Mid-Life Cycling

Mid-Life Cycling

19 August 2017

The Future In A Milk Crate?

Perhaps it has to do with having gone from living as a guy named Nick to a woman named Justine. Or maybe it's just a result of aging.

Although I still like long rides--and, sometimes, to pedal as long, fast and hard as I can--my attitudes about cycling have been changing.  Now I can see how arrogant and, frankly, elitist--at least when it came to cycling--I was not so long ago.  Sometimes I still find remnants of those old notions within me: I still get annoyed with riders (these days, many of them on Citibikes) who twiddle along and take up just enough of the lane or road to keep me from passing.  Those dilettantes!  But now I understand how such snobbishness--whether against riders who aren't kitted out in the latest lycra uniforms or bikes that aren't what riders in the Tour would ride--has kept bicycles from becoming the vehicles for change (pardon the pun) they can be.

To be more precise:  Such attitudes have kept people (like yours truly) from allowing the bicycle to transform our cities and our lives in, well, ways that would make our cycling more pleasant as well as practical.  Too many planners see planning only in terms of painting lines on a streets and calling them "bike lanes"; in turn, too many people see those lanes--as well as bike share programs as entitlements for privileged young people.  

As much as I love my nice bikes and rides, I know that if cycling has a future, it lies with the unemployed and minimum-wage workers who ride so they don't have to spend large portions of their incomes (or savings) to buy, maintain, fuel, park and repair cars.   It lies with people pedaling to their schools, offices and shops, and those who go for a spin with their kids or parents or neighbors at the end of the day--as well as those who want to have schools, offices and shops to ride to, and people to ride with.

Last year, I wrote about how city planners and non-profit groups came to recognize these facts, and re-thought what makes a city "bike friendly". They came to see that in Reading, Pennsylvania, where they were working, it meant creating a network of bike lanes that actually allowed people to pedal quickly and safely all over to the city.  They also realized that, in a poor post-indstrial city that has little mass transportation, they had to make bicycling more affordable and convenient for residents.  So, bike racks were installed on city buses, and when Reading's first bike shop opened, it concentrated on selling used bikes and affordable parts, conducting safety and repair workshops--and loaning tools.

Now, I don't know whether planners in Stockton, California have been paying attention to what the folks in Reading have done.  It seems as if they have been:  The city's latest plan calls for a series of bike lanes that will allow cyclists to pedal out of their neighborhoods and ride all over town.  But these lanes won't be just lines on the street:  They will be separated from motor vehicle traffic by barriers or raised medians.  In some areas, traffic lanes will be removed in order to make room for cyclists.

Whether or not the planners in Stockton followed the work of their peers in Reading, they at least seemed to be listening to the concerns of everyday cyclists like Alfonso Macias.  He is a 56-year-old farm worker who doesn't own a car.  Bungee cords hold a grocery crate to the rear rack of a bike he pedals to the store, where he buys the food he carts to his house.  Along the way, he has to share streets that don't have bike lanes, or even shoulders, with drivers who weave around him, or around whom he has to weave.  "Thank god I've never been hit," he says.

Now, he is cycling out of necessity.  Others, who could choose to leave their cars home and ride for errands and such, are deterred from doing so because of the hazards Macias faces.  Here in New York, people have expressed similar concerns, and even wondered how I could ride in this city's traffic. "Aren't you scared?," they wonder.

Even if people perceive cycling as more dangerous than it actually is, their fears need to be heard.  So must the concerns of folks who tie grocery crates to their bikes so they can go shopping.  They, not the wannabe racers encased in lycra, are the future of cycling.


  1. Idealy, the riders of top shelf road bikes (especially vintage road bikes) might constitue an aristocracy of bike riders. But they must act as TRUE aristocrats, set the example, obey the letter and spirit of traffic laws, be wiling to stop and help any other cyclist with roadside repairs, always respect other riders and pedestrians. They are, after all, experts, and should use that expertise for the good of all. The true aristocrat takes their position as having more obligations than privileges. Those amongst them who are elitist and disdainful have betrayed the principles of true aristocracy.


  2. Chris--Thank you!

    Leo--That is a beautiful explanation of aristocracy: a concept too often misunderstood, especially here in the US.