Single Sided and Fully Enclosed: The Inaccessibility of "Bike Culture"

As of today, we are officially eleven days into the Smug-A-Thon that is "National Bike Month." Like most cyclists, you're undoubtedly taking every opportunity to ride with "family, co-workers, and friends." You're also counting the days to "Bike to Work Week" (May 17-21st) as well as "Bike to Work Day" on May 21st. (If you're wondering why there's a Bike to Work Week and a Bike to Work Day, it's because there's a federal law stating that all "biking"-themed events include a shorter "woosie" option.) Also, if you're the more "involved" sort, you may be contemplating the legal and infrastructural issues facing cyclists and perhaps even flirting with the world of bike advocacy.

While I do my best to concern myself almost entirely with issues such as alternative brake lever placement and duck "endos," I of course also realize that cycling can be a matter of life and death. Furthermore, I do believe that, in the wake of tragedy, we should take some time to reflect on our own behavior. Still, I do not believe that we should have to read articles like this one in the Boston Globe that was forwarded to me by a reader:

Sure, I can get behind the general sentiment, which is that cyclists need to be safe and smart. However, I simply cannot stand reading something like this:

Only someone who inhabits the most rarefied stratum of ├╝ber-smugness would take to task a person who has been run over and killed by a city bus for not wearing a helmet. As the writer says, "As of this writing, no one knows for certain what caused the accident," and even if it was entirely the cyclist's fault the helmet or lack thereof had nothing to do with it. By the time the helmet comes into play someone is already at fault. Obviously you can't go wrong with an extra measure of protection, but the implication here is that if you're not wearing a piece of polystyrene on your head then you're to blame. Furthermore, does the writer think that not wearing a helmet and colliding with a bus is deadly, but doing so while wearing a helmet is like accidentally brushing shoulders with someone in a crowded Starbucks? I don't know what caused this accident either, but I do know that I see city buses running red lights all the time, and I'm glad to know that, should I find myself on the wrong end of one of these errant buses the first question on this guy's mind will be, "What was he wearing on his head?"

Then again, I guess I shouldn't expect anything different from our "You are what you wear" culture. If you wear a helmet, you're a "safe" person, and if you don't you're (as the writer puts it) "an arrogant rider." I guess in his universe the helmeted riders on brakeless track bikes I see running lights at major intersections day after day are responsible, yet the helmetless middle-aged woman riding her three-speed to the food co-op is an arrogant daredevil. It's also why urban American cycling looks like this:

A reader reminded me of this article, which appeared recently in The Brooklyn Paper about my fellow blogger Michael Green of "Bike Blog NYC." Now, I mean no disrespect to him, but I do disagree with his take on city riding:

“Biking is about taking matters into your own hands,” Green said. “People ask me how I can be a bike advocate if I don’t use bike lanes, and I say, ‘Once the city gives you bike lanes, you’re expected to stick to them — and that’s limiting.’ ”

To me, what's limiting is expecting the average person who is interested in using a bicycle for transportation but is not a "lifestyle cyclist" or particularly interested in being fast or aggressive to ride among 300hp motor vehicles at all times in the most populous city in America. If anything, the idea that city cycling is the domain of people who can throw elbows with Lincoln Navigators and Nissan Armadas strikes me as being rather elitist--though according to the article I'm apparently the elitist:

Green’s no elitist, taking a different approach than the so-called “Bike Snob,” who also has a book out right now (see main story). Rather, Green doesn’t want to waste time dividing the biking world up between “us” (the hardcore riders) and “them” (those people you see in Prospect Park with their kids on the tag-along).

“I hold biking in such a high regard that I don’t have time to make fun of it or the people who make up the culture,” he said. “We’re promoting the universality of biking in an accessible way.”

Again, with all due respect to Michael Green, I don't see what's universal or "accessible" about this style of riding. I mean, it's great that it works for him, but I suspect that if you put the average person on a brakeless bicycle (or really any bicycle) and sent them to work in a city without any bike lanes they'd abandon cycling faster than Mario Cipollini used to abandon the Tour de France. I also don't know how he can say he doesn't divide the "biking world" between "us" and "them," yet also says that "biking is about taking matters into your own hands." This is precisely why I do make fun of the "culture"--I'm extremely wary of anything that requires membership and special hats.

