Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The American Love Affair with the Bicycle

The "bikes versus cars" talk that peeks its ugly head from the C-J story chat in the aftermath of a car-bike crash and that occasionally oozes forth in other media is just the dark underside of a much more positive general view of bicycling in the US. The US public has a vast reservoir of good feelings toward bicycling.

The people who probably know the US psyche best work in the advertising industry. Pop quiz: In what advertisement did you most recently see a person bicycling? I'll bet that it wasn't a bicycle advertisement. Bicycles and bicycling are used to advertise cars, trucks, alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages, snack foods, health care,  financial services, banks, insurance, travel... Advertisers use images of bicyclists and bicycles because the general public has good associations with bicycling. Bicycling means freedom, fun, health, independence. If only avid bicyclists felt this way, insurance companies and beer companies would not rely on the allure of bicycling to sell their products.

Closer to home, my wife and I encounter lots of happy responses when we ride our tandem bicycle through Louisville neighborhoods and parks. Strangers wave, greet us, and smile. We have the advantage of riding an unusual bicycle - a tandem recumbent - that plain and simple looks like fun to ride. (It is fun to ride!) We aren't going fast, or dripping sweat, or looking absorbed in athletic effort. Our favorite response came one day when we rode around the loop inside the Masonic Home property on Frankfort Avenue, and a man probably 70 years old sang to us, "For you'll look sweet, upon the seat of my bicycle built for two!"

It's time for us bicyclists to take advantage of the good feelings that current non-bicyclists have for bicycling. Assuming that everyone hates us is both self-defeating and inaccurate. Let's take the risk of inviting others to share our joy of bicycling - because most of them remember that joy from sometime in their lives.


dave said...

As another recumbent rider, I completely understand. I've had many positive comments about my bike.

I may have made a convert of my boss, he wants to borrow the bike for a weekend.

If we can get the media to show the more positive aspects, maybe some of the hate that is out there will fade.

Geoff said...

It seems to me that Op-Ed pages are not a great barometer of a cummunity's response to any given issue. In the first place, the sample is ridiculously small. Secondarily, the content is edited, and I have a strong suspicion that letters chosen for print tend to be the ones most likely to evoke an emotional response. Finally, isn't it a given that those most likely to write about any issue are those who have a strong reaction? Aren't we, in fact, most likely to make some kind of noise when we want to express displeasure? I wonder, for instance, whether there is a customer service organization anywhere that has a positive commendation to complaint ratio.

My own experience has been more positive each year I'm out there commuting on two wheels. I haven't been yelled at, honked at, or forced over once this year. (I'm knocking on wood now.) I'm more assertive these days, too. Never rude, though. I absolutely believe that courtesy is rule number one. So, if I'm taking a lane, I don't mosey. I push it. I like to imagine that the folks behind me appreciate my effort.