Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Walking the Fine Line of Bike Smugness

Yesterday I mentioned some of the more popular cycling blogs on the internet, one of which being Bike Snob NYC.  In the most recent edition of Outside Magazine, there is an article on bike commuting in the Culture section in which he provides a short commentary. 

Within the small amount of text they allowed him, the illustrious Snob throws in his two cents in the form of some helpful bike commuting tips under the title heading "Don't be an idiot."  While I agree with the general concept of not being an idiot, and also with many of his tips to avoid idiocy, his first major point left me rather non-plussed, to coin a favorite word of the Maestro himself:

First, let's be clear.  I respect the work of BSNYC as much, if not more, than the next Sidi-wearing, leg-shaving poseur.  So much so that this blog started out being called Bike Snob COMO, as douche-worthy as that now sounds.  Secondly, I'm even OK with elevating his status to the level of 'Blog Maestro' as labeled by the Outside editorial staff.  He is, afterall #2 on the all time cycling blog list.  And while I do agree that in principle, being "smug" can be fairly toxic, and result in "smug clouds" of such ferocity that they are only penetrable by Eric Cartman in deep-sea diving gear,

I still took issue with his statement that "If you think you are doing something special by riding a bike, you're just as toxic [as a V8-driving, earth-fouling fascist]".  Hang on,  I actually do agree with that.  There isn't anything inherently special about riding a bike-is there? But this is exactly what I'm talking about.  Herein lies a conundrum that we as cyclists face...walking the fine line of taking enjoyment in the fact that riding our bikes to work is beneficial for the environment in many ways, and at the same time not being a total ass-hat about it.

Consider this.  Each mile driven solo in a car emits approximately 1 pound of CO2. If your round trip commute to work each day is 10 miles, and you do that 5 times a week for 52 weeks a year, that's in excess of two tons of carbon dioxide you are keeping out of the atmosphere by riding your bike instead of driving a car.  Is this reason enough to think we are better than anyone else?  Certainly not.  But there's also no reason not to recognize the impact that something as simple as cycling to work can have on the environment if more people were doing it.  Unless of course you are riding your bike up to the drive-through window of McDonalds each morning, in which case you are supporting a plethora of other industries not healthy for the environment.  Interestingly, recent articles have outlined that bicyclists are being banned at the drive-through window of fast food chains even in progressive Portland (aka 'Bike-Mecca').  Let's examine one such story more completely and use this as an opportunity to make a smug-ruling on the bike commuter that was supposedly wronged in this scenario.

Sarah Gilbert reports that she was rejected and not served when she took her long-tailed bike which is "festooned with "Love your farmer" and "one less minivan" stickers..." through the drive-through window of a Burgerville in Portland recently. 

I am not a farmer.  But I have it under pretty good authority that farmers could care less if cyclists loved them or not, as long as we were buying beef, or milk, or bread or anything else that will continue to let them make a living the way they want to.  After Ms. Gilbert was rejected at the drive through, she parked her bike at the bike rack, went inside and ordered her food there.  She continues:

She says "I bought hamburgers inside....and then I tweeted...I'd already Googled..."  If I had read this statement 10 years ago, I would been confused, but would have assumed she had eatern her burgers, gotten wicked gas and perhaps shit herself.  But so goes technology, and certainly Twitter is no stranger to cyclists.  The managers of Burgerville apparently offered a full and profuse apology to Ms. Gilbert once they realized the individual working the drive-through window wouldn't serve her, but she still decided to rant on about how she had been discriminated against in her nationally published article.

A couple of questions: 
First - how was she going to eat her take-out while on a bike, anyway?  Holding a coke between your legs is a lot easier in the car than on a bike. And secondly, didn't she get ketchup and mustard all over her iPhone when she was busily tweeting and googling her outrage while macking on her Burgerville burgers?

Ok - so how are we going to call this one?

Yeah - I'm going to throw her a red flag.  This smacks of smugness to me.

What is scarier yet, is when a battle of smugness occurs, such as when one immovable smug force encounters an unstoppable smug object.  Such was the case documented in a recent post on Craigslist.

Titled, "You hit me with your Prius", it says:
"Me - Bicyclist, heading to jury duty on 10th street, Friday at 8:50am.
You - Prius driver, crossing over two lanes, hitting me with your car and speeding away.

I was hoping we could catch up for a cup of coffee, so I could get your views on the environment, and strangle you."

This cyclist may have an air of smugness about herself as she makes a special effort to highlight the fact that she was travelling by bicycle to fulfill a non-work related civic duty.  And the Prius driver is so smug that his hybrid green-mobile doesn't need to stop for hit-and-runs, because that would only compromise the fuel efficiency.  But in a miles-per-gallon throw-down, a 200 pound hypocrite inside a 2 ton, 50 mpg Prius still trumps a 120 pound civic do-gooder on a bike every day of the week.  Physics always wins.  And smugness evaporates pretty quickly when you're about to be run over.

My guess is that most cycling commuters, like me, are also motorists, but yet have a hard time fighting back their sense of righteousness, again like me, if only subconsciously, when passing by a long line of cars emitting their blue exhaust.  But when the first freezing rain comes, it's likely also going to be me sitting in that car fouling the air you breathe when you go riding by me on your way to work - so go easy with the smug look.

Pedal on!

1 comment:

  1. As the temperature drops my smugness quotient climbs. bundled up in my polartec fleece, merino wool and goretex rain gear, I ride past that line of cars and I feel smug. I ride past the shivering sidewalk cyclists with no helmets or gloves and I feel smug. Polartec fleece, merino wool and goretex warm my body but smugness warms my soul.