The Indignity of Commuting by Bicycle: The Case for Gravel

In yesterday's post, I mentioned the following graffito, which I spotted in the controversial Prospect Park West bike lane in Brooklyn, New York (an area first settled by the Dutch in the 17th century and named "Breuckelen," which means "Place of the Hipster"):

While I was initially puzzled as to the author's intent, I subsequently noticed another message scrawled just a few feet ahead and in the same hand. This message clarified matters considerably:

I now see that person think bikepath is dum, and that same person also want bike go on streets. If bike go on streets we no need bikepath. This why bikepath dum.

Regardless of where you stand on bike lanes (which, if you're a New Yorker, is probably right in the middle of them, as you'll soon see), you've got to admit this is elegant reasoning. While I support bike lanes, the truth is that in practice they don't always work as well as those digitally-rendered "livable streets" imaginings you see on Streetsblog. This is because New York is a crowded city, and our pedestrians (meaning, really, all of us) are innately compelled towards broad thoroughfares on which to perambulate. Obviously we cannot do this where there is heavy motor vehicle traffic, but as soon as that traffic is removed it's inevitable that this reclaimed pavement becomes flypaper for shoppers:

Avid recyclers:

And postal workers:

Not to mention joggers, Rollerbladers, skateboarders, professional dog walkers, private dog walkers, operators of motorized wheelchairs, nannies playing "fast and loose" with other peoples' babies, "hipsters" on those stupid Puch mopeds, and any other person bearing a sizable load, operating any vehicle that is not a car, or engaged in an activity that requires ample room for limb-swinging. In addition, there is of course the often less-than-ideal behavior of the cyclists themselves. Consider this hard-hitting local news bike lane behavior exposé (via Streetsblog), which takes many of these factors into account:

By the way, note this commuter's iPhone placement:

I guess when he needs to take a call he just cocks his head to the left.

Note also that whenever a video camera is switched on in any city in America, a "fixie" rider will immediately enter the frame and gratuitously dart in front of a truck:

In any case, New York is a city in transition--a place in which an aggressive and survivalist riding style is being rendered moot by a cycling-friendly infrastructure, yet at the same time a place where many cyclists disregard that infrastructure because they're enamored with the aggressive and survivalist riding style of yesteryear. For this reason, giving New Yorkers a bike-friendly infrastructure can sometimes seem futile, like when I give my helper monkey Vito a fork at dinner and he just scratches himself with it before putting his face right back in the mashed potatoes. At the same time, those who do want to use the bike-friendly infrastructure often can't, due to the idling trucks and waddling shoppers and avid recyclers. I mean, I prefer to use a fork, but it's a lot less appetizing when it's been down a monkey's pants.

Still, I support bike lanes, but it's clear we need a real-world solution the aforementioned problems. Fortunately, I have one, and that solution is gravel:

I strongly believe that every bike lane and bridge crossing in New York City should be graveled immediately. Firstly, gravel would make it nearly impossible to ride a skateboard or push a shopping cart in the bike lane. Secondly, gravel bike lanes would probably eliminate almost all brakeless fixed-gear riding within a week. Consider this rider I encountered recently:

It's become an all-too-familiar scenario: as you're riding up the bridge, you're passed by a brakeless track bike rider in the standard "hipster" out-of-the-saddle-with-hands-on-the-bar-tops climbing position. Then, just when you think you've seen the last of him, you get stuck behind him on the downhill as he slowly grinds himself to a halt, weaving and skip-stopping and taking up two lanes of traffic, as pictured above. However, if this bridge crossing were graveled, he'd almost certainly give up his ways after the very first evening spent picking small rocks out of his thigh.

By the way, take a closer look at that frame:

At almost $4,000 for the frame and fork this is the perfect set-up for "killing it" on your urban commute:

We really need more secure bicycle parking in New York City so people can continue to use exotic professional-level racing bicycles as everyday transportation.

In addition to discouraging pedestrians with small-wheeled contraptions and riders on brakeless bicycles with narrow tires, gravel bike lanes would also rid the city of roadies, who lock up their arms and crash at the mere mention of the word. Meanwhile, riders of tank-like Dutch bikes would be largely unaffected by gravel--though I'm not sure that's a good thing. Consider this fashionisto executing the classic crosswalk-to-salmon maneuver:

In fact, the gravel could make Dutch bikes even more popular. This would lead to even more shady street-level Dutch bike dealing, which is already on the rise:

"Back in the day," it was impossible to walk the streets of downtown Manhattan without hearing the constant call of the drug dealer. Now, the whispered entreaties of "Smoke, smoke?" have given way to, "Pssst, wanna buy a Dutch bike?"

(She'll be strung out on "cycle chic" before the Vogue September issue is off the stands.)

It's like "The Wire," only with more espadrilles. By the way, if you're a "cycle chic" addict, you may have noticed that those aren't necessarily Dutch bikes, strictly speaking--which is fitting, since "back in the day" most of that "Wednesday weed" wasn't what they said it was either.

Also, I admit that the ongoing problem of "shoaling" would probably also be relatively unaffected by gravel:

Here is a truly "epic" shoal that formed in front of me recently:

With the exception of the gentleman in the purple shirt (he must be another minimalist, since they love purple), behind whom I duly stopped in accordance with the unwritten rules of society, all of these riders arrived after I did, venturing as far into the intersection as they dared in order to get the coveted Manhattan Bridge holeshot.

I was even repeatedly shoaled recently by a rider on some kind of electric contraption:

I'm not sure what his vocation was, but there's just something about the electric bike, cargo shorts, and plaid backpack that suggests "marijuana delivery person."

At no point, however, was I shoaled by anybody riding a bamboo bike. By the way, according to this video which was forwarded to me by a reader, bamboo is a great material for bicycles as long as you don't get it wet or leave it in the sun:

Watch this video on YouTube

Also, it's apparently "sustainable," even though the stuff bolted to it is no different from the stuff bolted to any other bike made out of any other material. Honestly, while I certainly begrudge no man his woodworking project, in terms of environmental impact I'm not really sure how this is any different than putting wood veneer on your IRO.

Show me a bamboo headset, then I'll be impressed.

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