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Please don’t make the bicycle a political issue

When Dan Schleifer sent me a link to a site called Tree Hugger, running a story called “Why do Republicans Hate Bicycles,” my first reaction was, “I am not going to touch this with a ten foot pole.”

I am not a citizen of this country, therefore I cannot vote, and I usually stay as far away from politics as I can. My feeling is, I am a guest in the US, and as such it is not proper for me to voice an opinion on American politics.

However, I will say this much. I hate extreme politics on both sides, and here you have the two extremes. On the one side, a site called “Tree Hugger” with the subtitle, “Unchecked Environmentalism.” (The very epitome of Liberalism.)

On the other side, a video of a republican politician going off on an anti-bicycle rant, simply because the bicycle is seen as something “green” and left wing, and therefore is open to ridicule.

The two extremes cancel each other out; people on opposite ends of the political spectrum reading the article and viewing the video are not going to move an inch towards each other’s point of view. In fact, stuff like this drives the two sides further apart.

I hate that the bicycle is made out to be something political. I have stated here before, if automobiles ran on pixie dust and had zero carbon emissions, I would still ride a bicycle. I am a cyclist, and riding a bicycle is a love and a passion.

Forget the burning of fossil fuel for a moment, even if we overcome that issue; the bicycle is still a more civilized form of transport. It eases congestion; one person on a bike is taking far less space on the road than one person in a car who is taking up the space of four to six people.

It is less dangerous to other road users, and more bicycles on the road, with the resulting less cars would make it safer for everyone. It is a wonderful form of exercise, and it is fun. When is driving a car fun?

These are the real benefits of cycling. Riding a bicycle to ease the dependency on foreign oil is not what the majority of Americans want to hear. If we think, everyone in the US is going to dump their cars overnight and start riding a bike, either to save the planet or save America, think again. It is not going to happen.

Sell the idea that cycling is fun, and it is good for you, not keep cramming the green, environmentally friendly idea down people’s throats. All that does is it makes people feel guilty, and that makes them angry and sends them off on an anti-cycling rant like Representative Patrick McHenry.

I am sure all republicans don’t hate bicycles; even George Bush rides one. But if the Democrats make cycling a political issue, then naturally the Republicans are going to oppose and ridicule the idea, because that is what politicians do.

In the long run, is this going to help the cause of cycling?

Reader Comments (24)

Hi Dave - I'm with you on most issues but your comment, "When is driving a car fun?" denies the possibility that someone can be as devoted to motoring as you are to cycling. Are you not in danger of being an extremest in your own way? ;)

I consider myself both a cyclist and a motorist, though nowadays I do far more of the former due to working from home.

To a point I agree: here in the UK (and in congested places around the globe) the notion of care-free motor touring is becoming a time-lost fancy. However, on a recent holiday to Cornwall I did enjoy tooling around tight, twisty B-roads, even in our bland diesel-burning Renault Scenic!

The UK still has many roads that invite spirited, crafted and safe driving - though generally you have to go further to find them. More open and less populous countries (New Zealand?) would engage the driver fully.

I like cycling, I enjoy the compromise of pace between walking and driving. I can get to places quicker than walking, get exercise and still find time to take in the details of the passing environment.

I also enjoy driving, but I do have to work to find the correct environment.

But, surely, the same can be said for cycling? Performing both activities in smog-laden, congested environments is //not// fun for either the motorist or the cyclist.
July 14, 2008 | Unregistered Commenter Ken Davidson
The bicycle, left wing? Oh come now! If so, that makes me some kind of communist. (It could only happen in America!)
July 14, 2008 | Unregistered Commenter Nick
Well I'd agree there are (at least) 2 aspects to cycling.

1. The environmental advantages.
2. The social advantages - or how the car destroys our community by encouraging out of town shopping centres etc and the associated sprawl.

And then there are the sports&social aspects to cycling. But that could be seen as simialr to the sports&social side of motor vehicles unless you include the environment side of things.
July 14, 2008 | Unregistered Commenter Anonymous
What I should have said is, “When is commuting by car fun?”

Many of you may not catch that Nick who commented above is from the Netherlands, where I am sure cycling is non-political.

