I told myself that I wouldn’t write about the Anchorage “Bike to Work Day” (B2WD) again. Instead I was planning to write about transportation inequality, but that was boring. So, B2WD it is.
I think I’ve figured out what my beef with B2WD is: yuppies. Not sure that term is used anymore, but it fits. Looking around the bike racks at work yesterday and watching riders on the street, it seemed quite clear. The riders were predominately white, upper middle class, riding bikes that cost more than some peoples’ cars.
My car, specifically.
No, this is not a picture of everyone out there, but I think a fair representation.
And I resent these people with their ability to wear perfectly coordinated lycra kit and carbon-fiber bikes. I do. It’s not right, but I do. Class envy? Maybe I’m just bitter that, while I’ve now made bike commuting my lifestyle, when I started it was not strictly by choice. There was simply no way I could afford two cars — and all that comes along with them — just to get myself to work each day. I couldn’t even afford to drive the one car we had, leaving my wife home without transportation each day. Hell, there were lean times when I couldn’t afford to put good quality food on the table, let alone put gas in a car.
My initiation into bike commuting wasn’t through some feel good day when people want to celebrate riding a bike. Instead it was a solitary activity on days when drivers still looked at you as a bug that needed squashing. I didn’t call myself a bike commuter until I got tired of the questions about why I wasn’t driving. It was far easier to simply say “I’m a bike commuter” than to answer the series of questions that follow when you tell someone you rode your bike to work. Calling yourself a bike commuter at least provides a frame of reference for your inquisitor to wrap his or her head around.
I see the benefit to B2WD. It helps drivers become more aware of cyclists. It might even get someone to consider becoming a bike commuter. But, I still just have a problem celebrating something so mundane; something that, for some people, isn’t a choice.
At the global level, I think that making a celebration of biking to work might actually serve to dissuade some from biking. Once B2WD is over there is no one out there cheering people on. Its just like any other form of transport. It has its highs and lows (granted, more highs than lows), but it’s still just transportation. Why do we celebrate that? Do we celebrate driving a car to work? No. Well, maybe.
The more I think about it, maybe I have such a negative reaction to B2WD because I feel a bit disrespected. Where are the camera men and glowing articles when it’s December and seventeen below in the morning and I’m out there with my eyes freezing shut? I think that’s the part that frustrates me most. Every year there is an article somewhere where the person interviewed about being a bike commuter is clearly not a bike commuter, but someone who rode one day and never will again. Well, at least until next year when the cheerleaders and aid stations return. (Really?!?)
Yes, I am a bitter old man. Deal with it. This is my column. You want to bitch, get your own — or just leave a comment below telling me how wrong I am…
Of course, my thoughts about B2WD conflict greatly with my general thoughts that bike commuting is a powerful, amazing, and probably world changing activity. How can I advocate for something when I feel so powerfully that much of the approaches used by the established advocacy groups are so wrong?
I guess I’m just more of a silent revolution type. I’ve embraced bike commuting and identify as a bike commuter, but I’m not a cheerleader. Instead I like to just do what I do, write a bit about it — which is pretty passive — and if someone wants to follow my lead then great. But I’m not going to go recruit or cajole. I’m just going to ride. Eventually people come around.
And it doesn’t take free bacon, either.
Read more from Phil B. on his blog, Multimodal Alaska Adventures.