An Open Letter to Cyclists

UPDATE BELOW ARTICLE

Thank you all for your contribution and conversation regarding this topic. Please check below the article for an update.

Ride Safe. Ride Smart. Ride Proud.

"Buy Local"

8 May 2013

Preface: This isn’t a story about how some kid picked on me and called me names at school. It’s about a greater issue in the cycling community and why, even after years of advocacy, people are still hesitant and hostile, even, to join the thousands of cyclists across the country on their every day commute.

 

I ride a bike from bikesdirect.com.

And I will be the first person to say it.

I normally don’t put stuff like this out on the internet. It’s just not my thing. But this is one situation that really gets under my skin.

“Buy local,” he sneered at me as he glared while walking his bike away from a local bike shop. I sat there next to my bike and lock outside the shop in utter disbelief. I’d finally spent enough time online and around my cycling friends to gain the knowledge for basic best practices, rules of the road, and tuning tips & preferences for my own ride, to feel comfortable enough to ride/walk into my local shop and not feel completely overwhelmed and out of place. It so happens the first person I meet while rolling up to the bike rack has the ability to shatter all comfort and complacency I had in my venture to meet the great people I’ve heard so much about.

I never thought two words could make me feel so uncomfortable and inferior. Then I realized that is a big part of what’s wrong with the local bike community and why the average commuter is so against and turned off by cyclists. Intimidation and attitude.

Don’t get me wrong, the bike community thus far has been pretty great and supportive, but it is a lot to wrap your head around if you’ve never ridden in the city, or on a street even, before. Out of the cyclists I’ve met, one of the first questions that is often asked is “what kind of bike do you ride?” How you answer generally determines how the rest of the conversation goes.

I’m writing this as an open letter to every cyclist (geared more so at snobs), this is bullshit. And here’s why.

As someone who only purchased a bike and started riding almost every day about a month ago, I can tell you that it is a HUGE commitment to drop $700-1,000 on a form of transportation that you’re probably not even sure you’re going to adapt to or be able to integrate with your every day commute. After all, that’s more than 3 months of car payments for a lot of people. So no, the latest and lightest Giant model is not something I’m going to jump at immediately.

Furthermore, budget in mind, there is a lot more that goes into a bike than just the bike. To be safe on the road you need to pick up lights (often referred to as blinkies), a helmet, a water bottle cage/water bottle, spare tubes, a floor pump, a portable pump, a multitool, a messenger bag or similar item to carry all your tools/tubes, and a sturdy lock so your new investment doesn’t just walk away. After adding all of this up, you’ve just tacked on an extra $400-500 outside of the bike itself.

Knowing only a part of this going in (I underestimated the cost of the extras and safety gear), and to purchase something that was workable with my budget, I opted to purchase my first bike from bikesdirect.com. If you’re not familiar with the website, it’s like this: all bike manufacturers have a quality check inspection before the bike leaves the warehouse; if it doesn’t pass the standards of the company it doesn’t get sold. The smallest anomaly, such as weird weld or slightly misaligned tube, can cause rejection. So bikesdirect.com picks up these bikes and sells them at bulk prices without the name brand label on the side. This allowed me to get on a bike I felt comfortable riding around the city every day, and in the meantime I would be able to upgrade parts as my income allowed.

This makes sense to the average consumer right? If you’re some riders in the cycling community, this is the furthest from the truth. These riders look at people like me as someone who is taking the cheap route, who doesn’t know the rules of the road, and who doesn’t care about their bike as long as they’re saving money.

If there’s one thing you read from this whole article, let it be what I’m about to say

Why shout out an angst filled ‘buy local’ at me while I’m sitting right outside of the local bike shop? After all, that’s what the majority population does at a local bike store, right? I didn’t ride there to hang around with mustaches, cutoff jean jackets and to listen to music you’ve never heard of. I get it; support your local shop and businesses. Well guess where I’m taking my bike (and now bikes) for their tune-ups, parts, maintenance, and upgrades? If you need a hint I can certainly tell you I’m not shipping my bike out for these services.

