I am, as a rule, a fast-moving Lycra-clad bike commuter. I didn’t start out that way, but as Sammy Hagar might have sung under different circumstances, I can’t ride 12.5. At least, I discovered that it takes surprisingly great effort to limit my speeds to the point where hypothetical work clothes wouldn’t be drenched in sweat upon arrival at work. So I’ve viewed it as a basically practical adaptation to arrive at work a mess and use the provided facilities — my office had a changing room with a shower long before you could get a LEED point for it — to make myself decent. The arrangement saves me time, thanks to averted boring trips to the gym, and money. What’s not to like?
Then came Mayor Dave Cieslewicz’s The Problem With Lycra, suggesting that the cyclist “dress code” and road-bike fetishism inhibits bike commuting in the U.S., as compared to Europe where everyone rides upright bikes in their civvies. Funny, I thought the far bigger obstacles were streets that are under-maintained or given over to cars from curb-to-curb (or both), and healthy fear of the typical SUV driver, barreling along as s/he does with a cell phone in one hand and a latte in the other.
One thing that’s for sure is that Sister Souljah moments kind-of suck if you’re in the Sister Souljah position. In a different context, Amanda Marcotte makes a case, which I highly endorse, that this liberal tic is worse-than-useless:
The intention of these sentences may have been to lay fears to rest, but the result is reinforcement of the idea that “foodieness” is some wicked elitist hobby. In an attempt to reassure people that merely liking to cook doesn’t make you a bad person, the writer reinforced the idea that there’s something morally suspect about most people who like cooking. In an essay aimed at convincing people that cooking well isn’t actually that hard, this sort of rhetoric undermines the point…
I don’t know when it was that everyone in our culture universally agreed that there was something shameful about having good taste and good sense, but nowadays if you want to defend either good taste or good sense, you often feel like you have to set up disclaimers about how you’re not one of Those People, the ones that think these things matter.
Nevertheless, I had the opportunity earlier in the week to rejoin the slow-cycling movement. The choice was to hop on in work-suitable duds midday (after Suzanne and I returned home from a lunch for one of our preferred charities) or drive to the office, so I hopped. I confess that the experience points to a better world, one in which 10 minutes on a bike pedaled at a not-brisk pace gets anyone just about anywhere anyone would want to go. Under those circumstances, I’d aver — pace Mayor Dave — that the Europeans have it right in largely ditching bike helmets, as there’s only so much damage that can be suffered at such speeds provided the damned SUVs are kept at bay.
I’ll still take the long way and the accompanying exercise most days, thanks, but going slowly and still getting places quickly felt like a luxury. It shouldn’t be.