Sunday, December 4, 2011

Bicyclists as elite snobs?

Recently a short online article pondered whether bicyclists are "elite snobs". Despite the provocative title, the article itself portrayed cycling in a mostly flattering light, but it did assert that we cyclists should take care to not evangelize too forcefully about anti-car or pro-bike attitudes, lest motorists take us for elite snobs. This, the writer seems to believe, will make cycling and cyclists more tolerable to the general (motorized) public.

Read the comment section of any online newspaper article about cyclists in a motorized world, and it is clear that some people despise cyclists. The haters cite a variety of predictable complaints including anecdotes about cyclists coasting through stop signs, cyclists not paying their "fair share" of taxes toward road maintenance, cyclists wearing too-tight clothes, and, apparently, self-righteous attitudes among cyclists. My interpretation of all this is that the haters would like to believe, and would like everybody else to believe, that they have a solid reasoning for their animosity, that the cyclists deserve to be hated, that we ask for it! It's classic scapegoating, bullying, and blaming the victim, but that's just my opinion. I've been yelled at or honked at by motorists who didn't witness me violating any rules, didn't check my tax return to see if I'm paying my fair share, didn't see me wearing exotic clothing, and never asked me for my self-righteous opinion on any issue. I conclude that they just don't like cyclists, since I haven't given them any other reason to dislike me personally (and, I'd wager, they'd like me just fine in another context).

I should be clear that my observation is that most motorists, the vast majority (some of whom sometimes ride bikes), don't actively hate cyclists, but simply want to get where they're going efficiently and safely. If anything, they're nervous around cyclists, afraid that we'll do something unpredictable, causing them to hit us, which would be traumatic for everyone involved. And I'd be remiss if I didn't point out that some drivers are too busy texting, applying make-up, reading a book, smoking pot, talking on the phone, and/or eating the Burger King Whopper Value Meal to pay much attention to us. They don't hate us, and in fact have no opinion about cyclists whatsoever, until we distract them from whatever they're doing to pass the time while driving! (I kid, because I love!)

Almost everybody wants to be environmentally and socially responsible. Almost everybody wants to get more exercise and be more physically fit. Many people are bored with life and would enjoy a little adventure, if not for the perceived risks. If you actually talk to non-cyclists, many offer apologetic explanations: I would ride a bike to work, but it's not possible under the circumstances. Clearly they see advantages to the bike-lifestyle, whether it's driven by environmental, financial, social, political, exercise, or fashion attitudes, and they feel a little guilty that they're not living up to whatever ideals they hold. We all have a self-justifying nature that seeks to dilute conflicts between personal ideologies and personal behaviors, and I believe a lot of cycling hate (hate, in general, actually) comes from these internal conflicts. Why, for example, is it not uncommon, in bad weather, for a motorist (stereotype: manly-man in a big truck or SUV) to slow down, roll down the window (letting in rain, snow, cold, etc) to verbally abuse a cyclist for being "stupid" to ride in bad weather? Is this a public-service they're providing? Many motor vehicles are marketed with notions of machismo, but a person riding a bike in bad weather is doing something that requires a modicum of actual toughness and courage. A guy whose tough-guy self-image is wrapped up in a Chevy commercial featuring greasy muscle-men and cowboys throwing logs and concrete around could be forgiven for feeling threatened by a 120-lb woman riding her bike in a blizzard. She's obviously not only stupid, but a smug elitist snob for rubbing his nose in his own feelings of inadequacy like that!

8 comments:

Jim Thill said...

Just minutes after posting this, I was honked at and passed too closely by a driver, presumably because I was riding not in the icy-slushy bike lane (where I belong), but in the clean/dry main traffic lane. The guy was driving an older foreign-brand economy car that was festooned with Obama stickers! There go the stereotypes!

Anonymous said...

Bike heckler to the world: Don't think outside the bounds or exceed the limits I've placed upon myself!

randombkr said...

wow,Jim, what got into you today?..

Jim Thill said...

It's winter!

KM said...

Don't get him started on the social benefits of bacon.

jim_h said...

It would help if, during the winter, the city kept the bike lanes as clean as the traffic lanes.. instead of using them to store snow. In the summer, all these great new bike lines are increasing the number of cyclists. But in the winter, those who want to keep cycling has to migrate back into the traffic lane, which is no bigger than it ever was.

Tex69 said...

Here, Here!! or is it, Hear, Hear!!!

Cheese Stinky said...

The bad perception many have about cyclists and their attitudes is the same as with any subset of society, that a few rotten apples get noticed and cause a false perception of the rest.

As both a cyclist and a cager, I can drive by 20 cyclists but which one do I notice most? The one that cuts in front of me or tries to lane split instead of waiting their turn then cops an attitude if my or the traffic light presence on the roads requires them to slow down and speed up once in a while like everyone else.

As I already wrote, these are just the minority of cyclists but they are the ones causing problems so they get noticed the most.