Makes one realize how ludicrous it is to make it a party issue.
July 14, 2008 | Unregistered Commenter Dave Moulton
Great post. It's strange that some people see a cyclist and think "high and mighty environmentalist", "crazy leftie", etc. It amazes me when cycling and/or cyclists are treated as a controversial issue (the UK media is quite good at this). It's just riding a bicycle for goodness' sake, it's fun, it's convenient and it's healthy and it does cycling no favours to overcomplicate things by bringing politics into the equation.
July 14, 2008 | Unregistered Commenter Hel
Well put. I'm a Vegetarian and a cycist but I would hardly see myself left wing or environmentalist. Thanks, Dave, for making me feel less guilty.

P.S. I put a link to your blog in my blogroll.
July 14, 2008 | Unregistered Commenter Groover
Sadly, Patrick McHenry, in many ways, DOES represent America as it really is. Of course it is simple and elegant to use a bicycle if one is able, but this man could not recognize this, he appears before the Union in a suit that was not cut for him. His diction is only slightly better than that of our President. These people only know power and greed. Sadly, they have a barely literate and poorly informed voting base to stir up with this ridiculous position. Ignore them and their rhetoric.
July 14, 2008 | Unregistered Commenter Anonymous
I would hazard a guess that Republicans on average probably ride with cyclocomputers more than Democrats do, and they are probably more into the latest Madones, Tarmacs and Cervelos.
July 14, 2008 | Unregistered Commenter starling
Hey now wait a darn minute! I just bought myself a second road bike and yes indeed I spent big bucks on it. Of course it was a Parlee, not one of the more well known brands. This was a rare indulgence for me. I am however on the complete opposite side of the political spectrum from Rep. McHenry. I think it is important to note that this man represents the worst of right wing demagoguery. The problem with the GOP is that they have pretty much culled any of their moderate members over the course of the last 25 years or so.
Dave - thanks for this terrific blog. When Phil did the piece on Jacques Anquitel last night I knew of whom he was speaking because of my readings from your blog. Wonderful wonderful.
July 14, 2008 | Unregistered Commenter skylab
As my son says "I don't ride my bike because I'm a damn hippie like you Dad, I ride my bike because I'm a fiscal conservative." I've got riding pals on all ends of the political spectrum. I'm not shy about letting people know my politcs and the reasoning behind my choices but bikes can go left, right and center!

Kent Peterson
July 14, 2008 | Unregistered Commenter Kent Peterson
I don't think the bike will become a polarized political issue, but I completely agree with Dave that, where a particular politician is "anti-bike", we shouldn't ascribe his/her bias to a particular party.

In New York City, the current Republican/Independent Bloomberg administration is at the forefront of making the City a much more bike-friendly place, with greenways and bike lanes.

This is truly a bipartisan issue - someone who believes in drilling in the Arctic nature preserves can still believe in biking as a sometimes alternative to motoring.
July 14, 2008 | Unregistered Commenter Anonymous
In the UK, cycling is becoming a bit more 'cool' on both sides of the political spectrum. Though it still is occassional cool to rant about irresponsible cyclists. I guess the Green party are most pro-cyling, but it tends to transcend political issues
July 14, 2008 | Unregistered Commenter Tejvan Pettinger
I was just being tongue-in-cheek. By all means, everyone who can should buy the road bike of their dreams. I rode crappy entry-level bikes for decades. When I was 44, I finally decided to get a good one. I took a lot of flack about wasting sparse family money and all that, but let me tell you, now it's 11 years later, I'm still riding it, and nothing I've ever owned in my life has ever given me as much pleasure as my custom-made lugged Columbus steel and Campagnolo-equipped road bike.

On the subject of politics, one thing I'm sure of...

No matter party is in power anywhere, cycling is going to take a beating if, given the current mini-bike boom, we don't find a way to teach or compell bozos on bikes to ride properly vehicular style, keep off sidewalks, and obey the laws of the road. It's going to get so bad that eventually, laws will be passed that will restrict not only the goofs, but the experienced roadies as well.
July 14, 2008 | Unregistered Commenter starling
Bikes represent the best of conservatism... self-reliance, individually fun, financial & physical independence.

Of course the liberal interpretation is it is green, can be done in large groups, and symbolizes a counter culture in the USA.

Everything becomes political especially when collective societies are stressed by rising costs. I despise the extremes also but the bike will become a symbol for change... let's hope both sides see it the same way. Cycle for positive change!
July 15, 2008 | Unregistered Commenter Anonymous
As a bike commuting conservative, I agree wholeheartedly with the anonymous poster above me. There are a host of reasons why Republicans or socio-economic conservative-leaning-folks should absolutely LOVE bicycles.
July 15, 2008 | Unregistered Commenter Noah
"If we think, everyone in the US is going to dump their cars overnight and start riding a bike, either to save the planet or save America, think again. It is not going to happen."

