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The Various Tribes Of Bicyclists – And Will Bicycles Ever Become Mass Transit? October 20, 2010

The attached inspired me to set down what I notice about bicycles and bicyclists.

On the first day of our San Andreas fault tour which I took with some friends – and there will be some posts on that soon, hopefully with pictures! – we passed large numbers of people riding back and forth on bicycles.  They were not commuting. They had brought their bicycles up there on the back of SUVs and were riding back and forth, exercising their legs.  Most of them were dressed in bicycle helmets and costumes that looked like a cross between a surfer’s short wetsuit and a ballet tutu.  It did not seem to me that this sort of thing was really going to replace the automobile for any serious purposes.

Here in my own community, we have the people of the helmets and ballet tutus, who use the streets, but the regular folks, who dress in shorts and often T-shirts and consist of ordinary people and often children, use the sidewalk, not the street.  I hear that parents forbid their children to ride in the street, especially when it’s Pacific Coast Highway.  It is actually, as I understand it, illegal to ride bicycles on most sidewalks.  [It is also against the law to drive more than 65 miles per hour on the freeway, to drink alcohol if you’re under 21, or (at least till November) to possess or smoke marijuana.  As the young folks like to say, Bwahaha.]

And I’ve heard about, and I think there was an LA Times story about it some years ago, what I would like to call Los Midnight Riders – those who ride a bicycle to work for economic reasons, not ecological ones, because they have jobs that (a) don’t pay enough to own a car, and (b) the hours or locations are such that public transit either doesn’t run there or shuts down long before they can go home.  These people are the real bike commuters.  They often cannot, alas, afford proper night lights in front and rear for their wheels, which makes them a hazard.  And they live in parts of town that may not be the best equipped with bike lanes, bike lanes being a rather bourgeois-bohemian interest.

I taught myself to ride a bicycle at college at age 21, not having much opportunity or daring to learn earlier.  There was a fad for bike riding then in college, but there were no ballet tutus or anything resembling that – ordinary shorts and the like were the costume for our rides.  And especially when I went in a group, I felt incredibly self-righteous.  (I didn’t come to Christ till two years after I lost my bicycle virginity.)  And for some time after I used the bicycle for a few local rides.  But I did so less and less as time wore on.  I still have a bicycle, and still use it occasionally, but it has to be kept in working order, and being of a certain age I fear I must confess that yes, yes, I do walk my bike up long or steep hills.  And I don’t wear a tutu, though when I get off a bike I often understand why other people do – my ‘privates’ have gone to sleep, and when I dismount they begin to wake up with a tingling that is about as different as can be from titillation.

I have hardly ever attempted to commute by bicycle.  One would arrive at the office a sweaty mess and need to take a shower, I would think, and change – as much of a hassle as going to a health club, and it takes as long.  Office dress and decorum has not yet deteriorated to the point where bicycle commuting will be practical without a good shower and locker room.  However, about a month from now I will be in Copenhagen.  There, bike paths run right next to the street, between the street and the sidewalk, including right in front of hotels – and anyone getting out of a car must keep this in mind, for bicyclists are moving past the cars at very high speed!  And they seem to be dressed, for the most part, in long pants, and even business suits.  Not having had to spend a lot of time meeting with Danish bankers and lawyers, I don’t know whether they reek of sweat or not, or whether they have huge locker rooms.  But three things must be noted:  1) Copenhagen is a very flat city and so one might not work up that much of a sweat, 2)  The weather there is not very warm most of the time, so less opportunity to work up a sweat, and 3) They’re Danish.  They may have a different metabolism.

Related: “Battling Over Bike Lanes” by Sandy Banks at LATimes.com

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