Saturday, May 4, 2013

"Here's what Americans get about Cycling, and why it's not a problem"

Here's what Americans get (or are starting to get) about cycling: In Response
to a recent article by Business Insider Australia

Recently an article has been circulating around the web so much it has finally gotten my attention. Business Insider Australia wrote an article about what Americans don't get about cycling,  somehow attesting that they have a clue as to why Americans bicycle even though they are based in Australia, clear on the opposite side of the world. Although the article brings up some good points, such as the need to broaden infrastructure in an intelligent way for cyclists in the U.S, the article has to tread on some cultural differences people living in the U.S might have with the rest of the world, portraying those differences in a negative light. This article is in response to some of those negative suggestions.

First off, here in the U.S people ride their bicycle for exercise. Even if on a commute, the commute serves as exercise during the time it takes to get from one destination to another. That is not a negative thing such as the article is suggesting. The truth of the matter is that more and more Americans are recognizing the importance of exercising and taking care of their health, in light of increasing health costs and health problems. In addition, the U.S is the fattest country in the world. So any effort by people living here to take care of their health is valued and should not be criticized by outside sources. In short, compared to the rest of the world "We're fat, we know it, and we are trying to do something about it. Don't criticize."

To suggest that cycling should be just another form of "fast pedestrianism" as  the article suggests is borderline offensive. The pedestrian on wheels, or "chic cyclist" concept doesn't appeal and won't sell to most people living in the U.S. People in the U.S will not ride a bicycle just to go faster than "walking" speed. To an average American, that is what buses, trains, and taxis are for. When a person here rides a bike, it's because they have to go fast without using a car and they have to arrive on time. Americans usually work forty hour a week jobs where they get only two weeks paid vacation a year, unlike most Europeans who work thirty hour or less a week jobs with a two month paid vacation. 

I will from time to time take a jab at the spandex crowd for looking like complete tools even when they are hauling their kid trailers on the backs of their bikes. There is a time and place for everything, and that includes spandex. I will admit however, that spandex and Lycra are not bad ideas when commuters have to cover long distances. For cycling to be a viable option or commuting in the U.S, sometimes one must cover many miles on a bicycle. For instance, has anyone personally tried to ride more than thirty miles without spandex on? At the end of the day, chaffing and hemorrhoid inflammation are simply something most people do not want to come home with. I'm sure Copenhagenize would argue that if we all rode dutch-style, cushy padded seat bicycles we would not have this problem. The point here is, that in the U.S people will ride what they want to, whether it's a road bike, cruiser, mountain bike, etc.  And most people who commute are not riding to your neighborhood corner store, because that corner store simply does not exist in most towns across the U.S. Most people are physically too far removed from their jobs and destinations for a Dutch-style or "townie" bike to be useful or applicable. Road bikes and the gear that comes with them seem a better alternative for commuting around U.S streets. Sometimes looking like a tool can actually be comfortable, and make sitting down later much easier. (I will admit, however, I usually wear T-shirts or sweaters over jerseys when I ride, even though I still wear the spandex shorts, TMI?).

Another attack this article made was on having too much of an emphasis on hygiene and therefore implying that businesses need to offer showers for employees to use if they are cycling. The fact is that a lot of companies are already offering locker rooms with showers for their employees. It is not an uncommon business practice to do so. Americans on average do not supplement their showers for the heavy perfumes and layers of clothing that a lot of Europeans use. There are no water shortages that would justify most people living in the U.S not to shower at least once a day.  It is perceived as unhygienic to go for more than a couple of days without showering, and believe me, others will take notice when someone does. There is nothing wrong with holding ourselves to high standards of hygiene as long as we have the means to do so.   This does not mean that cycling requires special accommodations at every job, just the jobs that require suits and ties in air conditioned buildings.

To whoever in Business Insider of Australia that wrote this article, if you want to talk about what Americans do and don't get about cycling, you have to understand the American psyche. Americans want to be rewarded for their efforts, whether it's to improve their image, save money, feel better, get stronger. You cannot entertain to win over an American audience to cycling by saying that cycling is just "transport". You have to understand the audience you are are talking to.  People in the U.S love to identify themselves by their status or their individual personalities. For a long time the automobile has been used as the tool to self promote in the U.S. One cannot expect this to all the sudden change just because a person is on a bicycle. Although I don't necessarily agree with the "look at me!" attitudes most Americans display as a result of this, that's the situation and that's what we have to deal with.

In the end, it's not about what Americans don't get about cycling, it's what a lot of people don't get about Americans. Americans ride their bicycles because they want to look good, lose weight, get healthy, save money on gas, and be uniquely "American" whilst they are doing it. They are not ashamed of the reasons, however shallow they might appear to everyone else. Now, Americans need a lot of advice on how to organize successful road bike races, instead of the criteriums which are so prevalent here. Americans still need a lot of dieting advice, so please give it tactfully, knowing most Americans already know they are fat. These are matters we usually turn to outside sources to give us their opinion on, so please, indulge us in your expertise.

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