So far I’ve invested roughly $1,000 into one bike and everything that goes into supporting this lifestyle, and even purchased a second bike (not included in that figure) as mentioned earlier. Supporting the local community? I’ve donated countless hours of my time into making videos for local businesses that create cycling products that keep you safe on the road and videos for other local business that support the biking community/local startups as a whole. For free. I’m raising money and participating in local/interstate rides such as Pedal for the Panty and Bike MS to support, raise awareness, and raise money for local and national charities. Lastly, I’m growing the cycling community by showing more and more people that cycling is a safe, friendly, economic, and enjoyable lifestyle to live. And yes, I do plan on getting a better frame down the road when I have the budget and investment to allow for such a cost. As for my trip to the local shop, I ended up spending $70 that afternoon, and I’ll be going back to spend more in the few weeks.

The point of all of this? For a community that I’ve listened to for 5 years advocate the desire for cycling growth, awareness, and respect, you sure have a shitty way of welcoming newcomers to your cause. Maybe that’s why you find such a difficult time in converting auto commuters and finding support on the road.

So the next time you go to harass someone who doesn’t have the latest and greatest bike, remember that a bike is a bike; it’s what you do with it, how you ride it, and where you take it that determines what kind of person you are, not where you bought it or the name on the side of the frame.

Ride Safe. Ride Smart. Ride Proud.

There are more people like me. People who are ready to join you (us). People who are nervous and intimidated. People who just need a little motivation. After all, it is a big move to a more environmentally friendly lifestyle. Let’s make the transition as friendly as the reason we ride.

An Update

9 May 2013

I’ve been reading some of the comments going around and I want to thank everyone who has contributed to both sides of the conversation. I think this is a healthy discussion to have and both sides have raised valid points. I wanted to take the time to address a few of the most common talking points, so here we go:

The first and most important, I am in no way accusing every cyclist of being this way, nor am I attacking the community. It’s actually been quite pleasurable thus far, for the most part.

Second, The biggest point of the article, which is applicable to most if not all communities, is to be a little more courteous to each other and new members. I can handle my own, I’m not worried about what people think of me. However if we want this community of cyclists to grow, to have automobiles respect us more, and to overall keep the roads safe, we need to focus on the agressive nature is an issue that carries over from conversation to the road.

A few rotten apples spoils the bunch. That’s exactly how auto commuters are looking at cyclists.

Outside of the cycling community, almost every story I’ve heard from an auto commuter is a negative one, regarding confrontations and overall aggressiveness (I’m not including the usual ‘cyclists just do what they want and don’t obey laws’ for this statement). This is a startling realization as it means we, as a collective community, are not sending our message/goals in the correct way.

Just yesterday I was riding behind a cyclist who had to ride around a car that was blocking the intersection. He didn’t need to swerve, wasn’t cut off, and wasn’t put in any immediate danger; however he proceeded to smack the back of the car and swear at the driver in passing when there was another lane wide open. The act of hitting the car is part of what I think makes drivers more aggressive towards us. Sometimes it’s completely necessary, ie if you’re about to be sandwiched or cut off, but

I think if we as a community work harder to curb this kind of action by those few cyclists and be more civil in a situation like this, we’ll gain a lot more ground.

I’ve heard of, and have done it myself, cyclists stopping for a minute and actually talking to the driver. In my case asked the driver to be more careful and aware of my presence, and he calmly apologized. We thanked each other for conversation and shared a quick laugh, then went on our way.

Third, some people seem to be missing that I did go into the bike shop and pick up $70 worth of accessories, and I’m going back next week to pick up new brake levers I had ordered. I met the owner of the shop and it was a great experience. I very much plan on using this shop for all my biking needs. 

Fourth, it’s been pointed out that I may not have had my facts straight on how bikesdirect.com operates as far as quality control is concerned. I apologize for posting something that may be erroneous without having my done my research and have amended the article to reflect that.

Thank you all again for the time you’ve taken to read and comment.

Ride Safe. Ride Smart. Ride Proud.