It is already happening. The Washington Post reports that cycling in New York City has increased 75% since the year 2000, and the local authority wants to triple cycling by 2020. Chicago and Portland are also working to increase cycling.

NY Hopes to Ensure Smooth Pedaling for Bike Commuters

According to bicycle manuafcturer Trek, 40% of all car journeys in the USA are shorter than 2 miles, which takes about 10-13 minutes by bike. So there's a huge potential.

Gas prices knock bicycle sales, repairs into higher gear
July 15, 2008 | Unregistered Commenter Erik Sandblom
I watched the video of the Representative and didn't see an anti-bike rant. What I saw was someone who was afraid to change the way they live and an opportunist that was trying to capitalize on the fear of lifestyle change. If he had any cleverness about him at all - he'd jump onboard and encourage the growth of a cycling population in order to his dependency on motor vehicles affordable.
July 15, 2008 | Unregistered Commenter Anonymous
My apologies for omitting a word in my last post...
"in order to KEEP his dependency on motor vehicles affordable."
July 15, 2008 | Unregistered Commenter Anonymous
The civilization we live in right now has been building life around the automobile for an entire century. This is not something that is going to change over the course of one summer when gas prices are higher. In almost any North American city, the places people need to get to are just too spread out to make bicycling a practical alternative for most people. Then there's the winter. Anybody who thinks most of the current summer commuters will still be at it over the winter is just dreaming in technicolour.

At the same time as some people cut back or try to cut back on car use, cities everywhere are cutting back on transit costs for the same reason - fuel costs. It's counterintuative, but that's the reality. So I wouldn't expect significant change for at least a generation or two. Let's keep in mind that while it's getting more expensive, in terms of liquids we buy in our lives, gasoline is still cheaper than most.
July 15, 2008 | Unregistered Commenter starling
Man, I wish more people in positions of power could be this level-headed. Extremely left/right politics have never helped anyone, it DOES just drive people further and further away from each other's cause.

Could you run for president?
July 16, 2008 | Unregistered Commenter TeamSeagal
Hi David,

Thanks for illustrating your post with the biggest example of political ignorance I've seen as demonstrated by US Rep. Patrick McHenry. It makes me wonder if someone like him really believes on what he is saying or he's just a party puppet wasting citizen's time and money. Has anyone contacted him or replied to his speech?

Sure, the issues of carbon emissions, fuel dependency and cost are great and complex. But all the benefits linked to cycling should bring more light to the folks making decisions on behalf of their constituents.

Seeing countries like China, which has a great cycling history, have their bike productions decreased and car manufacturing and sales increased shows that we, as a society, are still going in the wrong direction.

In Australia, bike sales are increasing but where I live, Brisbane, the council and state government are still putting great efforts on building more roads (and a huge tunnel now!) to resolve traffic issues and "encourage" people to commute to the city, and their jobs, by car.

I don't get it!!!!

In regards to driving for fun, sure it is fun. For some, it is also fun to go to fox hunting or “better not go there” type of activity, but they are things that we just have to look at with a contemporary view and tell ourselves that we must choose a different form of entertainment now.

Perhaps, it is time for people like us, who mainly uses a bike as a way to stay healthy, achieve personal goals, as a social vehicle and occasional way of transportation, to become a little more political and involved with bike advocacy groups.


July 16, 2008 | Unregistered Commenter AMRcyclist

When I was very small (aged 5-weeks to 3 years old), I lived at Yaxley RAF in Peterborough ... of course, this was in the mid-to-late 1960s ... and it's an RAF base, instead of a USAF base, but hey ... it's Air Force and in England, right?

July 22, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterFlahute

When is driving a car fun? Well, driving my old Porsche (which has since been sold) on the High Road to Taos on a quiet sunday morning is fun. Driving the same car to work in traffic was never fun, which was why I usually left it home and used my bike. Riding my bike to work on one of our side roads, quietly putting my thoughts in order, is fun.

An old friend of mine reminded me once: "when all you have is a hammer, everything starts to look like a nail". With so many Americans only using cars, its not suprising that our culture looks like a road.

July 23, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterKhal Spencer

Looks like we agree: see here.

October 5, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterMessenger of doom
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