Alas, it can seem as though there is no place for those of us who just want to ride bikes and who feel alienated by the "bike culture"--which seems to take three commonly accepted forms. There's the American "urban" bike culture with its heavy emphasis on style and expensive equipment, and in which you're a warrior who wears a helmet but leaves the rest to chance:

There's the Copenhagen Cycle Chic version, which is only open to attractive women or people with fabulous wardrobes:

And then there's the David Byrne version, which is for famous urbanites who travel exclusively by bicycle (except when they're in airplanes flying all over the world) and who are free to explore cities on their bikes while the road crew unloads the tour bus:

I mean, all of this stuff is valid, but I don't see what's "accessible" about any of it. Clearly, we need some "Cannondale Innovation," and fortunately a reader has alerted me to the "onBike," which I guess is their idea of a city bike:

As you can see, this $6,499.00 bicycle "makes use of the Case Closed Technology, where the chain case is a single sided, fully enclosed, structural part of the bike frame." Unfortunately though, while taking great pains to protect the rider from chain grime, they've completely neglected the wheels, which are totally un-fendered and which will fling filth all over you at the slightest hint of rain. They've also wisely eliminated those pesky seat stays and half the fork, which any city rider knows are extremely inconvenient as they offer places to anchor a rack. For that kind of money, it would be nice if the bicycle were willing to do even a small part of the work.

Fortunately, not all Cannondales are ludicrously expensive. Here's one (forwarded by a reader) that's only $450, though it has been "rearly used:"

I guess this has greatly reduced its value, as well as its self-esteem.

Alternately, you could always buy yourself a "MILF Magnet," forwarded by another reader:

MILF MAGNET---CLASSIC DUTCH CITY BIKE--Handmade in Holland - $1400 (kirkwood)
Date: 2010-05-11, 7:36AM EDT
Reply to: [deleted]

If you want to be the King of Classic Cool then this is the bike for you. Turn the heads of all the hot new moms pushing strollers as you cruise by in truly high style. This is one for the ages. Don't let it get away like that hot chick with the really good job you blew it with last fall.

For sale: Azor WorkCycles Kruisframe a.k.a Pastoorfiets. A true classic handmade in Holland. This bike is a pleasure to ride. Perfect for intown riding, its upright riding position puts the rider (who sits tall, without pressure on arms or neck) high enough to see over SUVs. Totally enclosed chain, gears, and brakes need virtually no maintenance while fenders, mudflaps, and rear wheel skirt keep clothes clean even on wet streets. Hub dynamo powered halogen headlamp and LED tail light provide extra safety when riding at night. Rear rack rated for 110 pounds with elastic straps. Double kickstand makes for easy loading. This is the real thing, not some cheap knockoff. Classic Dutch design combined with superior workmanship will last for decades to come. Turn heads everywhere you ride. More info can be found here:

Gloss black steel frame, 61cm. handbuilt. no rust anywhere.
Stainless steel fasteners
Shimano Nexus eight-speed, sealed, internally geared hub
Hub-mounted dynamo for powering headlamp and tail lamp without the need for batteries
Brooks sprung leather saddle (dark brown)
Front and rear roller brakes (internal and protected from the weather)
Double center kickstand
Rear wheel skirts/spats, spoke guards (keeps your suit clean)
Fabric and chrome chaincase cover (protects your chain from rain, mud, --makes chain-cleaning and chain-lubing unnecessary)
Built-in fenders, mud flap
Built-in rear rack
Integrated rear wheel locking system
Schwalbe Marathon tires (28 x 1.75), little wear

This bike has less than 100 miles on it and has always been stored indoors. New retail price is $1800. Virtually impossible to find another one like it anywhere in the southeast.

Not too long ago, someone placed a similar Craigslist ad here in New York City. At the time, it was quite amusing; now, the fact that some bike company is serially spamming the Craigslists of America with MILF-themed bike ads simply seems depressing.

Of course, if you value simplicity over MILF magnetism, you can always go with a singlespeed--just keep in mind that, if you convert it to a fixed-gear, you won't be able to coast (via still another reader):

Steel Single Speed 52cm (20.5 - $150 (east side)
Date: 2010-05-10, 1:20PM CDT
Reply to: [deleted]

Early '80s Schwinn Traveler frame in very good condition. 4130 Double Butted Cromoly steel. Nice old Stronglight crank (english threading). All bearings refreshed. Single speed freewheel.
I was going to make it fixed-gear but then I realized that would eliminate coasting. Coasting is one of the more pleasant things you can do on a bike, especially downhill.

The Traveler was middle of the line for schwinn. It is well made and uses the same grade steel as Surley. This bike has pretty basic componants but this frame is worth up-grading to a certain point, if you are into that kind of stuff. Otherwise, if you just want a basic cheap ride, it's fine for that too.

It will fit someone between 5' 2" and 5' 8" depending on various factors.

I'm glad to see people are thinking things through.

Lastly, Jack Thurston of London's "The Bike Show" informs me that one company is now offering "Rent-A-Fixed" service:

"Bike culture" is no longer just for sale; now, it's also for rent.

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