Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Out of the funk and into spandex (or not)

Hannah with altdaily.com doing PSA.
Last Tuesday, Wes Cheney and I represented Bike Norfolk on Heresay, the local noon radio show hosted by Cathy Lewis.  The past several weeks all came to a head as I was prepared for the show because I finally had to think hard about everything that has happened over the past 2 months.  I have not posted on this blog primarily because recent events have been overwhelming and difficult to even navigate.  There have been two hit and runs on Shore Drive involving experienced cyclists, one who I have long admired and learned much from; numerous letters to the editor and op-eds mostly about cyclist misbehaviors and driver rage over bicycles even being on the road; a barrage of topics on the cycling listservs about how to best combat angry motorists, our bad reputation, lack of police enforcement; the thumb tack attack in Pungo—the list goes on and on.

Does this really offend you?  The spandex I mean.

I had to snap out of it hard to prepare for the radio show.  I would have never agreed to do the show if Wes had not been invited because he has a knowledge base, charisma, articulation and likeability that I will never have.  Add to that a photographic memory—I watched as he rolled out points and facts on the air that we discussed over a 3-day period with none so much as a sticky note in front of him.  Cathy Lewis was clearly not as enamored with his sidekick (me) who had more notes in front of her than the host herself.  She ran a tight ship for the hour, bringing in our points as well as those of street interviews from her interns, including one from Paul Flannigan, owner of Conte’s Norfolk, a book author interview and several listener phone calls.  Wayne Wilcox, Virginia Beach city planner, was also in the studio with us.  I actually spaced out a little watching Cathy coordinate everything so effortlessly, especially considering she is not an expert on cycling. The program was pretty darn good, and Wes and I celebrated with an early afternoon beer and omelet.  Listen Here.

Urban riding--this guy lives in Larchmont.

One regret that I have is that Cathy did not ask me the “To spandex or not to spandex” question she directed to Wes. Had I answered, I probably would have said, “Well, the real question is to helmet or not to helmet” because I really hoped that some helmet talk would make the show. Upon further reflection, however, I realize that “To spandex or not to spandex” is the most critical question of all and one that has flung me into such a funk here lately.

The most difficult task in every community of riders is the problem of unity. We talk endlessly about how the cycling community needs to be on the same page with issues, behavior and goals, yet the task seems impossible when there are different issues, behaviors and goals that each faction of the community expects of its members. The spandex question is one of the most popular gauges of just how serious a person is about this biking thing, and at its root, there is often resentment, laughter, headshaking and maybe awe but that’s probably pushing it. Certainly the person who wears spandex takes himself just a little too seriously—geez, it’s a bike, a way to escape—let’s not make a profession out of reverting back to a few light minutes of childhood fun. With the spandex comes a set of goals, or at least perceived set, that are remarkably different from those who wear baggy workout clothes. And maybe different from those who wear street clothes. Certainly different from those who wear work clothes on their way to the jobsite. Completely different from the child on training wheels, or the surfer pedaling to the oceanfront. However, if pushed on the subject, most would probably say that our goals must be very similar, but there is enough distain and misunderstanding between the groups to prevent the conversation from even starting. What has been nagging at me, really, is the tremendous task of bringing all these groups to the same table to lobby for a set of agreed-upon goals.

It's not always about the bike.

Wes could undoubtedly point me to scholarship on this subject and to writers who more eloquently convey these hierarchal tensions, but I would be more interested in reading about how—or if—a community anywhere has successfully resolved it.  I look around me and listen, and depending on what bike I ride, what clothes I’m wearing and how fast I’m going, conversations of the “otherness” of different riders emerge.  Don’t call me crazy—if you have ever asked “was he a rider like us” when you hear about a cyclist getting hit by a car, that’s what I’m talking about.  If you have ever said that you have no interest in helping some wanna-be racer get his workout in but are only interested in helping those who commute to work, that’s what I’m talking about. 

Riders in Broad Creek line up for a bike parade.
 I challenge those who only ride skinny tires with spandex, to take a ride on a cruiser with your grandmother to a restaurant one day and then tell me sidewalks are always bad. If your riding consists of trips to the market, try doubling your mileage and then tell me spandex sucks. If you typically drive to a mountain bike trail, map out a road route to get there from your house, and then tell me a roadie has no skills. If you only ride cruisers in the neighborhood, jump into a group ride and then tell me how much healthier and energetic you feel the next day.

There is a different and important perceptive to be gained with a different route, different tires, a different reason for getting on the bike in the first place, and certainly different clothing. “To spandex or not to spandex” –the answer is simply “yes.”

1 comment:

Kelley said...

There are a couple of good books, Pedaling Revolution is one. There's another, the name of which escapes me, but I'll look up my reads from last summer and send it along. They don't resolve the tension, but they do remind you (general you) that the problem is as old as the hills. In fact, reading the tome Bike Cult a couple of weeks ago, revealed that the tensions were very real back in the 1880s! (As were tensions between pedestrians /non-cyclists since tacking goes back to the 1880s as well). So, I don't think we can resolve the tensions - and maybe we don't want to, you know? To my mind, what ever gets people on a bike and smiling is all that matters. Yeah, I'm a roadie. I like the adrenalin rush of riding on Hampton Blvd practicing vehicular cycling. I want better roads and more knowledgeable drivers. And sometimes I think, oh who cares about lanes and paths...? Just get on the road and ride, the more of us out there, the safer we all are! But then I remember the days when I rode in the gutter, on the sidewalks, and made this circuitous path to and from work....

But it works the other way, too. And that's where it's harder. There is some shared antipathy to the road warriors - among non-cyclists and joe average cyclists. They see roadies as elitists who wouldn't deign to ride on a community ride at 10 mph. You see their comments at the Pilot, people who join with the car drivers to denounce the roadies as bad cyclists, etc.

Mike Magnuson, author of Heft on Wheels, and an avid cyclist and writer, was doing some research on this topic. He sent out a survey to try and understand "bike tribes" better. I wrote him a month or so ago, to ask how it was going, but haven't heard from him. I doubt he'll have an answer to "how to overcome the divisions" question, but no doubt the book will be interesting.