists that have struck me as odd.

Wearing Sports Attire

When I mentioned in a group that I had taken up cycling, I happened later to be in a one-on-one setting for a conversation -- in the restroom. He said to me, with a smirk on his face, something like, "So you wear the lycra shorts when you ride your bike?" I sheepishly replied, "Yes." The conversation has stuck with me. I've tried to imagine the conversation taking place in the context of other sports. "I play on a baseball team." "Oh, do you wear a baseball uniform?" "I like to go skiing." "Oh, do you like to wear warm, water-resistant clothing when you ski?" "I enjoy a sport." "Oh, do you wear appropriate clothing designed for your sport and that is the traditional clothing associated with that sport?" In most every sport there is a uniform associated with the sport. Baseball, basketball, tennis, and soccer/football have customary clothing that is not essential to the playing of the sport (other than the shoes), but it's still acceptable, if not expected, that athletes or mere sporting enthusiasts will most likely don the traditional costume of the activity. In other cases, such as American football, swimming, or hockey, participants wear uniforms not only as part of tradition but also because the clothing permits the wearer to perform well in the activity and protects them during training and events.
Cycling is no different. The light and tight-fitting fabric of lycra or polyester blends has the necessary characteristics needed for the sport: It's aerodynamic in the wind, moisture is wicked away and quick drying, and it adds the least amount to the weight of the athlete. The "chamois" in the shorts provides padding for the comfort of the rider on the saddle and causes less chafing in one's more sensitive regions. The jersey has three pockets in the back that allow one to carry some necessary items for nutrition or bike repair. The helmet, of course, provides some measure of protection for the head. The shoes help the rider to have a full circle of pedaling and keep the feet from slipping off the pedals.
So why do people think cyclists are silly for wearing the clothing and equipment suited for the sport? I can tell you, when I went out for football my senior year in high school, I was quite happy to be wearing the football equipment and proud to wear the football jersey of my 1976 undefeated team at Shelby High School.

Hunched over Cyclists

Another comment I've heard about cyclists is that they ride hunched over and don't see the scenery around them. I can understand it may look that way. I don't tend to ride much in the drops. There are times when the headwind can be so strong you feel like you're constantly going up hill. I try to hunch over and get as aerodynamic as I can. It does help. In some ways the sorest part of my body after a long ride is my neck from craning up. I haven't tried to work on that yet, but I'm sure there are exercises and stretches I can be doing to alleviate that pain.
My experience over the past year of reading about cycling and listening to podcasts is that most cyclists are outside riding their bikes because they want to be close to nature, to propel themselves through forests or farm land, mountains or meadows, and through deserts or drenching rain. Like hikers they want to experience the multi-faceted world around them but a bit faster and still under their own power, a perfect combination of human and machine.
Here are some examples. The Global Cycling Network, an excellent vlogging group on Youtube, have a regular feature on social media of showing images people share of their bikes in the foreground of incredible vistas from around the world. Pro cyclists most often share images on social media not of themselves but of the incredible places they ride during training or visit during off-days during an event. The rather unique Youtube channel The Col Collective is less about how one rides up the iconic mountains of professional cycling than it is about the beauty and experience of the settings one can have so up-close and personal while riding the bike.

Sharing the Road

I've been fortunate not to have very many unpleasant encounters with motorists who dislike sharing the road with cyclists. I did have someone yell to me "Nice stop!" when I went through a stop sign rather than unclip, come to a full stop, only to have the right of way to proceed first anyway. I now come to a full stop at intersections when cars are anywhere near and always at red lights. On another occasion a pick-up truck driver narrowly crossed a highway in front of me and just laughed at my gesticulations of outrage (no, not that one). At times vehicles will come up behind me and suddenly floor their vehicles and take off down the road. I have no idea what that's about. I read and hear stories about motorists who dislike/hate cyclists and attack them in one way or another. The idea seems to be that the roads are there only for motorists.
It surprised me to learn that surfaced roads came about because of cycling in the first place. While most cyclists are also tax-paying motorists in the US, apparently fuel tax and vehicle fees only pay a fraction of the costs of road maintenance. In the US the governmental agency responsible for roads includes bicyclists as its constituency. The mission of the Department of Transportation includes bicyclists and pedestrians. There is no reason for motorists to think they rule the road and cyclists should just pedal around the park. The incidences of road rage involving cyclists or cases where tacks have been strewn along roads or barbed-wire stretched across a cycling path should make us sit up and recognize that we need to foster a greater sense of cooperation when it comes to sharing the road.
Cycling isn't unique in the misconceptions and biases people can have. It may be one of the most mild cases when we compare it to racism, nationalism, misogyny, or other forms of aggression and violence against people different than ourselves. But for some of us it is a daily concern and contributes to decline in enthusiasm for getting out on the road and even to the deaths of some cyclists who happened to encounter distracted drivers or motorists with murderous intents.

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