Bike rage

· green ·

Perhaps it's because it is Bike to Work day today in San Francisco, but there seems to have been a lot of controversy stirred up on the web this week by the gentle art of cycling.

First, there was the ridiculous assertion that cycling is less efficient in terms of energy consumption than driving, as if we -- in developed countries -- need to consume any extra food to fuel our cycle rides or as if drivers fast to compensate for the energy not used when driving their cars. I could go on...

And then a post by jwz, offering his own advice for people wanting to start cycling in San Francisco, attracted an enormous pile of enraged comments, many from other cyclists upset by his recommendation to "Never take bike advice from anyone who owns bike shorts, clip shoes, a messenger bag, or a fixie." I don't necessarily agree with all his advice either (though he did make it clear that it was specific to the cycling situation in San Francisco), but I wouldn't get upset about it. People cycle for all kinds of different reasons, and have their own preferences, requirements and constraints. There really is more than one way to do it.

I suppose that I don't understand why cycling inspires such ire in people. If you're not being harassed by drivers (or anyone else who seems to take it as a personal rebuke that you are using a eco-friendly mode of transportation), or or pedestrians, or being taunted by gangs of school children, or having your tyres shredded by the glassy remains of outdoor binge-drinking sessions that seem a permanent fixture next to every park bench in Birmingham, other cyclists also seem to want to join in.

Of course, some cyclists act like idiots, just like some drivers and some pedestrians, but does that have to mean that the rest of us who just want to potter quietly to work have to take the rap? In that context, watching this video of a school run in the Netherlands (via Velorution) made me want to cry -- it's like glimpsing Utopia. All those comfortable, sensible, load-bearing bikes! The broad, glass-free, well-maintained cycle paths! The people cycling calmly along in their ordinary clothes, and not wearing helmets! The hordes of children cycling with their parents! Sigh.