22 November 2009

This is Where We're Heading

What a pleasant and fantastic opinion piece in the NY Times by one Verlyn Klinkenborg the other day entitled Individualism, Identity and Bicycles in Northern California.

The author understands the Bicycle Culture 2.0 goal - the simple redemocratization of the bicycle. The piece has it all - all the right buzzwords, the right understanding of 'tool' instead of 'sports equipment', diversity, individualism, regular clothes, you name it.

Here's a bit of it:

"And whoever all these cyclists are, as individuals, their individuality is burnished by the bikes they ride and by the way they ride them. It’s as though the bikes are only partly transportation, as though they were really machines for differentiation.

And what aids the differencing is that few people wear helmets, and everyone is wearing ordinary clothes — none of the sleek and gaudy costumes you see on cyclists pumping through the peninsular hills and whistling down Sand Hill Road to the Caltrain station. They are themselves on wheels.

There is a deeply pleasing randomness about the campus cyclists, as though one morning university officials had assigned a bicycle to every member of the Stanford community, come as you are, without considering for a moment matters of fit — or fitness.

Read the whole damn thing right here. It's so refreshing, hopeful and just plain nice.
Thanks to Martha for the link. Oh, and the photo is from this article.


Taliesin said...

Nice article. Hopefully, in a few more years cycling will be more even more natural and more of them will be riding with the saddles at a reasonable height and carrying their baggage on the bike rather than their backs. :)

Although it came up with a banner ad for Shell's "New Engery Future". I think these ads are triggered by keywords in the page, so I smell a rat. Are such cycle friendly articles being targetted by the oil companies? Maybe.

Frits B said...

But what to think about the second half of the article, describing all kinds of people who have no clue as to how to ride a bicycle, and seemingly lost to the art of walking? I don't get it.
BTW the author is clearly of Dutch descent :-)

Brent said...

I was an undergrad at Stanford in the late 1980s. A few of the "rich" students had motorized scooters, but they were banned on the inner Quad, so most of us, including me, rode bicycles. The campus was sized ideally for it. We rode helmet-less and the speeds were never too high, not at least when one was on-time for class.

Along the way, my Gitane touring bicycle was stolen. Its replacement was a three-speed Robin Hood I found abandoned near an eating hall and cleaned up. The first and third gears never quite worked, and the brakes were dodgy at best, but I miss it. After three years of good service, I abandoned it on graduation day. I parked it near a dorm and walked away.

And I almost walked away from bicycling then, too. Los Angeles, where I live now, has a storied dependence on cars. Bicycles are usually crowded out, a footnote in a sea of autophiles. But we're working on it, on making the city better for bikes. Maybe thoughtful articles like these, in the newspaper of record for this country, will help us along the way.

Sean said...

I read this when it came out and I was, sorry to say, underwhelmed by it. As a creative writing piece it's nice to read: flowery descriptions of people riding bicycles; a celebration of the individual, etc.. But as an editorial in a major newspaper, it lacks punch. I'm afraid most people just read it and say, "Oh, kids at an expensive, elite university ride bikes, that's nice," before they move onto something else and forget what they just read. I wish the author coupled the nice descriptions with some facts and persuasion about why what's happening at Stanford is good and why it should be replicated elsewhere.

Here's a New York Times editorial I remember from last year. It's about Denmark and energy, and only mentions bicycling briefly, but I think it nicely demonstrates that bikes and bike infrastructure is smart and has benefits.


nathan_h said...

It's interesting to see this take because I and many others read a sneering tone throughout the article; everyone seems to be doing something that offends the writer, whether it's using a cell phone, being in "a gear too low," or the dreaded "wobbling". Everyone, that is, except "a subcluster of young women on mountain bikes, agile, balanced, weight forward, utterly at home on two wheels"--yes, all hail the appropriateness of the mountain bike and an aggressive riding posture for riding around a college campus.

In my experience I have not observed mountain bikes to be at all correlated with higher city-riding competency. (Not that I care about such things in the first place). Perhaps it is better to ignore the writer's obvious selection bias and not read tone into his article, but to assert as this post does that everything described sounds just great. Because it is.