I love free bacon. Let’s just get that straight right now. Bacon is good. Free makes it better.
Okay? Any questions?
Now, just because I like bacon and riding bikes and free bacon while on a bike and such doesn’t mean that I think this whole self-congratulatory, masturbatory, bike to work day bullshit is a good thing.
Yes, I participate. Well, not really. I mean, I ride my bike on bike to work day. But I’m too early for the free shit. And I’d ride my bike anyway. So, there’s that.
I’ve recently done a not-so-scientific poll of bike commuters (me) and, you know what? Bike to work day doesn’t create bike commuters.
Listen, I get the concept — make an event out of riding your bike to work, make it fun and easy and maybe you’ll get some people out of their cars and onto their bikes. Great. Wonderful.
But do we really think that people are going to continue to commute by bike when the going gets the least bit difficult? After the bacon-tender announces last call?
I, for one don’t think so.
I used to be a smoker. A pack a day or more pretty much from the time I was twelve until I was 32 or so. I’ve fallen off the wagon a couple of times between 32 and 38.
How does smoking have anything to do with biking? Habit. See, it takes time to form habits and it takes time, dedication, and constant will power and determination to break a habit once it’s formed.
When I had my first cigarette I didn’t suddenly have the habit. I didn’t wake up in the morning, grab a cuppa joe and a smoke before I’d get dressed and head to work. I didn’t have to have a smoke at 10:03 AM precisely. In short, once I started smoking there was encouragement throughout the habit-forming stage that kept me coming back. In this case it was an internal, chemical encouragement — the body craves the shit.
Once that habit formed, though — no matter what — I was going to have my smoke at the prescribed times. (Okay, I realize there is an addiction element here, but work with me.) Even when the going got tough, when I had bronchitis bordering on pneumonia, I’d still be puffing away — menthol, but still. I formed the habit due to an intrinsic reward system and then, once the habit was entrenched, it’s been a bastard to break.
Bike commuting doesn’t come with a built in chemical encouragement system. Making one ride isn’t going to immediately result in geting someone hooked on biking to work. Take away the scaffolding of the free shit and pageantry of bike to work day and what do you got? A lot of people who are back in their cars the following Monday. Because there’s a bit of a breeze and it’s not a perfect 72 degrees and sunny out, feeling all smug because they commuted by bike. That one time. If the habit never forms, it’s a cakewalk to break it.
Anchorage and Bicycle Commuters of Anchorage (BCA) tries to address this with the summer commuter challenge — a chance for some friendly competition to help encourage people to use alternate forms of transport. This is a step in the right direction, but again, it is the type of temporary external stimulus that does not lead into the formation of a habit.
No, the unwashed masses aren’t going to become bike commuters just because of bike to work day. Nor will they become bike commuters because of the other gimmicks put in place for the summer. These are all extrinsic motivators. To become a real bike commuter, there has to be an intrinsic motivator — something inside that pushes you to do it. For me it is that I am a cheap bastard, but more on that some other time.
Now, before you get your panties all in a wad about that Beardcicle guy being all elitist asshole, let’s get one thing straight — I want to see more bike commuters. I really do. The more bikes we have in bike racks, and the more peddle-powered traffic that we get on the streets, the better our cities and towns will be.
I just realize that external rewards only work in the short term. It is really easy to back slide into old habits — smoking or driving a gas guzzler. If we try to kid ourselves that participating in bike to work day is anything other a chance to pat ourselves on the back for being such good one-day global citizens, saving the planet by not driving, then we really are stupid.
I’ll admit that the bike to work day crowd and getting lumped in with them also kinda pisses me off. So here are a few things to keep in mind for bike to work day:
1. If your bike is carbon with not a spot of dirt on it, perfectly tuned, and your chamois and jersey coordinate with your bike – you are not a bike commuter. You just rode your bike to work and you looked a bit douche-y doing it.
2. If your bike only gets ridden one day of the year — bike to work day — you are not a bike commuter.
3. If you don’t ride bike on bike to work day because it is:
- Less than 50 degrees
- Something less than perfect
Then you are just weak.
4. If you are just doing for the free bacon — well, good on you. It’s free bacon, right?
5. Getting your picture taken by someone in your organization and placing it on a website, newsletter, facebooktwittertwaterwhatthefuckever social media website with the caption “Company X Bike Commuters” DOES NOT MAKE YOU A BIKE COMMUTER. (How come no one ever asks to take these bike commuter pictures in February? I’d be happy to pose then.)
What does make a bike commuter, then, in my humble estimation?
It’s simple: someone who rides their bike to work regardless of extrinsic rewards. If you only ride one time, you can still be a bike commuter, provided you aren’t making the ride simply because some non-profit or municipal government has deemed day such and such a near holiday when we can all be bike commuters.
It’s like Halloween when we can all be pagans for one night. The pagans are still pissed about that, just so you know.
No. If you want to be a bike commuter, bike your commute because you want to, for whatever reason, not because it’s some “special” day when we all get to feel good for doing something as awesome as biking — something that we can feel good about doing any day of the year. With or without bacon. (Next week I’ll provide everyone with directions for making their very own handle-bar bacon holder)
So, what I want you to do on this bike to work day is this: Ride your bike. Get your free bacon. Think seriously about making the move from “bike to work day participant” to bike commuter. And please, please don’t congratulate me on riding my bike to work on that one day of the year.
Get out there and ride. You might just like it.