Pariahs or pioneers?

People who habitually use bicycle transport are a tough lot. Even in the Netherlands where cycling is safe, weaker willed people choose the car or public transport to avoid getting rained on. You’ve got to be even tougher to stick with cycling elsewhere in Europe, with breaks in the infrastructure to straddle and laws that give drivers a good deal of slack. Turn your eye to the car crazed frontier lands like Australia and the only people cycling are nut jobs like me.

The pride we cyclists naturally derive from our stoicism—whether that’s because we’re Dutch and don’t call a taxi at the first sight of rain or North American and fight for our lane (with maniacs like this guy) —can make us conflicted when talk turns to ways to make bicycling easy. We want it made easy for us. If it were so easy though that the lily-livered all did it, then how would others distinguish us from the herd?

Sadly, it’s as true for the vehicular cyclist who can’t see how bike paths will get more children cycling to school as it is for the Dutch cyclist who doesn’t want to hear that roofs over cycle tracks might attract Muslims in head scarfs.

Again and again, current cyclists assume to speak for those who don’t cycle. It’s a “my way or the highway” attitude, literally. “Cycle my way, or drive”—that’s the message. I hear it wherever I speak about architectural strategies for making cycling more comfortable than driving a Lexus—which is how to get people out of their cars.

And when I get that criticism from the smug 98 year old Dutch lady in the back row, that she, being one of god’s chosen, rides through blizzards with a sheep on each hand, I say, “Madam, you have been a great pioneer! You went into harsh lands and cultivated them for lesser souls to come after.”

We should remember all the American wheelmen and Dutchies who were not made of butter. Rather than treating them all as pariahs for resisting such obvious developments as roofs over bike paths and barriers to protect cyclists from cars, we should remember them as brave pioneers.

This has been Dr. Behooving, for cycling (not cyclists).

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