It is often said that one should not discuss religion or politics in polite conversation. I shall now attempt to break this rule without causing an all-out flame war in the comments section. Please wish me luck.
Actually, what I want to talk about (I think) has nothing to do with the goodness/badness of a certain political view, but rather why a certain political view even exists. I am talking, of course, of cycling advocacy. More specifically, I am interested in the very strong link between cycling advocacy and liberalism.
I first began to think about this issue when I spied an article in the January 2011 Bicycle Times Magazine titled, “How To Talk Cycling To A Conservative.” If you landed on Earth from outer space, this might seem to be an odd thing. “What is inherently political about a bicycle, and why do people of a liberal bent need an article to help them explain their position to people of a conservative bent?” you might ask.
Silly alien. Us Earthlings understand that progressive politics are deeply woven into the cycling community.
To illustrate my point, please consider the following story. At the 2011 National Bike Summit (a gathering of cycling policy advocates in Washington, DC), Congressman Earl Blumenaur – a Democrat from Oregon – told the audience that a conservative congressman offered to vote for hundreds of millions of dollars for cycling projects in return for a vote in favor of oil drilling in the Alaskan National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). When Congressman Blumenaur told the audience he turned down the offer, the audience cheered.
To review, a group of cycling advocates were happy (to the point of cheering) they didn’t get hundreds of millions of dollars for cycling projects so that the wildlife in Alaska remained protected. Fascinating. Don’t get me wrong – I have no qualms about people wanting to protect Alaskan wildlife. I just find it interesting that a bunch of lobbyists for improved cycling laws and infrastructure would be thrilled that their own agenda had been thwarted by another one. And therein lies the rub: cycling advocacy and environmentalism aren’t separate agendas. They’re the same agenda. This is how a largely agnostic issue like making cycling better for everybody turns into a decidedly partisan (and liberal) issue.
This has all sorts of effects on cycling beyond the odd scene of cycling advocates cheering because they didn’t get any money. I think it throws gas on the fire (please excuse the expression) that is the motorists v. cyclists war because it becomes a metaphor for a larger clash of ideas. It is bad enough when a cyclist is almost run off the road by a motorist, but when this turns into a skirmish in the worldwide struggle between Big Oil and Green Peace, then a whole new dimension is added to the incident.
Another odd thing about the phenomenon is that when people argue against increased cycling infrastructure, it is often said that cycling is primarily an activity for rich white men and that public funds could be better spent elsewhere. Rich white men is also a description often used to describe conservatives. Oh, the irony.
Little did I know when I purchased my bicycle in the spring of 2010 that I had just enlisted in the cycling-environmentalist lobby. By choosing its iconic symbol as my form of recreation and exercise, I became a rolling poster boy against suburban sprawl, global warming, the car culture, and food additives. I simply had no idea what I had signed up for. People assume you are part of “The Cause” when you’re actually just some guy on a bike. My cycling buddies worry about their carbon foot print and look at me askance when I tell them I occasionally drive my bike to where I want to ride. “Why don’t you simply ride there?” they ask. “You’re defeating the purpose of riding the bike.” I retort that I am defeating their purpose, not mine. I want a change of scenery and it is too much bother to pedal all the way to a new start point. To do so would mean I am cycling over the same scenery and thus defeating my purpose.
I have no ulterior motives when I cycle. I don’t want to save the planet or make a better tomorrow. I simply want to get some exercise and enjoy a nice ride. I realize that puts me in the minority of the cycling community, but I have grown used to being in a minority position on most issues. I thank the larger group for tolerating me and for continuing to excuse my odd behavior.
There you have it – my completely apolitical analysis of cycling politics which will give no one any cause whatsoever to initiate a flame war in the comments section of this post. Thank you for your attention!