Thursday, June 30, 2005

The Group W Bench...

My Bianchi is grungy. I rode it in the rain and the chain stays and bottom bracket are filthy. There's a dried-up dead worm wrapped around one of the spokes. What was he thinking?

I noticed just how dirty the bike is while riding to work this morning. Isn't it odd how we can use something everyday and not really see it? I knew the frame was dirty, but I hadn't realized how bad it was.

Then I recalled some of my co-workers discussing their motorcycles, and commenting on the disreputable appearance of one belonging to a woman who uses it for daily transportation. It's true. The bike is filthy, but for her it's a tool, not a toy. The guy's bikes are bright and shiny, pristine playthings that mostly just occupy space in the garage and NEVER get ridden in the rain.

There's nothing wrong with that, of course, and I'm certainly not looking down my nose at people who don't ride every day. But in an interesting bit of serendipity, Kent wrote this in an e-mail later this morning:

" I was cruising at 20 mph down Garnett and saw a guy riding his bike.

"I was on the road and he was on the sidewalk. I was in my gear and he was wearing jeans, work boots and a long sleeve shirt. I was ridding my Specialized Allez Sport and he was riding a Huffy mountain bike with knobby tires. I was carrying my pride of finally becoming a real cyclist and he was carrying groceries."

"I ...asked myself this question:"

"I ride because I want to - this man rides because he has too: Who is the real cyclist?"

Who is the real cyclist? It's an interesting question. Racers sneer at everyone slower than them. Some transportation cyclists take perverse pleasure by sniping at the spandex-clad 'elitists'. Recreational riders see commuters as gutter bunnies with a death wish. And on and on.

I'm not immune from making distinctions, but mine may be a little different, with a major dividing line between those who ride in traffic legally & responsibly, and everyone else.

Much as I hate to admit this, many cyclists, perhaps the majority, are pedestrians on bikes, riding on sidewalks instead of the street. They're terrified of traffic. Some Usenet posters call them guys-on-a-bike rather than cyclists, and indeed, they see themselves as two-wheeled pedestrians. I'll call them Group X.

Another cyclist rides on the street 'when it's safe' but swerves onto sidewalks and rides against traffic when he feels threatened. These guys are afraid of traffic too. I'll call them Group Y.

I won't write about those group rides that seem to involve a lemming-like groupthink. For simplicity, I'll lump together all racers & group tourists into Group W. (Those of you of a certain age will appreciate the humor in this!)

Both the X and Y groups are people we'd like to reach through the BikeEd program. Well, the Group W people would benefit too, but the X's and Y's could see greater gains, and since there are more of them, their greater visibility would serve to attract even more people to vehicular

But people are resistant to bicycle education, and it seems the more experienced riders are the most resistant. Maybe one almost evangelical aspect of BikeEd is partly to blame. Those of us who've "seen the light" are regarded either as harmless crackpots or wild-eyed extremists. People hear us talk about lane positioning but they really don't believe us. We talk about the benefits of bicycling as a transportation mode, but they don't believe us. We talk about riding safely & responsibly, yet people regard that as an impossibility. Worse, many cyclists themselves think it's impossible to ride safely & responsibly.

So we need a different argument, or another method of reaching people. Brian suggested one of the simplest - just invite someone on a ride. SHOW them how it's done and explain as necessary. I like this, but I can see some problems, too, when an individual balks at riding a road he deems dangerous. Persuasion & reason can be ineffective. They 'know' it's dangerous and no amount of persuasion will convince them otherwise. Doing a demonstration ride is a tedious, one-at-a-time approach, but it may be more effective.


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